How to Organize Bras and Lingerie

Straighten out that tangled mass of straps, hooks, and unmatched fabrics.

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New use: shoe boxes as drawer dividers
Photo: Levi Brown

Opening up a beautifully organized drawer of lingerie each morning can be one of life's small pleasures. That is, if you take the time to get it to that beautifully organized place. This can seem daunting, but if you take it step by step, you'll be in a Marie Kondo-like state of tidied bliss in no time, with your bras, bralettes, thongs, hipsters, boyshorts, and other assorted panties decidedly not in a twist.

How Often to Organize Bras and Lingerie

You should replace your underwear about once a year (which is roughly how long it takes for some of its components—like elastic—to stretch out and stop fitting properly). So once a year is also a good rule of thumb for organizing your lingerie drawer.

Considerations Before You Get Started

Lingerie is a personal matter, as is the amount of lingerie in your drawer. 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. Either way, there are certain items that everyone ought to own.

To simplify your life, you need 1) enough plain, everyday underwear to get you through the week without having to do laundry and 2) 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 might need to buy, you should have:

Comfortable Bras

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. (If you don't mind splurging on price, Hanro makes high-quality, ultra-comfortable cotton underwear.)

Strapless and Racerback Bras

Invest in one black strapless bra for formal occasions and one nude racerback bra to wear under tank tops. You might also want to splurge on 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.

Push-up Bras

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, 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).

How to Organize Bras and Lingerie

Step 1: Dump Everything on the Bed

Your first job is to take all your underwear and dump it out on the bed. Why? 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.)

Step 2: Determine Which Items to Toss

First cull: Anything you really wouldn't want to be hit by a truck while wearing. Toss gray things that used to be white and 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 3: Arrange the Keepers

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.

  • Consider 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. "We make ones that divide a drawer into 12 squares, and they're made of acrylic since wood can snag."
  • 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. Store them along with your frillier, more expensive pieces separately. If the latter is particularly delicate and you have room, lay it flat.
  • If you prefer to hang particularly dainty garments, use the right hangers. Buy some with notches on them so straps won't slide off and others with buffered, cushioned clips that won't damage lace or fabric.

How Often to Clean Bras and Lingerie

There's a reason your mother bought you those days-of-the-week panties 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 lingerie enthusiasts hand-wash their delicates every few days, but don't worry if you don't have time.

How to Clean Bras and Lingerie

Step 1: Place Bras and Panties in Lingerie Bag

Some delicates need to be hand-washed (check the label). But as long as you use a mesh laundry bag, you can usually toss bras and panties into the washing machine with the rest of your clothes.

Step 2: Wash in Cold Water

Use a gentle detergent formulated for delicate fabrics, like Woolite. Be sure to close the bras so their hooks won't snag on anything.

Step 3: Dry According to Label Instructions

Delicate bras and panties should be hung or laid flat on a towel to air-dry. Refrain from twisting or wringing out water from delicate fabrics. If you do dry in the dryer, use a cool setting.

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