In our long-running series "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
If there's someone on the Internet you can trust about bras, it's Cora Harrington.
Since 2008, she's been running The Lingerie Addict, which has grown into one of the go-to resources for all things undergarments — from basic to boudoir — online. Wondering about the Natori Feathers bra everyone raves about? She's got a review about it (and the matching undies). Want an educated #take on everything that's happening with Victoria's Secret? She's your person. She literally wrote a book on the subject.
What Harrington has done for many is demystify the world of intimates, making it feel less exclusive and prescriptive through a commitment to research and a genuine appreciation for these incredibly engineered products. She's thoughtful and purposeful with her writing, both online and in "In Intimate Detail," which was published in 2018. (An example: The book doesn't use gendered language; instead of on-model images, Harrington and her publisher commissioned illustrations of the products discussed in it.) When she can't personally speak to a specific need, experience, topic or product, she'll find a writer who can and pay them to write about it.
Harrington will meet readers where they are, wherever they are on their lingerie journey. Hers started with a pair of stockings. ("I think I saw it on Bare Necessities. I don't even know what I was searching for or why I was on Bare Necessities, but I'm pretty sure that's where I first saw it.") That lead her to start writing a blog under a pseudonym after work, which would eventually grow large enough that she could quit her day job to run a site full-time.
Ahead, we talked to Harrington about the origins of her interest in fashion, her education in lingerie, the evolution of The Lingerie Addict and more.
How did you first become interested in fashion?
I was a kid growing up in central Georgia and I remember my mom got me a subscription to Vogue and to Lucky, because my mom is a very stylish person. I remember as a kid having this idea that I wanted to be a fashion photographer — I was so enamored of the editorials I saw in magazines. I was photographing as a hobby and taking darkroom classes. I liked the idea of being a photographer for Vogue. Unfortunately, as I imagine is true for a lot of kids that grow up in places that aren't major cities, I was essentially told that that's not really a career avenue. I don't blame people for telling me that — they didn't know a path to that. So, I was encouraged to make my goals a little more realistic. But I never forgot my interest in fashion.
I started my site back in 2008. It was Stockings Addict back then. I was doing something completely different — I was in grad school briefly, and I worked in the nonprofit industry. It was just a hobby, way back on Blogger and Blogspot. In my day job, I did crisis work. It was very stressful. I worked briefly in a residential children's home, which was a very stressful place. My site became an escape.
The very first item I saw that made me go, 'Wow, I need to share this,' were these Falke peacock welt stockings. I didn't even know something like that existed. I had never seen anything so gorgeous in my life. It looked like jewelry for the legs.
I feel like there's a braid of inspiration for those early days. I was also dating a guy and wanted to wear something nice for him; when I was searching for what to buy — where to buy from, who made good stuff, what brands are out there — I couldn't find anything. It was all of these things together that led to the first iteration of my site.
Eventually, I changed my name from Stockings Addict to The Lingerie Addict, because my interests were expanding beyond stockings. My site grew very gradually. It wasn't that I got a feature in a magazine or that it was an overnight success — it was really just people, I guess, searching for things and running across my work and sharing with their friends or being like, 'Hey, this is really cool.' It was a very organic progression.
As I was writing more about lingerie, I was also realizing how much I didn't know and how much there was to learn. I started going to professional events like trade shows and talking with more brands. I feel very lucky that people were so willing to share what they know with me. People like Larissa [King] from Hanky Panky was someone who was like, 'You're a little bit incorrect here. Let me tell you what's actually happening.' People were very generous with their knowledge.
Since then, I've just become more and more interested in this industry, but also more and more interested in intimate apparel, because I feel like I'm learning something new all the time. That same desire, that same drive to share things that I'm discovering with other people, I would say, is still there.
That same curiosity is something that probably draws so many people to The Lingerie Addict. Going back to the beginning, was Stockings Addict a home for a variety of fashion thoughts or was it exclusively about stockings?
I started specifically about stockings, partly because that was my interest but also, they were pretty inexpensive to buy and review. I didn't have a lot of extra money to spend. I dabbled a little bit in the stockings fetish community, because it turns out fetishists know a lot about the things they have fetishes about. That was when I was realizing I was becoming interested in items related to that, like garter belts and bullet bras and corsets and corselettes and these other things and I wanted to expand beyond just stockings and hosiery.
Were there any other images that you consider really formative in terms of your ideas about lingerie?
