Rosie Green: ‘Don’t underestimate the power of undies’

‘Look,’ said my straight-talking friend Nadine, ‘you are never going to get laid wearing that.’

We were on my post-break-up getaway, a ‘healing’ spa trip taken only months after my husband of 15 years had left home for good. It was while we were disrobing for our massages she caught a glimpse of my smalls. Think M&S pants from a multipack and bra that’s been on this planet longer than Dua Lipa.

She was right (Nadine always is), my lingerie game was poor. Tired, grey and washed-out – just like I was.

Photograph: Louise Samuelsen. Stylist: Nicola Rose. Make-up: Caroline Banres. Hair: Ben Cooke. Hair Colour: Nicole Clarke. Tan: Amanda Harrington London.

Truth is, my underwear had been on a downward slide during my marriage. It had been that way since my halcyon La Perla-wearing 20s – that was before house purchases and children dented my spending ability considerably. As our family responsibilities grew, it seemed frivolous to purchase expensive scraps of silk when there was paint needed for the walls and Brownie subs to pay.

But, on reflection, maybe I should have invested. Perhaps baggy, saggy underwear dampened both my desire and my husband’s. Perhaps they were a metaphor for how much thought and energy was going into our sexual relationship. In truly straitened times I even took to wearing his boxers until he told me to stop as he thought I was stretching them (the cheek – literally).

But since Nadine’s words, and being back on the market, I have definitely upped my game. It seems obvious to say, but as well as giving me a better shape, new underwear has made me feel 100 per cent better. Wearing matching colours and designs that pull me in and push me up makes me feel like a sexual being rather than a mother/domestic drudge/taxi driver/breadwinner/head chef/IT support.

It took me many years to learn that sometimes all it takes is a lace bra under a white shirt or a box-fresh pair of trunks tight on the thighs to spark the pilot light of lust. There’s no doubt the boyfriends I’ve had since my marriage break-up have appreciated my new selection of Agent Provocateur and Intimissimi. Sexy underwear adds frisson. Fact.

A year ago I was sitting at my desk when a beautifully beribboned Myla package arrived from a boyfriend. First thought: delight. He scored immediate points for even knowing the brand. Big tick. (For context, the last present I had received from a man, my ex-husband, had been some welly warmers, so gratitude level was always going to be high.) Second thought: what if the knickers are too small or the bra too big? Third thought: what if they’re on the slutty side of sexy?

Actually, the set he chose was perfect – luxurious and chic rather than ‘racy’. As a 40-something there is a fine line between seductive and tragic; that what might be attractively risqué in your 20s can easily look ridiculous a couple of decades later.

I think, like red lipstick, sexy underwear only works if you are confident in it. I like lace, silk, ribbon. I like pretty, not porny. Anything too strappy makes me feel like a piece of beef fillet tied up with butcher’s string. And the fabrics have to feel luxurious – anything flammable is a one-way ticket to itch (and scratching is not sexy). But is my aversion to the more clichéd ideas of ‘sexy’ a disappointment to the men I date? Are they all lusting after ultra-revealing slivers of fabric? I’m not so sure. My last boyfriend professed, after six months, to a penchant for white sporty Calvin Kleins. Which, had I known earlier, would have saved me a lot of expense.

And what about guys – what do we like them in? Well, not Spanx, that’s for sure. (Turns out the brand has just released tummy-taming T-shirts and girdles for guys. Which sound about as sexy as Alan Partridge in his Y-fronts). Nope, clean* and hole-free is all that’s required.

So Nadine will be glad to know I have cleared out all my threadbare thongs and jettisoned the bras that were high on ugliness and low on support. My drawer is now exclusively full of chic smalls. The thing is, even when I have no intention of anyone else but me seeing them (on, say, a first dinner date), just knowing that I’m wearing them makes me feel sexy, which then translates to outer confidence.

Now I know – whether you are single, in the first throes of lust or in long-term love (and I have been in all three situations in just a few years) – that wearing good underwear is key to feeling great and looking hot.

*And no, that doesn’t mean turning them inside out for the second day