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Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, November 7, 2000

Undercover report
Illustration by Bryant Fukutomi, Star-Bulletin

Underneath it all, when it comes
to fashion, it's what you can't see
that counts the most

A personal encounter
with a water bra

By Cynthia Oi

FASHION is as much about what's underneath as what's on top. If a woman straps on the wrong bra, a $350 designer top may as well be a discount store rag, and panty bulges will certainly spoil the line of a clingy skirt, say the experts in the world of underwear.

But the undercover story these days has two plots. For the young and the dauntless, its showing -- a little or a lot -- in the right places. For the more discreet, it's not showing at all.

Whatever the category, today's undies "aren't your grandma's girdles," said Liberty House's Eva Borden-Kanoho.

Instead, they are light whispers of stretchy fabric that discipline the thighs and stomach and shape or augment breasts. While functional, they are also alluring and pretty.

"Women want to look more sexy," said Jean Marie Fraga, a Liberty House lingerie buyer. Good underwear "makes them feel more self confident."

Comfort is important, too, she said.

Tracy Keilman, manager of Frederick's of Hollywood, said comfortable means the underwear fits and if it fits, it looks good.

Most women wear the wrong-size bra and more times than not it is too tight, resulting in a lumpy look under the arms and along the back.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Arianne's cherry red camisole ($38), with built-in bra,
doubles as outerwear. But the matching thong
($19) should be kept under cover.

"That makes a woman look heavier than she is," she said.

The wrong cup size also is a problem. For the amply endowed, run-overs above too-small cups appear as two "double-dips" of ice cream. When the cups are too big, the folds of material disrupt the line of the clothing, she said.

"Women need a wardrobe of bras," she said. Straps or strapless, padded or not, underwired or unseamed, "you get different things from each of the bras."

Before wearing a new piece of clothing, she suggests trying on different bras to assess the results.

A glimpse of a lacy bra under a sheer blouse may look fine, but a sheer-cupped bra may reveal more than a woman wants, she said.

"Unless that's what you're looking for," she said.

Revelations are a matter of choice. There are women whose professions or sensibilities dictate more cover, Fraga said.

But teen-agers and 20-somethings are more likely to wear clothing that show off their underwear.

Recognizing this, Lily of France produces a "Straps as Accessories" bra that has interchangeable plastic strips in various colors and patterns to display under spaghetti-strapped tops. (By the way, Fraga said young women also use the straps as headbands.) Arianne makes structured camisoles with built-in bras that can be worn alone.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Bike shorts by Maidenform ($23) and "cami" ($24)
shape and control. The microfiber fabric is silky.

Melinda Sulliban, assistant manager at the Jockey outlet in Waikele, said many customers use the brand's undergarments as outerwear or exercise outfits. Jockey's crop tops and boxer shorts often show up at the gym, she said.

While working out may be the most effective in shaping the body, underwear makers also help.

"Women are choosing not to wear pantyhose as often, what with dress-down Fridays and more casual clothes at work," Borden-Kanoho said. "But if you used to wear control top pantyhose, and you don't wear hose anymore, you still need the control top part."

Support garments, called shapewear, "are the new thing," Borden-Kanoho said. But these are not "those bullet-proof things like from the old days."

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Jockey steps up its femininity with this tulip-lace bra
($25) and thong ($12), part of its new line.

Shapewear lends light control to the waist and hips. Constructed of new microfiber fabrics, they rein in the renegade body parts without thick elastics, boning and wires.

"They keep everything where it should be," Keilman said.

Because of technology, shape-wear can be made with a minimum of seams, Fraga said. This allows for a natural look, especially under knits or sheer clothing.

"You shouldn't notice lines or seams of underwear" when you look in the mirror, Keilman said.

"Everything should look smooth no panty lines or bumps," Sulliban said.

Microfibers' stretchy quality helps with fit, too, Fraga said. "I put my (9-year-old) daughter in seamless panties. She's so small, everything was baggy on her."

Sulliban said comfort is a big selling point in microfiber panties.

"Women want to look good without the heavy stuff," she said.

In Hawaii, that's of particular concern because of the heat, and microfibers are great for keeping cool.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Pat Park, left, and Jean Marie Fraga show a selection of
thong underwear at Liberty House Ala Moana.

"The fabric breathes, not like nylon. When nylon gets damp from sweat, you have to practically peel it off your skin, they're so sticky," she said. With microfibers, "it's like you're wearing nothing, like you don't even have panties on."

Which brings up the nothingness of thongs.

At Liberty House, thongs make up 20 percent of panty sales, says buyer Pat Park. The minimalist garment is popular among women in their 20s and early 30s who may be more tolerant of the possible discomfort because of its benefits.

Thongs are like the early underwire bras, Keilman suggested. Although not the most comfortable, women were willing to wear them because of the resulting image.

"With thongs, there are no panty lines, especially under tight jeans and white pants, knits," Park said. "They get used to it," she said.

Thongs aside, sacrificing comfort isn't necessary anymore, Sulliban said, not with the new materials and fabrics available.

Anyway, she said, "Women aren't into suffering for looks anymore."

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