Victoria’s Secret is one of the better merchandisers on this planet. They use every marketing technique available to sell product. From direct mail to text marketing, email to producing that annual underwear fest they call a TV show. It’s all about moving product.
I get their emails and mailers because I try to do the right thing and buy what my girlfriend wants. And we’ll get to what that actually means. For the moment, what really intrigued me was the Subject Line of an Email received in my inbox from Victoria’s Secret.
It said: “BOYS ARE LIKE BRAS.”
That made me laugh out loud. Really? Why is that, I wanted to know? Well, it turns out we’re hardly one of a kind. Because the email opens up to a subhead that reads:
So. Many. Options. So why choose just one?
Okay, I get it now. Boys are kind of like bras. Girls do try them on for size. Some they keep. Others they dump. It’s just like Elle King’s recent bop-hop song X’s and O’s
Well, I had me a boy, turned him into a man
I showed him all the things that he didn’t understand
Whoa, and then I let him go
Now, there’s one in California who’s been cursing my name
‘Cause I found me a better lover in the UK
Hey, hey, until I made my getaway
This is the age of female empowerment after all. It took Cosmo magazine 30 years and thousands of headlines telling women how to please a man, and get pleasure in return. And then Victoria’s Secret came along to ostensibly aid women in achieving that goal. As if pleasing a man really takes much effort.
But honestly, I don’t think that’s the real reason why most women buy sexy little bits of underwear. If you learn your way around a Victoria’s Secret store (and guys, you should) it becomes apparent that women’s panties are not about you at all. Panties are essentially a pretty, disposable item.
For one thing, panties don’t cost all that much. They’re really a loss leader to get women buying other, more expensive items like bras and sprays. You can get six pairs of panties for only $27.00 during one of those VS specials. That’s about the same price guys pay for a set of Hane’s tagless tee shirts at your local Kohl’s store. Think about that for a minute. We’re starting to dial in here. Stick with it.
Those men’s tee shirts last about a year and then the cotton starts to turn a sad grayish color and the material gets floppy around the neck. At that point, most wives secretly dump those old tee shirts into the shoe polish bin and magically a new set of tee shirts appears in the drawer. It’s a simple science. All you need to know is a guy’s chest size and replacing tee shirts is easy. The old tee shirts go off to the thrift store and the old briefs or boxer underwear get tossed into the garbage.
It’s a more complicated process in the other direction. It’s a practical fact that women never hurl piles of used panties or bras into a sack and drag them to the thrift shop. As any woman can tell you, that’s just plain gross. There are too many things going on down there for even healthy women to recycle underwear of any kind. And when a bra has finished its service, it won’t even function as a decent slingshot. All these trifles and nothings that women wear under their clothing are fashionable, but ultimately dispensable. If they happen to look sexy, that’s simply the tradeoff for the practical realities of being female. There’s even a transitional store for younger women that goes by the name PINK. It accomplishes the same purpose.
So this is a kind way of explaining why there are so many kinds of panties, and in so many pretty colors and patterns. They are camouflage for the gritty fact of being a female. That’s Victoria’s real secret. Make a woman feel pretty through the earthy verve of being a woman and all that it entails, and you have won her heart.
I know I’m right about this because as you’ll note, there is no male equivalent to Victoria’s Secret. Not unless you count Gander Mountain or Cabela’s. Or perhaps a local Under Armor store.
It is interesting to note that the sports industry has gravitated back to the idea where controlling your junk is again a priority. Back in the 60s and 70s men wore jockstraps, which were nothing more than utility thongs with side bands. And they worked.
Deny it all you like, but there was an autoerotic aspect to jockstraps with that stretchy pouch to hold a man’s wank and jewels. Any guy that says he never got a hard-on while putting on a jock is a complete and total liar. Of course, at the age at which most boys began wearing jockstraps, all it took was a stiff breeze to generate an erection. So the premise of that argument is slightly flawed. But you get the drift.
From jocks to flops
Then jockstraps went out of fashion, replaced by running shorts with built-in briefs. These were, at first, an unsettling development. The flop-around factor was considerable, but one got used to that pretty quick. There was a liberating aspect to having your crank flop around inside silk shorts.
This was the 70s, after all, the decade when lots of body parts were flopping around. Women’s breasts drove the jiggle factor that took over our TV sets. Programs like Battle of the Network Stars and Three’s Company were about little more than erect nipples and bouncing breasts.
You may recall that during that same period, some groups of women actually burned their bras. That turned out to be both an iconic and an ironic act. In the short term, all it did was draw even more sexual attention and objectification to women. Not all political actions have straight line results.
But perhaps there was something else going on. Those old-style giant white bras were sexual in a Rocky Horror Picture Show sort of way. The taboo of those massive undergarments was the entire dynamic. Burning those bras was opening the door to a different kind of revolution.
Because along came the women’s revolution in athletics. No longer did women want to truck about in what amounted to giant white torture devices. The sports bra was invented, and at first, they were all white and had all the fashion glory of a potato sack with the potatoes still stuck inside. Then came the invention of Spandex, which was turned into tights and shorts and finally stretchy bras that were slightly more flattering and functional. Then these garments evolved into yoga pants and athletic wear of a thousand variegations.
