The easy answer is, wherever they want! But that’s also kind of like saying that anyone in America can achieve the American Dream and be a billionaire if they work hard enough (and we all know that’s not true).
A lot factors into where we shop. Just look at how your own shopping habits have changed from the time you were a teenager to where you are now. Consider such basic factors as where you grew up, changes in socioeconomic status, education level, and also social factors like the brand loyalties of family members and close friends. Major influences.
Sexuality is also a component that informs us as consumers. On the one hand, it can be political — seriously, find me a queer or an ally who will eat at Chick-Fil-A. But it can be more subtle. Some environments range from uncomfortable to hostile for LGBT people, for a variety of reasons. So if we reframe the question more carefully: where can LGBT people buy underthings where…
Chantal Thomass’ flagship store on the Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris. An intimidating storefront, even for me.
a) they will be treated like a potential customer
— meaning: they won’t be judged for what they look like (e.g. gender presentation, “alternative lifestyle haircuts,” piercings/tattoos, and/or the general assumptions about socioeconomic class that boutique owners make on a regular basis. also includes how they’re treated when shopping with someone who is obviously their partner — is the staff comfortable around them? does the staff prohibit partners from seeing each other in the dressing room?)
Gap Body Window Display – cause men and women are “born to fit together”
b) assumptions won’t be made about their sexuality
— meaning: In a store, solo shoppers won’t have to deal with staff saying “Your boyfriend would love that!” (Even if he would). Online, they won’t have to deal with gift buying guides, wish list registries, and general language explicitly tailored to male customers, implying that the only people who would buy lingerie as gifts are male partners. This is harmful for EVERYONE because it not only reinforces lingerie as 1) heteronormative but 2) it positions lingerie-wearers as objects for the male gaze.
Victoria’s Secret – Chicago
c) they have options in styles they find appealing
— meaning: LGBT people are people! They don’t just want to wear the high femme underthings stocked in so many brick & mortar and online boutiques. This is a particularly acute issue for LGBT persons with a more androgynous and/or butch sensibility.
d) they actually feel comfortable
— meaning: safe. accepted. valued. seen.
So, is there a place for LGBT people to buy lingerie that is explicitly identity- and values- affirming?
A scant handful. Sway Lingerie is one of the only explicitly queer-identified lingerie websites in existence, and their claim to fame is in pairing erotic stories with lingerie. Wishes and Kisses is explicitly geared towards men and trans* people who buy lingerie, and their selection is excellent. The language the owner uses about the trans* community is outdated, but the desire to treat her customers with respect is also communicated. I have mixed feelings about the language used on the website; it’s ultimately a personal judgement call.
A lot of the issues that face LGBT customers are not uncommon. The desire for a wider range of styles, the frustration with the singular presentation of heterosexuality in the industry, and the general feeling of a lack of safety and comfort when lingerie shopping is something I hear about on a regular basis. It’s disturbing. Customers should not feel unsafe in a store. People should not feel unsafe, ever.
My goal with Bluestockings is to create a safe space in which people can explore and play with lingerie and underthings. It’s fun! It’s for us. So, how do we make that space?
1. Include you. Use inclusive language that doesn’t make assumptions about how you live your life.
2. Show you our values (which may be your values, too). Offer a range of styles from indie designers (a lot of the designers we want to stock are women). Give you the chance to support a number of designers who are manufacturing ethically and/or staying local.
3. Represent you. And listen to you when we don’t. We take that “range of styles” thing seriously. And when you aren’t seeing what you like? Tell us! Let’s talk about it.
In curating this collection, I hope that the LGBT community gets just one more option — Bluestockings isn’t the answer, it’s not the end all and be all to what is a massive and systemic problem of representation in the lingerie and fashion industry, more broadly. But it will, hopefully, be a dent. Hopefully, a few brands will be willing to take a risk on an unknown online boutique with a mission. And hopefully, a few people will feel a little more seen.
P.S. Just cause we’re not open yet doesn’t mean we can’t start talking about what you as a customer want to see. And if you’re a designer who is on board with Bluestockings’ message and would be interested in talking options, you can email me at email@example.com or message me on Twitter. It’s never too early to connect.