Like many of the best things in life, the idea for Bluestockings Boutique came about thanks to a beer, a porch, and a question.
Jeanna Kadlec was chatting with a friend at her Somerville home last year when their conversation turned to lingerie. Specifically, Kadlec wondered aloud, “Why isn’t there a lingerie store for queers?” The graduate student later looked to the Internet, certain that someone out there must have had this idea before, but found there was no Google search query in the world that would deliver the results she wanted. While there are niche brands and independent labels making underthings with gay women in mind, a one-stop, queer-specific lingerie shop simply didn’t exist. So she took to Twitter, bought a domain name and founded Bluestockings Boutique, an online store that will open its digital doors later this month.
“Lingerie is actually a surprisingly conservative industry,” Kadlec says. “But there are definitely corners, specifically in the lingerie blogosphere … that really are embracing and are calling for more diversity in the industry—supporting queer owned brands, women of color owned brands, more diversity in advertising, that kind of thing.”
While she doesn’t come from a business background, Kadlec has spent the past several months tirelessly testing out e-commerce platforms, researching designers, and attending lingerie trade shows like New York’s CURVEXPO to find brands that will be a good fit for her shop. Working under the motto “Underthings for Everyone,” she says she’s been looking at potential inventory through three lenses: size, style, and sustainability.
For the most part, sustainability speaks for itself: Kadlec seeks out underthings manufactured without sweatshop labor and made with ethically sourced material like bamboo cotton. In terms of sizes, Bluestockings will simply carry more of them. The industry regards band sizes 32 through 36 and cup sizes B through D as the norm, but Kadlec’s wares will take into account the needs of a more diverse group, including trans women, who often have a broad back and a small bust. At the outset, Bluestockings will stock size 28A through 42G, but those options may change as Kadlec hears from customers and begins to get a sense for what people’s needs are.
The issue of style can be more fraught. After all, queer lingerie isn’t any one thing, and there are (of course) both queer women who prefer to forego lace and bows and those who dress in a more traditionally feminine way. “I often say queer underthings are anything that a queer person is wearing,” Kadlec says. She’s well aware that her customers will be a broad group of people with different preferences, and is trying to stock items that reflect an array of interests.
“If you have five queer people and say, ‘Hey, go out and make a lingerie boutique for queers,’ you’re going to get five markedly different—I think—sets of inventory,” Kadlec explains. “The last thing I want to do is try to define what underpinnings look like for all queer people. It’s just about bringing together options they may not have known were available before.”
Kadlec had initially envisioned Bluestockings as a brick-and-mortar shop, but with Boston’s “prohibitively expensive” real estate market she realized she could significantly shorten her startup time if the store launched online. Still, having a physical, tangible safe space where customers and friends can gather is important to her, and she’s bouncing around ideas like hosting pop up boutiques around the city. One of the first Bluestockings events was a bra drive at Diesel Café to benefit Rosie’s Place.
“I’m coming out of academia, so I do get that capitalism and activism make very strange bedfellows,” Kadlec laughs. “But I do think that it’s important for businesses to be socially conscious.”
As for the store, Kadlec’s biggest fear is that she’ll let people down. She knows she can’t be everything to everyone, but hopes Bluestockings will serve a community that’s often overlooked when it comes to lingerie. After all, representation is important. It might seem odd to think that bras and garters could make up the next civil rights battleground, but the slow shift towards tolerance doesn’t just take place in our courtrooms and Senate chambers.