The Psychology of Lace

A recent article about the resurgence of lace got me thinking: of all the fabrics in existence today—the bold patterns, the organics, the synthetics—lace, in spite of its implied fragility, holds very special power in the sartorial world. It is the ultimate fabric of femininity, yes, but it is not without baggage, for lace is the embodiment of the Madonna/whore complex in fabric form.

Lace, which came into popularity in the 16th century, is the only fabric I can think of that has the audacious and complicated task of literally clothing both the proverbial Madonna and the whore. It is the only fabric that represents both chastity and debauchery. Therefore, to incorporate lace into a design requires more than a good eye and skilled sewing; it must be contemplated beyond simple construction to intent and impression. Lace is a complex undertaking because its pattern, placement, and color reveal and/or imply more about the wearer than any other fabric.

Madonna at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards.

The World of White Lace
When it comes to lace, nothing rivals the production, use, and symbolism of white lace, specifically.

Think about it: what do we dress innocent baby girls in after they are christened? Usually a white dress trimmed in white lace. Little girls at first communion? A bigger white dress trimmed in white lace. And brides? The ultimate white dress trimmed or completely constructed of white lace, sometimes topped with a mantilla, or white lace veil. White lace dresses are not just dresses in these instances—they are rites of passage. They mark moments in time that just don’t feel quite the same if the guest of honor isn’t sheathed in pristine white lace.

Even in Western society today, we continue to hold this tradition in high esteem, because white lace is synonymous with purity, innocence and new beginnings. Rare is the actual virgin bride, but white lace for the bride? Absolutely. For some, even for weddings one, two, and three. The point is no longer the acknowledgment of virginity and purity, but the purity of a new beginning in a woman’s life with a new partner. All that implied with a bit of white lace.

Even Madonna (of artistic, not religious fame) understood the psychology of lace. Who can forget the spectacle she made when she appeared at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards wearing white lace lingerie? She sang Like A Virgin and reveled in every minute she was able to thumb her nose at the symbolism of white lace and all of us. Then she wore a lace veil and white lace-trimmed dress to her second wedding. Old habits die hard.

All the Other Lace
There is the power of white lace, and then there is the potency of lace in all its other colors and manifestations. Let’s start with black lace. There is the black lace mantilla for funerals—a shroud worn against death, for death. And then there is the black lace-topped stocking, a peek of which drives most men absolutely wild. There is the double meaning again—it is inherent in lace. Black lace in the form of propriety and reverence, black lace in the form of sophisticated seduction. Nothing aids the art of seduction better or more safely than a hint of black lace.

And then there is red lace. There are myriad colors of lace these days, but red lace is the most dangerous—and scandalous—of them all. That is likely because red is a provocative color in its own right. Add it to lace and it packs a wallop, and not necessarily a good one. In my mind, Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter might as well have been made of red lace, because the message of both is virtually the same: absolute adulterated badness.

Red lace is rarely seen in daylight, which is a good thing, as it is rarely done well. A vibrant, saturated red is tough to manufacture and incorporate into clothing design, likely because to achieve that vibrancy, high quality fabric is a must. Only Valentino has truly mastered the perfect red dress, and he is the only one I’d trust with a bolt of red lace. Red lace, unlike lace in any other shade, is like literally and figuratively playing with fire. Proceed with caution.

The Real Psychology of Lace
Suffice it to say that I find the dichotomy of lace utterly fascinating. I’m not that into lace in reality; my wardrobe has a hint here and there. But I must admit that one of my favorite dresses is a black Banana Republic below-the-knee, crepe wrap dress with black lace inset across the shoulders. Although the dress is crepe, it is slightly sheer, so it requires a camisole and slip underneath as well. I don’t know if it’s the rare opportunity to wear ladylike foundation garments, the lace, the shape, or what, but I always feel amazing when I wear this dress.

In fact, the last time I wore the dress was to a Greek church I’d never been to before. I knew no one. I wore the dress with black patent round-toe pumps, Veronica Lake hair, and fuschia lipstick. At the end of the service, an older woman beside me as we stood to exit said to me in Greek (something to this effect): What a beautiful girl…they don’t make them like you anymore. It was kind and immensely flattering. I’m sure it wasn’t the lace on my dress that prompted the comment. But I know the psychological effect the lace had on me; it informed not only the entire look, but my confidence and grace as a woman.


  1. Love lace.

    And kudos on the compliment – usually the yayas just want to tell you that you gained weight or are too skinny and need to eat more!

  2. T…thanks for the comment. Yeah, you’re right. The yiayias rarely offer a genuine compliment…though when they say you’re too skinny, that sounds damn good to me!

  3. Just thought I’d do a little back reading. This article is so profound. While we hardly pay attention to dress etiquette these days, we still con convey much in what we wear. Not a frilly girl by nature, lately I’ve been collecting lace articles of clothing,in black, ivories and cream. For some reason the many messages of lace is resonating with me. Like my mind is playing with the idea of sending many messages at once without being mixed just aiming for the complex. I have a lace compex? LOL. maybe!

    1. Bella, glad you jumped back and read this! It makes me happy when people enjoy my writing as much as my outfit posts, etc.

      Thanks for leaving a comment, sugar!

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