Mistress Panty (her now-professional name, by which she asked to be referred) needed a used bridesmaid dress for a costume in a play.
Naturally, she turned to L.A. Craigslist. In the site’s clothing section, she absentmindedly clicked through its expected oeuvre: vintage jackets, new-with-tags knockoffs. Then she landed on an ad for used panties. And another one. And one for used nylons, too.
“I clicked on them, of course,” Mistress says. “I was immediately curious.”
She started making jokes about it, sharing the ads with friends. As she laughed, though, her mind kept drifting to the behemoth credit card balance that had been weighing on her for years. Ha. Ha. Huh. Freedom might be as close as the skivvies she was already wearing.
She set up an email account with a fake name. She studied other women's ads for cues on how to write her own: “Princess” meant a woman who sold underwear. “I love sharing my panties,” meant email for price and details. The real key, she noticed, was telling the story of the panties.
“It’s about who’s in the panties, but it’s also about what you did in them,” she explains. “You took a jog today, or whatever activity you might have done that could draw someone in.”
She set up a time. She wore the same panties for 24 hours. She sat outside the coffee shop she’d chosen, and took a deep breath before walking into what would be the first of many lunch-hour meetings.
“I felt like I didn’t do a great job,” Mistress says of her first meet-up. “I should be the one calming people who are nervous. I was definitely the nervous one. I didn’t see him again.”
Just three months after placing her first ad, Hollywood-based Mistress now helps support her acting and comedy career by maintaining a roster of exclusively regular clients — something she attributes to her business acumen: “I have a log here of all the people I’ve met with. I keep records and notes everything. What they like. How much I’ve made.” Part of the appeal of her newfound part-time job, she said, is seeing how much she can get for a pair of panties.
Mistress operates under a pricing structure that starts at $50 for “just a simple dropoff” and includes add-ons for things such as extended wear, dabs of urine and photos — which never show her face. This is a measure intended to protect her identity, and also a means of weeding out “true panty guys” from garden-variety “pervs.”
“A real panty guy won’t respond to a sexy picture of your whole body and face,” a panty dealer named Katie (also not her real name) explains. What true panty fetishists want, she says, is “a picture up close from the back, so your whole screen is underwear in the middle, ass cheeks on the side.”
Dealers like Katie and Mistress sell exclusively to men who have legitimate fetishes, because unlike fakers, who are likely to ask for things like blow jobs or cam time, panty guys are generally extremely deferential to women. They often also enjoy being dominated by them, a fact that Mistress says helps her maintain the power structure she needs in order to do this work. “You immediately have to establish that you’re in the power position, otherwise you don’t work with them,” says Mistress, who purposely arrives at meet-ups sans makeup and in whatever outfit she happens to be wearing. “I do nothing sexual on my end,” she explained. Mistress’ dressed-down style actually earns her positive feedback from her clients, she says, who are drawn to the natural scents of a woman, and often “speak almost poetically” about them.
“There’s kind of an earthy, sweaty smell to a butt,” said Frank (also not his real name), a Los Angeles–based panty fetishist, who has been buying underwear both online and in person for several years. He remembers having a literal appetite for women's odors since high school, and closely associates the smell of underwear with the sensation of performing oral sex.
Like many panty guys, Frank has specific tastes when it comes to both the smell and the actual style of the underwear he buys. “I like full bikini boy shorts, ideally lace or cotton. I’m not really into thongs, because I like to smell butt,” he says.
Thongs, according to both Mistress and Katie, are almost universally unpopular among panty guys. Lace is also a rare request. It may be the stuff of nighties and nightclubs, but it doesn’t hold scent well and, in Katie’s words, could “cause some painful exfoliation” when men use the panties for masturbation. Granny panties — full-backed cotton ones — are actually ideal because they offer a wide breadth of scents: from the front, where, explains Mistress, a woman sweats when physically active, to the middle, where vaginal fluids are secreted, to the back, where men can request a “strong or soft rear scent,” according to their preferences. All panties are delivered via Ziploc baggie, so that the recipient can enjoy them in their “freshest” state. “I’m an expert on this now!” Mistress says with a giggle. “I keep telling myself I have to use these business skills for something beyond panties someday.”
Frank, who at one point briefly became distracted from our conversation by a dog he had to pet, says that his ideal interaction with a panty dealer is one that feels like “a bit of a flirtation,” and that while “anyone [he] bought panties from, [he] would fuck,” he recognizes the exchange as a fantasy, and not an invitation for dating or sex. “You have to look at it from a real-life standpoint. You’re literally paying someone to hand you their underwear. This person is not going to say, ‘Let’s have sex sometime.’ That’s never going to happen.”
Mistress maintains boundaries with her clients in a number of ways. She never gives them her phone number or real name, and she's quick to end communication with anyone she feels is disrespecting her, “Down to what you would do in a normal workplace. If someone calls me ‘Sweetie,’ I give them one warning. I say, ‘You will call me by my name.’ I know we’re in a panty situation here, but to me that's just rude.” Mistress also says that she immediately shuts down men who inappropriately express interest in dating, adding, “I don’t know if I was so good at doing that before.”
For all the secrecy involved in panty commerce, neither dealers nor their customers are breaking any laws. Many vendors sell openly on Reddit, using verified accounts, and there are a number of sites like Pantydeal.com, where a third party takes a cut for matching buyers with sellers. On these sites, sellers are required to report their income to the IRS.
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Dealers like Katie and Mistress, who choose to operate fully off the grid and pocket 100 percent of their profit (versus, for example, the 50 percent that most strippers take home after paying their club fees and commission), are finding their industry increasingly visible to the public eye. Dan Savage has talked about panty-selling on his podcast, and there was an entire story arc devoted to the phenomenon on the last season of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. The seemingly ideal side job is luring college-age women to the profession in increasing numbers, says Katie, who expressed frustration over the growing number of ads she saw from novices selling underwear for a mere $25: “They’re bringing the market down with cheap product.”
For the time being at least, the market continues to be wildly favorable for both Katie and Mistress. Within two months of selling on her lunch breaks, Mistress was completely out of debt. Katie, a New Yorker who initially began selling when a roommate left unexpectedly and she had to come up with $1,500 in two weeks, reports, “For the first time I can remember, I have a surplus of money. It’s so nice to be able to just buy food and groceries whenever I want.”
While Frank is quick to describe his fetish as “sleazy,” explaining, “Our parents weren’t doing these same things 30 years ago,” neither Mistress nor Katie seems concerned with any stigma that might be attached to selling. “I feel powerful,” Mistress says. “I like that I can say no. It’s not like another job where I’m hired and I have to work with whomever.”
“The wage-gap thing is just one way women experience feeling less than," Katie says. "You’re also given the sense that all you are is your pussy. You get the sense that’s all you’re worth. If you can flip that into a power position and make that a positive — that’s amazing.”