So in just short of two months I will be graduating. Venturing forth into the real world, my head stuffed to the brim with pattern cutting techniques, stitching detailing and fabric compositions. My hands riddled with sewing needle related incidents and the beginning of a million tiny wrinkle lines snaking across my face in memory of the countless all-nighters and contour-induced breakdowns the last 3 years have imposed upon me. A wardrobe that in the quite honestly literal sense is spilling out with bras, suspenders, hold ups, vintage girdles, chemises, corsets, socks, tights, dressing gowns, thongs, French knickers, bikini briefs and of course my absolute staple- tanga’s…….and a wall hidden beneath padded hangers draped with my most prized possessions I have collected from the world of lingerie in my time. Myla, Gilly hicks, Christian Dior, Marlies Dekkers, Gossard and Elle Macpherson have for some significant sentimental reason attained their way onto it amongst many other names. But the set that stands the most proud of all is the set I am going to talk about tonight, saturated with memories and meaning whispering underneath its broderies anglaise frills, sheer mesh panels and cheeky cut outs, hangs my Agent Provocateur Jerry set from 2009.
Jerry was a set that from 2008 had caught my eye. I used to go on the website almost daily and stare longingly at it, looking at the different views and dreaming of at the very least trying it on. It was the juxtaposition between the tongue in cheek “innocence” of it, it belonging to the “Virgin” collection at the time. Paired in stark contrast with the revealing neckline, cheeky curved cut out back detail and sheer panelling that only-just-barely-not-quite covered the naked the body. It was a set that at one look appeared perfectly naive, almost overwhelmingly so …but after a few seconds almost raised one eyebrow seductively as it played up to its girlish charms in such an inadvertly sexual and alluring “mock-innocent” way reminiscent of sucking on lollies.
The first time I tried it on was the spring of 2009, in the small shop down Berwick Street whilst on the hunt for fabrics. Unsurprisingly I fell in love. At the time I was a very large cup size, and it was quite honestly the nicest set that had ever encased my oversized breasts. After prancing around the changing rooms for what was an awkwardly long amount of time, sending texts to The Boy of the time before painfully unpeeling it from my body. I sighed whilst folding the set up and handing it back to the assistant before skipping out the shop on my way. I didn’t even make it to the door though, when in one flurry I hurriedly turned round and before I knew it had brought the entire set; bra, suspender belt, bikini brief and champagne coloured hold ups , for a grand total of £255. Whilst now to me this barely makes me bat an eyelid, at the time we were right in the eye of the recession storm, I hadn’t worked for 3 months, and had never before spent more than £40 on underwear, possibly £50 at a stretch- and even that I’d considered indulgent. Besides some vague flirtations that suited the starring role in my fantasies of revealing the set for the first time, there was no man in my life. I hadn’t brought it for anyone, but me. I remember travelling on the bus back home and being so excited with my powder pink and black bag, absolutely delighted at any prospect that led to me flashing it around such as moving position, rummaging in bags etc… I felt exhilarated and absolute electrified with the beautiful blend of anticipation and final satisfaction buying the set had had. Dreaming of it for months, I’d never once thought about buying it, as I’d never once dreamt of it so much as fitting me.
To this day, I have only worn it four times. But on each of those four occasions it has undoubtedly changed my life. Whether this is the power of lingerie alone, or the deep psychological affects and reasoning behind me in particular, or perhaps even plain and boring coincidence, well that is another debate entirely. All I know is that those four times, for me, are reason alone as to why I love lingerie.
The first was the very next day after buying it. I had a presentation at LCF and wore it just about visible underneath a low cut vest top. It was still cold weather, but regardless I decided to don the suspender and knickers too, just because. That day, whilst shopping in Top shop, a model scout approached me and I had an interview right there on the spot, which incidentally I got. Now, I am no model. Anyone who knows me knows this. I am barely 5’4″, my skin looks like a Clearasil before ad, and every part of my face echoes my parent’s crooked and asymmetric features. Not to mention at the time I was a size 10. But what the scout kept repeating was the awe at my “poise” and inner confidence. Anyone who knows me will also tell you, my biggest downfall is my lack of confidence. That day in April, however, all those years ago I was a different person; transformed by the incredible alter ego the Jerry set created in me I stood tall, happy and proud.
