Bralettes Break Out
I sense a trend. Bralettes are making a big comeback. You might ask why I use the term “comeback” and I would ask you to delve deep into the archives of vintage lingerie. When it comes to underpinnings, this was a huge contender in a woman’s underwear drawer. But frankly, it was perceived as “a pretty little thing” perfect for the purpose of soft modesty and ease of sewing. In the past few decades, as the foundations business has continued to explore new fabric technology, highly engineered bras, particularly underwire bras have been front and center. Recently, though, this has begun to change. As lifestyle habits transform our wardrobes into casual layers of 24/7 clothes, women in every wake of life are demanding that their lingerie be in sync. Add to this the growing acceptance of the female body for what it is and not what the media thinks it should be and the perspective on intimate apparel evolves. How you merchandise this shift could mean big bucks in your registers.
A product niche
Although the bralette business is still small, after speaking with retailers and brands alike, there is no doubt that this category is in a growth cycle. Several years ago, I spent some time working at the venerable 35+ year old lingerie shop, La Petite Coquette in downtown NYC. I remember asking founder and owner Rebecca Apsan about the bralette business. At the time, she stocked Eberjey’s basics explaining that this wasn’t an important category, but she needed to accommodate the occasional customer and found the Eberjey choices to be her best bet. Recently, I asked her if this was still true. Her response: “The Bralette Business is definitely taking off.
More and more women are coming in requesting wireless bras. They are looking for a bra that is more comfortable and has a relaxed fit. When a woman comes home, the first thing most do is take off everything and change into something very comfortable. Especially if they have large breasts, they want something that will hold them but most importantly, are comfortable. They say they are rebelling against the wire!”
Now, La Petite Coquette carries bralettes from Cosabella, Fortnight, Epure, Eberjey, Else, Hanky Panky, and Samantha Chang.
This comment, coming from a bra fitting store peeked my interest. I discovered that depending on the store, this product niche has very distinct profiles. The category is used for sports, sleep, dressy reveals, easy comfort and layering. Another interesting fact: a surprise to me until I discovered Freya’s new Fancies style, launched this spring, is that the bralette is being embraced by more than the small breasted customer. In fact, the brands known for large sizes and traditional bra construction that are testing these waters are experiencing a surge in volume.
Patricia Platt, owner of A La Mode in Annapolis, MD told me “We sell what we bring in. It would “grow” if we carried more, especially “pretty” styles and larger cup sizes – to hold an F cup. Larger busted women are also looking for pretty sleep bras.” Patti is always on the hunt.
Judith Fine of Gazebo in Northampton, Mass told me she always carries bralettes to accommodate every woman: “a young girl’s first bra, elder woman’s last bra, everyone in between.” For the large cup size woman, she refers to them as “weekenders”; less support and more comfort during the “weekend”.
For some stores like Bellefleur in Seattle, WA, and La Silhouette in Cincinnati, OH, the bralette business represents up to 10% of their volume because of their emphasis on sexy, dressy and fashion trends. Both Lindsey Runyon (Bellefleur) and Britt Cruikshank (La Silhouette) cite the importance of layering and the effect of sexy, yet discreet exposure as critical drivers for this category.
Cyla Weiner of Sylene’s of Washington defines this consumer as “anyone with boobs”. They are “sexy and comfortable which is no longer an oxymoron”. Women are looking for comfort and support, especially at home where they can shed the underwire without “flopping in the wind”.
Randi and Rhonda, partners in Legs Plus Inc. and Bra boutique in Toronto, Ontario, really summed up the potential of the bralette business: “We offer bralettes for many different lifestyle needs as the customers are always changing. There is an increase in larger women purchasing soft comfy easy wearing bras: nursing mothers and pregnant women, middle age ladies with fluctuating body temperatures, active women wearing bralette type sport bras under their yoga leisure wear and/or women looking for low impact support, elderly women & women with breast health issue who cannot wear an underwire. Bralettes are perfect for tweens who are just budding, thus offering removable modest cups, thin adjustable straps with choice of colors and patterns that make wearing a bra more fun.”
When I queried the brands about their focus on bralettes, I found a similar take not only from those whose DNA embodies these shapes, such as Clo Intimo, Samantha Chang, Else, Blush, Fleur’t, Maison Close and Commando, but also from traditional market players like Wacoal and Freya who are reacting to consumer demand. Simone Perele, Natori and Montelle Intimates have stepped into the fray.
A natural look
Gale Epstein from Hanky Panky mentions the rise in women’s self-confidence. “Women are beginning to prefer a more honest, natural look… They won’t throw out their molded underwire bras, but women want choices, particularly when they want to be casual and comfy”
Benny Zafrani partner at Honeydew notes that many fast fashion stores such as Forever 21 and H&M have focused for a while on the multiple sales potential of easy pieces in multiple colors and fabric options. Why shouldn’t Intimate lifestyle brands do the same?
Tia Lyn whose sexy plus size intimates are best sellers in many boutiques designs bralettes up to 3X and blows them out. “It works wonderfully layered into an everyday wardrobe with just a touch of lace. Curvy woman especially, love it under wrap dresses and V-neck styles”
Brands like Elita, Anita, Bali and Jockey have been supplying basic bralettes long before the birth of the trend. Hanro, often identified as a basic underpinning has fortified their position in this niche with the rising importance of simplistic styling in luxurious single jersey construction; thus, the growing relevance of their established Touch Feeling crop top as well as new lace trimmed choices.
Most of the stores, despite their profiles, mentioned Coobie Bra whose emergence in the market reflects a certain tell about this business. I personally discovered Coobie Bra 5 years ago in a small shop in Westchester, NY when their extraordinary array of colors caught my eye. Initially an item chosen for a starter bra, the fashion and functional aspect of this brand has made them a household name for every specialty store I researched. Owner Adam Slater states “I believe that the industry is really growing towards more simple, comfortable and effortlessly sexy but in the meantime supportive soft styles. We use a special technique without using a wire to give more supportive lift.
Adam’s reference to construction reflects input of other brands that see the bralette as more than a simple piece of fabric for modesty. The attention to fit was a critical point made by every brand whose collection’s infrastructure depends on non-wire bras.
The salient point here is the volume opportunity. Even though I was aware of all of the styles and brands mentioned in this article, I never recognized the viability of creating a real inventory niche in order to exploit the bralette’s full potential. This research altered my opinion. We are always looking for the next new thing. Merchandising this category is an interesting prospect.
We all know that timing matters.