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Scott Kitun/MEDILL

Andy Holub makes his selection at a Chicago Victoria's Secret Thursday morning.


Lingerie shopping: Some men’s worst nightmare

by Jessica DuBois-Maahs and Scott Kitun
Feb 14, 2013


Don't be a wuss. That's pretty much the only advice men garner from male-targeted publications regarding the purchase of lingerie. Floods of how-to articles boast they have the fool-proof “rules” and “tips” for buying a woman sexy undergarments, making the act appear mysterious, difficult and awkward.

The spectrum of male shoppers widens as Valentine's Day draws near: Some men sheepishly linger outside the store, some men shop online beneath the cloak of anonymity, and some men actually cross a store's threshold to make a purchase.

Last-minute shopper Andy Holub falls in the last category. He was hoping to beat the Valentine's Day evening rush as he clutched a pair of bright pink panties at a Victoria's Secret store on Michigan Avenue Thursday morning.

“I went to Victoria’s Secret today because I think the guy should get a little something out of Valentine’s Day as well,” Holub said. “Last minute, obviously. But I think it will be well worth it tonight at home.”

Some Chicago lingerie shops are using convert tactics to make last-minute male shoppers like Holub more comfortable. Victoria's Secret, for example, hires seasonal male sales associates to help men make their selection.

Bucktown's G Boutique prepares for the sudden influx of men by training associates to estimate a woman's size from a smartphone picture, according to manager Amy Elgart. She said most men attempt to purchase lingerie without actually knowing a woman's bra or panty size—a risky proposition.

“The week before Valentine's Day has a different vibe than the rest of the year,” Elgart said. “It's a different feeling helping men all day.”

Upscale Italian retailer La Perla tries to spot novice shoppers and help them through the visit. The Michigan Avenue store, which sells $400 night slips and $40 thongs, generally sees a 50 percent traffic increase the week of Valentine's Day. Sales associates are instructed to look out for men who appear confused, says manager Kristin Saemz.

“We get everybody,” Saemz said. “From the man who has no idea what he's doing to the person who has scoured the website.”

While some men come to the store underprepared and quiet, others provide sales associates with too much information.

“We have guys shopping for multiple women,” Elgart said. “The worst case is when a guy says, 'I need a $100 pajama set for my wife and a $300 super sexy outfit for someone else.'”

On these occasions, sales associates at G Boutique are trained to act naturally and not express surprise or disgust.

Valentine's Day is a crucial shopping occasion sandwiched between Christmas and Easter and is a brief bright spot for the retail industry.

At G Boutique, men start trickling in about a week before Valentine's Day, and by the time the day arrives, the normally female-laden store is inundated with men, according Elgart. She predicted February sales will jump 25 to 35 percent from January sales, so it's important for her employees to accommodate the different shopping demographic.

It only took a few minutes for Holub to make his selection. And as he walked out of Victoria's Secret carrying his pink-and-white striped bag stuffed with tissue paper and panties, he didn't feel ashamed or embarrassed about his purchase. He felt relieved.