The second time was for my interview for university. I can categorically say that besides subsequent presentations and a job interview last spring, it was the most important day of my life. At one point I was so nervous, I nearly fainted. This course meant everything to me, I had never felt such purpose, drive and motivation, and still haven’t since. I wore it, suspender belt and all, underneath a bright yellow dress. Despite my shaking hands, I smiled so broadly and felt a secret sense of self-assurance in the gingham apron secretly wrapped around my waist that just about managed to hold my nerves together enough to nail the interview, along with a scholarship. Gaining my place on the course was, and still is one, of my proudest and life changing achievements to date.
The third time was the first time another’s hands clasped around the gold suspender clips and bright blue bra fastenings, before tucking into the top of the bikini briefs, sliding them down….it was a lazy Sunday, completely empty house, and the first time I had dressed up for my then boyfriend. Without going into too much graphic detail, at the time, he fervently declared it was the best ever….well, he did once he got his breath back… Throughout our relationship (and years after for that matter…) he would recount the memory vividly. What I remember most about it is the thrill of being completely in control. Not necessarily literally…but more the feeling of electrifiable confidence, the knowledge that I, or at least the Jerry alter-ego, looked sensational and could get this boy to do just about anything I wished…. even once the Jerry set lay scattered and tangled amongst the sheets and carpet.
The fourth time was over a year later, in Paris. It was at the end of the relationship with aforementioned boy, and I was unequivocally heartbroken. The trip was meant to last 5 days, and 5 brand new entire 3 piece sets lay buried in my suitcase, tags intact. Breezing over the pedantics of the situation, I was left traumatised and feeling inconsolably insecure. It was the end of the trip and I had been unable to scrap together enough shreds of self-esteem to wear any of them, feeling too far too vulnerable and inadequate in front of him. Before the last day however, I found the Jerry set, hastily thrown in at the last minute in an optimistic “just in case” mind set. Sneaking into the loo and locking it, I put it on. For me. Just for me. I remember smiling back at my reflection, as for the first time the entire trip I felt good about myself. It wasn’t a boy that had a done it, it wasn’t a compliment; it wasn’t anything anyone else had said or done that had made me smile. It was the power of Lingerie. To make me feel sexy, when seconds before I hadn’t been able to take off my clothes. To make me feel beautiful, when seconds before I’d felt like the ugliest girl on the planet. To make me feel feminine, confident, alluring. I remember mentally pulling myself the fuck together, and stuttering out that room with strong shoulders, dry eyes and a new attitude to just enjoy the time in Paris. That set walked round the streets of the gorgeous city with me that day, and my broken heart fell head over heels in love with everything, everywhere I looked. Walking alone through the Louvre museum, I even was approached by a satisfactorily gorgeous Parisian man, reminding me that I was attractive and nobody can ever take that away from you.
The boy never saw that set again besides the first time, and I doubt anyone else ever will, besides those who take the time to cast their eyes up above my bed head. I haven’t worn it since. For reasons mainly related to size issues in that it is now far too big, but also because I haven’t really needed too. I don’t need the Jerry alter ego anymore. Those 4 days were to me subtly life changing and the memories of them all so fresh and clear in my mind even all these years later. £250 seemed like a lot at the time, but in retrospect can you really put a price on confidence, self-assurance, pleasure and self-belief? Others have shoes, some have bags. For me, the key is and always will be lingerie.
Which is why with graduation looming I find myself increasingly visiting Jenny Packham and her heart stopping, ethereal, fit-for-a-princess babydolls…….