4 Easy Steps to Buying Lingerie for Your Wife, Girlfriend, or Significant Other

By Treacle on 9 February 2010 (Updated 1 March 2010) 30 comments

The first time my mother took me to a lingerie store, I felt like I was on the inside of an exploding confetti factory. There were so many colors and sizes and shapes and textures, that I couldn’t make sense of it all. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, many men are finding themselves in a similar situation.

You want to buy something special, something intimate for your woman, but you haven’t the faintest where to start. I understand your frustration, and I know how important it is to find the perfect gift. So here’s a short, uncomplicated guide to buying the perfect lingerie.

Sizing

Knowing your woman’s size is the most important step of this entire endeavor. It’s like the foundation of your home: without it, you got nothing. Think about it, there is no way you can buy the wrong size and have it turn out okay. Too large and she’ll be wondering if you think she’s really that big. Too small, and she’ll think you’re hinting that she needs to lose a few.

Fortunately, this is also the easiest step of all. Just take a look inside her lingerie drawer. If you don’t have access to her lingerie drawer, then you can try checking the size while she’s in the shower or some such. If all else fails (for example, she cuts all the tags out of her bras and panties), just ask. I promise she’ll love the anticipation.

So, once you get these numbers, write them down. Rely on memory at your own peril. I suggest just jotting her sizes onto a scrap of paper and sticking it in your wallet. That way, when you go the store, you’re ready to go.

Style

Now that you’ve discovered her size, you can move on to determining her style. The best time to do this is while you're checking her lingerie drawer. There are three things you want to take note of here: cut, fabric, and color. When it comes to cut, notice if her bras are full cup, half cup, or camisole style. Take note if she wears briefs or boyshorts or thongs. As far as fabric, do you see a lot of cotton or silk or lace? While examining color, is it mostly black or pastels or jewel tones? These are important cues.

Some folks may not understand the point of this step. “The lingerie is a gift for both of us,” they might say, “I want to buy something I’ll enjoy seeing her in.” While I understand that perspective, I think it’s flawed. The best way to ensure your lady wears your gift (as opposed to “forgetting” about it) is to buy something you already know she likes. Buying the style she prefers makes her more comfortable. A comfortable woman is a confident woman. And a confident woman is a sexy woman.

Now that you’re acquainted with her tastes, it’s time to take all that information to the store. Start by finding pieces which are pretty much identical to the ones you saw in her lingerie drawer. That’s your baseline. After establishing your baseline, begin looking at lingerie which deviates slightly from what you’re familiar with. Don’t look at the price tag yet (that comes later), just identify things that are close, but not quite the same, to what she already owns.

For example, if her lingerie drawer had a bunch of flesh-toned bras, a black one might be a nice change. Did you see a lot of boyshorts? Then a “cheeky” cut thong would be the next logical step. Chili pepper flannel pajamas? Then take a look at the lush, silk pajamas. The key here is not change more than one or two elements at once. If your wife goes to bed every night in an old t-shirt and nubby socks, you probably don’t want to leap to sheer backless teddies with matching g-strings.

Sticker

By now, you’ve picked out a couple of items that you like and that look similar to what she already wears. Now it’s time to take a look at the price tag. Whatever you see, don’t be shocked. Square inch for square inch, lingerie is probably more expensive than premium real estate, and here’s why — you’re not just paying for the materials, you’re also paying for the labor. Obviously, no one wants to wear rough fabric against their delicate bits all day, so lingerie uses some of the finest threads available. But you’re also paying for what basically amounts to architecture for the human body. Lingerie both conceals and supports. For that reason, you gents who are blessed with curvy gals should be prepared to spend slightly more. It’s worth it.

While we’re on the subject of worth, let me encourage you not to pinch pennies when it comes to lingerie. I understand setting a budget, and that’s fine, but if you go too cheap, your purchase won’t last a night. Not only will you want to see your lover in her gift more than once, quality (by which I mean more expensive) lingerie tends to feel better, too. And we’ve already covered the relationship between looking good and feeling good.

To make things even easier, here’s a shortlist of what not to buy — bodystockings, cupless, crotchless, & cut-out styles, glitter, rhinestones, feathers, fringe, tassels, "strappy” or “cage” looks, pvc, vinyl, and polyester. Steer clear of all that, and you’ll be on the right track.

Salesperson

If you do all this and are still completely and utterly confused, find the closest salesperson. Helping you shop is their job. Some high-end stores even offer personal shoppers, and it might be worth enlisting their services, especially if you have very specific needs.

Finally, if absolutely nothing works, buy her a gift certificate. Shopping for lingerie together makes a fantastic Valentine’s Day date! Good luck and Happy Shopping.

This is a guest post by Treacle, a 25 year old knickers junkie who believes every woman deserves beautiful lingerie...even if no one ever sees it. Read more articles by Treacle:

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Guest's picture
Missy

It's amazing how some men totally stress over getting the PERFECT lingerie.

