Back to basics

Although hidden, your underwear plays an important role in defining an outfit and can improve self-confidence, Anna Harvey explains.

It is obvious, when you think about it, that any re-think or re-working of an existing wardrobe, or indeed the planning of a wonderful new one, must begin with the right underwear. Once you have identified the bits of your own body that you would like hidden, improved, or just generally encouraged, it is time to assess what to wear beneath what you wear.



It is repeated so often as to almost be a cliché, but when gravity begins to take its toll, and you can no longer rely on muscles doing the essential support work, a good bra really is an absolute necessity. So let’s talk checkpoints:

  • A bra should not sit too low, but neither should it sit too high and there should be absolutely no bulges at the back, nor at the sides beneath the armpits.
  • Underwiring is not essential but can be very helpful. And please, no nipples showing through a thin shirt – so always buy a bra that is moulded or lined.
  • As a basic bra wardrobe, you need a dark-coloured bra – black, or maybe dark brown or grey, and a white one or, better still, one that is flesh-coloured, which often looks more natural under see-through clothes.

It’s a strange fact that some people seem to think that you only need one bra, which you wear until the elastic is wrinkled and the straps sagging. I even heard of someone who didn’t bother to buy her own but wore her daughters’ castoffs.

And another thing…

I really do think that it is important to have a bra fitted – or at any rate, the first one that you buy from a new supplier. Personally, I don’t go to a specialist bra company, but to the underwear department of any department or chain store that has professional fitters. But wherever you go, you must look at your boobs in relation to your body; it’s a fact that when you get thinner—or fatter—your boobs will get larger or smaller along with the rest of your body. It’s amazing how some women seem to divorce the size of their bust from their weight.


They may be neither very attractive nor sexy but the fact is that big knickers do work, and they leave the minimum of VPL (which, as we all know, stands for Visible Panty Line..), which, if you’re like me who has a dropped bottom, means that rather than cutting in under your bottom, which in itself doesn’t look that good, the VPL can cut through bottom sag in a most unattractive way. Under full or soft skirts you can, of course, wear anything you like, but under a straight skirt or tight trousers, you definitely do need some sort of support.


Modern support or shapewear as it sometimes known

The re-shaping, on a temporary basis, of the bits you don’t like is big business; there are designs that smooth, firm and lift, ranging from an almost all-in-one which goes from bosom to bottom and beyond, to simple bust-shapers or sculpted briefs. Some designs are quite attractive, others more like functional armour, but the range, at every price level, means that there really is something for everyone and they do have a positive effect. Try to find pieces that—like good makeup—make you look like a better version of you, rather than a different person.

Slips and camisoles

If you are wearing anything vaguely sheer you must wear a slip or camisole as it unifies the look and makes the most of what you are wearing. Personally if I am out shopping for clothes I always wear a camisole or a thin vest top as I then feel more confident trying on clothes. If you only want to buy one camisole make it flesh-coloured rather than white – and try to choose a flesh tone that is closest to your own. And for warmth in the winter, you can find really fine camisole tops in knitted silk – the Swiss company Hanro make lovely ones.

And another thing…

It is an irony that when my friends and I were much, much younger and had quite well-proportioned, good figures, in order to keep our stomachs in check we all used to wear elasticated tubes called roll-ons which smelled of elastic and rubber. We didn’t need them then of course, but we thought we did. Then came the idea of liberation and freedom and we all gave up the bras and ditched the roll-ons. Although in time, we went back to the bras, most of us never went back to any sort of support underwear – and still haven’t, although many of us could really do with it now. It is a fact that over a certain age, support underwear is good; it makes you look better in your clothes and I think we have to learn to love it again.

About the author

Anna Harvey’s career in the fashion world as a leading and authoritative voice has mostly been spent at Vogue, where she has been Deputy Editor, as well as Editorial Director of Conde Nast international. She launched Vogue in India, Russia and Turkey and helped Diana, Princess of Wales on styling. Anna writes a bi-monthly column for the Telegraph based on her book Timeless Style.

Last modified: January 8, 2021

Written by 10:39 am Fashion, Fashion & Beauty