Category Archives: Lingerie


Today, Sky News ran a piece claiming that teaching children in sets according to their ability made no difference to their learning. I don’t think this makes sense, but it’s clear that the results of the Department of Education survey will make parents’ groups very happy. A spokesperson from one such group was on Radio 4 last week, claiming that streaming according to ability was bad for children’s self-esteem. Perhaps the truth is that such streaming affects the self-esteem of parents. Nobody wants to be told that their child is not as bright as his/her peers.

However, the full results of the survey don’t appear on the DFES’s website, so they can’t be looked at properly. However, some of the other criticisms of setting, such as having more qualified and talented teachers in the top sets and a higher proportion of behavioural problems or children with English as a second language in the lower ones, should be more correctly levelled at school administration.

From experience I know that the more experienced teachers, who had been at a school for a long time, could “cherry pick” their classes. The now notorious teacher’s diary, published in Private Eye last year, detailed the miserable life of a junior maths teacher whose lessons were reduced to remedial crowd control while his seniors lorded it over the top sets. Anyone who’s spent more than 2 minutes in a staff room could tell you that it should be the other way round. The junior, less experienced teachers should learn their trade with “easy” classes, not endure a trial by fire that leads to many NQTs (newly qualified teachers) dropping out in their first few years.

It seems obvious that teaching a class of children with similar abilities would be more successful than teaching a class where abilities differ wildly. I’m sorry, parents’ groups, but it’s true that children have differing levels of ability. Children are not all the same – some are spectacularly good at maths, others at English. Some are astonishingly bad at PE but outstanding at Geography. Some need one-to-one help to use a ruler, while others amaze with their drawing skills.

Mixed ability teaching inevitably leads to the highest and lowest ability children being ignored. If my little Tarquin wasn’t as bright as the others, I would much prefer him to be in a class with fewer children at a similar level than sitting at the back of a mixed-ability class, dropping further and further behind as the teacher focuses (as they inevitably do) on the majority, middling-ability children. Differentiation, used as a magic bullet when I did my PCGE, was, I was promised, the solution to the problem. Simply devise more and more Byzantine lesson plans to ensure that the kid that got Level 7 on his SATs was stretched while the kid who spent his SATs staring at the ceiling gets something down on paper for once.

While a good idea, differentiation can’t work for every lesson in every subject. In Science, how do you show the lad on Ritalin how to use the Bunsen burner without setting fire to his exercise book when you’re also trying to show the genius in the front row a really cool reaction that you think he’d enjoy? In Maths, there might be three ways to solve them, but there’s only one way to teach a quadratic equation.

Differentiation also doesn’t protect children’s self-esteem. Kids have a pretty good idea of their own abilities, deep down. You’re not fooling anyone when one group in your class gets a different textbook from the others. How do you explain why only Louise is allowed to do puzzles because she’s finished early when Jade has finished early by dint of chucking her book out of the window and gets detention? They know perfectly well that they have a different worksheet from the others because they’re not as bright.

I vastly preferred the extremes on both ends of the scale when I was teaching. The very bright were interesting, naughty when bored but fun to bounce ideas off. It was fun to find things out with them and fascinating to see them assimilate new information. It was a shame that they are passed over in mixed-ability classes because teachers know they will do the work properly and not require additional help.

The lower ability children posed a different kind of challenge. Hobbled with the idea that they would never amount to anything and that being at school was pointless, working with them was painstaking but ultimately rewarding when you could persuade them that the subject *could* be useful to them when they left; that they were worthwhile and could learn something after all. Teaching them to appreciate knowledge for its own sake was an uphill struggle but worth the effort. If they were in a class together, their needs could be met properly.

The kids I liked the least were the middling-ability girls, or triers. With their multicoloured title underlinings and careful, rounded, neat handwriting (often with little circles instead of dots on their letter “i”s), they simply wanted to answer all the questions correctly, have a series of little ticks and a circled score at the bottom of the page. Destined for a life in marketing or a call centre, they never seemed all that interested in reading around the subject or asking unexpected questions. Easy to teach, well-behaved but deadly dull, they belonged in a fair-to-middling ability band where they could plug away, inscribing their books with their big, round handwriting and different coloured inks.

