Step 1: Out With the Old
Your first job is to take all your underwear and dump it out on the bed. Why? Because before you can organize, you need to do some winnowing. But editing underwear is easy because you have to deal with only two piles: things to keep and things to throw away. No maybes. No maybe-it’ll-come-back-in-fashions. No giveaways. Please. (The Salvation Army will thank you.)
First cull: Anything you really wouldn’t want to be hit by a truck while wearing. Gray things that used to be white; anything ratty, ripped, stained, or spotted with holes. “Are you not good enough to wear good panties?” asks New York lingerie designer Leigh Bantivoglio.
With that same I’m-worth-it mentality, take a hard look at what’s left and pitch it if:
- You haven’t worn it in a year (there must be a reason).
- The color has faded.
- The seams are beginning to come undone.
- The elastic is going—or gone.
- The underwires have lost their original shape or are poking through the fabric, which happens when a bra has been thrown into the washing machine—sans lingerie bag—too many times.
- It doesn’t fit properly anymore. Weight fluctuates, especially when you are pregnant.
- It didn’t fit properly to begin with.
- It’s uncomfortable—divest yourself of bras that ride up and thongs that dig in. (Thong tip: Cotton mesh is less likely to gouge than nylon. Try Cosabella, On Gossamer, Hanky Panky, or Calvin Klein.)
Step 2: In With the New
Lingerie is a personal matter, and so is the amount of lingerie you choose to own. For the minimalist, a few sets of cotton panties and stretchy camisoles are enough; for the collector, lace-trimmed, leopard-print teddies are just the beginning. But if you want to simplify your life, you need: (a) enough plain, everyday underwear to get you through the week without having to do laundry; and (b) the kind of special-occasion lingerie that answers questions like, “What am I supposed to wear under that?” Between what you own and what you’re going to go out and buy, you should have:
- Seven simple, comfortable bras. For work and weekends, you’ll want seamless ones that look smooth under T-shirts. Get a couple in black and a couple in a shade that blends with your skin. “Nude is more modern than white, and more practical,” says Bantivoglio. You might also want a camisole to rotate in once in a while (Hanro makes high-quality, ultra-comfortable cotton underwear).
- One black strapless bra for formal occasions and one nude racerback bra to wear under tank tops. You might also (depending on your needs) want to invest in a backless bustier to wear under an evening gown and one full-body shaper that combines a bra, a tight-fitting bodice, and control-top panties that extend to the middle of your thighs.
- For evenings and romantic encounters, look for pretty, lacy push-up bras in a variety of colors, and buy the matching thongs or panties, depending on your preference (La Perla, Le Mystere, and Victoria’s Secret all make pretty sets). Splurge on one silk chemise that hits your legs at mid-thigh. “It has to be sexy, but not too specific-looking,” says Bantivoglio. “So if you bring it out again a week later, your boyfriend won’t say, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that on you.’ ”
- The rules for panties are less specific. Some women buy matching bottoms for every bra and refuse to separate sets. But for an edited collection it makes sense to stick with the neutral black and nude formula and buy a variety of interchangeable thongs (to wear with tight trousers), bikini styles (to wear with low-rise jeans or clothes that ride low on your hips), and boy-cut panties (which offer both coverage and freedom from panty lines).
Step 3. Arrange
Once you’ve whittled down your lingerie collection and filled in the gaps, create a storage system that will allow you to see what you have and find things quickly.
If you have an extensive collection of lingerie, you might consider investing in a chest you can devote to it (you’ll find lingerie chests at target.com, bedbathandbeyond.com, ikea.com, and elsewhere). But if that’s not a possibility, keep in mind this simple secret to organizational success: drawer dividers. “They’re the best way to go,” says Ginny Snook Scott, the chief design officer at the home-organizing company California Closets (see californiaclosets.com for locations). “We make ones that divide a drawer into 12 squares, and they’re made of acrylic, since wood can snag.” You can buy similar products at Organize-It (organizeit.com) and have them custom-fit for your drawers.
Lingerie designer Josie Natori buys fabric-covered boxes and dividers. “I separate my bras into black, white, and nude, and then I organize them by style and fold them to conserve space,” she says. “I keep my panties separate.”
To save time, try keeping your underwear in sets: Fold one cup of a bra into the other, tuck the folded panties inside the cups, and arrange the sets by color. In the morning, simply grab a set; when packing to go out of town, take one set for every day you’ll be away, plus two extras.
A simpler option is to divide your drawer into three or four sections and organize by color. Or you can divide your drawer into two sections and place your bras on one side and your panties on the other. But try to keep your matching sets together, and store them, along with your frillier, more expensive pieces, in a separate place. If the latter is particularly delicate, lay it flat, if you have the room. Some people even prefer to hang particularly dainty garments. If you are among them, make sure you use the right hangers: some with notches on them so straps won't slide off, others with buffered, cushioned clips that won't damage lace or fabric.
Care and Handling
There’s a reason your mother bought you those panties with the days of the week embroidered on them when you were little. You need a fresh pair every day. And in a perfect world, you’d have just as many bras. But for most busy women, laundering bras every two or three wears is more realistic (sports bras being an exception). Some underwear obsessives hand-wash their delicates every few days, but, again, who has the time? Don’t worry. Just put your bras and panties in a lingerie bag and toss the whole thing into the washing machine with the rest of your clothes. Wash in cold water; if you’d like, use a gentle detergent like Woolite. Be sure to close the bras so that their hooks won’t snag on anything. Delicate items—bras or panties—should be hung or laid flat on a towel to air-dry.