A young generation of women is discovering a new brand of sexy in the most unlikely of places: their grandmothers’ underwear drawers.
“When I walk into a lingerie store, I’m always like, ‘OK, which drawer in here is for the grannies?’” Daphne Javitch, 35, said of her predilection for ample-bottomed undies. That preference led Javitch, back in 2010, to found Ten Undies, a line with a cult following that sells cotton full-bottom bikinis, boy shorts and high-waist briefs not unlike the kind immortalized in Bridget Jones’s Diary. (“Hello, mommy.”) Ten’s wares are comfortable and practical, to be sure, but that’s hardly the only draw.
“Within millennial and Generation Y consumer groups, it’s considered cool to be wearing full-bottom underwear,” said Bernadette Kissane, an apparel analyst at the market intelligence firm Euromonitor. “Thongs have had their moment.”
Data provided by the research company NPD Group back her up. Sales of thongs decreased 7 percent over the last year, while sales of fuller styles — briefs, boy shorts and high-waist briefs — have grown a collective 17 percent.
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Erica Rousseau, the fashion director for accessories, cosmetics and intimate apparel at Bloomingdale’s, said that indeed there has been a “shift in the business.” She noted that the trend is in line with the higher-waist and roomier pants styles that have dominated fashion this season. Perhaps motivated by the same kind of contrarianism that helped elevate Birkenstocks and fanny packs, young women are embracing “granny panties” — and not just for laundry day.
“I only wear granny panties,” Julia Baylis, a willowy 22-year-old, declared proudly. Baylis and her best friend, Mayan Toledano, 27, design the boutique clothing label Me and You. Their bestseller is a pair of white cotton underpants with the word “feminist” printed in pink bubble letters across the rear. Since the line’s introduction on April 7, the panties have sold out.
Besides sales, the “feminist underwear” has inspired countless Instagram “belfies” (that’s a selfie for the behind) from Me and You customers eager to show off their feminist convictions as well as their pert posteriors.
Baylis and Toledano are part of an all-female creative collective founded by Petra Collins called the Ardorous that explores feminist topics from a millennial point of view through collaborative and solo art projects. For the generation that counts both Beyoncé and Lena Dunham as feminist icons, female sexuality is wielded for one’s own pleasure.
“Most lingerie is designed to appeal to a man,” Baylis said. “For us, that’s not even a consideration. This is underwear you wear totally for you. Maybe no one will see it, or maybe you’ll put it up on Instagram to share with everyone you know.”
That’s not to say Me and You’s customers don’t want to feel sexy; they absolutely do. “What’s sexy for us is being natural and comfortable,” Toledano said.And if seducing a man isn’t the goal, it can be a welcome side effect.
“I think there’s a widespread misconception that men are into pearl thong, lace contraptions,” said Javitch of Ten Undies. “To be honest, men are into girls in T-shirts and white underwear.”
It’s a notion mainstream lingerie companies have been slow to embrace. As the gender gap among owners of small businesses continues to narrow, female entrepreneurs are becoming increasingly empowered to fill the void in the market.
When Greer Simpkins, 28, began doing research for her own lingerie line, she visited a Victoria’s Secret store in New York to observe how women shopped for underwear.
“I noticed that a lot of women would come in with a friend, and they’d be asking: ‘Do you like this? Do you think he will like it?’” said Simpkins, who previously worked as a counselor to young girls at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. “They’d be thinking about everyone else but themselves,” an attitude she thought the store encouraged. She was also frustrated with how many trends, colors and frills the lingerie industry pushed each season.
“Most women just want something basic for every day that will make them look and feel good,” she said.
So, in December, Simpkins introduced an underwear line with just one design: a white cotton panty with an unusually high cut and narrow back. The name, Hello Beautiful, is meant as an affirmation. She already counts Chloe Sevigny, an arbiter of all things cool, as a fan.
Fuller styles are a welcome alternative for Myla Dalbesio, a size 10 underwear model. “The high-waisted and high-cut styles hark back to a time when different body shapes were in style,” she said, adding that many larger women find high-rise briefs flattering because they define the waist and cover areas a woman may be less comfortable with.
Dalbesio said she was hopeful that the greater diversity of offerings was a sign that the lingerie industry is beginning to recognize that “there is not one ‘ideal body,’ but a plethora of them.”
In the end, it is about options.
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be more traditionally sexy and wearing a thong; that doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist,” Toledano said. “This is a step toward embracing more variety in what’s offered.”