Rose Wednesday (resident LGBTQIA+ columnist at The Lingerie Addict) and I have published several LGBTQ+ focused gchats for the Bluestockings Blog, though if you're new to Bluestockings, you may not know it. (The gchats were published before the store opened in April 2015.)
In part because Rose and I haven't done a Bluestockings-official gchat in a while, we covered All The Things and have promised to do better about publicly gchatting this year. Come along for the ride as we range over the ethics of pricing, androgyny, and why we need more diverse voices in the lingerie community.
Jeanna (L) and Rose (R)
Jeanna: I’m so happy to have a gchat!
Rose: Me too! I feel like it's been a long time. I feel like the look has shifted really radically since the last time we talked.
Jeanna: It’s been almost a year to the day since we had our first Valentine's chat about queer visibility in the industry. I'm hoping we can revisit some of those issues and talk about whether we are seeing progress.
I'm curious to hear how you see the "look" as having shifted. Sometimes I feel like looking at the same thing day in, day out as a retailer means that it gets a bit stale -- even the new stuff.
Rose: Well, I know that especially when previewing the fall stuff, Cora [founder and editor-in-chief of The Lingerie Addict] was really excited to see that the "strappy" look had sort of played itself out, other than a few really standout exceptions.
Origami Customs' Cage Bra is one of Bluestockings' bestsellers, in no small part due to its inclusive size range
Jeanna: 100% -- though I confess that I'm personally a fan of the strappy aesthetic.
Rose: Me too! It felt kind of accessible compared to a lot of other lingerie looks. It felt like something you could wear even if you weren't 100% sure about femininity.
Jeanna: Yes! The Marlies Dekkers Dame de Paris bra was my first introduction to really "fashionable" lingerie, which is pretty basic, looking back, but it felt accessible and completely radical, then.
I was wondering if you might have been implying the "look" re: queer/androgynous styles in the industry.
Rose: I feel like that has been growing and diversifying this past year in some interesting ways, and becoming more mainstream. I visited a Victoria's Secret in... maybe July?-- and saw a lot of androgynous, sportswear-inspired bikini briefs and boxer briefs. You know there's something changing in the industry when VS starts carrying the look.
Victoria's Secrets' ethics may be some of the worst in corporate America, but they are ahead of the lingerie curve when it comes to embracing androgynous basics
Jeanna: I haven't visited a VS in a while. It might be time to head there again.
Rose: I definitely feel like I've seen more racial diversity, more body diversity this year.
Jeanna: Given what you're seeing at VS, it feels like there's a sharp divide, between VS and the tried and true fashion brands -- the Wacoal group, Panache, Chantelle, and so on.
Rose: What do you feel you've been seeing from the more traditional brands this year?
Jeanna: It bears noting that I don't interact with them as a buyer, just as a consumer. (Buyer meaning a retail buyer.) I don't have appointments with them at trade shows. I see what you see, what bloggers see, what everyone sees. And I'm not seeing much of anything different? I mean, the Wacoal group brands (e.g. Freya, Huit) and Panache's brands renamed their nudes -- though they've yet to shoot them on women of color, good Lord.
In terms of embracing gender variance or the LGBTQIA+ community, I've seen nothing. And in some cases, some very dig-in-the-heels, traditionally gendered marketing.
Rose: Yeah, whereas a giant like VS is under some pressure to respond to fluctuations in popular demand and popular opinion.
Jeanna: Although, to play devil's advocate, VS has the sales to not *need* to respond too much. They can respond a little bit and call it a day.
Rose: True! A professor of mine liked to talk a good deal about retrenchment as a followup--or a harbinger--of big changes. And we've certainly seen some big changes in the public perception of queerness this year.
Jeanna: I love that! A great way to think about how people and companies respond to social movements.
It's been so interesting to see which corporates and indies responded to major LGBT moments this year -- like Hanky Panky, Angela Friedman -- and who didn't.
With your professor's idea of retrenchment, do you see silence or a lack of moving towards queer and trans inclusivity as ... I don't want to say problematic, but problematic?
Hanky Panky was one of the few lingerie brands to actively publicize support of marriage equality (and LGBTQIA+ rights, generally) in 2015
Rose: That's difficult for me to come down firmly on. Because on the one hand: I think queer representation is good and important, and that we need to see greater plurality. On the other: I don't want people to start ill-conceived campaigns out of a sense that this issue is "trendy."
Jeanna: Ahh. Yes. Do you feel like we've already seen some of those?
Rose: I'd rather see a slower and more lasting range of diverse options in the lingerie industry than a brief "gay trend".
Rose: A professor of mine said "do we want to live in a desirably queer world, or a world that's desirable for queer people?" And I think a desirably queer world is a lot harder.
Jeanna: That's an interesting distinction to mull over.
