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The Grownup Guy's Guide to Buying Lingerie

On Valentine's Day, dress the woman of your dreams in something she'll look great taking off

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En español | As Cupid's holiday approaches and you dream of heating up the sheets, your thoughts may turn to how alluring your honey would look in new lingerie. But gentlemen, beware: One false move in trying to supply these items yourself can land you in the doghouse, not the bedroom.

Lingerie on clothes rack

Stick with comfort and elegance, and banish all notions of buying the peekaboo outfits you see in lingerie catalogues. — Getty Images

"Couldn't happen to me," you say? Don't be so certain.

Most men are clueless when it comes to buying lingerie for women. For proof, simply search the Internet, where underwear catalogues seem to specialize in "Lifestyles of the Lewd and Ludicrous": open-crotch panties and peekaboo bras that few 25-year-olds would wear, let alone women over 50.

If you heed my bedroom-tested lingerie-shopping tips below, you just might hit the erotic jackpot when she opens your gift box this Valentine's Day.

1) Forget skimpy, sheer or tight. 

With the possible exception of professional lingerie models (often alumnae of plastic-surgery clinics), most women feel self-conscious about their bodies. With age, that discomfort can grow. So banish all notions of buying the outfits you see in lingerie catalogues: It's a rare woman who feels comfortable shaking her booty in next to nothing. That goes double — no, make that triple — for women of a certain age.

2) Don't even try to buy bras, panties, thongs or G-strings. 

These garments have to fit precisely, which means knowing her precise size — do you? I thought not. So you peek into her underwear drawer, only to discover a minefield of mysterious labels: Misses, Petites, Juniors and Woman's (once known as Plus-Size), with a range of sizes in each.

And don't even get me started on bras. Professional corset fitters often chide women for wearing bras that don't fit, so how can you expect to choose more wisely than your mate? And just consider the downside of uplift: Buy a bra that's too large and she'll think you see her as a whale; buy one too small and she'll think you see her as anorexic. My advice: Leave shopping for these "extreme foundation garments" to the wearer.

3) It's not what she reveals, it's how she feels. 

Men get turned on visually, which is why guys can't seem to get enough of minimally dressed females. But women are more aroused by touch — the luxurious feel of elegant fabrics, for example. "Silk is ideal," says Joan Price, 69, author of a guide for older lovers called Naked at Our Age." Silk is luxurious. And so sensual."

By focusing on how your partner feels, you can help her feel great. That, in turn, will make her radiate sexiness — and look even hotter.

Oh, and did I mention that silk makes an excellent insulator against the February chill? The fabric will keep her warm and pleased with her man, boosting your chances of getting lucky.

4) Think long and loose. 

Buying a nightgown requires some forethought, so let's start with a quick primer: The unfortunately named "baby dolls" are short nightgowns, usually thigh-high and sleeveless. Negligees are longer — either calf- or ankle-length — and may or may not include sleeves. A lingerie robe resembles a bathrobe, but it's much lighter weight (and often sheer or semi-sheer). Buy these garments in silk and you'll swathe your sweetie in warm, elegant comfort. Can an unmistakable gesture of appreciation be far behind?

A word about extras and options: Some baby dolls and negligees include lace, ruffles, spaghetti straps or side slits. Go with what you think she'd most enjoy. The beauty of full- or almost-full-coverage lingerie is that the woman controls what she reveals, and when: She can show off the attributes she's proudest of without baring the bits that make her cringe. "Many women choose lingerie according to how well it disguises what they consider flaws," Price says. "You basically can't go wrong with a silk nightie or robe."

5) Stage a two-person fashion show. 

If you buy several items in different colors and styles, imagine the fun you'll both have as she models each outfit. With every wardrobe change, tell her why you selected it: "You look so hot in red." "That semi-sheer bodice drives me wild." "Those straps show off your beautiful neck and shoulders." Decide together which ones to keep, then return the rest. (Most shops and catalogues, understandably, prohibit the return of panties, thongs or G-strings but allow returns of gowns and robes.)

You should now be fully equipped to have a very happy Valentine's Day.

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