I was really into corsets and fan-laced girdles, which, interestingly enough, are starting to come back into fashion. Corselettes are like gartered dresses — like shapewear dresses with garter grips. Rago's lace-set corselette was one I was very interested in from the beginning. Kiss Me Deadly did a Vargas dress girdle that was a factory error and wound up being one of its most popular pieces. Items like that, I think, helped to lead me into liking intimate apparel. There was a brand named Cameo Intimates that worked almost exclusively on a custom basis... Even now, I still think about its imagery. Then, I would also say the early days of Etsy shopping; it used to be a great place to find indie lingerie designers. That's where a lot of independent designers, like Hopeless out of Australia, got their start. Etsy seems to still have some nice lingerie designers, but it's a very different set than what it used to be.
One of the more difficult things about intimate apparel is discovery, especially when you're starting out — figuring out what exists, what exists in your size, what exists in your style. I think that's why intimate apparel is so intimidating to a lot of people. It's also why so many people think there's nothing out there for them. There's, I think, a ramping-up process to figuring out your options.
Unfortunately, I also think a lot of that is opaque to people, largely because a lot of intimate apparel brands don't advertise — which I've been saying for 10 years, you got to advertise. How are people going to learn about you if you don't advertise? That's one of the things that I really tried to do: not just share that excitement, but also make the category more accessible, so that people are aware things exist for them and are also informed to make the best buying decisions they can.
What your education in lingerie was like?
I bought pretty much every book that's been published about lingerie. The founder of La Petite Coquette, that lingerie boutique that was popular on "Sex and the City" back in the '90s, [Rebecca Apsan] wrote a book, and that was one of the first I read about lingerie. It broke down different types and styles. When you read it now, it's a bit dated — I think the way we talk about lingerie has updated, which is part of why I wanted to write my book.
I started purchasing history books about intimate apparel and various photo books. I have a book about Ellen von Unwerth's work. I have Valerie Steele's book on the corset, which I actually read in college. That's a seminal work, I think, in intimate apparel. She really helped to shift the conversation. I have so much respect for her. She has no idea who I am, but I adore her.
I have La Perla's coffee table book. Frederick's of Hollywood's catalog book is also out of print but I recommend that for any lingerie addict; that's really good for understanding lingerie history, because a lot of what we see now was first developed by Frederick's, which is a reminder that everything circles back around. There's a book called "1000 Pin-Up Girls" that's really great for understanding historical lingerie and seeing it reappear today. I have a full library over here.
Also, museums are so generous with their archives. There's the Met, which has a lot of intimate apparel in their archives. Going back to the fetish world, there are certain sites like Staylace, which is dedicated to corset imageries and corset movies. I hope you visit it because the site has not been updated since 1998 — it's a time capsule of the internet, but also of the actual subject matter. Finding places where people were really passionate and willing to do deep dives and constant updates into their niche categories was helpful.
I would look at lingerie retailers all the time, see what products they had. I started going to trade shows and see what people were selling. Then, talking to people who appreciated what I was doing or what I was trying to do — even if I wasn't talking about their brand, specifically — and who were excited that there was someone focusing on lingerie. Even now, I'm one of only a few people that does that. There used to be more lingerie blogs, like Busts 4 Justice, Invest in Your Chest, The Lingerie Post, Knickers Blog, Faire Frou Frou Fashionista. Most of them have trailed off. I was very hopeful for about two or three years that lingerie blogging was going to take off and become a big deal. Obviously, it did not. Most of them are now defunct. A lot of lingerie people are now on Instagram, with more photo-oriented accounts. But there was a lot of knowledge being shared.
You mentioned how you built the audience slowly and organically. Was there a certain turning point for The Lingerie Addict, where you started thinking, "I have something here"?
I would say the first time I thought, 'Oh, wow, people are reading this,' was when I reached 1,000 visitors. Back in the prehistoric days of the internet, before everything was funneled through social media and before Facebook and Pinterest and all of them started cracking down, I was getting a half a million views a month from SEO, organic traffic and social media. I mean, I was one of the top 100,000 websites in the world. I was really thinking that TLA was about to blow up in a big way. Then, pretty shortly after that, there was a slap down on lingerie-related content. We're having discussions about the repercussions of that now, but at that moment, I thought, 'Okay, maybe this is it. Maybe I'm turning a corner' — then that stopped.
It's so funny that you're asking that: The traffic is probably the lowest it's been for years, but at the same time, more people know about me than ever. It's been interesting seeing, I guess, the locus of awareness shift from blogs, which is what it was 10 or 15 years ago, into something more amorphous. My focus for so long was on my site. My site is still relevant, obviously, but so many more people know about me than who are visiting. I'm still pulling that apart. A lot of people found me from Tumblr back in the day, which was another site I saw a lot of traffic from that just totally wiped me out. I'm really lucky and fortunate that they followed me to other platforms.
