A few weeks ago, an envelope showed up in my mailbox from my dad. My father is a deeply serious person with zero interest in fashion, so I was surprised to find an article on bralettes inside, cut out from my parent’s local newspaper.
At the top, my dad had scrawled a message. “Have you heard of these? Are they clothes or underwear?” When bralettes have reached the notice of my 73-year-old father, only those who live in internet-free caves must be left untouched by the trend.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard of bralettes. How can you not, with articles about them on every website from Jezebel to Buzzfeed? While some reports declare that “the time of cups and underwires is long past” others like this one from Slate ask the obvious question, “Are bralettes just unsupportive bras?”
Tens of thousands of words and expert quotations are available online to explain the mystery of the bralette, all assuring women that bralettes are something that we desperately need. PR companies are getting rich off the frenzy that is the bralette fashion trend while experts are handing out quotes about how to find your best bralette left and right, to any media outlet who asks.
To get to the heart of why bralettes are surging now (and why this is a huge step backward), we’re going to start with the core of any industry: money. On a basic level, bralettes are cheap. While underwire bras require tons of tiny parts, bralettes just need fabric and a simple cut. They’re cheap to make and cheap to pick up by boutiques. Since most don’t come in cup sizes, they allow for a range of customers to fit into one piece. It helps shops keep costs down while enjoying a markup that is at least equivalent to what you’d find in an underwire bra. This whole thing only works if it convinces customers that their life won’t be complete without a bralette, or an entire collection of bralettes!
While there aren’t a lot of reliable published statistics about trends in the industry, there is some evidence that this PR push for bralettes seems to have created demand. Bluestockings Boutique published a big piece on their blog about what they were restocking earlier this year and notably included statistics regarding underwire bra and bralette sales. Soft bras outsold underwire bras by 64% to 36%. I find it easy to believe that Bluestockings Boutique isn’t alone here, as I’ve heard from many of my clients that they’re reducing or dropping their levels of underwire stock for the foreseeable future.
Therein lies the problem with bralettes, or at least bralettes as a trend that is changing the way boutiques stock bras. A bralette dominated lingerie world leaves pretty much every group of customers out in the cold. When it comes to buying bras that people in the real world need, bralettes don’t suit many. We’ve seen the largest growth in the past from parts of the industry who are most likely not to feel comfortable in bralettes, namely plus size and full-bust customers. These are women who don’t fit into or feel supported by a bra that comes in generic sizes like small through 3X. Older women who need more support may also feel uncomfortable in bralettes. And while I’ve never been small busted, I suspect very few women would wear a sheer bralette to a big meeting at work.Rhonda Shear Seamless Lace Bralette Available in Sizes S-3X via Bare Necessities Hanky Panky Dahlia Bralette Available in S, M, L via Bare Necessities
The lingerie industry has spent the last few years in a stage of constant transition. There have been some exciting size expansions. Larger brands have expanded popular ranges into plus sizes. Brands are playing with unusual techniques, including custom trims and decadent embroidery work. Customers are learning to be more vocal about what they want to see.
The bralette fashion trend is the ultimate “one size fits all” solution to the problems of an industry that doesn’t quite know how to figure out what customers want to buy. It doesn’t create a solution to a problem. It doesn’t serve a new size range or produce new fabrics that benefit all women. It just washes over the complexities of the actual needs of women and tries to stick them in something that doesn’t fit. We’ve settled for stretch fabric instead of innovation, and it’s sad.
I’m not personally volunteering to start the #neverbralette campaign. Like everyone, I like bralettes to lounge around at home and to sleep in. But every time I see an article that informs me that I should embrace my body by joining the bralette brigade, I bristle. I worry about the day when having a bralette body will be the new beach body—and how women will feel horrible about themselves when they realize that they don’t have naturally self-supporting breasts that look great without an underwire.
By trying to apply a one size fits all solution to the complex problems in the industry, we’ve once again left out women who are desperately in need of innovative and fashionable lingerie that supports them.
What’s your view? What do you think of the current bralette fashion trend?