The fine line between lingerie and outerwear

Story highlights

There's more to wearing lingerie as outerwear than camisoles under blazers, editor says

Lingerie-inspired looks are popping up in street style blogs and in the office

It could mean bodysuit with jeans; bustiers under cardigans; kimonos as jackets

Designer: Mixing-and-matching trend makes lingerie as outerwear more acceptable

CNN  — 

Celebrities and style icons have long been wearing slips, corsets and bustiers outside the bedroom, from Elizabeth Taylor and Madonna to Gwen Stefani, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.

But if you’re wondering whether that lace-trimmed camisole under your co-worker’s blazer is from the lingerie or outerwear section, you’re not alone.

Lingerie-inspired looks that are made to be seen are emerging from the boudoir and onto runways, the red carpet and all the way into street style blogs and even the office.

At Lingerie Fashion Week in August, the prominence of loungewear – pajama tops and bottoms, tap pants – and chemises in bright colors and bold patterns underscored designers’ efforts to create pieces that can be worn for any occasion. Lingerie-inspired looks are also popping up on the runways this week at New York Fashion Week, most notably from Jason Wu, whose line included corsets and jackets with sexy details and shimmery gowns in soft palettes, marking a departure from his previous formal fare.

Thanks to several innovative brands and designers, “lingerie as outerwear doesn’t just mean letting a camisole peek through your blazer anymore,” said Cora Harrington, founder and editor of The Lingerie Addict.

It could mean pairing a lacy bodysuit with jeans and blazer; bandeaus, bralettes and longlines under tank tops; sheer slips and petticoats over leggings or under skirts.

And, yes, it can be classy if done the right way, experts agree.

“Part of it is the consumer’s desire to create a unique look. A flash of lace or a luxury bra under a sheer top tends to draw more attention than the sparkle of jewelry,” said Luis Paredes, publisher of online trade magazine the Lingerie Journal. “Brands and retailers have also become very savvy in fueling this trend by helping their consumers pair ready-to-wear with intimates.”

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With celebrities sporting bustiers, corsets and high-waisted knickers as part of their looks onstage and off, it was only a matter of time before it caught on in mainstream fashion, said Aline Machado of Bella Bella Boutique, an online lingerie store that demonstrates how to translate lingerie into ready-to-wear looks (and vice-versa) on its blog and Pinterest page.

“The trend is widely being shared among fashion bloggers around the world,” Machado said. “Fashion magazines have been showcasing editorials with lingerie as outerwear and lingerie inspired-looks. Lingerie designers are creating key pieces in their collections that are easy to incorporate with outerwear looks and are meant to be seen.”

High-end fashion brands have been known to incorporate lingerie-like items and details into their collections, from Dolce & Gabbana’s bodysuits and bustiers to A/W 2013 Louis Vuitton’s slips, tap pants and dressing gowns, said Harrington, who also credits the popularity of burlesque and style icons like Dita von Teese with propelling the trend.

Some dedicated undergarment brands began flirting with outerwear out of necessity. When consumers started scaling back during the recession on luxury purchases like high-end lingerie, some designers began marketing intimates as crossover pieces.

Other brands saw it as an opportunity to diversify as savvy shoppers began taking chances with mixed prints and styles.

“Today, the concept of mixing seems to be bolder and bigger than ever and it’s validating the trend of lingerie as outerwear,” said Shelah Jean, co-founder of NOE Undergarments, whose lambskin corsets and sheer jumpers make a statement wherever they’re worn.

“People are mixing designers, high-end and fast-fashion, styles of all sorts. They’re taking chances, which is great for us.”

Compared with the days when Madonna was voguing in leather corsets and cone-shaped bustiers, the look is also becoming more relaxed and casual. That’s good news for emerging designers like Kriss Soonik, who uses the term “loungerie” to embody her twist on underwear as outerwear.

In addition to traditional bras and panties, her collection also features lace bodysuits and mesh dresses ideal for layering; polo shirts with suspenders that can be attached to thigh-highs and kimono-style gowns that can be worn as blazers or jackets.

“For me, I always wanted to create something that had a multipurpose tag to it,” the Estonian designer said in a phone interview from her base of operations in London.

“When you buy something quite expensive and can only wear it to seduce someone and tuck away in your drawer, that’s quite a sad thing.”

Thanks to the Internet and personal style blogs, the line is blurring as customers become bolder and more daring.

“They’re looking for things they like. And they don’t care if it’s in the lingerie section or outerwear section,” she said.

Intrigued? While there are varying lengths to which one could take the trend, our experts recommend sticking to the “chic and elegant” side of things, unless you’re getting ready to hit the stage with Robin Thicke.

Cora Harrington:

I think of lingerie as outerwear as occupying four main categories, at least from what I see (and what’s accessible to most women).

You have what I call the basics of lingerie as outerwear, which are items like lace trimmed camisoles. They’re versatile and functional and they look great on a variety of body types under a cardigan or blazer. Gold Hawk, Farr West, HoneyCooler Handmade and Natori all make beautiful, lacy camisoles.

A level up from that, so to speak, you have items like harnesses and bras with strappy details. Harnesses work great layered over tops and dresses, while bras with strappy details look great peeking out from under those same items. My go-to brands for this look include Marlies Dekkers, Playful Promises, Karolina Laskowska, Luxe Zaza and Hopeless Lingerie.

Next, there are pieces like bustiers, longline bras, crop tops and corsets. Many of these pieces work just as well on their own as they do layered with something else. Fortnight and NOE Undergarments design beautiful longlines you don’t have to be afraid to show off, while Angela Friedman and Dottie’s Delights make some beautiful lace corsets that can double as outerwear.

Finally, you can always layer a lace-trimmed slip under a dress or skirt. Some women will even wear a sheer dress with a slip underneath, but if that’s too adventurous, I think a subtle peek of lace is just as good.

Aline Machado:

Wear silk camisoles, bralets, bra tops, and bustiers under a jacket to keep them daytime-friendly.

For a casual look, wear a criss-cross strappy bra (think Marlies Dekkers) under a tank top with jeans.

If you like bright colors you can wear a neon colored bra under a semi-sheer blouse (not too sheer).

For nighttime a black sheer blouse over a pretty bra top can be seductively elegant.

Dresses and gowns that have a bustier or corset-style top create an elegant look for an evening event and add some glamour to the look.

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    Bodysuits are easy to wear under a pencil skirt or pants for a modern look, it’s a versatile piece that you can dress up or down.

    Lace and tulle tops add a boudoir touch and feel to any outfit and are very feminine.

    Corsets are timeless and a beautiful option to create definition. Invest in a made to measure corset to best fit your body type.

    Kriss Soonik:

    If the whole PJ look is too much, a kimono robe or a satin gown can be matched easily with jeans and tees as something casual, a chic item mixed into casual wear.