This Author Explains Everything You Should Know About Lingerie
Cora Harrington's mission is to help everyone find the lingerie they're looking for.
Photos courtesy of Cora Harrington. Right photo by Lars Kommienezuspadt.
When Cora Harrington launched The Lingerie Addict a decade ago, the blog stood out for covering intimates from what she calls a "fashion perspective," as opposed to the sites that aggregated PR releases or leaned toward extremely sexualized content. Today it boasts hundreds of thousands of monthly readers and features reviews, magazine-style photo editorials, and how-to's on everything from measurements to staging your own lingerie shoot. It's also notably inclusive: As a black queer woman, Harrington knows what it means to not see yourself in mainstream intimate offerings and uses her blog to make lingerie accessible to all.
Her latest project is a book that serves as the resource she wishes she had had when she first started shopping for lingerie. In Intimate Detail comes out August 28 and teaches readers about lingerie styles, flattering cuts, when to wear lingerie and how to take care of it, and it comes with beautiful watercolor illustrations. To celebrate the release, I spoke to Harrington about her blog, her book, and where she sees the lingerie industry going:
VICE: What inspired you to start the Lingerie Addict?
Cora Harrington: I was dating someone at the time, and I wanted to find something nice to wear for them—which I think is a pretty common sentiment. I searched online but I couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t find any advice, reviews, or recommendations for lingerie pieces. There were other lingerie blogs at the time but they were more focused on press releases, bra fit, or editorial. They weren’t really centered around giving lingerie advice—especially from a fashion perspective, the way a lot of fashion blogs were doing around the time. So I was just searching around and seeing what I could find.
In my search I ran across this pair of thigh-high stockings from a German brand. They had embroidered peacocks and I’d never seen anything like that before in my life. I mean, I grew up in the South, so I grew up going to church and you wear tights—you go to work and you have to wear pantyhose. So I was familiar with the concept of hosiery, but I had never seen anything that was that pretty and that decorative. And I felt like I’d been deprived of this world, because a lot of people only buy lingerie from what they see at Victoria’s Secret or what they see at Target or Walmart. And it felt like I'd found this world, almost an alternate reality, where lingerie was pretty.
So I wrote a blog post about it where I was like, "Wow, these look great." It turns out there were other people looking for content that wasn’t centered around having a lingerie fetish or “dressing sexy for your man,” you know. What I was doing was along the lines of, "Hey this stuff is pretty—what do you think of it?" And there weren’t many other publications like that.
How do you keep the blog inclusive and make sure you're promoting body positivity rather than profiting off of it?
You can tell when body positivity is organic and part of a company versus when it's an add-on or part of their “goals.” Is it really going to change anything? Or is it just to ride the wave of profits?
I’m a black woman in an industry that does not have a lot of black women. I’m a queer woman in an industry that does not have a lot of queer people. From the very beginning, not seeing myself represented, my point of view respected, or my needs met made me not only want to bring that perspective to my site but also to reach out and incorporate other perspectives that aren’t mine. For example, I’m not plus-sized, but ever since we had writers on the site, we’ve always had a plus-sized writer. I know what it’s like to be interested in intimate apparel but be made to feel like it's not for you. And I don’t want people to be made to feel that way when they come to my site.
That doesn’t mean I can do everything. We’re not out here getting mad dollars. But I’ve tried to do as much as I can in having a range of contributors and a range of options, where you can find something that will help further you along your lingerie journey.
How do you see the lingerie industry in the US evolving, and what are the biggest problems you see with it today?
What we’re seeing out of the legacy brands is a lack of interest in keeping up with customers—keeping up with what customers want, how customers shop, how customers think about lingerie.
Especially in the US, the lingerie industry is less interested in promoting and explaining products to customers. There is a tremendous knowledge gap when it comes to intimates in the states. A lot of brands didn’t capitalize on this—instead of educating customers about different types of bras or what a seam in the bra can do for full-busted or plus-size, or different qualities in fabrics (among other complications)—their framing was just, "We’ll just go to cities." But what about more rural areas? For a lot of people it’s just not accessible. A lot of startups are solving this huge gap. Companies like Third Love have been able to move into that space.
