Nearly Naked Greed

Image result for la vie en rose lingerie

If you were to take a typical consumer of, say, 1970, and send him or her via time travel to a contemporary shopping mall, the first thing they’d notice might not be the technology or the prices but the blatant sexuality on display.  The decor and merchandise visible at Victoria’s Secret, La Vie en Rose and La Senza in 2020 was relegated to seedy Adults Only parlors fifty years ago; I’m not sure if you can call this progress.

Many commentators have already pointed out the increasingly erotic aesthetic of modern daily life – some call it “pornification” – by which sexual ideas and images are constantly bombarding us from a wide variety of media.  Maybe they were saying the same thing in the days of Clara Bow and Mae West, and they were definitely saying it when Playboy was at its peak circulation, but by absolute measures our current motifs are far raunchier than anything that would have been commonly (or legally) put on view in 1924 or 1963.  The proliferation of chain lingerie shops that cater to ordinary middle-class customers as they stroll from the food court to the lottery kiosk is another symptom of this.  La Senza and its rivals, whatever the actual products being retailed, are really marketing sex, in the same way that Sportchek markets athleticism and Ikea markets domesticity. You don’t just buy a bra or a thong at Victoria’s Secret – you buy a ticket to a personal X-rated experience.

At least, that’s the illusion.  I recall in the 1990s there was a TV commercial for a brand of ordinary women’s underwear that kidded the very fantasy touted by Frederick’s of Hollywood et al, showing a sequence of ever-more racy garters, frills, and bustiers rolled out on a clothesline.  Each “special occasion” outfit got passed over in favor of the practical garments – “Sorry, guys,” ran the caption. (La Senza even got a well-earned public backlash a while ago for putting out a label called “La Senza Girl,” aimed at pre-teens.  What the hell were they thinking?)  The Victoria’s Secrets and La Vie en Roses no doubt rely on a largely male clientele, men hoping to dress their partners up, for a crucial few minutes at any rate, in name-brand “intimates” which the partners likely wouldn’t pick for themselves.  That’s a pretty big industry to construct around a pretty skimpy fetish.  When you consider the visual come-ons of their posters, mannequins, and generally stripperish environments, lingerie stores are emphatically selling sizzle, not steak.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I like to look at women in sexy underwear, photographed or live, as much as the next guy.  And I’ve spent significant sums of cash in La Senza and La Vie en Rose over the years (I browsed in a Victoria’s Secret outlet before Christmas but I was too embarrassed, and too cheap, to purchase anything).  Yet the success of these places, more than that of most lifestyle emporia, is based on a fundamental deception: they lure you in with the promise of a supermodel orgy and send you home with a few strips of overpriced cotton.  On the mall directories, the growing number of lingerie boutiques are listed under “Specialty Wear,” but their garish exploitation of lust and avarice truly puts them under the category of the world’s oldest profession.

4 thoughts on “Nearly Naked Greed

  1. It’s not a simple thing, but seems to me there’s a correlation between the fact that in Western cultures the closer women get to cultural equality the more female skin is publicly exposed.

    • It seems a good shorthand for the divide is between the hijab and Hooters. I guess I have to side with the latter, in the name of Enlightenment and modernity (not that I’ve ever patronized that restaurant). Thanks for the comment.

  2. You are so right that the lingerie stores are blatantly selling sexuality and evoking the promise of good sex. I was a little surprised at your assertion that these stores rely on a largely male clientele. Not that it isn’t true, or even possible, but not something I had thought of as my husband has never purchased lingerie for me to wear. He enjoys me wearing it, but when I do it is something I have picked out and purchased as a gift to him, or rather both of us, because my heart desires to please him and express my sexuality in that way. If he purchased something for me, then personally, I would no longer perceive it as a mutual gift, but selfishness and lust on his part, and I would mistrust his motives. I don’t personally believe there is anything inherently wrong with most lingerie. It is the motives of the heart on both sides that can be problematic and easily detract from and destroy true mutual sexual intimacy. Lust and objectification occurs with or without the intimate clothing. What is troubling is the normalizing, encouraging and selling of lust and the entitlement to fantasy sex.
    I appreciate your post and shining light on the twisted realities of the lingerie industry.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree that there’s nothing wrong with women wearing lingerie to look sexy for their partners – I’m all for that! However, it does seem that the lingerie chain stores themselves are exploiting something that should be intimate and private by making the accessories just another commodity, like furniture and electronics. Best for 2018.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s