Probably the most recent significant turning point would be publishing a book in 2018. I think a lot of people looked at my site, my work and my expertise a lot differently once I had a full book out there about the topic. In the last almost three years, there's been a definite shift in how people perceive my work and the value of what it is. I tried to write the best possible book I could write, so the fact that people look at it and think there's value in it is really great.
I want to come back to "In Intimate Detail" in a bit. But first, at what point did you feel like you could make The Lingerie Addict your full-time job?
I made that shift because I wasn't getting paid in nonprofits. I realized that I had basically hit my ceiling, which is really unfortunate. I think that's a pretty significant issue with nonprofits. I was working in an organization that was about helping women to a living wage and there were employees there who weren't making a living wage. The head of the organization were white people, but a lot of people we were serving are clients of color and most of the people in my level were people of color. Rather than promoting people from inside the org, they would bring people in from outside. I realized that there was no [going] further up for me.
The major impetus was when I started making as much per month for my site as I was making per month from my day job. My site clearly had a much higher ceiling in terms of what I could achieve and make. I mean, I had no dependents. I lived in a little studio in Seattle back when rents in Seattle were under $1,000 a month. I didn't mind eating chili for a week. At that time, I was seriously dating my husband. I realized there wasn't going to be a better time to give it a try, to see if I could make it work. And that if I didn't try to make it work, I would probably look back and wish I had for the rest of my life. I would probably always wonder, especially because blogging and influencing really blew up in the years since then, 'Well, what if I had stuck with it?'
The other part of that was that I actually did try for a while — because I do like insurance and regular paychecks — to get hired at a social media agency or a magazine. Even though I was doing social media and writing for my site, I was basically told I wasn't qualified. I was coming from a case manager position in nonprofits... I didn't come from the right place to get hired. I think having a low ceiling at my job, not getting hired anywhere else and wondering if maybe I had something real with my site all came together.
I told myself that if that doesn't work, nonprofits are always hiring. I wouldn't actually lose anything, I guess. I think the gamble was right. It's taken a little while to pay off, but it's very hard to think I made a mistake.
How has The Lingerie Addict evolved since you started it?
When I decided to make my site a full-time job, I decided to start running it like a job and thinking about what I wanted it to be for the future — 'Well, if it's going to be a job I'm doing all day every day, as opposed to squeezing it in late at night, what can I do with that time? How can I make it better?' Because otherwise, what was the point?
From very early on, I decided I needed to bring on columnists. I was realizing how much I didn't know and thinking, 'Well, I want this site to become something people can visit and find useful. I'm not that person who's going to be able to do everything.' I did my first call for columnist shortly after I started working on the site full-time. That was also when I came out with my real name — I had an awful pseudonym before. I hired I think five columnists at that time; they were all people who were in the industry. One of them, Karolina Laskowska, is still writing for me.
Also, from the very beginning, I've paid my columnists. At the time, I wasn't paying very much. It could be maybe $50 an article; our current rates are $200 an article. As the site has grown and made more money, the rates have grown. I'm really proud of being able to pay my writers and also guest writers rates that are comparable to what they would make at larger publications.
I had a plus-size specialist. Several years later, I brought on a trans columnist. There was a non-binary columnist. I think a big part of why people see TLA as a resource is because of the work from those other writers, because they have been able to deliver content and advice and information based on their expertise in the industry that I wouldn't have access to, that I wouldn't know about. That was a big part of what transformed the site and also helped develop the direction that it has since grown in, because if I'm going to have professionals writing for me, then I also need to up my own level and make sure that I'm running a professional site, a site that they feel is worth their time and isn't going to degrade their own brands.
Everything that I needed to do to run as a business — the whole business registration, business insurance — I did from the beginning. That was also important, because for me, it was a firm transition from a hobby to a business. That has had a lot to do with how I run the site and how I think of my site, as well. All of my social media accounts are business accounts. They probably sound like personal accounts, but they're all my business accounts. I don't have personal social media. Having that separation between my life and my business as well, where I'm like, 'This is The Lingerie Addict. This is Cora Harrington, the brand,' has also helped with my personal life. My husband isn't a part of my brand. My friends aren't a part of my brand. The only people that I talk to on my work social media are people that I met through work. Even though there's some overlap — I think that's true for anybody that has a career — I have a very distinct work and personal life.
Something that I think people really appreciate about The Lingerie Addict is that you're very intentional with your writing, recognizing that there are different ways to engage with this topic. When did you come to that understanding, that this is an important way to frame the lingerie conversation?
