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Lingerie evolves for women who want more


As Susan Rohr approached her mid-30s, it dawned on her that her sexy Victoria's Secret lingerie was made more for her former self -- Susan in her 20s. Or maybe even her teens.

"It wasn't fitting so well anymore," says Rohr, 42. "It wasn't quality."

A move to the lingerie sections in more-expensive department stores didn't help much.

"They do the job," says Rohr, of Patterson Park. "But they're not very pretty. They're not creative. Lots of beige, lots of white. Lots of black."

And the ultra high-end lines, such as La Perla, a celebrity favorite, were well out of reach on her salary as a freelance nurse anesthetist.

"$140 for a pair of panties?" scoffs Rohr. "Maybe in my next life."

So Rohr started her own business, a la Mod Body (, which sells mostly European-made or inspired lingerie, in pretty, comfortable colors and styles, to women who feel a lot like she does.

Rohr's entrepreneurial decision indicates an emerging trend in women's undergarments.

More and more, fashion experts say, mature, professional women are choosing to wear lingerie as a part of everyday dressing, not seduction -- and they want their underclothes to be comfortable, affordable and elegant. And most of all, they're buying the lingerie just for themselves.

"We certainly have seen the evolution [in lingerie]," says Shari Whitson, vice-president of intimate apparel at JC Penney, which this year launched its sensual -- not overtly sexy -- Ambrielle line of women's underwear. "Today's more modern woman is looking for a number of things: she's still looking for function, things that fit her well and supports and shapes her and is comfortable. But the consumer is changing. She wants all that with an air of fashionability. She wants it to be pretty. And she feels like, 'It's not for you; it's for me.'"

Mega-chain Victoria's Secret is still the leader in the intimates industry, Whitson says, noting that there will always be a customer for the super pushed-up, slinky, seductive products for which that company is most known.

But Victoria's Secret's "No. 1 bra launched in the last year is really a one-piece comfort-fit bra," Whitson says. "The advertising and the imagery is very sexy, but the bra is designed to fit you better and provide shaping and comfort."

Years ago, when our mothers and grandmothers were choosing lingerie, the main concern for them was support, coverage, and "holding it all in."

Consequently, the girdles and corsets and bloomers offered to women were neither very pretty, nor very comfortable.

"My father's mother, her idea of lingerie was this full-on girdle that covered everything all the way down, with the clips for the pantyhose," says Rohr, whose lingerie was chosen to be a part of the gift bags given out to celebrities recently at the Country Music Awards. "Nothing about it said beautiful."

This was not always the case with women's undergarments, says Valerie Steele, fashion historian and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. In the late 1890s, underwear went from being rudimentary to very sexy, says Steele, author of the book, The Corset: A Cultural History.

"It was the end of the Victorian era. That was an era that was very covered-up; women were covered from neck to ankle," she says. "But there was a real outburst of very seductive lingerie. You had colorful satin corsets, colorful silk and embroidered petticoats. It was very pretty."

In the 1920s, as clothes got more abbreviated, so did lingerie, Steele says, going from corsets and chemises to camisoles and bandeau brassieres.

The biggest change in lingerie came in the late 1980s, she says, when women started wearing some items of underwear, such as camisoles and slip dresses, as outerwear.

"There are all sorts of negligee styles that have moved well out of the bedroom and the boudoir," says Steele. "You can wear them to clubs and out in the evenings. And that means that a lot of the sensuousness that people associate with lingerie is now acceptable for outerwear."

So today's lingerie is still somewhat Victoria's -- just less of a secret.

"I liked that I was buying something that felt like it was made for me," says Baltimore's Rachel Rabinowitz, 29, who recently purchased two bra-and-panty sets at a local trunk show for a la Mod Body, where items typically range from $50-$100. "It's a luxury purchase. It gives me the 'I've arrived' feeling. And when I wear it, it definitely makes me feel good about myself."

Rabinowitz had until recently, mostly worn Victoria's Secret lingerie, "because you're very pressured into buying it, when you're in college," she says.

But the softer, more comfortable, more elegant lines that a la Mod Body offered convinced her to step up her lingerie game.

"I started life in Underoos -- Wonder Woman Underoos, which, if you think about it, are a camisole and bottoms with these stars on them. I wore it under my clothes just all the time. It made me feel powerful," Rabinowitz says. "And I didn't think about it much until I saw Susan's [Rohr's] line and literally held it in my hand and saw what it was. Then I made the connection in my mind that 'Power panties are back.' It's like the Underoos. It's come full circle."

Many women do feel powerful in beautiful lingerie, whether they wear it as outerwear, or under their clothes where no one will ever see it.

"We're finally doing it for ourselves," says Mary Green, president and CEO of Mary Green, which sells elegant, comfortable lingerie out of San Francisco. "I think it's very evident now. I think we're comfortable being women, with comfortable with ourselves."

Green says she remembers once seeing a fashionable woman in a Milan hotel wearing a gorgeous skirt, great shoes and a beautiful white blouse.

"The skirt had green in it and she had on a green bra. And it was fabulous," Green says. "It wasn't that her breasts were showing; it was just this great color statement. She probably thought, 'This is cool.' And she looked cool."

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