Lingerie industry moves into the image market

The French lingerie industry is promoting a new twist on the you-can't-judge-a-book-by-its-cover theme. A woman's image, it seems, now depends on the undies she selects. Since image-seeking already swathes the fashion world, the lingerie industry merely had to jump on the bandwagon. Meanwhile, the fashion-conscious femme is being bombarded with know-your-image campaigns. If she takes clothes and colors and underpinnings as the total tally of her being, it must be difficult for her to figure out who she is.

According to lingerie publicity campaigns, the outerwear that the general public sees does not truly depict a woman's image. She may appear in long-sleeved high-neck dresses as modest as a Victorian maiden aunt, but what the populace doesn't see may well turn out to be black lace undies of the Brigitte Bardot variety. And which is the real woman? You can guess what the industry says.

The reasoning behind such marketing shenanigans is that once a woman has determined her ``image,'' she's less likely to be indecisive when she enters the lingerie boutique. She'll look, and she'll buy, eliminating the hemming and hawing -- those indecisive moments when sales sometimes fail.

For the sake of the game, let's look at the attributes the industry pins to each image.

Sportive. The no-nonsense sportive woman is action-oriented in both outerwear and under- cover. Her clothes derive inspiration from track and training suits with boxer shorts in vogue. Night clothes are the antithesis of the boudoir scene of the old Hollywood films, and pajamas might well have been pilfered from a husband's cupboards.

Double agent. The double agent, as one might expect, carries a dual identity. Her daily wardrobe for both professional and private life is strict, with well-tailored suits and ensembles often stereotyped in the total effect. But her underpinnings are the direct opposite: soft, frilly, occasionally even daring, and featured in all the luxury fabrics -- pure silks and satin trimmed with quality lace. She wears one-piece ``teddies'' and sheer organza or chiffon nightgowns and peignoirs.

Siren. She opts for clinging silhouettes with plunging necklines and daring d'ecollet'es, skirts with slits, and fashions which are often reminiscent of the 1950s. Her lingerie is skimpy and her stockings are teamed with ruffled and beribboned garter belts. This year's stocking news is music to the siren. The stores will be showing all sorts of them in lace and mesh, both colors and black.

Traditionalist. She's a conformist who's conservative and economical in her life style and overall approach to everything from food to fashion. Her wardrobe is classic, with ultrasimple silhouettes in dark solids and plain fabrics. Her underclothes are utilitarian and frequently boring -- those old-fashioned slips cut on the bias, half slips, boned bras, and long-legged panties. The traditionalist this year may venture to buy a pair of hose with seams, but you can be sure those seams will never become

a serpentine wiggle.

These are the four major images set up by the industry. But as an afterthought, promoters established a fifth category, hoping it would encompass anyone left out. It's a sizable umbrella, indeed: ``La Branch'ee,'' suggesting that this woman branches out into all directions, depending on her mood. With these five categories, the French industry can't possibly miss a Miss out there -- except perhaps the five-year-olds.

So much for pegging one's personality via skivvies.

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