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Ask Belle: Twelve Undergarment Essentials


For the sake of completeness, would you do a post on basic undergarments that professional women should have in their wardrobes (i.e. hankie pankies, nude fishnets, etc.)? Having your main recommendations in one spot would be helpful not only for newcomers to the blog (and to dressing professionally), but for those who have been following you for a while, as well.

Please keep up the good work! 


As someone who has seen more than her fair share of visible panty line, exposed bra strap, ill-fitting bra, this is a valuable question.  Bad undergarments can ruin even the best outfits, don’t let it happen to you.

Hanky Panky Boyshorts ($35) // Hanky Panky Low Rise Thongs ($18) // Aerie Seamless Boyshort ($10) // CK Smooth Push Up ($48) // CK Convertible Bra ($46) // Fashion Forms Adhesive Bra ($36) // Shimera Camisoles ($26 or 2 for $48) // Nude Fishnets ($14) // Yummie Tummie Slip ($93) // DKNY Super Opaque Black Tights ($15) // Agent Provocateur Caitlin Lingerie Set ($380)

Underwear.  I wear Hanky Panky low-rise thongs because they’re comfortable (I swear!) and for the most part, they don’t show panty line.  (I have one jersey dress where you can see the lace print in the wrong light.)  I wear these almost all the time.  Why “almost”?  Because gynecologists are big fans of cotton underwear for maintaining good health, so I sleep regular cotton boyshorts.

The lace Hanky Panky boyshorts are great with jeans or any time when you need a bit more coverage.  But if I’m wearing a jersey dress that might show the lace, I switch to a seamless boyshort.  These Aerie ones are pretty good, but if you need an ultra-smooth, find-a-line-I-dare-you short, you need these Commando microfiber ones.

Hanky Panky’s also come in plus size, and Lane Bryant makes a line of seamless knickers.

Bras.  There’s a lot of nude in this set, so feel free to add color as you see fit, but these are the basics.  The top bra is a smooth cup bra that will remain hidden beneath even the sheerest fabric.  And the middle bra is a convertible bra that can be worn as a halter, a racerback, a one shoulder, etc.  

The bottom bra is one of my favorite new finds.  I’ve been wearing adhesive NuBras since they came out.  With cocktail dresses and tiny tops, there’s nothing better.  Or so I thought.  This bra from Fashion Forms is adhesive, strapless and backless, but unlike NuBra, it has some bottom support.  Now, the lift looks more like a real bra and less like you’re braless.  And while you may not need them for work, I do recommend that women own a set of nylon petals for when you go braless or wear a thin bra.  

As for those ladies with more cleavage, the best advice I can give you is Figleaves.  They have a great selection of DD+ and even GG+ bras both pretty and basic.  Other than that, hopefully, some readers will chime in with suggestions because I am not blessed in the bust area.

Lastly, now seems as good a time as any to plug the importance of getting a bra fitting once per year.  Nordstrom stores do a good job, and if you’re in D.C., check out Coupe de Foudre on E Street.  

Camisoles.  Having a few smooth camisoles to wear under sheer tops or silk/chiffon blouses is essential.  I own a couple of nude ones, a black one and a handful of colored ones to match the tops in my closet.  I like the Shimera camis best.  They fit snugly and smoothly, come in a number of colors, they’re long enough to cover your whole torso and they come in plus sizes for those who need them.

Slips.  Most women have given up slips just like we gave up on nude hose.  But just like nylons, it’s good to have one just in case.  If you own a static-y dress that sticks to you, a slip can help with that.  If you’re wearing a pale color, and don’t want to avoid doorways all day, a slip can help.  This Yummie Tummie slip has a little bit of control top to keep things smooth, but if you just want a simple half slip, try this one from Vanity Fair for $12.

Legwear.  I used to tout Commando tights.  Then, I had three pairs rip in two weeks.  At $36 per pair, that’ll put a cramp in your wallet.  So I’m back in my old standby, DKNY Super Opaques.  

