I love a day out shopping, yet nearly everything I own I bought online. Why? Put simply, convenience. If I want to shop at Ann Summers or Boux Avenue I can take a train to the nearest town or I can just type their URL into my browser. And if I want to shop at somewhere a bit more niche like Agent Provocateur or What Katie Did, I have to take a train for a couple of hours to get to London but again, I can be on their website in seconds.
Shopping in a boutique does have its benefits though, and I know people who rarely if ever buy underwear online. So if you’re unsure whether online lingerie shopping is for you, here’s a quick look at online versus brick-and-mortar boutiques…
Online, it might take you just minutes to pick out a product and pay for it, but you do then have to wait for it to show up. Depending on whether you’re buying from a mainstream brand or a smaller brand that hand-makes items to order, that wait could be as little as a day or it could be as long as a couple of months.
So if what you need is new lingerie right now, such as a last-minute gift, a boutique is the way to go.
Choice of Styles
I live a short train ride away from two big cities, yet I can still count the number of lingerie stores (including department stores like Debenhams with a lingerie section) that I can go to on my hands. Online however, I have access to pretty much any brand, style or price-point I want.
Even some boutiques such as La Perla only have a fraction of their full collection in store (at least, the one I went to did) but the whole thing available online. And in the fashion world, online exclusives are becoming more popular but in-store exclusives are rare.
Also, if you prefer to buy from small, independent designers, you’ll rarely find them in boutiques but they pretty much all sell online.
Size and Fit
If you fall outside of the standard 32-38 A-DD that the high-street tends to cater to, your offline options are limited. Shop online on the other hand and you’ll be able to buy lingerie in any size you need, often even from overseas brands that ship worldwide.
However, no matter how complex or informative the online store’s size chart is, you’ll never really know how lingerie is going to fit you until you’ve tried it on. The same can be said for clothes, but since lingerie is usually far more contoured and form-fitting a minor size variation can be a much bigger problem with a bra than with say a t-shirt.
Measurements are also only one part of lingerie-fitting. For example, two women can have exactly the same underbust measurement but depending on body composition (how much fat and muscle you have around your chest, and the size and placement of your ribs), which a size chart won’t account for, may feel more comfortable in one or even two band sizes different from each other.
So if finding the perfect fit plays a major role in lingerie shopping for you, shopping in a boutique may be best. You can of course ‘buy to try’ online if you’re not in any hurry but be sure to check the returns policy (you may for example need to cover the costs of returning the pieces that didn’t fit).
If you’re confident you know your size in the brand you’re buying from, or having the perfect fit just isn’t so important to you, shopping online is likelier to end happily!
It’s way easier to judge the quality of a piece when you’re holding it in your hands rather than looking at a photo. I’ve bought lingerie I probably wouldn’t have done had I seen it first, but there have probably also been pieces I’ve dismissed online that might have been more tempting if I’d seen them in store.
In store, you can see for yourself the quality of the fabric and the construction, rather than wondering if that unusual colour or gorgeous satin sheen is down to studio lighting and Photoshop.
Customer service is a tricky one because when boutiques get it right it’s a massive advantage, but when they get it wrong it can really put me off buying anything. A good boutique owner or assistant will be knowledgeable about the products and happy to help if I ask for it, but if I feel like they’re breathing down my neck as I look around and trying to pressure me to buy something (which happens more than you might think in independent boutiques where I may be the only customer in the shop) I’ll probably just leave.
Online, few lingerie retailers have a live chat service but all should answer your questions via email or social media. If a brand doesn’t respond, or doesn’t respond quickly, it’s a good indicator of what their customer service will be like after you’ve made a purchase too.
So, online or offline?
In-store lingerie shopping is often the better choice for those who want an instant purchase and those who are unsure of their size or find it difficult to get well-fitting lingerie.
Online lingerie shopping on the other hand is best for those who want access to a huge range of options, including more sizes, who maybe don’t have a brick-and-mortar lingerie boutique nearby, and for whom possibly needing to return an item for a refund or exchange isn’t a big deal.
I’d love to know, where do you buy most of your lingerie and why?