I've been fortunate in that my readers have pushed me to do more and to do better and have called me out in places where they think I've been lagging. It's very, very difficult to have people call you out and let you know what you could be doing better. Notably, on Tumblr, I was called out by the sex worker community for being whorephobic, which really affected the way that I talked and thought about lingerie and also thought about the relevancy of sex workers to the lingerie community. I'm almost certain there are people who talked about how I needed to have more trans voices. I'm queer, so I bring that to the site, but I think people also shared that my site was very cis-focused. As one person running a site who wasn't independently wealthy and doesn't have a full staff, I try as much as I can to answer and to respond to the needs of my readers, as far as my budget and I guess my own access to resources allows. Part of that is when I see places where I can be more deliberate, at the very least, I can say that I tried. I think people can tell when you've made a good faith effort, as opposed to not caring. That doesn't mean I get it perfectly — and I've said that to my readers — but I do say, 'At least you know that I've genuinely tried.'
Let's go back to your book: What that something you thought of as a goal when you were working on The Lingerie Addict? And what has publishing "In Intimate Detail" done for both the site and you professionally?
My path to writing a book is very atypical. I was very fortunate in that my editor, Kaitlin [Ketchum], approached me and asked if I wanted to write a book. She said, 'We want to publish a book about lingerie. We've done our research and we think you're the person to write it. Are you interested?' I had never heard of Ten Speed Press before; I remember scrambling around to my friends like, 'Is Ten Speed Press legit?' They were like, 'Yes, they're extremely legit. You should absolutely say yes to them.' So, Kaitlin and I talked.
I felt like Kaitlin really believed in me and in what I was doing. She had chosen me because of my perspective and my vision. Having that endorsement, having someone have that faith in me, realizing I have something to say and that I wanted to take on my knowledge and my experience and my mission and put that into a book — and also that I didn't think anyone else was going to write a better book than me... I hope it doesn't sound egotistical, but I genuinely think I was the best person to write this book.
Going back to regrets, if I had said no, I would have always wondered, 'What if I had said yes? What if I have been the person to do this?' Because eventually, a book's going to get written about the topic. So, if the opportunity literally falls into my lap, then why not me? Also, my spouse has a successful career, so I didn't have to worry about setting aside a chunk of time to get the book done. I could sit there and focus on it. My very supportive partner said, 'This is what you'll focus on for the next three months. I have your back. Don't worry about anything else,' which is also an incredible position to be at.
What do you like most about your job?
That I get to research something I'm genuinely interested in and get to talk about something that I really want to talk about, which isn't something a lot of people get to do. And that I get to make money on it. I get to set my own hours and work for myself. I'm sure at some point, I have to work for somebody else again, but it's going to be a pretty large transition. I actually tried before the pandemic — I was uncertain about if I wanted to stick with the site for a little while and was wondering if I wanted to do something else. I talked to my spouse about it and thought about dropping TLA. I applied to other jobs and nobody hired me, even though I was like, 'Yeah, I can do this.' So, I said, 'Well, okay, maybe it's not the time.' Then the pandemic happened. So, I don't really regret sticking with my own thing.
I've always enjoyed research. I don't get to do as much research now, which makes me sad. The editing and running of the site takes so much time now. I really would like to get back to writing and research. I would like to write a second book. I'd like to do more writing in general. That's become more difficult with just running a full-fledged business, but that makes me most excited.
And what do you like most about this community that you've built online?
I want people to feel like there's something on TLA for them. From the beginnings of my blog — not the very beginning, but pretty soon after I started full-time — I made my site a body snark-free zone. I didn't want people to feel like they were going to visit a site about lingerie and be judged, because so much lingerie talk, especially then, was very judgmental. That [idea] of 'I don't trash talk bodies. You also can't come here and trash talk bodies' has expanded outwards into other things like, 'No, you can't trash talk trans people. You can't trash talk gay people.' This is meant to be a community for as many people as possible. Being able to make that a part of my social platforms and a part of my Facebook group, and being very, very deliberate about it has also helped with developing the community. If you really want to judge people, then we're just not for you and I'm not interested in catering to you. If you feel like you just have to insult somebody, you have the whole entirety of the internet to do that. You don't have to be here.
There are so many places saying, 'We're inclusive. We're anti-harassment. We're pro this, that and the other' — but you look at the comments on their Facebook pages and their articles, and you see that they're not actually putting that into practice. Because it does take practice... As much as I can, I try to make [TLA] a welcoming place, where people don't feel judged and feel like there's a space for them. I think it's impossible to create a space that's 100% perfect, but again, I think people can tell when you have genuine intent.
What is it about lingerie that keeps you motivated and interested in it?