For the record, I am deeply proud of my quite abysmal handwriting. I truly believe that nobody with neat handwriting can be an interesting person. Neat writing shows that one either writes too much (not computer literate) or not enough.

Bra Clinic

It’s probably that time of year when magazine editors have finished their Christmas issues, and with it the perennial bra solutions article – always a handy standby when you can’t think of anything else. Grab some celebrity red carpet photos and then match up some bras with the frocks. Strapless for a strapless dress, toupee tape for plunging neckline, halter neck for… ad nauseam.

It’s a tedious article, but it does fill a couple of pages with pictures of famous people and women in lingerie, and that’s the main thing. However, the exercise is pointless. The dress Catherine Zeta Jones wears for the next Oscar ceremony has all the structure she requires, already built in. She is almost definitely not wearing a dreadful strapless bra by Fantasie – she’s probably not wearing anything underneath. When you buy the knock-off dress, it doesn’t matter if you wear the Fantasie bra. You are not going to look like Catherine Zeta Jones.

As Giorgio Armani said, “the dress should do the work, not the woman.” You don’t need to wear magic knickers, a magic bra or spend hours every week in the gym. You just need to spend *a lot* of money on your frocks (and, to be honest, an Armani dress costs around the same as a year’s gym membership). This is another advantage Ms Zeta Jones has over the likes of you: Mr Armani gives her dresses for free.

Anyway, all you actually need is a bra that can go strapless, halterneck or crossed over, as smooth as you can find, in a colour that’s as discreet as possible under a plain white shirt. Then you can go anywhere.

Looking For Doreen

You may not have heard of Doreen, but she’s everywhere. Well-proportioned and no-nonsense, she has an enduring attraction that appeals to a certain kind of admirer. You’d be forgiven for not recognising her in the street, but Doreen is the best selling bra in the world.

One of the world’s largest online lingerie retailers, Figleaves, has just started stocking her, and embarked on a promotional campaign to find Doreen’s human namesakes. This could be the moment that Doreen emerges from obscurity. It may be about time: she is more usually found languishing in dusty corners of department stores. In that staple of teenage boyhood, the lingerie section of the Freemans catalogue, she is passed by in favour of her more alluring rivals despite her staggering sales figures.

Doreen can rise above this. Constructed from over 50 separate components, with 3-sectioned cups, broad straps and 3 hooks at the back, she can rise above most things and take you with her. Part of her appeal is the fact that she isn’t underwired, so the phenomenal support she gives to larger-busted women is tempered by her gentle nature.

We now live in a world where even nursing bras now come in silk edged with Chantilly lace – even basic essentials must now have a “luxe” and sexy option. As has already been suggested, manufacturers like to embellish existing designs to increase their profits. Doreen is a beacon of underwear, her sales figures revealing what really goes on under women’s clothes. All women want to be comfortable, and women with an ample bosom want to be controlled at the same time. Quietly, simply and effectively, Doreen does this, with no pressure to be “boudoir”, no scratchy lace and no hand-wash-only fabrics.

Lingerie professionals call the translucent, frilly concoctions one often sees on the cover of Loaded “20-minute bras”, hinting at both the purpose and average duration of their wear. The amount of press coverage this sort of lingerie receives could make you think that the neatly dressed businesswoman opposite you on the bus is trussed up like Belle De Jour under her suit. Times have changed since Doreen first appeared on the market in 1967. Back then, most bras looked like Doreen: utilitarian, in a shade of pale peach or beige, and without matching knickers. The modern trend for wearing matching sets of sexy lingerie was invented by the late Janet Reger in the 1960s and only really became mainstream in the 1980s.