Brands for women
It was no coincidence that during the feminist revolution, bras underwent a comfort revolution as well. Women of all sizes wanted bras that not only fit, but worked to prevent breasts from flopping around too much. It was only 30 years ago that the first sports bras emerged on the market. It wasn’t until women took over the process that gals got bras and shorts that actually fit their bodies. Now there are brands for women such as Athleta and Title 9 and Lulomon that specialize in clothing women actually want to wear to work out.
So, if you’re a guy who wants to buy your gal something she really likes, it pays to ask a few questions. That goes for just about everything you ever buy for a woman. Even an engagement ring. Just ask. It’s not that hard. You’ll likely learn a ton of interesting things about how she thinks before the conversation’s over. It’s an Eternal Rule. If you actually listen to what a woman is saying, that will be greatly appreciated. And so will you.
The other Eternal Rule is that while it might appear that women are dressing for you, they’re really not. You’ll note that while Victoria’s Secret also sells workout wear, including sports bras and tee shirt bras and bras that just plain look pretty, there is always a practical issue underlying all these pretty things.
You’ll note that some of the sports bras women can buy are worn without a shirt over them. If women choose to do that, it is a man’s job not to stare. Not all women are imitating Madonna, who started the whole trend of wearing regular bras over her clothes.
Athletic women are far more like soccer player Brandi Chastain who tore off her jersey after winning a soccer game and did so in an enthusiastic, unadorned celebration of life itself. That act generated a lot of controversy, yet in the end, it produced a remarkable change in attitudes toward women athletes. One of respect.
Morals and morality
The moral of this story is that Victoria’s Secret is not really what you think it is. Sure, the company uses sexuality to sell its product. But in truth, that’s only part of the story. all that sexy marketing is in sum, a ruse to disguise the very practical fact of women want to feel good about themselves. The display pretty bra straps calculatedly layered to show off shoulders may seem entirely sexual, but it’s really not. It’s a fashion statement, and that’s a very different thing. Women (and some enlightened men) actually know this. It’s a brand of visual dialogue that leaps all the way over to the running track, and cycling gear, and swimwear, all of which have a function called performance. And that’s the metric by which women really want to be valued. Yes, it’s nice to be visually appreciated, but not at the cost of letting me be who I am.
Fashion and fascism
Because fashion is such an accepted part of being human, it can easily be misunderstood. But as this dialogue from the movie The Devil Wears Prada explains, the underlying fact of what we wear is a reflection of a collective desire for attention and respect. The two can appear to be in conflict when women seem to sexualize themselves and then complain when getting unwanted attention from men. But it’s all part of a perpetually evolving dynamic in which women and all of humanity struggles for respect, equality and empowerment. Fashion is just one of the tools of that expression. This passage from the dialogue in The Devil Wears Prada describes the trickle-down effect of fashion versus the desire to make choices and empowerment of ideas on our own.
This… ‘stuff’? Oh… ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff.
If that seems Draconian and the product of a power-mongering control freak, then you’re paying attention. But in the end, it’s not that the fashion industry entirely controls us. It’s that fashion in all its forms both controls and reflects an individual and collective struggle for recognition, and freedom to choose.
Those trends and choices are so easily perverted and exploited by mass communications and politics. One of the mistakes some political leaders make in seeking and wielding power is that they come to assume that the process of creating political “fashion,” their ideology, as it were, places them above the fact that people everywhere still have the right to make their own choices. They ultimately mistake, as Miranda Priestley did, their power for their purpose.
Tragically, when politicians begin to assume they are capable of making individual choices for people, controlling their rights, they have drifted out of the realm of political fashion into a brand of fashionable fascism.
That’s why some brands of male politicians cannot bring themselves to actually respect women even as they sexualize and worship them. They fear women’s bodies even as they desire them. This taboo is use as some sort of excuse to push women into roles or positions they may not desire. This male habit is even codified in the Bible in laws against women that proclaim them “unclean” during their menstrual cycles. And in today’s political climate, this “fear versus respect” internal conflict among some groups of men still drives them to politicize issues of women’s health and take away reproductive freedom. There is fascism in this brand of misogyny.
Meanwhile, Victoria’s Secret sells millions of panties making some men think that all women are dressing for them, when in fact those women are dressing for themselves, and perhaps their friends as well. That’s simply approaching fashion in a signatory way. It sends signals of both choice and collaboration. It happens that some gay men are known to dress well, and it is also a signatory device.
But you’ll notice that at the end of the movie The Devil Wears Prada, the character Andy Sachs chooses to reject the more fascist leanings of the fashion industry, which demands that she conform and go along or be cast out. She walks away from her job with Miranda Priestley even though that position confers the young assistant with enormous power. She makes an even more powerful choice on her own volition, and goes into journalism. Because that’s who she ultimately is. She just dresses better now.
The real Victoria’s Secret
The fact that dressing pretty can make a woman feel good about herself, and her body, is the Victoria’s Secret men actually need to learn. It’s not about you, guys. It’s about them. And until you understand that you will never be in on the real secret. It’s called respect, and that’s the most interesting thing you can give to any woman.
But a nicely fashionable bag is a good gift too. Just know what you’re doing, lest you look like a fool.
Nate: Why do women need so many bags?
Lilly: Shut up.
Nate: You have one. You put all your junk in it, and that’s it. You’re done.
Doug: Fashion is not about utility. An accessory is merely a piece of iconography used to express individual identity.
Lilly: Oh! And it’s pretty.
Doug: That too.