September 25, 2023
Chicago 12, Melborne City, USA
Fashion Styles

Love In Full Bloomers

As the comfort, style and – yes – sex appeal of big pants grow ever more alluring, Charlotte Sinclair presents the case against the thong in the April issue of Vogue.
I moved house recently. There is nothing more effective at making you understand what you actually like and wear in your wardrobe than having to clear the whole lot out. Not to mention your unmentionables: the drawers in your drawers. Somehow I had accumulated about 30 G-strings. Thirty seems an unholy number, especially when, like the rest of us it seems, I stopped wearing them years ago. Excepting a couple of the nicest styles, the expensive frilly French ones – the ones that relate to an image of the woman I wish I were more than the one I am – or those that merely work well under outfits where VPL would be unacceptable, I got a bin bag and dumped the whole lot. (Well, what else are you supposed to do with unwanted knickers? The charity shop? Surely not.) Perhaps it was also a question of timing – I recently had a baby and had become rather attached (too attached, my husband would say) to the extra-large, elasticated knickers my friends recommended as essential for the post-natal ward. Except, by the time we moved house the baby was four months old and the granny pants and I had entered a deeply symbiotic relationship.
For once, however, fashion is on my side. Iterated in Fifties high-waisters at Dolce & Gabbana (decades-long champions of the fuller knicker) and Burberry, a pair of proper pants visible beneath body-skimming layers is now an established style code for eveningwear. By example, Beyonc¨¦, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian and Amber Valletta have turned the red carpet into an exercise in VPL. Bloomers bloomed on the catwalk at Emilia Wickstead, Dior and Fendi, and big knickers strutted fully exposed at Isabel Marant.
It's not hard to see why big knickers are back, especially if you've had the horrifying experience of seeing yourself wearing a G-string in a three-way changing-room mirror.
A look that connotes a tomboyish appeal – as if you've run out of clean pants and slipped on your boyfriend's Y-fronts – the grundie, or grunge undie, has made a return, most successfully at Acne, where its gender-neutral, dun-coloured version is a sell-out. A similarly Nineties aesthetic has edged back into the mainstream with capacious briefs with branded elastic by Calvin Klein, Paco Rabanne and Moschino. Once again, CKs are decorating the most fashionable waistlines, including those of Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid. Even M&S, that sturdy barometer of trends in British knickers, has reported that fewer than one in 10 pants sold now are G-strings. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's bestselling range at the store is almost entirely high-cut, maximum-coverage knickers.)
It's not hard to see why, especially if you've had the horrifying experience of seeing yourself wearing a G-string in a three-way changing-room mirror. G-strings are unkind to the majority of female figures. More than that, there is an increasing sense of ennui in the sight of a parade of with their bottoms bouncing down the runway in cutaway thongs. G-strings feel old-fashioned and obvious. They're underwear as performance – male fantasy disguised as female choice. Knickers bring out the territorial in men: they have opinions. If women dress for women, apparently their underwear drawer is for men. Or, more explicitly, for sex. Granny pants, most men would agree, are not going to get you laid. But more fool them since big pants equal comfort, which equals a woman who is relaxed and unworried, which surely equals more sex per wear?
G-strings, by contrast, feel very early Noughties, very pre-crash, pre-smartphone, pre-Hillary for president, pre-Angela Merkel, pre-Nicola Sturgeon, pre-a new level of seriousness and power in women's lives and careers. Not to mention the great discomfort of actually wearing them. Frankly, who can be bothered?
The return this year of Bridget Jones – a pin-up for the more capacious pant – cements the cultural moment for the unbrief-brief.
This is not to say that a pair of proper pants can't be properly alluring. "I love them when they're done in a very sexy way. I really love light, wispy, lacy full briefs that have that Fifties shape," says Dita Von Teese, a woman who knows her way around a knicker drawer (to the extent that she now has her own lingerie range). "I like a larger brief because I like the big reveal. You have much more impact taking off something that covers more." After all, bottoms are the new erogenous zone, and big knickers can be, Dita confirms, "a real bum showcaser".
Daisy Lowe is also a fashionable fan of the big knicker; rare is the paparazzo shot of Lowe where she isn't wearing visible high-waisters under some fabulous full-length vintage frock. Length is key to the look – conveying a sense of moral rectitude despite the very-much-on-show pants winking through all that chiffon – as is cut. (The effect should be more coquette than vamp – vamp is also good, but not for 3.15pm on a Tuesday.) "I always pair them with a dress that comes in at the waist to create a continuous line," she says. "Finding the right height of pants is important – if they touch the waistline of the dress it looks more streamlined¡­ It's about lengthening your legs."
A pair of proper pants visible beneath body-skimming layers is now an established style code for eveningwear.
Of their charm, Lowe says, "I think they're really feminine. They have that Bettie Page, Marilyn Monroe, Fifties Hollywood starlet vibe that is incredibly provocative but also embracing of the female form." Big pants can also be great for a smaller frame, having a magic ability to add curves. (You can also hide some serious control-panel action in a pair of fuller briefs.) A woman's relationship to her knicker drawer is, Lowe continues, intimately connected to her sense of self. "The more comfortable I am the better I feel and the better everyone thinks I look. And maybe we don't want a string up our backsides?"
A quick scoot around Net-a-Porter's underwear section confirms Lowe's point. Eres has cornered the market in high-end high-waisted briefs that manage to be both frivolous and functional, while labels such as ID Sarrieri make a very persuasive case for the sex appeal of bigger knickers, with pants that use the gauziest lace to provide full "coverage". (Lace is extremely flattering, softening the look of dimples and wobbles – like candlelight for the bottom.) Maria Williams, senior buyer for lingerie at Net-a-Porter says, "Women used to think that bigger briefs would give you a visible panty line. However, current designs feature raw edges and are made from silk and satin to create a seamless look. As waistbands on jeans, trousers and skirts have risen, so have our knicker waistlines." Marie-Paule Michelli, designer at Eres, asserts, "This style is much sexier than G-strings. High-waisted panties are very chic." Indeed, the inspiration for Michelli's designs could not be chicer or more exacting: "the sophisticated Parisian woman".
The curator of the V&A's exhibition Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear</a>', which opens in April, offers a historical context. At the museum's archives, Edwina Ehrman and Susanna Cordner show me an exhibit from the show: a pair of sizeable frilled knickers from the Fifties. Ehrman says, "The lace frills were worn on the front of the pants to lend a curve to the stomach and soften the hipbones. War was grim, and this marked a return to luxury and femininity and sexiness." She traces a history of full-sized briefs through the Sixties – "What are Mary Quant hotpants if not big knickers?" – to the present day. "I think for some women they're a political statement. Women are using their purchasing power to say we don't want to wear stereotypical sexy underwear, we want underwear that's comfortable and that we feel great in."
It helps that this particular political statement comes wrapped in satin and ribbons. The return this year both of Bridget Jones and of Lena Dunham's Hannah Horvath in the new series of Girls – pin-ups for the more capacious pant – cements the cultural moment for the unbrief-brief. Confidence is key. "I went out recently in a sheer dress and big pants," says Daisy Lowe. "I wore a little trench over the top so that when I was walking down the street it wasn't quite so 'flasher'. But then I forgot what I was wearing and opened up the front of the jacket, and people were giving me very, very odd stares." Lowe's bodacious body notwithstanding, it seems to prove the point that: a) what works for fashion might not translate to reality; and b) a pair of giant pants can be just as provocative as any G-string. And I know which I'd rather be wearing.

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