I bought my first bra when I was 12. It was hanging delicately on a rack in a department store, and I found the vivid pink-on-black floral incredibly appealing. Even more irresistible was the significant amount of padding. To be honest, I didn’t really need a bra. But when a sudden whirlwind of girlfriends with curvy bodies and more-than-ample breasts surrounded me, I desperately wanted to fit in. For the next two decades, my lingerie consisted of inexpensive bras purchased in mainstream chain lingerie stores. I bought the same type of bra every time: push-up demi-cups that created the illusion of cleavage.

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But then, decades later, I went from a 34B to a 34D. To say that the new generous size of my breasts shocked me is an understatement. My new bosom was overwhelming and, well, fabulous. Regardless of whether it was the result of a mid- life hormonal change or the 15 pounds of weight gain I experienced in my 30s, I wasn’t concerned.

Around the same time that my body underwent this change, I got married to a self-confessed “breast man.” Along with his appreciation for my shapely body came his generous appetite for skimpy lingerie and a never-ending line of gifts that consisted of thin strips of silk, satin, lace and little else. All of a sudden, the distinction between “underwear” and “lingerie” mattered. This was new—my theory had been that undergarments were meant to be functional, and I gave little care to what they looked like. That all changed with my husband’s appreciation for my curvaceous figure. Erotic underthings were now on the menu, and, surprisingly, I, too, soon developed an appetite for trying on “naughty” pieces.

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I started my education in lingerie at an unremarkable storefront in midtown Toronto. Once inside, I was overwhelmed by the selection of expensive frivolous things. Where were the plain cotton bras and underwear that I was used to? When I tried to slink out in embarrassment, a portly matron who clearly knew her business accosted me. As I protested, she swept me into a small change room and told me to remove my clothes. “This is all wrong,” she said, pointing to the tired bra that I was wearing. “You need pretty things.” In what seemed like seconds, she returned with an armful of lingerie in every colour and style. Without measuring me, she proffered a bra and insisted I put it on. Despite the delicate straps and silky lace of the undeniably revealing piece, the support was phenomenal and flattering. I had no idea that lingerie could change the way I look so dramatically—that a few strategically placed scraps of fabric could give me the same security as my familiar department-store cotton lingerie and make me feel sexy at the same time.

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Over the next couple of years, I went into stores that I’d never taken notice of before. A friend told me to visit Agent Provocateur in New York’s SoHo district; there, I was educated on the benefits of balconettes and corsets by a statuesque tattooed goth in a pink lab coat. I began to make lists of my favourite brands and kept style numbers on file. When I travelled to Europe, I would head straight to the department stores (Le Bon Marché in Paris and Harrods in London) to ogle their selections. I trolled eBay to see if I could find the same high-end lingerie on sale. Alongside my burgeoning collection of La Perla, Marie Jo and Chantal Thomass, my confidence grew. I bought push-up bras and shelf bras with open cups in every colour. I indulged in silk-satin garter belts with matching briefs. And I invested in every style of Wolford stay-ups.

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Just when I thought I had every undergarment imaginable, my husband presented me with a small pink bag. Nestled inside was a flimsy piece of red lace wrapped in tissue paper. When I held the garment up against my form, I understood that I was meant to wear it—but how? There were straps, ribbons and small gold-coloured clasps. The only way to tell the front from the back was a tag that read “Lise Charmel, made in France.” I looked into the bag again, hoping against hope that it came with an instruction manual. No luck. And yet somehow I managed to contort myself into my first playsuit. When I finally had it on, I caught a look at myself in the mirror. I saw someone I’d come to know in the reflection—she was brave and sexy. And she looked comfortable.

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