Frisky Q&A: Secrets In Lace Co-Founder Daniel Whitsett On Classic Looks, Body Positivity & Vintage Style Icons

Lingerie brand Secrets In Lace turns back the clock to a time when lingerie was beautifully made to last. The brand is the world’s largest seller of 100% nylon stockings, which are manufactured on the same machines once used to make the high-quality stockings of the 1950’s. Secrets In Lace also sells garter belts, bullet bras, and countless other vintage-inspired pieces (including designs inspired by Bettie Page and Dita von Teese) that are made with functionality in mind – just like they were in the 50’s and 60’s. I love the idea of spending my days toiling through the modern world in a modern dress with a classic garter belt underneath that nobody knows about but me. It’s definitely a refreshing trade-up from today’s trendy, poorly made tights that I so frequently fall victim to at the mall. The company’s first store opened in Virginia 1984 and expanded to a mail order operation in 1995, which launched it into a worldwide legend. There is something so undeniably elegant about this type of lingerie and it’s amazing to see such an important a piece of sartorial history preserved in a world that tends to favor the next big (and cheaply made) thing. Daniel Whitsett, president and co-founder of Secrets In Lace, answered a few of our burning questions about the brand’s curvy models, what makes nylons stockings so special, and how to choose quality lingerie.

The Frisky: What led you to the creation of Secrets In Lace?

Daniel Whitsett: In 1982 I was a young Naval Officer assigned at the highest levels of the Navy working 14 hours a day. My wife and I decided that if we put 14 hours a day into our own business we should be able to make it work. Since I loved the Navy I stayed in the Naval Reserve and we started Secrets In Lace. We chose lingerie because we liked the product.

Where do you find inspiration for future lingerie collections?

We design and manufacture all our products drawing inspiration from our extensive collection (over 500 garments) of vintage lingerie we have amassed over the past 30 years. We also design and manufacture all our authentic nylon stockings (not pantyhose or tights); some in our own US factory and others in partner factories in Europe – all on the same machinery used in the 1950’s.

Are there any particular well-dressed women or even modern trends that resonate with SIL’s look?

I like to refer to our look as “Retro Chic.” Right now the Retro Look is fashionable and many women are sporting that look. Our look, however, is Classic and stands the test of time regardless of the fashion industry’s pendulum. It will always be fashionable to have a “Little Black Dress” or tailored top with a slim skirt; our underpinnings create an unforgettable shape under classic designs. The icing on the cake is our authentic (classic) nylon stockings to complete the ensemble. We successfully demonstrated this in our Lingerie Fashion Week runway show with two models wearing outerwear only to remove the blouse and skirt to reveal her “Secrets In Lace.”

Your catalogue photography is very distinctive and features women who are curvier than your average runway model, which is such a breath of fresh air. Is there a certain vibe you aim for in SIL photo shoots?

We continue to showcase Secrets in Lace collections on a range of body shapes & sizes both on the runway as well as in ongoing campaign shoots to closely mirror our own diverse range of sizing, from 0 – 4X. Since Secrets In Lace is a Retro Chic Lifestyle Brand (clients purchase retro blouses, skirts and coordinate full foundation sets with authentic nylon stockings) we try to recreate a boudoir look that you might have in your own home; we go for elegance and try to show our clients how they too can look by coordinating our underpinnings with our outerwear. In that vein we also have “how to” videos on the proper way to put on our authentic nylon stockings, garter belts and girdles; or what stockings to wear for certain occasions.

Do you have a favorite vintage style icon?

I have many – but right now I like Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner. Two classy dames!

What’s the cultural significance of nylon stockings in the US? Their iconic status seems to go beyond the fact that they’re simply better constructed than modern-day lingerie.

Historically Nylon Stockings were first introduced 75 years ago when DuPont invented nylon. The first stockings we sold on a trial basis in a department store in Willington, Delaware. It turned out to be a big success and soon spread around the world. During World War II the nylon was used for parachutes and stockings were in short supply; some women actually drew lines up their legs to give the impression of wearing seamed stockings since they couldn’t find the actual product. The seams existed on stockings because the knitted nylon fabric was flat in one piece and had to be sewn together to create the stocking. Later circular knitting machines were invented and there was no need for a seam. In terms of the construction we are using machines from the 1950’s that were designed to make a durable product with nylon yarn (no spandex); women wanted something to wear on their legs that would look sheer and last all day. Today’s modern (sheer) hosiery is mass-produced with inexpensive yarn. I am not going to say that Secrets In Lace stockings don’t run because they do, when properly cared for we have a superior sheer product.

What are the biggest quality indicators a woman should look for when shopping for stockings or other lingerie?

It really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Price doesn’t always mean quality because sometimes you are paying for a name. If you want sheerness on your legs then go for no Lycra or Spandex and look for how the product appears in the package. I always stress fit to women when considering a bra. Does it look and feel good to you? Is the back band parallel to the ground – not forming an upside down “U”? If these things are not happening the bra by definition isn’t doing what it is supposed to do and probably isn’t very good. I have seen real expensive bars not work well. Garter belts and girdles need to also do their jobs by holding up stockings and create a shape – they should fit firmly on the waist not 6-8 inches below the belly button as often shown by all the trendy brands. We only use metal garter grips and adjusters on the straps; and we always put six straps (three on each side) on our garter belts and girdles because that better holds the stockings in place.

[Image via Thorsten Roth]