Men are simple creatures. Women often ask: "What underwear do you like to see me in?" and the usual answer is: "Any underwear." Unless your relationship has been going so long that you have sex only on special occasions, such as the installation of a new Pope, then most men are just pathetically grateful to see women partially unclothed.
I can't remember the first time I saw a girlfriend's underwear, probably because I was a hormone-crazed teenage boy whose nervousness at getting a girl into bed made the moment about as erotic as a G8 summit.
Since then, though, and particularly during my tenure as editor of a men's magazine - with a constant stream of beautiful models and celebrities posing in underwear for shoots - I became quite an expert.
When you see that many lithe bodies in sexy sets, it's surprising how quickly you develop very strong opinions on what you do and don't like. While we men like nothing better than seeing you in your smalls, some smalls are infinitely preferable to others.
It's easy to see where women go wrong. Underwear buying is fraught with difficulties-Wander around the lingerie section of any major store and you'll be confronted by a stack of over-complicated undergarments.
The classic image of a suspender set with a push-up bra is what most women imagine gets their chap going. As you'll see from the results overleaf, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Whether it's a simple white set-up with a sexy bow, or some cute polka dot pants, the items that score big with our panel - made up of myself, Simon Mills and Alex Bilmes - are those that suggest innocence and fun.
The Ann Summers-style wannabe stripper look doesn't hit the spot any more, if, indeed, it ever really did. So why are the stores still groaning with so many frilly, fancy sets? If women find them uncomfortable and annoying, and men see them as cheesy (and in some cases, intimidating), who is keeping these offending items on the shelves?
It's time to strike a blow against saucy, seaside-postcard pants and bras as we reveal what men really like and what they think is
. . . well, pants.
BLACK LACE: Satin pagliaccetto, Malizia at La Perla, £111, 020 7291 0930. Suspender belt, Falke, £25, 0845 004 8400. Shoes, Gil Carvalho, £570, 020 7262 2658 SUPPORT: Bra, £12, and control knickers, M&S, £30, 0845 302 1234. Shoes, Gil Carvalho, £490 RETRO: Bra, £65, and knickers, £35, Buttress & Snatch at Miss Lala's Boudoir, 020 7483 1888. Shoes, £435, Gina, 020 7409 7090
THE PANEL: SCOTT MANSON is a former editor of the men's magazine Loaded SIMON MILLS is a renowned style journalist ALEX BILMES is features director of the men's magazine GQ
CLASSIC BLACK LACE
SCOTT: Too much. Far too much. It's like an Eighties Robert Palmer video styled by Ann Summers. This sort of look used to be sexy but now it just makes men think of large Adam's-appled drag artists, which is never a good thing to cross your mind in the bedroom. You can almost hear the static electricity pop and crackle on this cheesy and cheap-looking get-up.
SIMON: Women make the mistake of thinking that, deep down, this is what we want our partners dressed up in of an intimate evening. Fluffy mules, black stockings and suspenders topped with a sexy black teddy. And they are wrong.
This is way too vulgar and resultsorientated for our beloveds. It's the kind of attire a man would imagine his mistress to be wearing during an illicit hotel room session.
This is the stuff of our clichÈd but rather harmless lingerie daydreams. Just don't ever confuse black satin with marriage material
ALEX: My golden rule of lingerie is simple: less is more. Way more.
I'm aware that there are some men (deeply old-fashioned types, I'm afraid) for whom the thrill of the naughty black nightie still exerts a powerful pull. No doubt it's right up there with pipe smoking and driving gloves. But I'm not one of those men. To the rest of us chaps, this girl looks almost fully dressed. And where's the fun in that?
Admittedly, black is flattering, and I suppose this look still indicates a certain promise of the illicit, but this outfit just has too much fabric. She looks like a dummy in the window of an Ann Summers shop. And I could do without the pom-poms on the shoes. All that said, the stockings are sexy.
SCOTT: So you've had some sort of invasive bowel surgery and you want to turn heads on the hospital ward, whack on these giant pants and - ta-daa! - you look like someone wearing their granny's WWII corset.
Seriously, though, if you've got the sort of stomach that requires these pants, then go jogging occasionally and stop eating cake. Or get used to blokes running, screaming, from the bedroom whenever you disrobe.
SIMON: "Support" has never been the kind of apparel category that a man would associate with women under the age of, say, 55. Usually such grim, Elastoplast-toned, damage-limitation devices are sold via ads in the back of doddery old Sunday supplements, next to the sheepskin-lined winter booties and side-entry baths.
But, oh boy, this is something completely different. The stockings are utterly fabulous and the bone colour is Christian Dior classy. Either this garment is working with fantastic efficiency or the model already has a killer figure and is wearing it for some perverse, contrapuntal thrill. Either way, she looks like she's been professionally gift-wrapped in buff brown paper. I hereby pledge my undying support to this look.
