Intimate apparel is an important part of any people specially for woman’s wardrobe, regardless of her age. It is needed for support. It provides comfort and security. It is pretty and feminine. It is also flattering. Intimate apparel is considered as human’s second skin, so is the most important clothing layer for achieving comfort. The comfort issues for intimate apparels are multidimensional and interrelated. Now I will explain the common factors in five essential aspects:
- Sensorial comfort,
- Thermal comfort,
- Motion comfort,
- Aesthetical comfort and
- Hygienic comfort.
Importance of Comfort in Intimate Apparels
Comfort for intimate apparel is more instant and direct than that for outerwear because it is worn next to skin. Women’s intimate apparel can be a functional shapewear or emotional sexy lingerie including bra, panties, camisole, teddy, corset, girdle and stockings. Men’s underwear is conventionally basic in style. Although it becomes more fashionable and versatile, the products are still focused on undershirts, underpants and socks only.
The fundamental purposes of wearing intimate apparels are for privacy and comfort, but nowadays customers demand more for aesthetics, sexiness and excitement. Fashion items such as laced bras and thongs could be less comfortable to wear than daily bras and basic underwear. Comfort issues for intimate apparels are multidimensional and interrelated.
1. Sensorial comfort for intimate apparels:
i) Tactile sensation
Tactile comfort is often expressed as the softness, stiffness, smoothness, roughness, prickliness, dampness or clinginess of the fabrics. Particularly for intimate apparel fabrics, the subjective tactile comfort sensation can be evaluated by a continuous-scale chart with twelve pairs of descriptors. The tactile comfort of girdles had a higher correlation with the surface properties of the fabric than other factors such as heat, water and air transmission.
ii) Avoiding skin irritation
Women have sensitive skin especially during puberty and pregnancy. Wearing intimate apparel with irritating or allergic substances can precipitate skin reactions. Lingerie often uses lace and embroidery to enhance women’s attractiveness, yet the material’s rough surface or edges can directly prick the skin.
iii) Allowing comfortable pressure
Outerwear fashion is designed to achieve the required drape and silhouette using appropriate ease allowance. In contrast, underwear requires certain fabric tension, so-called ‘negative ease’, to provide the wearer with a sense of support and security. Therefore, appropriate skin pressure is necessary to achieve comfort. Women’s intimate apparel sometimes requires larger fabric tension to create a firmer body contour and the desired shape. However, excessive skin pressure may cause discomfort to the wearer. So pressure should be optimum.
2. Thermal comfort for intimate apparels:
i) Hygroscopicity of underwear fabric
The ability of fabrics to absorb sweat is more important than water vapour permeability in determining the comfort factor of fabrics. Transfer of moisture from clothing to the environment through diffusion, wicking, sorption and evaporation is affected by the thickness of fabric, tightness of fabric construction and hygroscopicity of fiber type.
According to Goldman, there are six key factors involved in thermal comfort. They are air temperature, air movement, humidity, mean radiant temperature, body heat production, and clothing. The human body is normally in a state at 37 °C and the average skin temperature is around 33 °C without the presence of sweat. The climate also influences the preference of fabric.
Intimate apparel acts as an interface to allow perspiration and transmission of body heat from the skin through outerwear to the environment. Its thermal comfort is related to the thickness and porosity of the fabric.
i) Moisture management fibers for intimate apparel
Moisture management of the intimate apparel is important as it helps to remove excessive wetness and carry heat away from the skin. Fiber polyethylene glycol and amino silicone in nano form has been applied to sportswear and underwear requiring perspiration absorbency. Hollow fibers have a modified cross-section which provides effective moisture management and promotes natural climatic regulation.
3. Motion comfort for intimate apparels:
i) Challenges of fitting
Fitting is a crucial factor of wearing comfort particularly for the next-to-skin stretch garment. Fit is directly related to the anatomy of the human body and most of the fitting problems are due to the bulges of the human body. Stretch clothing, like intimate apparel, presents unusual difficulties in the evaluation of fit. An appropriate stretch fit is essential to secure certain functionality, comfort and appearance. Intimate apparel is usually made up of stretch materials, so ‘negative ease’ is involved in pattern making.
ii) Fitting checklist
The assessment of bra fit on a live model is very complicated and limited literature is available in this field. The judgement of fit is heavily reliant on the assessor’s experience.
A good-fit daily bra should stay with the body snugly but not tightly, support and lift up the breasts with a nice smooth contour for over 12 hours a day like a second skin, and not leave red marks or irritation.
Bra fitting checklist are given below:
- Gore sits against the sternum, and allows comfortable breathing down
- Gore width fits for the purpose
- Wire tip does not dig into the flesh
- Covers the nipples
- No gap inside the cup
- Cup seam or lining is not itching
- No irritating lace or trims
- Cup peak matches the bust point
- Breast is projected during motion
- Projects a nice shape and curve
- Cup capacity is sufficient
- No gap
- No bulging
- Symmetric and balanced
- Thin, soft and smooth
- No gap
- No extra fabric style and size
- No digging in
- Not too much pressure
- Wire matches breast root
- Correct gauge
- Not digging into the flesh
- Correct size and width
- Keeps the breast inside the cups
- Does not curl up when the wearer sits
- Leveling around the body
- Appropriate tension to hold the bra in position
- Correct tension for breast support
- Allows enough adjustment, but not too much turning
- Strap not easy to fall off
- No cutting in the shoulder
- No fatigue
- Tension allows for comfort breathing
- No riding up during motion
- The bra still sits securely when the wearer raises up the arms
- Hooks and eyes wide enough for the style and size
- Front closure not touching sternum
Before testing the fitting of a bra, the model should ensure a correct tension along the under band wrapping around on the ribcage, and the comfortable pressure exerted by the shoulder strap on the shoulder. Only when the bra band forms a firm frame on the body, it is reliable to check if the breasts are filling nicely inside the cup or if there is any gap or bulging problem. The standard procedure of wearing a bra is outlined below.
