My French Lingerie: a legacy through the ages

22.06.14 Sahara Wilson French lingerieI’m glowing as I mince my way across the room, carrying myself in my jeans and shirt like I’m wearing a Cannes-worthy gown. People watch me out of the corner of their eye and I bask in their adoration.

En fait, I know they can’t help but look at me, so magnetic am I.

“Maybe she’s born with it,” they must be thinking. “Or maybe… it’s my French lingerie.”

Alors, I’ll come clean – the above scenario n’est pas exactement la verité. Mais, even if people do not stare at me with adoration, wearing some gorgeous lingerie sure makes you feel like they do.

There’s something a little bit magical about French lingerie and the way it makes you feel a million bucks. It has some mysterious power to boost your confidence and send you strutting down the street like you’re wearing custom-made Chanel. A certain je ne sais quoi, that is oh-so-similar to the mysterious yet inescapable sex appeal of the French woman.

French lingerie

22.06.14 Sahara Wilson French lingerieLingerie is a big industry in France, with women spending an average of 20% of their style budget every year on these silken goods. Classic French style is timeless, chic and always polished. Just think of modern day style icon Marion Cotillard. So often Cotillard wears simple lines in classic black and white and yet the contrast in shades gives her look a modern yet understated elegance.

One of the secrets to French style according to French designer Anne Fontaine is simply attention to detail. As she says, “French women prefer quality over quantity” and so will invest in classic pieces.

Fashionable French women understand the importance of lingerie, to create lines which flatter every figure no matter what your age.

A brief history

The term lingerie was originally introduced into the English language in the 1850s. However, rather than simply describing ‘washables’ as it does in French, the English adoption of the word brought with it an implication of undergarments that were scandalous and sexy.

Of course, lingerie has been around a lot longer than the usage of the word; it was first evident in Ancient Egypt according to hieroglyphic representations. Clothing in 3000 BCE was considered to carry a certain degree of status, with only the very privileged wearing undergarments to mould the shape of their silhouette – not so dissimilar to today’s society.

“Without proper foundations, there can be no fashion.” Christian Dior

In France in particular, the Middle Ages saw the rise of French lingerie with the introduction of the chemise in the fourth century. However, it wasn’t until the fourteenth century that lingerie began to be used as a shaping garment in France with the introduction of the cotte – a stiff piece of linen that was slipped under the bodice to flatten out the breast.

22.06.14 Sahara Wilson French lingerie

In the hundreds of years that have followed, lingerie has been used to shape women’s bodies in all sorts of interesting shapes, according to the fashion at the time.

One consistency remains, however: since Elizabethan times and the introduction of the corset, the French have been at the forefront of designing gorgeous and sexy underwear. What’s more, during the French Revolution, French women rejected the fashionable corset for more loose fitting underwear with only an inbuilt bustier.

So that’s right ladies; the ancestor of that bra you are wearing right now was born during la Révolution française.

Power of panties

The measure of any good structure begins with the foundations. It makes sense then that to get anywhere in the style stakes, you need a good foundation to work from. Confucius says that “humility is the solid foundation of all virtues”. Well, MyFrenchLife™ says French lingerie is.

22.06.14 Sahara Wilson French lingerieClad in silky, figure-hugging secret armour, you’ll not only look great but you’ll be a better person. Think about it – high self-esteem gives you a more glass half full outlook on the world. As Deborah Ricard of TSE cashmere highlights, French women carry themselves so well because they know that styling “is more about what feels right and looks good on you”.

With your self-confidence shooting through the roof, you’ll be more gracious, more charming, more forgiving and, that’s right, more virtuous. In fact, according to Forbes magazine, people with a sense of self-worth have much better career prospects and traits of low self-esteem can cost you your job!

So when you next look at the ridiculous price tag on that tiny amount of fabric, think of your French lingerie as an investment in making your world a more harmonious place.

Or just shut your eyes when your credit card swipes through the machine and open them when you have that beautiful packaging in your hands – and not a price tag in sight!

Do you love your French lingerie just as much as us? What is your favourite French brand? Share with us your thoughts below or interact with us on social media!

Image credits:
1. Lou Paris Lingerie, Treacle Tart via Flickr.
2. Model, Lies Thru a Lens via Flickr.
3. Postcard. Jean Angélou via Wikimedia Commons.
4. Quote, Treacle Tart via Flickr.

About the Contributor

Sahara Wilson

I have just returned from living in Paris and love to indulge in all things French even when in my hometown of Melbourne. I hope to be a lifelong learner, taking my readers with me as we discover worldly delights! Tweet me @DesertDeWilson or find me on  Google+.

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  1. Christina Guzman Aug 14, 2014 at 11:28 AM - Reply

    Too true! I was in a lecture once and for some reason we were debating the usefulness of underwear – Lingerie was backed by all to boost confidence because even though people may not be able to see it, YOU know it’s there and that it looks good. Ultimately that’s the most important thing – what makes you feel good about yourself.

    • Sahara Wilson Aug 16, 2014 at 10:11 AM - Reply

      Hear, hear Christina. I am such a sucker for gorgeous lingerie, so I always tell myself that I’m only buying it for the self confidence boost 😉 Living in France on such a tight budget and having to walk past lingerie window displays was always hard!

  2. Ellen Burns Aug 14, 2014 at 2:30 PM - Reply

    Women sometimes talk about the relief of throwing off their bras as soon as they get in the door of a night… I’ve never understood that! I like feeling supported. Properly fitting underwear should make you feel comfortable and confident.
    While I appreciate the concept of bra-burning feminism, I’d rather keep mine on thanks. 😉

    • Elise Mellor Aug 15, 2014 at 10:10 AM - Reply

      I’m the same – I don’t even take the garbage out without a bra on (and it’s not even on the street, it’s in the private rear carpark!) because I feel naked.

  3. Jill Craig Aug 14, 2014 at 6:25 PM - Reply

    French women seem to have a different (and I think better) perspective to buying lingerie – it allows them to indulge and feel confident and sexy for themselves, and not just for a man!

    • Sahara Wilson Aug 16, 2014 at 10:05 AM - Reply

      This is so true Jill – lingerie should be all about you (not who else is going to see it), it’s the ultimate self indulgence!

  4. Elise Mellor Aug 15, 2014 at 10:12 AM - Reply

    No wonder 20% of the female clothing budget is spent on lingerie – it’s so terribly expensive. I was at a department store (in Australia mind you) last week trying to find a nice bra… and anything pretty and well-made was going to cost half of my weekly rent. Back to K-Mart for me 🙁

    • Sahara Wilson Aug 16, 2014 at 10:08 AM - Reply

      You’re right Elise. Mind you, anything you buy from Kmart is not exactly going to last in comparison. I swear some of these high end bras are like works of art the amount of time that goes into each one! You’ve got to own at least one 😉

      • Elise Mellor Aug 18, 2014 at 1:14 PM - Reply

        Oh I do own at least a few nice ones 😉 But it makes my credit card cry every time I buy Pleasure State underpinnings…

  5. Alex Mealey Aug 21, 2014 at 10:20 AM - Reply

    I have to say, comfort is my number one priority. Not noticing my underwear during the day feels great. Nothing is more annoying than misfitting panties, no matter how pretty. Of course the ultimate is to have comfort with style! It just requires a bit of searching though.

  6. Alexandria Rogers Aug 30, 2014 at 12:51 PM - Reply

    Oh I just love French lingerie. There was one street somewhere between the 6th and the 7th I would always take to walk home from my friend’s house, and I honestly think I passed at least 15 beautiful lingerie stores in the span of 15 minutes. Only in Paris.

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