ALEX: Is this underwear or has she forgotten to take some of it off? I can scarcely imagine the shock-horror that would ensue if I persuaded a girl to shed her outer garments only to reveal this!
It looks like a girdle. Is it, in fact, a girdle? I can't imagine for a second that a girl who looks like this model - or even just a bit like this model - would need this level of support. And anyone who does would probably be best advised to keep her clothes on. The worst of the lot by some distance: an instant ardour-cooler.
SCOTT: Men are genetically programmed to love women in red underwear, so this one's a hit from the start. Add in the cute polka dots, frilly detail and the sexy hipster shorts and you've got a winning combination. It's feminine and pretty, rather than stripper- style, try-too-hard erotic. Like Kelly Le Brock in Weird Science, this is simply perfect.
SIMON: Call me a traditionalist, but I've never found cartoon characters like this young lady much of a turn-on. I know there are men who dream about dating Betty Boo or Minnie Mouse but I am not one of them.
Yes, Minnie Mouse liked polka dots and she looked rather sweet. But polka dots on a real-life girl's underwear (especially when teamed with bunny-boiler lacy bits on the outer seams of the bra and pants) should be regarded as a kind of ominous Morse code to men, warning them to stay well away.
In my experience, polka dot girls (remember Paula Yates?) are completely dotty - all cutesy and innocent one moment, doing baby talk and watching old musicals in bed while eating violet crËme chocolates; the next screaming like a banshee, slashing your tyres and cutting your best suits into ribbons.
ALEX: This polka dot lingerie might be a bit camp, but it's attractive and flattering, too. It makes me think of those fuller-figured pin-ups with their cantilevered bras and their tight sweaters and their sunny dispositions. It's cute without being coy and sexy without being slutty. A winner.
VIRGINAL: Bra, £75, and briefs, £35, Madame V, 0870 740 53333. Shoes, £265, Patrick Cox, 020 7730 8886 MISMATCHED: Bra, £19, After Eden, www.figleaves.com. Yellow shorts, £6, M&S. Shoes, Gina, £285 SPORTY: Bra, £24, and briefs, £12, Calvin Klein, www.cku.com. Shoes, £90, Lotus, 01604 593600
SCOTT: The only thing better than seeing a woman wearing this sort of lacy white number is her asking you whether you want to undo the ties for her.
By far the best selection in this collection, this is the ultimate weapon in a woman's underwear armoury. If he won't do what you want after being confronted by this, you may have to face the fact that your bloke is gay.
SIMON: Virginal? Virginal? Are you kidding? This may be white, it may be lacy, the bra might be demure in its cut and wedding cake-ish in its execution. But look: the pants have no sides and there's a quick-release ripcord hanging off her backside. This is how every red-blooded man would like his new wife to be dressed on that very first night of matrimonial bliss. That said, if a girl does have the confidence to select such a sweetly provocative confection, the husband should probably square himself with the fact that she may not be quite so virginal after all.
ALEX: There's something more than a bit unseemly about grown women pretending to be innocent, eyelash-fluttering Lolitas. Which is presumably why some men get a kick out of this kind of thing. I don't. All that frilly girly stuff makes me feel a bit queasy. The kind of woman who wears this type of underwear is also the kind of woman who talks in an irritating 'lickle' girl voice when she wants something - this she believes to be winsome and charming when, in fact, it's the reverse - and keeps cuddly toys balanced on her pink pillows.
In a word: inappropriate.
SCOTT: Thanks to Mel C, the word 'sporty' has lost any sexy, athletic connotations and is now understood by men to mean 'the one with a face like a bag of spanners but who can sing a bit'. (See also the ginger one from Girls Aloud.)
This outfit doesn't do much to change that. It'll look good in the gym changing room but won't really get us going in the bedroom.
The coloured waistband on the knickers also makes them uncomfortably reminiscent of a pair of men's Y-fronts.
SIMON: Sorry, but the word "sporty", especially when applied to women and their attire, always reminds me of that classic Nudge-Nudge Monty Python sketch. ("Does your wife like sport? I'll bet she does . . ." etc.) But this delightfully simple bra and knickers union may well banish that rather dated image-trigger from my mind for ever.
This is underwear for a work hard/play hard type of girl. Its bold simplicity and contemporary sports-specific cut makes it a very sexy antidote to some of the lap dancer looks in the other pictures. The sexiest look of them all.
I am also loving the pink go-faster stripes.
ALEX: Clean, simple and sexy. This is what all modern lingerie should look like - it's flattering, it's stylish and there's not too much of it.
Admittedly, it's a bit scarily athletic, and few men want their women to look like they've done more squat-thrusts than a drill sergeant, but that aside, this is my favourite.
It doesn't have any of the silly frills or embarrassing, pub-stripper obviousness of the others. To me, it says confident and sexy and up for it. To which the only polite reply must be: "Yes, please."