I went to Paris with the specific purpose of buying new bras. After eight years in this country, two children, two jobs, one Gallic husband and countless encounters with French women of all ages, sizes and shapes, I have come respect the importance of lingerie. It is not something reserved for the rich or the beautiful or young. It is available and expected of all women—an easy source of dignity in an unforgiving world. French women seem more relaxed knowing that if their clothes suddenly fell off in the Place de la Concorde, they would still look good, or at least chic.
The most cited statistic on French underwear (obsessions with France being what they are, there are in fact many statistics on this) French women spend 17 percent of their clothing budget on lingerie. That’s roughly $400 per year on bra’s, underwear, socks and stockings. While I am normally skeptical about these sorts of data, nothing about this figure strikes me as inaccurate. Both in Paris and the countryside, where I now live, lingerie shops are bursting with women. In January and July when the big sales take place, the underwear bin at Bon Marché becomes a dangerous place to be. Reach your hand over that 60-year-old widow for that half-priced La Perla thong, and you might lose it.