1. Think Small
Small, independently owned boutiques are designed to give even the most clueless customers personalized attention. So while department stores may seem more anonymous, they’ll most likely leave you feeling lost in a sea of underwire and lace (and estrogen). “Boutique owners know every piece they carry,” says Cindy Harris, owner of Haddonfield’s Georgie Girl (111 Kings Highway East; 856-354-4700). “You won’t be left wandering around aimlessly.”
2. Speak Up
A quick conversation with the salesperson — about your wife and your lifestyle — can go a long way in finding the right fit. “If a husband tells me he and his wife have young kids, I’m not going to lead him to a sheer robe,” says Randi Backall at Newtown’s Joie de Vivre (18 South State Street; 215-504-5504). Donna Goetz at the Hope Chest in Haverford (379 West Lancaster Avenue; 610-642-4222) says that trade journals like Women’s Wear Daily advise lingerie boutique owners to help men by not giving them too many options: “Spend a couple of minutes with the salesperson, and she’ll know exactly how to simplify your decision and what will be most flattering for your wife.”
3. Do Your Homework
“Some guys will bring in lingerie their wife already has and likes,” says Backall. At the very least, sneak a peek at her size the next time your wife is out of the house. And when all else fails — or if you’re sorta, um, scared of your wife — make like one husband who recently came into the Hope Chest. “He told me there was no way he was going home with anything other than a size small!” Goetz laughs. Smart guy.
4. Ante Up
Sure, you can get a basic brand-name thong for under $20 and pajamas for less than $100, but many of the most elegant bra-and-panty sets will cost you between $100 and $150, and cashmere robes, Backall says, can cost several hundred dollars. But think of it as money well spent: A dozen roses and a box of chocolates will never last as long as a nightgown (or the memory of getting your wife out of it).
5. Play It Safe
Above all (and fetishes aside), remember that this is a gift for her, not you. You want her to be comfortable, and thanks to locally stocked brands like Simone Pérèle, Cosabella and Lucy B., you no longer have to sacrifice comfort for sex appeal. (As for colors, Philly stores have been seeing an uptick this season in chocolate browns, corals and — who knew? — greens.) If you’re really stuck, go with a nightgown — and remember that sometimes, the best way to get some is simply to remind that wife of yours just how gorgeous she looks no matter what she’s wearing.