Your guide to bras, panties, and other women's underwear

When people hear the word lingerie, most conjure up images of sexy lace teddies or bustiers or garter belts, but in reality, lingerie encompasses all forms of women's underwear and nightclothes, sexy or not.

From the aforementioned teddies and bustiers to plain cotton panties and bras, women's lingerie, like most other women's clothing, offers a wide array of options. For many women, the two biggest categories are everyday underwear and sexy lingerie.

Everyday Underwear

On a daily basis, most women look for comfort over style in their undergarments. After all, they're not likely to be seen, but they sure will be felt -- especially if they ride up, dig in, chafe, or otherwise create discomfort.

Although material, cut, and style all have an effect on comfort, the best way to ensure that undergarments remain comfortable throughout the day is to start with the right fit. Underwear should fit snugly around the hips and legs, covering the buttocks (unless of course it's a thong) without digging in or rubbing when you walk, sit, or move. Be sure to measure your hips before you shop for underwear, as most underwear sizes are based on this measurement.

Fit is especially important when it comes to bras. As many as 80 percent of American women wear the wrong bra size, and doing so can lead not only to physical discomfort but also to long-term, chronic pain, particularly in the back, shoulders, and neck. Measuring accurately and even having a professional bra fitting session can make a huge difference.

Underwear and bras for athletic activities -- from yoga to running to full-contact sports -- must especially fit well, and should be made from a sweat-wicking material, in order to allow freedom of movement and keep you cool as well as comfortable.

Sexy Underwear

When it comes to underwear for those romantic occasions when women know they'll be seen, comfort tends to take a backseat to sexiness. Here, too, though, there is a wide range of possibilities, from a lacy bra and panty set to a long, silky negligee.

While proper fit is still important, considerations for sexy lingerie tend to focus more the material (lace, silk, satin, leather, feathers, etc.) and color (basic black? racy red? soft pink? white?), as well as the particular style that makes the woman feel sexiest.

Of course, there's nothing that says sexy underwear can't be comfortable, and vice versa. Many lingerie companies now offer everyday underwear with lace trim and other sexy touches, and try their best to make their sexy underwear comfortable, too.