Underwear habits: To match or not to match?

The recent launch of Helena Christensen’s new lingerie collection for Triumph, the supermodel admitted that she doesn’t match her underwear. This is one of the most stylish women in the world, and one who has designed lingerie ranges no less, but she doesn’t feel the need to match knickers with a bra. Or sock with a sock, for that matter.


‘It would be great to have all my underwear washed at the same time but it just never is,’ she told The Telegraph. ‘So I end up with mismatched everything, even socks.’


We can relate to that. Well, some of us can, because Team Fashion Bust is split on this issue. We have a devoted matcher (who would not dream of leaving the house in mismatched smalls) and two others more or less of the Helena Christensen persuasion. And yes, we’d argue that it is perfectly possible to love lingerie and not always have to match it.


But because it is something we have debated between ourselves, we know that it is an underwear issue that divides people. Sure, there are those who match their underwear sometimes and others for whom it only happens by accident, but those who like to match, really like to match!


So that’s our starting point for this week’s look at UK women’s underwear buying habits. It’s a little more lighthearted than our last feature, which focused on discomfort caused by bras, but no less fascinating. After all, how do these preferences – to match or not to match – influence our buying habits? Do matches spend more or less than non-matches, do they fall into similar age or size brackets? How do they compare to the non-matches or women in general?


In our survey, 19% of women answered ‘always!’ to our question about matching underwear. That’s almost one in five. Around 55% said they sometimes match, and the rest – around a quarter – said they’re just not bothered.


One of the most obvious things that stand out about the ‘always!’ group is the how many bras they buy per year on average compared with the sample as a whole – 14 compared with nine – and half had bought a bra in the last month. In fact, 39% of our matches said they buy more than 20 bras a year. Only 18% of women, in general, buy this many bras, while 38% of those who aren’t bothered by only one to five bras per year.


And then there’s price. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that matches are prepared to spend more on their bras than non-matches. If the average maximum spends per bra across the whole sample is £38, matches are prepared to spend £44 (around a third said they would spend upwards of £60). Those who said they are really not bothered are prepared to spend up to £31, while our occasional matches are on a par with the overall average at £37.5 per bra.


Now, since we know it is perfectly possible to be lingerie obsessed and spend far too much on bras and still not worry about matching undies, is there anything else about our matches that could explain both their higher frequency of purchase and higher spend?


We looked at bra size to see whether that could give us a clue, but there’s little obvious difference statistically between this group and the whole sample. Just over a third of both groups fall into the A-D bracket, while the rest are DD plus. And this is very similar for those who aren’t bothered about matching. Clearly what size you have no bearing on the impulse to match or not.


We also looked at age, but again there was a fairly even spread across the age groups for both matches and none-matches, although matching does tend to tail off in the older age groups. Of those aged 56 and over, only 11% said they always had to match.


So then we looked at where they shop. Now, it’s interesting that 75% of those who match have a favorite brand or retailer – more than the sample as a whole – and 50% name one or more specific brands as opposed to general retailers or department stores. So there is clearly considerable brand loyalty among this group, but as we know from our previous feature, this can have an impact on how often women get fitted and also how comfortable they are, which is an interesting angle to bring into this. It begs the question – if you must match, is this more important than comfort?


Previously we noted that those with a favorite brand or retailer are less likely to have had a recent bra fitting, and that holds true for this group, as despite the importance of underwear in their lives, they are slightly less likely to have had a recent fitting than the sample as a whole. But where does that leave them on the comfort front? Are they suffering for the perfect look?


Our first assumption would be no. After all, these women are buying a lot of bras and they are prepared to spend more on them, so surely they wouldn’t spend all that money if they weren’t comfortable? Well, they do suffer a bit less discomfort than average, but only a bit. The majority still complain of occasional discomfort and a few from frequent discomfort, while those who say they never experience any discomfort are fairly evenly split between matches and non-matches. So if it is a matter of priorities, it would seem that it is more important for this group that their lingerie matches than that it is comfortable. Which, if you look at it from a certain point of view, makes perfect sense.


All that aside, however, whether you match or mismatch comes down largely to personality – and possibly budget. Matching sets can be expensive and one of the things that drive up the price is the knickers. If you’re serious about always wearing matching undies, you need at least two knickers per bra (or a very strict laundry regime). And this is one reason why a lot of women don’t bother – we had several comments to this effect. When you can, for example, buy a five pack of cotton knickers from M&S for £7, why would you spend twice that or more on one pair to match your bra if it’s not important to you?


But for some people it is. Their lingerie is as much a part of their outfit as what goes over it. Some people say they just don’t feel properly dressed if their underwear doesn’t match, while for others it’s all about how it makes them feel – that inner confidence that comes from knowing they’re wearing nice underwear. Since the majority of women are occasional matches, that’s probably a feeling most of us can relate to. How far we take it really just depends on how important it is to our daily lives. For some, the answer is not very. For others it’s significant.


So you tell us. Do you match? Must you match? Or are you baffled by the whole concept? We’d love to know.

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