My degree is in sociology and anthropology, so I've always been very interested in society and material culture, how the things we do explain the times we live in. Lingerie is an amazing vehicle for that. What keeps me interested in the niche — beautiful products, obviously. I like pretty things. But using intimate apparel as a lens to understand the world that we're in and also the world of the past, to talk to people about what's happening now... It's not isolated.
It's a big part of why I talk so much now, especially, about work, labor and the devaluation of women's labor, about the way we take certain things for granted. That's all, for me, tied into that sociology and anthropology question. There's a history of devaluing the labor of women and devaluing the labor of women of color. How do we see that expressed in the modern day? How has that evaluation transformed even among people?... It's making those connections, I think, that keeps me interested and that keeps me engaged, because as my understanding of intimate apparel has become more complex, the explanations that I'm giving to people have also become more complex.
I want to do more editorials. That's something I've become more interested in is: What are the stories we can tell through intimate apparel? How do they move beyond the story of sexy? Obviously, my budget is somewhat limited, but as always, within the confines of what I have, I'm trying to tell different stories with intimate apparel. What's a fantasy of lingerie that doesn't revolve around sexiness? What's a fantasy where I'm the subject, not the object, where I'm showing what intimate apparel means to me and what we can do with it? That's why a lot of my editorials are about fierce women. The editorial with Sweet Nothings, where I'm Artemis and she's Hestia and we're murdering a man — that's one of my favorite shoots, because I think of lingerie in that context as a vehicle of showing your strength. I'm sure there are some people who think it's sexy, but it's not a sexualized shoot. It's not a shoot where we're trying to be seductive for a man... If a man dares to encroach our space, then we have to show him that we're not to be trifled with. We're not there existing for him to observe. I've been thinking a lot about what editorials that I want to do once that becomes possible again.
What's something you still want to do at The Lingerie Addict? How do you want it to keep growing?
That's something I'm thinking about a lot, especially as I approach the 15th anniversary of the site, which feels like a pretty major turning point, and also my 40th birthday. What do I want my life to look like as I'm entering my 40s? What work do I want to do? Is my site still going to be the best way to do that work? Is there something else where I can continue what I'm doing now in a better way or reach a bigger audience? Because it might not look like The Lingerie Addict. Those are questions that I think I'm wrestling with right now.
My answers to those questions have changed in the last year and a half, because we're in a totally different world. In my case, having my own site and my own platform and my own business worked out, I think, much better than if I'd been working for someone else. Until I make those more complicated decisions, I want to keep doing what I'm doing now, which is making sure TLA is the best resource it can possibly be.
Knowing that new people are discovering me all the time, that most people are finding me in places that aren't necessarily my site, especially on social, recently, that's looked a lot like doing lingerie basics: What's a bra size? What's sister sizing? What do you do if your bra doesn't fit? Really basic things to me now, but at one point, they were brand new. Part of making The Lingerie Addict have even better resources is also keeping in mind that there's a steady stream of people for whom these things are brand new. So, what can I do to make sure that information is easily packaged and understandable for them?
A lot of people turn to TLA for product reviews, because our reviews are fully independent. I pay my columnists, and I also cover the costs for review items, so that there's not a conflict of interest between a brand and what we're dealing. I want to make sure that our reviews serve our readers, not brands. Getting heavier into reviews has been something that I've done lately — I don't know that I'm going to continue to do that over the next couple of years, because we're reviewing expensive stuff and it adds up, [but] these are still things people look for. We also review basics like Fruit of the Loom and Hanes, making sure that there are reviews for everybody. It all comes back to: Are we a resource? How are we serving readers? How are we serving followers? Do they feel like they can come to TLA and find the answer to their question? Maybe not every answer, but some of them, absolutely. Hopefully, there's a little something for everybody.
What do you want to see from the industry more broadly?
I would really love to see more people in the space. Sometimes people say, 'Well, you don't do enough, you don't talk about enough.' I'm like, 'Well, I'm trying, first of all, but also, I'm only one person. I'm not a site with an entire staff.' What you were actually saying — even if you don't know it — is that there should be more people talking about lingerie, as opposed to, 'Why isn't this one person doing all the things?' I would really enjoy seeing more people enter this space to talk about intimate apparel, which I think is very important and relevant and necessary. That's one of my dreams.
I would like to see more critical coverage of intimate apparel. I would like to see places that are talking about lingerie be more critical of what they're saying about brands, because people are also looking to you for lingerie advice and for what to buy. I would like to see more writers specializing in this space and becoming as familiar with it as they might with beauty or with other things, because there's so much more to explore and so much more to talk about.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.