12 Essential Undergarments Every Woman Should Own

shopping for undergarments

Unless you’ve found yourself in an embarrassing fashion crisis of sorts, you probably haven’t given much thought to how important the right undergarments can be (anyone whose skirt has flown up at just the wrong moment knows what I’m talking about). For day-to-day wear, the right underwear isn’t the pretty, frilly, polka-dotted pieces we all love to buy; it’s the less exciting, but just as important (no, actually, more important) minimal foundation pieces that make us — and our clothes — look fabulous.

You’ve probably heard it before, but let me remind you: The right bra can indeed make you look 10 pounds lighter — just one of many reasons to find the best one for the outfit you’re wearing. Here are the 12 undergarments every woman needs in her closet. 

T-Shirt Bra

T-shirts are a wardrobe staple. They can slip easily underneath blazers and knitwear, stand alone or work with great accessories. Since T-shirts emphasize the bust, though, it’s important that your undergarments be totally smooth and seamless — no lumps or bumps getting in the way.
Look for a smooth, molded-cup bra that covers the entire bustline (versus a demi-cup). Unless you need a little extra lift, non-padded versions are best for giving you a clean, natural look. Choose a style with no lace or embellishments and clean, simple straps. 
Our pick: Gap’s favorite T-shirt bra, $36
Perfect with: Levi’s Ballerina Top, $38

Convertible Bra

You shouldn’t have to pass up wearing a low-back dress or a top with one sleeve because you don’t have the right undergarment. The convertible bra is the perfect solution. Pick a supportive, strapless bra with demi-cups, low-cut sides and convertible straps that will keep you covered, whether you go one-shoulder, criss-cross, halter or completely strapless. Look for a bra that has thin, slightly sticky silicone strips inside the top and sides of the bra. These little strips adhere lightly to your skin and help keep the bra in place if you’re going strapless.  
Our pick: Bali’s Concealers Convertible Strapless Bra, $26.60
Perfect With: Express Crochet Trim Tee, $49.90

Plunge Bra

Tops with low necklines can be really flattering, but finding the right bra to wear with a low-cut top can be a challenge. A plunge bra that sits low at the bust and has curved cups is the ideal solution. 
Our pick: Natori’s Feathers Contour Plunge Bra, $68 
Perfect with: Everly Clothing's Singa Blouse, $49

Underwire Bra

A good underwire bra is your best option for proper support and a clean, flattering look. Thankfully today’s underwires are much more comfortable than they used to be. Many underwire bras are so smooth that you don’t even feel them. Unless you are on the smaller side, underwire bras should be the go-to bra in your lingerie drawer. They give you a great shape and excellent support throughout the day.
When trying them on, make sure the underwire sits snug against your chest; it shouldn’t gap. The underwire should also sit under your breasts; make sure they don’t slide up. 
Our pick: Cosabella’s soire new molded bra, $19.05 to $63.50
Perfect with: Topshop’s Floral X-Ray Embellished Print Satin Top, $130

Camisole With Bra Cups

Instead of layering a bra underneath a camisole, which can feel bulky and sloppy, choose a camisole with bra cups built right in. This common-sense garment is the perfect answer to the question of what to wear underneath a blazer, with low-cut and sheer blouses and with oversize cardigans. It’s a great layering option.
Make sure the cup fits you as any bra would first, then make sure the camisole fits properly.
Our pick: Hanro’s Sensual Bra Camisole, $76
Perfect with: Boden’s Blehnheim Blazer, $138

Full Slip

A knee-length slip might seem like an old-fashioned idea; but with the popularity of sheer clothing and fabrics, the slip can keep your modesty intact. I recently purchased a very lightweight, printed dress that came with a dark colored, tonal silk slip. When I got it home I realized that I could never have worn this dress without the slip because it was almost completely sheer. Just because the colors were dark and it had a wild print on it didn’t mean that you couldn’t see through it.
Pick a simple, unfussy bias slip that covers a bra on top and hits right at the knee. (A bias-cut fabric will sit closer to your body and will appear more flattering because it shows off your natural curves.) If you’re investing in one for a specific dress, make sure the colors are complementary and not too dark or too light. It should blend in with your dress, not overpower it.
Our pick: Calvin Klein’s Full Slip, $48
Perfect with: Wayf’s Long Sleeve Crepe Shift Dress, $59

Shaping Slip

The purpose of the shaping slip is the complete opposite of the classic slip. A good shaping slip will refine your silhouette and make you look slim and smooth. When you have a fitted dress or a fitted top and skirt and you need a little extra help, the shaping slip is your best friend. The right one will virtually disappear under your clothing and can make you look like you are one or two sizes smaller.
Choose a slip that sculpts the areas where you need help the most, like the waist, tummy, hips, bum and thighs. Now you don’t have to spend your day or evening trying to suck it all in. Let the shaping slip do it for you and your LBD.
Our pick: H&M’s Shapewear Slip, $29.95
Perfect with: H&M’s Fitted Dress, $34.95

High-Waisted Panty

The type of panty you wear each day should be dictated by the type of skirt, pant or dress you are wearing. I learned this lesson the hard way — the blast-of-wind-revealed-my-thong kind of way. Since then, I have revised my bottoms to match my bottoms.
Thongs are great, but are made for tighter, skimpier clothing. High-waisted panties that offer comfort and coverage (from all the elements, including wind) are made for swing dresses, skirts and more man-tailored trousers. Don’t think that just because your panty covers more that it can’t be sexy. Remember all those hot pin-up babes from the ’50s and ’60s in their saucy big retro knickers? I rest my case. 
Our pick: Wacoal’s ‘B Fitting’ High Cut Briefs, $15
Perfect with: Banana Republic’s Leopard Jacquard Fit and Flare Dress, $130

Shaping Panty

Sitting somewhere between snug and comfortable, the shaping panty holds you in and smoothes the tummy, hips and behind. It also gives you a great shape underneath your clothing. Remember to choose a pair that completely covers your stomach, so go for the styles that are a little higher-waisted (just above your belly button). If they sit higher than that, they might have a tendency to roll down, which is not only annoying but defeats the smoothing purpose.

Our pick: Spanx’s Undie-Tectable Moderate Control Shaping Panty, $30.60
Perfect with: J.Crew’s Pencil Skirt in Super 120S, $128

Seamless Brief or Boy Short

One of the best innovations to hit lingerie in recent years is the seamless panty. Showing virtually no lines underneath clothing, these lightweight, micro-fiber bottoms eliminate the visible panty line (VPL) from your wardrobe and your life.

Our pick: Shimera’s Seamless Boyshorts, $13
Perfect with: Vince Camuto’s Straight Leg Pants, $79

Nude String Thong

I never knew I needed a nude string thong until someone gave me one. That little triangle of fabric is the perfect undergarment for tight-fitting knit and slinky dresses, leather jeans or other skinny pants. It goes virtually undetected. It’s also a great panty if you’re wearing stockings or tights, it’ll never feel clumsy or bulky like a panty might with hose.
Our pick: Victoria’s Secret’s V-string panty, $8.50
Perfect with: Acne Studio’s Harper Jersey Dress, $160

Low-Rise Thong

Low-waisted jeans and trousers are sexy and modern, but let’s face it, they pose very specific challenges to the wearer. If you’re going to go low, then you have to go low on top and underneath. Low-rise thongs sit comfortably on the low hip and will never make an uninvited guest appearance.

Our pick: Hanky Panky’s Signature Lace Low-Rise Thong, $20
Perfect with: Tommy Hilfiger’s Tapered Pant, $99