Lucy Mangan

“Beware the cold, hard truths of your underwear drawer” Lucy Mangan on the secrets of our smalls

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Lucy Mangan
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Our underwear drawers hold some dark secrets, says Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan

My husband and I are trying to declutter the house so we can sell it and move to something half the size, for twice the price, one zone closer to town in the hope that we might start seeing friends again.

For him this is a simple matter of deciding which of his 82 volumes on historical naval procurement policy he wants to keep and which he wants to donate to specialist secondhand bookshops so that other impossible nerds can add to their spectacularly specific knowledge baskets.

For me, it is much worse. Everywhere I turn I am confronted by unwanted truths. Take my underwear drawer, for example. Twenty minutes into trying to winnow it down to its core constituents I realise the following:

1. I am a 40-year-old woman without a single matching set of underwear to my name.

2. I am a 40-year-old woman who just tried to type ‘lingerie’ instead of ‘underwear’ and couldn’t.

3. I am a 40-year-old woman who has never been bought a single item (or, obviously, set of) underlingweargerie by a man.

4. Or friend.

5. Or even a random pervert. 

6. But I do own 136 pairs of knickers, 16 uncomfortable bras, 202 pairs of black socks and tights and four pairs of Spanx.

Which means the unavoidable truth is…

“I’m a rabidly unsensual, repressed failure of a woman,” I announce when my husband comes in to find out what all the noisy slamming of drawers is about. 

“Yes?” he says politely, obviously feeling this cannot be news to me.

“And why have you never bought me any nice ling…linge…nnggh… knickers or bras and stuff?”

“I did!” he says. “Once. I bought you a matching set and you gave me a speech on the corrosive effect of lace on labia, your unswerving commitment to the cotton gusset and how your boobs were too small to deserve nice things.”

“You should have ignored me.” 

“Yes, because that always goes well.”

I change the subject, slightly. “And why have I got 136 pairs of knickers and 202 pairs of black socks and tights?” I ask. “Why haven’t I got a reasonable number? Like… 10 of each?”

“Because you only manage to put a wash on every 136 days or so?” he hazards. “If you only had 10 of everything… well, it would not be savoury. Also, you refuse to throw anything away unless it is broken beyond repair. It’s my understanding that socks and knickers rarely break. Ergo, you have never thrown any of them away. You are sort of an idiot, in that respect.”

“Right,” I decide. “So – you do it. Throw away what shouldn’t be here. No, not those – those are my period pants…”

“Oh, sweet mysteries of womanhood, how sorry I am that ever daylight was let in upon your magic.”

“Shut up. Choose 10. No, 20. Who manages a wash every 10 days? People with staff. Robot staff. Yeah, people with robot staff, that’s who.”

“I don’t think…”

“Shut up. Just choose. I’m going to start on my jeans. Oh god, my jeans. Look, when was the last time I got into these?!”

So. I’m a totally disorganised, mindless hoarder-slash-useless-laundry-avoider. See what I mean? Unwanted truths, everywhere. We’re going to need a bigger skip.

It’s a big year for big literary guns. 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth (which, should you be so inclined, you can help celebrate with me by watching Being The Brontës, the documentary I’m co-presenting with Martha Kearney and novelist Helen Oyeyemi on BBC2, 9pm on 26 March, plug over, thank you very much) and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.  But there is a smaller one that almost delights me more; it is 50 years since Jacqueline Susann wrote Valley Of The Dolls, which is the most perfect blockbuster ever written and also did us the inestimable service of paving the way for Judith Krantz’s Scruples, Shirley Conran’s Lace and assorted other Seventies and Eighties extravaganzas that make Fifty Shades Of Grey look like Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm. So, thanks, Charlotte for giving us literary feminism and everything, but thank you too Susann for giving us female fabulosity in all its other forms and an insane amount of fun. 

Photography: Ellis Parrinder

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Lucy Mangan