Mistress Panty (her now-professional name) 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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”