Rose: I had a really great talk recently with the founder of All is Fair, in which she talks about her next move as a brand being to become a 501(c) nonprofit so that she can sell handmade trans lingerie at a lower price. Which to me just seems brilliant and so in the spirit of considering the needs of her actual customer base.
Jeanna: That is awesome.
Rose: I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of the (admittedly pretty broke) young queer person, especially the gender-nonconforming queer person, in the global economy. And lingerie feels like a microcosm of that issue--
Rose: But we've also talked about that a lot before, you in your blog post and me in my article.
Jeanna: I'm writing about pricing and queerness/feminism right now in a few different articles so it would be great to talk out some thoughts.
Rose: For me, I've been thinking a lot more about the way that lingerie has become a thing that we expect to have a lot of. I'd read older articles/stories as a young person and be surprised to hear about women washing their bras in the bathtub. I remember one story where a woman couldn't leave the house just yet because her bra was drying, you know?
To pause: what's your history with that assumption?
Rose: Since puberty I've had more underwear/lingerie than I could wear in a week, and that at this point is starting to seem like a symptom of fast fashion culture. I wrote recently about how even though I have all these funny little pieces, I wear, in an average week: a plain unlined bra, a sports bra, and a binder. That's three items.
Jeanna: Yeah. We buy underwear in days-of-the-week multi-packs.
to wit: here is a days of the week multipack
Jeanna: I think most people would actually be shocked at how small my underwear drawer is. In my adult life, I’ve always been pretty minimalist about lingerie and pretty ruthless about recycling/donating.
I'm given to understand that my drawer is not typical of a boutique owner. I'm often told by industry friends that they don't know how I don't buy everything at cost for myself. (Answer: I can't afford my own products!)
Rose: Whereas in other industries it's definitely possible to be a connoisseur and not have every piece. The art world, the furniture world. I suppose because lingerie is small it seems eminently hoardable.
Jeanna: Small, and accessible. It's expensive - but if we talk about accessibility with lingerie re: pricing, furniture and art are definitely even more inaccessible to the masses.
Rose: Oh definitely. Especially at the high end.
Jeanna: This is a thoughtful comparison, because there’s a real value in both furniture and art that is evident even to untrained eyes that we don't appreciate in lingerie/garment in the same way.
one of the most expensive items at Bluestockings: FYI by Dani Read's binding brief - handcrafted silk charmeuse with a five-foot sash
Rose: Well, that might be because lingerie is so small visually, or because it's gendered. Or both? Clothing retailers have certainly given people an expectation that clothing costs next to nothing.
Jeanna: Both? And what you were saying earlier about the rise of fast fashion. The value of garments, generally, has been tremendously devalued.
Even items that we understand are outside the general milieu of fast fashion, like a tailored suit or a corset, are still deeply undervalued.
Rose: Yeah. It's hard to talk about anything that goes on the body without relating it to the price of off the rack sportswear.
But I wonder if lingerie is related to the sort of "hero with a thousand faces" thing that femme women (especially straight women) are supposed to do? The idea that you have to be able to be all things?
Jeanna: An obligation. Especially one belonging to/expected of cishet women.
Rose: Like what kind of person are you if you don't have the red bra or the black thong or whatnot? It’s part of being appropriately inappropriate.
Jeanna: Black lingerie means wanting to have sex, right? Or 10 Things I Hate About You lied to me all those years ago.
black = sex ... or just rad awesomeness served up by Gia Genevieve
Rose: You talked about that a little recently in regard to your bachelorette party. How people felt a clear obligation to "equip" you for the world of marriage.
Jeanna: Yes. It's like lingerie is as much a part of the gig as is having a cookware set or matching towels for your bathroom. Which is unfortunate for the women who don't want the lingerie. There's a significant amount of social pressure to perform.
That's perhaps what bothers me so deeply about lingerie ads, particularly around this time of year -- the performative nature of them. A performance expected of / exclusive to the cishet world.
Rose: Yeah, absolutely. It belies the immense diversity of women/femmes/people who wear underwear
I can definitely understand linking sexuality and presentation, but the "enforced" nature of it is what's so baffling. Especially given how much daywear has shifted from a gender binary, it seems odd to see it still in lingerie.
Jeanna: Yes! Lingerie seems rather behind the times, in that way.
Rose: But I've really been enjoying any brand that pushes away from that. Marie Yat is killing me right now with their big-knit, full coverage panties.
Jeanna: I am so in love with their aesthetic.
One thing that I'd love to hear your thoughts on is the trouble with defining "androgyny" in regards to lingerie -- Marie Yat could be called androgynous. And accessibility re: "androgynous" brands, particularly when it comes to size-inclusivity.
Rose: Yeah. I've been seeing increasing pushback on the idea that androgyny should belong only to thin white people. But I haven't seen a *huge* response from lingerie brands to that idea. I've seen it some from you, and PlayOut has a pretty generous range of sizes, and so do some of the binder manufacturers like GC2B.