The reality is that women’s underwear is, as a rule, functional and comfortable rather than sexy. Most women will admit that the bras they wear every day are simple affairs and that they save the pretty stuff for special occasions. But why has Doreen been dominant for so many decades? “It’s a classic. Thirty years ago, Doreen was the only thing available for larger busted women,” Sally Robinson of larger size specialist Ample says. “Even now, there are plenty of larger sized bras that are very lacy and pretty, but just not suitable for a woman of 60 or 70. Women of this age are more active and have more money nowadays. They still want to look and feel good, but their bodies become more sensitive and they can’t usually wear underwires. Doreen is ideal.”

Robinson thinks that Doreen’s complex construction is the reason the bra hasn’t really changed at all since the 1960s. “There are 53 pieces in a Doreen, and it’s rigid rather than stretchy, meaning that the fit and build quality has to be perfect,” she explains. “I don’t think manufacturers are interested in making a more up-to-date version, because it would be so expensive to set up production. Nowadays designers add things like embroidery to increase a bra’s value rather than pay attention to the underlying structure. Adding some stretch in the cups and underband means you don’t have to be so accurate in your sizing.”

Doreen’s fans appreciate her build quality above everything else. “I knew I’d made the right choice when I drove over a speed bump,” says Lynne (42D), a retired teacher. “Usually, I’d be bouncing all over the place, but I didn’t move at all. My daughter had bullied me into getting measured properly and buying a Doreen, but I wasn’t very keen when I saw it in the box. That all changed when I started wearing it. I still wish I could have more choice than black, white and nude, and I hate having to rummage around the shelves in shops to find my size.” Black, white and nude are the primary colours of lingerie, designed to appeal to everyone (unless of course your skin is darker than regulation “nude”), but Doreen occasionally surfaces in “seasonal” colours like duck-egg blue, lilac and dark pink. “I asked my daughter to look out for coloured Doreens,” Lynne says. “They pop up in random places like the back of Sunday supplement magazines, and whenever she sees one in my size, she buys it for me.” According to a Triumph spokeswoman, retailers aren’t keen on colours they may not be able to sell quickly. As a result, Doreen’s brighter incarnations are made in small quantities and are mainly bought by mail-order companies, because they can keep stock at full price far longer than a shop.

I decided to spot Doreen in her natural habitat. At John Lewis in Brent Cross, the lingerie department is bounded by 20-minute bras and the selection gets more utilitarian the deeper you go. In the far corner, past the frills and furbelows of Elle Macpherson, Lejaby and Freya, you can find Doreen, in her box, on a little rack, in black, white or beige and surrounded by her imitators. None of these, according to Triumph, even get close to the complex yet efficient design of Doreen herself. There’s a definite hierarchy of packaging and display, and it’s clear that the bras that stay in the box are the ones not deemed pretty enough to go on a hanger. It seems a harsh way to treat a best-seller.

Bra Review

I thought I’d do a couple of these: I think it’s a good idea for the company I work for, but I doubt anyone’s got the time.

We had a Staff Sale yesterday, and I picked up a Panache Atlantis liquid-filled bra for 5 – someone else has worn it and returned it in a condition that wouldn’t be acceptable to the public. Mmm. Anyway, I can report that it does exactly what it says on the tin. It makes a 32b bosom look *massive*. Tops that don’t usually fit, suddenly do. There’s cleavage where there’s usually just ribcage. However, like a empathetic pregnancy pouch, this bra allows me to experience what women with big tits must go through every day. This bra weighs a *ton* – well, as much as two c/d cup breasts, I suppose. Although it fits properly, this bra definitely makes its presence felt in the shoulders and back. One for those special evenings, I feel.

The best push-up bra I’ve ever had is *not* a Wonderbra. Whilst Wonderbras are OK, they can be uncomfortable and feel a bit cheap. I also find the extra sponge padding a bit creepy and weird. Allumette/Simone Perele (the one is a diffusion range of the other) do a padded push-up bra in a variety of styles and they’re all excellent. They look beautiful, are very comfortable, and feel lovely. Mind you, they are about twice the price of a Wonderbra which might have something to do with it. Well worth the extra, if you want a nice, supportive bra that pushes up without giving a cartoon cleavage.