Beyond a couple of pairs of black tights, I also own two pairs of nude micro-fishnets.  I wear them in place of regular nylons.  But if you’re not that daring, or need more coverage, be sure to choose a super sheer pair like Donna Karan The Nudes hose.

Lingerie.  Why put an expensive pair of lacy and racy lingerie in a post about basics?  Because every woman deserves, not needs–deserves, a beautiful lingerie set.  It can brighten a bad day and make you feel sexy and pretty in an instant.  

Agent Provacateur not in your budget? (Mine either.)  Eberjey makes pretty pieces for ladies who like their lingerie low-maintenance.  Anthropologie carries a lot of lovely, lacy things.  And Elle McPherson intimates, available at Net-a-Porter and for lower prices at The Outnet, are built like basics with a sultry soul.

What foundation pieces do you recommend for building a wardrobe?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.



  1. gingerr says:

    I saw a blog article about nylons and they noted, correctly I think, that if you work with/around the Federal gov't you're more likely than the normal gal to wear panty nylon stockings. I thought that was true. It's a quirk of the DC area. I say, wear'em and don't fret about it.

    I like petti-pants. They work better for me under pencil skirts than a half slip, which tends to ride up.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. Ann says:

    Coupe de Foudre is wonderful and I highly recommend them. I had a double mastecomy with reconustruction in 2009 and this was the first place that did not treat me as if I still did not want to wear pretty and/or sexy underthings.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  3. Lauren says:

    For the well endowed, I swear that Lane Bryant has the BEST bras on the market. They are comfortable, have lots of support, and have gotten surprisingly chic over the past few years.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  4. m says:

    I've said this before, but I am a huge fan of J Crew's silk camisoles. They're loose slim-fitting, not figure hugging, which is what makes them great. They don't ride up or cause unsightly lines but do give a undetectably light extra layer of coverage under sheer or low-cut blouses.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  5. SB says:

    A suggestion for the extremely well-endowed, I have found that barenecessities.com and also Neiman Marcus has a great selection. Neiman's is great if you want to go try them on…I usually go to the Friendship store, but they have the 34+++++++++++ (well over DD) sizes that I wear at all of the stores in the area. And for barenecessities.com, they always have sales and also they have bikini tops in my bra sizes too, which is a rare find.

    And I would add Spanx to the list. Every woman has at least an outfit or two that, no matter how tiny you are, can still benefit from a good pair of Spanx. Spanx tights and dresses are pretty much all I wear in the winter.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  6. Shannon says:

    I like the nude fishnets from Nordstrom Rack. They're a wider weave (so they won't help keep you warm), but they hold up pretty well, and if they don't, well, you're only four dollars poorer.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  7. EBT says:

    Marie Jo, Freya, Panache and Chantelle are brands with beautiful bras in an enormous range of sizes. I own the Marie Jo Avero in nude and black. Though pricey, it is the best bra I have ever owned. Without question. It is comfortable, pretty, and amazingly supportive. And it comes in my size, which never happens. Intimacy is a great lingerie store (that happens to carry the brands listed above in every size imaginable). They have a store at Tyson's. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  8. RosieAims says:

    Great list! I would add a few things.

    1) “Foundation garments”/Spanx. I would recommend two pieces — a full-body, starts under the bra (attaches to bra with straps so it doesn't roll down) and goes into shorts that hit a few inches above the knee option, and a tank that has full tummy and back coverage but a cut-out for your chest so your girls don't get smooshed. Both in nude.

    2) A full slip in nude and in black

    3) Black sheer hose (I have found these to be so versatile!)

    4) Knee-high hose things in black or other neutrals to wear with pants. I like subtle patterns like chevrons, stripes, or dots.

    5) Fashion tape (for fixing a gaping shirt, or ensuring that a wide crowll neck hangs correctly)

    6) Those plastic thingies that hold your bra straps together on your back to help with narrow straps or racer-backed tops. I've seen them on info-mercials (hah!) but also with the lingerie stuff in places like Target.

