A century ago, teenage Manhattan debutante Mary Phelps Jacobs sewed two pocket handkerchiefs into a makeshift bra in an effort to help “the girls” fit into her plunging flapper gown. A patent soon followed. And, just like that: corsets out, bras in.
Today, Portland’s own industrious lingerie scene is thriving. At Unmentionable—a fabulous, body-positive runway show held every February—crowds go crazy for lines like Allihalla, Chubby Cartwheels, and Rogue Minx’s looks, which range from cute everyday sets to rager metallic bodysuits. Established brands prosper, including super-sexy aesthetes Oh Baby and Lille Boutique, which flaunts indie Euro brands often not found elsewhere in the States. Newbies sprout up, too, like Changewear, which last year debuted a bra that lets users swap out different cup colors and configurations.
From shops to makers, here are three more names to know in local underthings.
Jane’s Vanity has given us Parisian chic for nearly 30 years, carrying the likes of 139-year-old French house Cadolle (pictured), Dana Pisarra’s delicate Italian camisoles, and UK-based Morpho & Luna’s silk-lined velvet jackets. Business manager Emily Tate says repeat customers of this now entirely e-commerce shop are usually people who originally planned a one-time indulgence. “People think of lingerie as a special-occasion piece, until they start wearing nice things regularly,” she says. “And then it’s hard to not want to wear it all the time. It’s not only more comfortable, it’s a hidden confidence boost.”
The Indie Darling
In 2017 Alyssa Woods’s Vava Lingerie went from unknown name to regional staple. The line of lacy bralettes and panties—made primarily from big brands’ leftover lace, preventing fabric waste—is a one-woman show dedicated to transparency and fit. “I do all of my own production right here, so there’s no question about where your things are coming from,” Woods explains. “Being so small allows me to offer customization that big brands can’t. I offer way more sizes, and you have a direct line to the person who designed, patterned, and sewed your lingerie.”
Evelyn & Bobbie founder Bree McKeen, who grew up in tiny Selma, Oregon, thinks big. As in “inventing a whole new bra” big. “Nobody was really innovating [in bras],” she says. “Most bra companies are marketing companies.” E&B scored utility patents for an underwireless brassiere that McKeen explains “shifts the load of your breasts from your shoulders to your core,” reducing strain often associated with back pain. That led to a Kickstarter campaign that netted quadruple its original $88,000 goal in preorders, plus a wave of accolades from big names like Forbes, the New York Times, and Women’s Wear Daily.