Looking around a new kind of Kathmandu store these days, one would think that not all feminists burnt their bras back in the day. And that those who did are now looking for desperate measures to control the drooping effects of the tug of war between mother nature and father gravity.
An informal survey of some two dozen women between the ages of 20-35 in the capital revealed one certain fact: paying attention to women's underclothing is about as au courant as it gets here. Everyone's doing it. For one, a woman in her mid-20s told us in all seriousness, "When you're wearing something really raunchy underneath your boring work clothes, it gives you the strength to take anything, files thrown at you, the relentless nose-picking of your lovelorn office attendant. You feel like Supergirl." For another, it is very unhip in Kathmandu these days to wear intimates that might slow the progress of meandering eyes and roving hands, or not send the requisite suggestive signals to the interested, usually male, brain.
And finally, there's the matter of a current fashion statement that perhaps owes more to male hip-hop trends than anything else: "posterior cleavage". Fashion is a strange, fickle beast-women have been completely shamed out of the Visible Panty Line that causes others so much offence, but the top of a thong sitting snugly on a woman's waist even as her hip-huggers barely skim her hips is now the epitome of cool.
As a writer in an online publication said recently, "Girls in low-slung jeans sit insouciantly on bar stools, "presenting" their rears like primates in heat. The jeans tug downwards, the butt balloons upwards, and at least an inch of crack blooms above the belt loops.. Others brandish g-strings, which ride above the waistband.." A trendy young Kathmandu woman dismissed it with a flick of the wrist: "It's cool, you can do more wearing less." She was perched on a bar stool, displaying what looked like a piece of string tattooed onto her hips. No, there wasn't much to her trousers.
Enter the lingerie store, a place for Nepali women and men to walk into, head held high and mind open to all the suggestions that sequin-spangled thongs throw up, in the certainty that there will be no lewd comments, no ogling, nary a "friendly" squeeze or pinch. Of course, most of you have probably already touched your forehead to the altar of Femilines on Pulchowk. This little matchbox of an outlet is located right above a fashion boutique, making it easy for more lily-livered people to lie about their real destination.
Femilines, a collaboration between two young entrepreneurs, Jyotsana Shrestha, and Ajita Shakya, was opened early this year with the express aim of taking the sleaze out of women's underclothing. Kathmandu women are moving with the time in every which way, thought the two. So why should they still have to buy boring undies in boring old department stores? Well, they asked themselves, what choice do we have, when the alternative is buying equally unscintillating stuff from greasy men on footpaths who believe-and repeatedly demonstrate-that the greatest virtue of any kind of underwear is the springiness of its elastic.
And so Femilines resembles a cross between the waiting room of a trendy hair and nail salon, and milady's boudoir, circa 1965. The first little room holds a vast array of nightclothes-comfy percale pyjama sets and practical vests and shorts as well as barely-there teddies and babydolls, faux-fur trimmed peignoirs, and satin floorsweepers for those who fancy a touch of the Barbara Cartland.
But go through to the next room and ahem. There are the lacy thongs so very popular among teenagers and 20-somethings, all the better to wear their low-rise hiphuggers with, racerback bras for those who just can't be bothered, animal prints for the quiet, feral woman, nursing bras to pay the price for having worn too many of those in the past, push-up bras (with and without jello) for the woman (or cross-dressing man) who simply wants to be understood. There are scrappy wisps of nylon that make you wonder why anyone should bother, the usual complement of G-strings with little embroidered hearts on the front, the most outrageously spangled, tawdry, truly unmentionables. Of course, there are also plenty of practical, comfortable, pure cotton options, including orthopaedic-looking grandma panties, all far more appealing than anything the aforementioned greasy men will snap at you.
Most of the choices here are from China, Thailand, and India, which is a good thing for your wallet, but there are also mainstream western brands such as Marks and Spencer, Jockey, Blazon and Lovable. There are other, smaller lingerie shops in Suraj Arcade and Bishal Bazar, but these, while they stock a decent range of international brands as well as Chinese no-logos, won't give you the decadent buzz that Femilines does. For Jyotsana and Ajita all the pre-opening anxiety has been worth it. Everyday the shop is abuzz with beginners buying beginner bras, teenagers trying hard to pay more for less, honeymooning couples casually fingering a lacy nightgown, and grandmas hoping to find that elusive 48 D. "People are ready for change and we offer them choices," say the two, beaming at their bras.