I’m immersed in lingerie every day. I can look at a garment and I can get a pretty good sense of why it costs what it does, generally speaking. But that’s because I’ve been looking at lingerie every day for ten years. I feel like we can’t expect people to spend $60, $80, $100 on a bra when they don’t know what they’re getting in exchange.
What challenges have you faced in maintaining the blog?
Being an outsider has always been a thing, when I started my blog and I started going to trade shows and talking to brands I had so many brands tell me, "We don’t talk to bloggers." They just didn’t want anything to do with my site. And some of them still don’t believe in the internet or online shopping. Well, the internet is here you guys.
So that’s a challenge. The fact that we’re virtually independent is also a challenge. I’m in my 30s, I’m a black woman with kinky hair. And I love modeling but I don’t “look like a model.” I think it’s harder, in some ways, to get different kinds of partnerships. Making sure we have the budget from month to month is an ongoing challenge. There isn’t a nest egg or a cushion of money. It really is all bootstrapped.
And I know that since last year, reviewers have to buy their own lingerie sets to avoid any kind of pressure from advertisers. So that must make it very difficult.
Right! We changed our policy last year so that we don’t accept samples—and for reference, our policies have always been that we don’t accept money for our reviews and that receiving samples doesn't influence our reviews. We always approach reviews in an ethical manner. But lately we noticed an uptick in a number of brands who felt like sending a product was buying a sponsored post, and that they could tell us whatever they wanted us to say about the product.
Starting last year we don’t accept review samples from brands at all. Any reviews for brands on the site are either purchased by me or purchased by the blogger. Our readers have always known what we’re about. But the feedback from my readers once we stopped accepting samples at all has been overwhelmingly positive. They really feel they can trust our reviews and what we have to say. They know when we really like a piece, and that if we don’t, we spent our own money on it. We’re invested in it like they are, and that makes a difference.
What is your favorite lingerie set to do a photoshoot in?
I really like my Kiss Me Deadly’s Vargas Girdle dresses, they’re a take on an old vintage type of lingerie called the corselette that was really popular in the 50s. They make me feel really slinky and I like that a lot. And my Dita Von Teese Madame X set in like literally any color. I love that set so much, it is one of the best lingerie sets on the market right now, full stop. I love the jewel colors and the black—I feel amazing whenever I wear it, the stitching detailing is gorgeous. The bra looks and feels like it should be much more expensive.
I also like my Karolina Laskowska tap pants. I mean they’re tap pants—they’re not practical because the lace is so delicate, but they’re so gorgeous and it’s such an expression of the joy of lingerie with no regard for the practicality question, which I love about them. My dream list is a Catherine D’Lish robe, which has been on my dream list for ages. Ughhhh, I really want that one.
I know you chose watercolor illustrations to keep the book inclusive—I saw your tweets about it. What else did you do to keep the book inclusive?
We kept gender-neutral language throughout the book. One thing you may notice, if you’re looking for it, is that there isn’t a reference like “she, her, woman.” We’re not assuming the gender of the reader. It’s the sort of thing where, if you’re a woman, you might not notice. But if you’re trans, nonbinary, or genderqueer, you can also read this and feel like you’re included too, which is incredibly important to me. I know a lot of the conversations we have about lingerie assume that everyone who wears a bra is a woman, and that’s just not true. There are appendices in the back that offer advice for people who are trans-feminine or trans-masculine. We keep the gender-neutral language throughout the back of the book.
We also talk about lingerie for people with disabilities, and we have sections for people with fibromyalgia or vulvodynia. Making sure that people know that, even though the book is general, there are specific things about your body, your life, your situation right now, that we want to address. It was important to me that anyone—well, there’s no way we could cover everybody—but that most anyone could pick up this book and feel like, "OK, the author has something here for me, there is room for someone like me, and there is someone thinking about me, wanting me to enjoy lingerie." I feel really blessed and privileged to have had a publisher who was on board with that.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Nicole Clark on Twitter.