Guys, don't sweat it. Get something lacy, feminine (and in the right size) and you're golden.

V-day is about so much more than the lingerie.

It's really about the champagne. (hint hint)

Nice job, Treacle.

Guest's picture
Dr Dean

Having been married for almost 30 years, I have made just about every lingerie purchasing mistake in the book. Maybe I should write a post about how not to buy lingerie.

Treacle is right on target.

Now, looking in her lingerie drawer after Valentine's day, might get you in trouble.....

I have found writing your own poetry works pretty good too, if you are on a budget.

Guest's picture

Please do not approach the short young woman with the glasses who is browsing alone and ask, "you look like you are about my wife's size - what size bra do you wear?" This has happened to me on so many occasions that I simply avoid Victoria's Secret.

Why me, I ask??? My friends say I look approachable. My husband says I have a nice rack. The problem is that I will lie to you and direct you to something awful. Or I will send you to Nordstrom and tell you to buy Spanx, which I love, but which will not get you the sort of reaction that lingerie is meant to get.

In other words - please do not approach random strangers in lingerie stores. It is better to buy the wrong size than ask a stranger. Also, get a gift receipt.

Guest's picture
Dimmie

...and I can't say I totally agree with the last paragraph of #2, as it sounds more like a gift for the giver. I have a drawer full of bikini-cut cotton skivvies and no-wire lace-free bras because that's the only thing I'm comfortable in. If someone buys me a thong or a lacy cami, odds are it'll stay "forgotten" in the back of the closet or be returned/exchanged.

Andrea Karim's picture

I love this article. Thank you!

Guest's picture
JJ

I definitely agree with everything in the article -- find something in her size, and close to her taste, with just a touch of flair.

But, that being said, the best lingerie I have is from when I took my boyfriend lingerie shopping WITH me. It took about twenty minutes to get him to stop freaking out in Frederick's of Hollywood -- but once he did, I could finally figure out what he liked. By asking, "Honey, do you prefer this one, or this one? Okay, and what do you like about it?" a few times, I was finally able to figure out his taste in lingerie!!! Which he would never have been able to articulate. From there, I picked something I felt sexy in, but that I knew would also turn him on -- and knowing that turned me on!

Guys, if you're unsure, buy the gift certificate, and then go WITH her! You'll get to see her model a few different styles, and the anticipation is really fun.

(p.s. Apparently it was black lace and jewel tones... why guys can't manage to say this stuff is beyond me, but I stopped buying the sheer white nighties!)

Guest's picture
Guest

When in doubt . . . don't. I have never had a lingerie gift go well, and I don't think these points would help. Buy massage oil and give her a massage, it will go over much better and probably be cheaper!

Guest's picture
Brian

My wife was a manager at Victoria Secret, and after hearing stories of the nuts that come in there, if you just act like a normal shopper, they will answer every question you have and help you make selections. It doesn't bother me in the slightest to go in there.

Guest's picture
BD

And make sure your woman WANTS lingerie in the first place.

I *hated* getting lingerie from my guy. First off, I have plenty, I don't need more. Secondly, whatever he got, I usually hated. Thirdly, I'd much rather get something other than underwear. A nice love poem written from the heart, a potted plant, a Snickers Bar...anything but more underwear.

Guest's picture
johndouglas

Guys, if you're insecure, buy the heritage certificate, and then go WITH her! You'll get to see her represent a few contrastive styles, and the outlook is truly fun.
I hold saved authorship your own poetry works pretty healthful too, if you are on a budget.
It's really most the champagne. (speck pinch)

Nice job, Syrup.

******************************************
johndouglas

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johndouglas
http://www.weservefinance.com

Guest's picture

Buying lingerie for your lady, especially for the first time, can be a daunting task. Thanks for helping men everywhere ease into the experience with a little more knowledge!

Cheers!

Guest's picture

I love Treacle and her lingerie blog, awesome article!

Guest's picture
Skye B.

Maybe this will require too much effort and DIY skills for some, but I saw a video tutorial over at www.greenwala.com that shows you how to make your own lingerie http://www.greenwala.com/community/videos/all/1935-How-To-Make-DIY-Valen... -- I think that any person receiving homemade undies would be blown away far more than getting a Victoria's Secret bag.

Guest's picture
Q

This post should run front page on the New York Times. Although I appreciate BD and Guest's sentiments about avoiding lingerie, if you're feeling brave and really want to go there, this is an excellent guide. I especially like the emphasis on getting her something that isn't too far out of her comfort zone - I've received alot of "forgotten" lingerie because it was just too out there.

But the most important concept in here applies to ALL clothing gifts: if you don't know the size DO NOT GUESS. I had a boyfriend who bought me red leather pants. I had put on a few pounds and they didn't fit, nor could they be returned. They just sat there, making me feel badly about myself. You cannot give a worse gift than ill-fitting clothing, period. Dead flowers are more romantic.

