Shopping for underwear used to be so simple. A quick trip to the store, a hunt around to find something that didn’t look too boring/frumpy/hideous and that was that. Day-to-day underwear never used to be glamorous, it was just… underwear.
Things are very different these days, because celebrity culture is everywhere: including almost all of the most popular shops. It is difficult now to find a store that does not have some sort of celebrity endorsement going on, and underwear departments have not escaped this trend.
As a result it is often no longer socially acceptable simply to wear ‘underwear’. The celebrity ranges have introduced the world to the concept of ‘lingerie’ (or, for men, ‘bodywear’). So much more exciting. The stakes have been raised, and it is hard now to imagine anybody who would go on a big night out without having planned their entire outfit, right down to the very last layer. Indeed, some people do this just to go to work.
One benefit of the celebrity effect is that there is a range to suit pretty much any personality or style type. For the retro vixens and rockabilly girls out there, the queen of burlesque and pasty tassels, Dita Von Teese, has a range of lingerie that oozes old style Hollywood and takes glamour to a whole new level. Meanwhile Beyoncé’s recent venture into underwear is much more low-key. Using the font from her recent music video album, the simple ‘yours/mine’ undies are about as understated as merchandise can get.
H&M have brought us David Beckham’s ‘bodywear’ (not ‘underwear’, you will notice), and some fairly raunchy Super Bowl advertising along with it – the result being that a whole new generation of men fear that their love of good old tighty whities could turn them into social pariahs. Other celebrities have had so much fun creating underwear that they have made an entire career of it – former supermodel Elle McPherson has been producing undergarments since 1990. Janet Jackson, Kylie Minogue and various Kardashians are just some of the famous faces to be associated with lingerie lines.
So it seems that, once again, celebrity culture has infiltrated daily life and is now finding its way into the world’s underwear drawers. Is this a good or bad thing? It’s difficult to say. The rise of the celebrity as designer, or endorser, has at least brought a greater selection of items into the shops and made glamour – in various forms – more accessible and achievable for everyone. On the other hand, this could be seen as just one more form of body fascism, with yet more expectation that everybody will dress a certain way (which, let’s face it, often assumes a certain ‘celebrity’ type body shape), in short it could be seen as yet another way of stamping out individuality in the interests of profit and publicity.
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. The celebrity endorsement of lingerie is clearly a marketing ploy, but one that is not without benefits. As long as nobody buys knickers at the expense of food, or feels unable to wear mis-matched undies ever again, nobody needs worry too much.