- Bend down so that the breasts are in the best roundness and fullness.
- Put the arms through the shoulder straps and fill the breast into the bra cups snugly with the nipples matching near the peaks of the cups.
- Fasten the bra against the rib cage to ensure stability with comfortable tension, and feel that the under band and the cups remain firmly in place even when the shoulder straps are dropped.
- Adjust the shoulder straps so that the neckline edge is smooth and the tension is good enough to hold the bra in place without sliding away from shoulders or digging.
- Check if the bra stays in place when the arms rise up or the body moves.
iii) Common Fitting Problems
Ill-fitting is sometimes due to the wrong perceptions of customers who are too conscious to slim down their sizes, so they prefer to wear tighter intimate apparel to flatten their body figures. Beside the customers’ wrong perception of clothing size, unreliable bra sizing systems and limited choices of sizes often cause the wearing of ill-fitted intimate apparel.
iv) Fit for movement
Human breasts are mainly composed of adipose tissue, blood vessels and lymph glands, held in place by the skin and deep fascia structures. The connective tissue strands of Cooper’s ligaments are loosely attached to the underlying pectoral muscles. The breast itself contains neither muscle nor bone for support, so it is free to hang over the chest wall. Unsupported breasts will be too wide and may even be brushed with the arms while walking. Without proper support from a bra, the breasts will be bumping like a pendulum when the body moves, or suffer from discomfort and pain during excessive rigorous movement. Breast pain after exercise is common and varies markedly in severity and clinical significance.
v) Fitting for special needs
In daily life, people have basic needs, which entails putting their underwear on and off in the toilet. Therefore, the waistband of underpants should be sufficiently stretchable for passing up and down the hip without too much effort. Highly stretchy fabric and elastic is preferred. Convenience to put underwear on and off is an especially important issue for the elderly or individuals with certain disabilities, who need to undo the fastenings in the toilet, or to balance their bodies when changing clothes.
4. Aesthetic comfort for intimate apparels:
Modern lingerie is sometimes designed to be seen, so the fashion elements are as important as those of outerwear. The aesthetic values of color, style, shape, material mix and match, fitting and finishing can all influence the clothing appearance, and physical comfort as well as the psychological comfort sensation, with intensified experiences and feelings of self-identity. Feeling young is most important for women who lost their youthful appearance after pregnancy, ageing or menopause. They would need a bra that makes the breasts look firm, round and natural.
ii) Ideal body shape
Shapewear is designed to enhance the wearer’s body shape toward the socially defined ‘Golden proportion’. However, different cultures have various definitions of attractiveness. Western women are proud of their deep cleavages, while Asian women are shy to show the upper breast and conservative to allow nipples being visible through clothing.
The ideal breast shape also varies from country to country. Western women want a thin layer of bra cups to allow natural sexy bouncing of their breasts. Chinese women believe that a good breast shape should look firm. So the front neck point and the two bust points should form an equilateral triangle, and a well-positioned bust point should be placed at the vertical, halfway between the shoulder and elbow. Average size is possibly perceived as more beautiful. Chinese women with small breasts would like to wear thick padded bras to add volume. Western women with larger breasts tend to wear minimizers to feel like a reduced size.
iii) Degrading of intimate apparel
Frequent wash and wear can easily damage the surface of fabric or change the color which results in unpleasant appearance of intimate apparel. Common surface degrading problems include pilling and snagging. Pilling mostly happens in woollen underwear and appears to have entangled fibers after washing. Snagging is due to the breaking of fibers by mechanical abrasion that appears like frosting, especially on silk fabric. Polyamide fiber is widely used in underwear because of its good abrasion resistance.
5. Hygienic comfort for intimate apparel:
i) Environment for bacteria growth
Elegbe and Botu found that tight nylon underwear created warmth and moisture in the vaginal and cervical areas, and led to a favorable environment for the growth of candidiasis and vaginitis. Non-breathable women’s panties may accumulate the secretion on the perineum, which easily cause the growth of fungus such as monilia albican. Tight panties can cause skin abrasion and bring fungal infection on the gluteus fold or posterior thigh. Cotton is more comfortable to wear next to skin, but it is more susceptible to the growth of bacteria than synthetic fiber.
ii) Antimicrobial textiles
Antimicrobial finishing can be used to protect textiles against microbial corrosion, prevention of malodour, prophylaxis and infections. To limit the incidence of bacteria and reduce the formation of odor, antimicrobial agent can be applied directly to the spinning mass or the fiber surface. Silver is a natural anti-bacterial and anti-microbial agent. Consumers’ attitude towards hygiene and active lifestyle has created an increasing market for antimicrobial textiles. The antimicrobial products for intimate apparel include X-Static silver fiber from Noble Fiber Technologies.
Intimate apparel is very important for all people. Specially for women, because woman has many sensitive places of her body. They have to cover maximum portion of body. So intimate apparel is very important for them. If their garment is not comfortable then they don’t movement freely. Besides hygienic is also considerable.
- Improving comfort in clothing, Edited by Guowen Song
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Editor of Fashion2Apparel. She is a fashion designer and ex-lecturer in Fashion Designing. She wants to spread fashion knowledge throughout the world.