Guest's picture
Mary

Just be sure you're looking at something she actually, currently, wears! I'm sure I'm not the only one whose weight fluctuates often enough that I keep both larger and smaller items, rather than re-purchase a drawer-full every year- LOL!

Guest's picture
Kelly

This guide is the perfect pre-Valentine's Day refresher, Treacle! Great job! You have a great way of breaking down the details and explaining them in a way anyone can understand.

Guest's picture
Robert

"Knowing your woman’s size is the most important step of this entire endeavor. It’s like the foundation of your home: without it, you got nothing. Think about it, there is no way you can buy the wrong size and have it turn out okay. Too large and she’ll be wondering if you think she’s really that big. Too small, and she’ll think you’re hinting that she needs to lose a few."

With that said, smaller is always better than bigger. Baggy lingerie? Don't think so.

Guest's picture
Guest

Go together. It's fun, and you'll both get hot. And you'll both find out a few surprises about what each other likes! I have even sent my boyfriend cell-phone snaps from the dressing room to see what he wants me in!

Guest's picture
PC

Oooh... I winced when I read the paragraph on size. DO NOT JUST LOOK IN HER LINGERIE DRAWER! I have some very lovely pieces in there... from 5, 10, and yes, 15 pounds ago (I swear, I'll lose the weight some day). If the Dear Hubby just went in there, I can guarantee he'd probably get something that doesn't fit.

The best thing would be to look at what she's wearing for the past two weeks. That's the size she currently is, not the size she was when you got married, or two kids ago. It's also safe to say that's a brand she enjoys. Look at the label, google it to figure out where it's sold, then go with God.

It's also important to note that a Medium at Kohl's won't translate to a Medium at Victoria's Secret, or a Medium at any department store. However, a medium in a cotton nighty will probably translate to a medium of some scandalously lacey nighty if the brand is the same.

Guest's picture
nonspecificwife

I'm sorry but I just don't agree with this. Like another poster, I have the things I have because I don't like the feel of anything else.
And for those men whose women are a little bustier, a bra from someplace like VS is just absolutely worthless. Buy something that will last and provide some support.

Guest's picture
Ajay

Really.

UNLESS...you have actually been told she really needs two more (blank) to put in the rotation, so she doesn't have to do so much handwashing. Listening is the best gift.

p.s. Thongs are never a next logical step.

Guest's picture
Guest

What do you mean, nothing crotcheless or vinyl? Thought you said he should get me things that ARE my style!

Guest's picture
KarenR

I think this is great advice! I'm printing it, and leaving it out where SOMEONE can find it...

Guest's picture
Guest

In women's clothing sizes vary considerably from brand to brand, so if you are looking at the tags to get size info, I would advise writing down the brand it corresponds to at the very least. There may still be fit issues within the same brand due to differences in the cut of different items.
Also, I see Victoria's Secret mentioned in comments, which brings up the issue of padding (so much of their stuff has a really absurd amount of 'lining'). Unless you are 100% certain she will not be offended by it, I would say avoid giving anything suggesting that your significant other needs help filling out her bra.

Guest's picture
SuzanR

I definitely agree with the comments that say to notice the brand names associated with the sizes. Anyone going through my drawer will find everything from a D to an EE. They all fit, they're just all cut differently in ways that might not be obvious to the casual observer.

Guest's picture
Guest

I wish I read this sooner. It would have helped me before I bungled into my first lingerie store. But, it's cool once you get the hang of it. Though, I learned style is pretty important for girls and guys alike. I like a saucy style of lingerie . <-- something like what they have here. Very nice!

Guest's picture
Guest

I can't imagine picking out something that I know fabulous without trying it on. I can't fathom the boyfriend being successful at it either. Trying things on is essential. Sizes are not consistent across brands or even product lines within a brand. I cannot begin to count the number of times I've picked up something totally adorable that looked like it would fit, only to try it on and find it was totally unflattering. And for something you intend for your woman to wear in totally intimate, vulnerable moments - you want her to feel fantastic wearing it.
Don't buy your woman lingerie. Just don't. Gift cards and picking it out together? Fantastic!

Guest's picture
Guest

My advices for companies
1. Educate your salesperson not to chase and get male customers out of the shop , we are not there to chase ladies or are not lady killers.
2.Educate your salesperson about different design and multiple choise of a product so that we dont try to explain what we mean when we say "I want fishnet stockings with a cut at back" or something similar.
3.Provide discounts for your salesperson that she may learn more about your products and help customers and provide feedback to you.

Guest's picture

To find out her size, look in her underwear drawer at an appropriate moment, and without rummaging, or she’ll notice and think of you as amusingly creepy at best. haha!

Guest's picture
Siren

When in doubt buy her some sort of novelty (I'm thinking a naughty sex book or a sexy pearl g-string) or even a gift certificate. In the end it's the thought that counts and there is nothing worse than being presented with gorgeous lingerie that is too small and then you need to go and return it...