Jeanna: I'm still in the middle of a new year customer survey, and the biggest request from my customers - by far - is for androgynous, plus size loungewear.
Rose: That’s really lovely.
I'd love to see more space for big people and people of color in queer lingerie. I think the queer lingerie community definitely could do better by QPOC, especially considering that they're a huge part of queer American history.
Jeanna: Agreed -- saying that as someone who is a white queer person in the queer lingerie community.
One area of growth that has been amazing to see this year is more LGBTQIA+ bloggers.
Rose: I hope that the new influx of bloggers and contributors who are open about being queer will make more people feel like this is a conversation they could be a part of. Even people who don't want to collect lingerie or get super into it deserve to feel like they have room in that space.
Jeanna: Yes. One thing I've loved seeing is LGBTQIA+ readers/supporters/customers of Bluestockings getting super active on social media with not only me but The Lingerie Addict, Sweet Nothings.
Blogging is a big commitment, but it doesn't take nearly as much energy to tweet at people and offer up a different perspective in the Twitter comments. Trust me, brands read those.
Rose: That's a good point! I think I chronically underestimate the power of social media
Jeanna: It is so powerful, and it’s a great option for folks who don't feel they have the resources (monetary or otherwise) to be in a constant flood of new lingerie. Or who want to limit their lingerie intake, like you were saying earlier.
Rose: I feel as though your social media work feels very different than that of big brands; it feels much more individualized and much less afraid to have an opinion. And because of that, sort of paradoxically, it feels more relatable.
Jeanna: I have the convenience of being a one woman show, so I am Bluestockings / Bluestockings is me. Which can also suck, when criticism comes. But it definitely helps in terms of relating to people and hearing what they want. Perhaps humorously, I feel like my customers also feel more at ease to send me five paragraph complaint emails? Lol? Because they know that I'll read and respond to them.
Slight tangent -- but. Even the brands that don't seem like they are listening are. I mean, Freya, Panache -- they all changed their nude names this year. Baby steps!
Rose: It would be lovely to see that kind of attention spreading to larger changes, like manufacturing practices. Of course, that's a more expensive project.
I feel like pricing, generally, is so difficult because it means asking people who are already feeling the pressure of capitalism to change their behavior. Like for a lot of queer people, lingerie can be about self care. Having things that stop you from feeling terrible about your body/presentation/orientation is a wonderful feeling.
Jeanna: That is such a good way of putting it. I loved your article on how pricing is a feminist issue. It really got at how knotty and tangled an issue this is. It's knotty on the manufacturing end. And on the buying end. And what's happening if the prices are raised because of ethical production, but we are still in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy so we're all still earning shit money so we can't afford ethically produced goods?
Rose: Thank you! That was a real struggle because I wanted to address the concerns of broke queer folks at home while also talking about how: well, we do have to at least consider how our actions impact people overseas. At least some of whom are (if statistics are right) also queer.
Jeanna: Exactly. It's really a tough call. And ethical consumerism itself is so difficult as a choice. I don't know about you, but personally I could be labeled a complete hypocrite: my underwear drawer is ethical, but are my shoes? Not sure. I stay in the dark because I know I can't afford to overhaul my whole closet overnight -- the limitations of capitalism.
Rose: Right. You do what you can when you can. I try to be very transparent about the fact that due to my limitations, I buy some unethical stuff.
Jeanna: It's an imperfect system.
Rose: That's a big goal this year: now that I no longer am struggling as much with my body/presentation, spend more time (and probably more money) thinking about how my choices work in the world.
Spellbound Gown by She and Reverie
Jeanna: I loved an interview I did with [indie lingerie designer] Quinne Myers of She and Reverie, who talked about how you do what you can as a designer, in terms of ethical sourcing, but the hooks and small wire bits for lingerie? Who the fuck knows where that comes from? The difficulties of sourcing a garment entirely ethically.
Rose: We live in a society that's built on the idea that certain little fiddly things just... appear. And that if you look too closely at where they come from, it's probably not good.
Jeanna: Indeed. So there's the ethics piece of pricing. Then there's the discrimination piece of who has money in this industry and who doesn't. And which consumers have money, and which don't.
Rose: It's easy to be ethical if you're already sitting on some wealth and have access to basic necessities.
If I had a lingerie company I think I'd want to make really dull basics--unlined bras, cotton panties--that were manufactured stateside and ethically sourced and fairly gender-neutral in construction. But that's not exactly an easy company to brand.
Jeanna: Rose's Knickers? I'd buy it.
Rose: "Rose's Knickers: For When You're Just Done."
Jeanna: That tagline. My heart.
Rose: I could also use Henry Ford's old slogan: Any color you want as long as it's black.
What do you think, friends? Are there particular challenges facing queer representation in lingerie that we should be thinking about? How do you see brands approaching androgyny, if at all? Let us know in the comments!