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What lies beneath

WHEN rumour broke that law firm Clifford Chance’s female employees were being given a £90 allowance to buy fresh knickers after all-nighters at the office, our first thought, perhaps worryingly, was not for their wellbeing. Instead, we couldn’t help but wonder just what City women are wearing under their suits, such that nothing short of £90 will cover it.

It’s certainly true that wearing enticing underwear can make a woman feel sexy. But that’s hardly the right association for the workplace. Could there be other benefits to wearing slinky underwear under the suit? Couldn’t it make you feel more feminine – the sexier your drawers, the more spring in your step, and the more commanding you are in the boardroom?

I had to try it out – the idea of wearing something naughty under my work clothes seemed a delicious proposition, and interesting too. Would I stride more forcefully about the office, would I concentrate better, reinforced by my secret knowledge that if through some freak accident my clothes evaporated I would come out the better?

Courtesy of Agent Provocateur, the kingpin (or should that be queenpin) of sensual underwear, I got myself kitted up. My tools: lace balcony bra, lace knickers and suspenders from the Love collection and the most fantastically soft stockings on Earth (probably).

The day I wore them didn’t start out so hot. I struggled to close the soft plastic clips of the suspenders for about 20 minutes in the swimming pool changing room – people look at you oddly when you’re sitting on the bench of the locker room stooped over your stockings, trying – and failing – to connect them to your ornate lacy suspender-contraption.

But once I had it sussed, I was on my way. I immediately felt more slinky as I pulled my dress on over my head, and the clip of my heels on the floor had a more authoritative sound.

By the time I got to work, my chin was so high I was looking at the sky. Well, not quite, but the affect on my posture, strut and demeanor was very apparent to me. And to others – “you look regal” one male colleague said. Another (female) called my look “smart” and another “nice”. There was one point though when, my legs crossed during a meeting, I noticed a hint of clip and the border of a stocking appearing under my dress and hastily readjusted, feeling rather uncomfortable and out of my depth.

To avoid such glitches, Sara Hollamby, a City image consultant, suggests wearing pull-ups instead of suspenders – her favourites, she says with a guilty smile, come from Primark. But you can still rock a “basque” (corset-style piece), lacy, exotically patterned knickers and bras, bodies (tight tops that clip under the crotch), suspenders and stockings if you choose wisely. “If the underwear isn’t holding you in the right place, then your well-cut suit isn’t going to look as good as it should,” says Hollamby.

But a pair of glamorous, buttock-covering French knickers are a must for light-fabric trousers as they act as a kind of slip. A corset-style piece is also good if you need to be held in: “The more you can smooth out underneath, the better,” she says.

And let’s face it, when you’re wearing a manly suit, what could be better than an arsenal of sexy lingerie underneath? “It’s like a little wry smile,” says Hollamby. “It says: ‘I may be dressed like a man, and acting like a man, but you don’t know what I’ve got on below.’” I’ll second that.