'Panties exchange' is a new wrinkle in chain letters

To heck with good-luck chain letters. Who believes in them, anyway? Judy Mendoza breaks them about as often as the moon is full, with no apparent side effects.

"The last time I broke a good-luck chain letter I got engaged and a promotion," says Ms. Mendoza, an assistant vice president for a San Francisco insurance firm. So when the latest one arrived a month ago, she groaned, but she didn't trash it.


"Hello There!" it begins. "This is a pretty panties exchange."

"This is not a chain letter," the chain letter goes on to say. "Send one pair of pretty underwear of your choice to the person listed 1 below, and send a copy of this letter to six friends. . . . If you can't do this in seven days, please notify me because it isn't fair to those who have participated. . . . You will receive 36 pairs of pretty panties!"


Ms. Mendoza thought, "This is really stupid. I am not going to do this."

Then she reconsidered. She went to the Gap, purchased a pair of white bikinis for $4.50, sent it to the first person on the list, mailed six copies to friends and waited.

As of today, she's received seven pairs of panties of every color and description; the small manila envelopes arrive once a week or so. "My husband looks forward to the mail every day," she says.

Ms. Mendoza got the letter from a friend in Honolulu, who got hers from another Hawaiian friend, who got hers from a friend in Washington, who got hers from her sister, who got hers from her husband's aunt in North Dakota.

Where it all began, who can say? But somebody out there has an imagination, more so than whoever dreamed up the mundane dish towel chain letter has been around for years. Suzanne Gillam of Kona, Hawaii, has gotten them both.

"I got back six or eight dish towels. That's OK, but underwear is so much more fun." (She's received nine pairs so far).

And it's practical. "Everybody can use pretty new underwear," says Ms. Mendoza, whose lingerie now includes a flowered string bikini, a black lace thong and a pair of pale blue bikinis. "Most of them I never would have bought for myself," she says.

The worst that can happen with the underwear chain letter is that you have to go public with your panty size. But most women, and most men, think it's all in good fun. "It's a hoot," says Eugene Emery, a Rhode Island journalist and the founder of Chain Letters Anonymous in Providence, R.I., which he set up to receive unused chain letters. Technically, he says, the underwear chain letter is illegal because it involves the exchange or money or merchandise.


"Basically, it's a variation on the old pyramid scheme -- it's great for those on top of the pyramid, but eventually the pyramid will collapse."

Still, it's unique. "This is the first intimate-apparel chain letter I've heard of," he says. What's next, he wonders, "the condom chain letter?"

And here's a bulletin: Thong bikinis are actually wearable, say the women who have gotten them.

"I had never tried them before," says Melinda Pall of Honolulu, who has received two pairs of thong underwear. One was plain, the other was a shiny black and gold number, with lace.

"I wore the plain one and was surprised at how comfortable it was. I'm saving the black and gold ones. I'm waiting for Christmas to surprise my boyfriend."

Ms. Gillam has increased her underwear count by nine so far.


"I've gotten simple, basic ones, wild prints, pink bikinis. One was Christian Dior, another was Vanity Fair; all top-quality stuff. My boyfriend wants me to wear a different pair every night."

But Chris Martin, who lives in Auburn, Wash., says she is disappointed. "I've only gotten one pair," Ms. Martin says glumly. "This was the first chain letter I've ever done. But I did get a pair of deep purple thong bikinis that I really like."

Sue Koch of North Dakota is simply frustrated. She's just given birth. "I can't wear any of them right now. But in the fall . . . I'm looking forward to wearing my new underwear."