    7) Armpit-shields. Gross, but very necessary with a handful of my favorite tops. They stick right to your clothing absorb any sweat before it can cause issues. I got mine at Nordstrom.

    Interested to hear what others' must-haves are!

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  9. Meg says:

    I'd second the need for a nude and black full length slip. I own several dresses that I'd consider too clingy to wear to work , but when I wear a slip under them the dresses skim over my curves and are more work appropriate. It also helps keep my skirts from riding up when I wear tights (patterned tights make my skirts bunch up from catching on them).

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  10. KC says:

    I've also jumped on the slip bandwagon recently. I got a nude and black full slip at Gap Body that are awesome. I especially like them for wrap dresses that I wear a cami with, so I don't end up with a visible cami line around my hips. They add a layer of warmth in the winter, and I think help keep my dresses cleaner longer.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  11. Anna says:

    The Little Bra Company for the ladies with smaller sizes. I won't buy anything else!

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  12. Anne says:

    Can I wear the nude fishnets with nude shoes or is it best to stick with regular hose?

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  13. LT says:

    I like the Shimera camis as well, but I get the ones with the wider (1″ or so) straps so that my bra doesn't show. I hate the look under a sheer blouse of both a cami strap and a bra strap.

    For those on the quest for turely no VPL briefs (because I find the Hanky Panky's to be uncomfortable), you might want to try the COTTON Commando boy short. They don't ride up the way the microfiber ones do. These are terrible under clingy jersey dresses, but are great under trousers. For clingy jersey dresses, I like the Zobha yoga underwear. They're made of a slick material so the dress doesn't catch on the fabric. I also think it's necessary to NOT wear a thong or hanky panky thong under jersey dresses because then the fabric of the skirt catches between your cheeks and that is just so unsightly. Full coverage briefs of a slick material (again, like the Zobha's) is the remedy, and a slip adds extra protection.

    I also love the Commando slip. It has a weighted hemline in the bottom to keep it from rolling up, and the top looks like a cami so it's ok to have it showing at the neckline. I wear these under sweater dresses and jersey dresses to keep things from clinging in an unsightly way.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  14. Shannon says:

    Anne, I wear nude fishnets with nude pumps pretty often, I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  15. E says:

    Thanks Belle, great post. I recently had a disagreement with another Hill colleague about appropriate legwear under skirts and dresses. I do not consider myself old fashioned but in the winter, I wear nylons with my suits and dresses to work. She insists that is so “old lady” and she only wears dark colored opaque tights. I think this makes women look more juvenile and less “put together,” especially when they wear colors other than black (I've seen Marge Simpson yellow, I die). Thoughts?

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  16. Erin says:

    I wear well above a DD cup with a small band size so I have a hard time finding things in regular lingerie departments. Once you get fitted you can buy in store or visit BareNecessities or FigLeaves on-line.

    There are a lot of blogs out there devoted to bustier women so definitely do some research. One I love is the Butterfly Collection Blog (https://blog.butterflycollection.ca/)

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  17. k-t says:

    As someone with a small band size and large cup size, I've had success ordering from HerRoom, BareNecessities and Zappos (yes, the shoe place). Even though I know my measurements, every brand and even styles within a brand varies, so order a bunch and return what doesn't work. I'm partial to Le Mystere brand.

    I love my boy shorts from Road Runner Sports (store brand). I wear them skiing, but also under skirts and dresses when I'm not wearing tights.

    I prefer regular rise Hanky Panky thongs. FYI, they come in cotton, too. Zappos sells them, too.

    My favorite camis are the BP ones from Nordstrom's junior section. Size up though, as they are juniors.

    February 1, 2013/Reply
  18. Lady Lawyer says:

    I am a fan of the Victoria Secret Lace Trim Thong Panty. You can get them 5 for $26 in neutral (and not so neutral) colors. I find them to be relatively seamless and cotton where it counts. They seem to last, too.

    And agree with others above, definitely would add Spanx to this list.

    February 1, 2013/Reply
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