Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK--The return of the bust is giving support to the concept of bra wardrobes.
Innerwear retailers point out that the exploitation this year of padded, deep-plunge bras has brought attention to the entire bra category. The focus on healthy lifestyles and exercise also has catapulted sports bras into a top classification this year. In addition, the growing spotlight on bras is also boosting business in coordinated daywear items.
Retailers say women have not been this "bra-conscious" since the Fifties and Sixties, when they generally wore an arsenal of lingerie that included a variety of padded bras, garter belts, girdles and slips. The call for structured foundations began to wane in the early Seventies, when Warner's did a sheer line of bras called Starkers, and John Kloss designed sheer body-tone bras for Lily of France.
While retailers are not promoting the concept of bra wardrobing in ads, they are endorsing it by adding to the types of bras they are carrying and by setting up special highlight areas. For example, last month Macy's East opened corset shops, and this week I. Magnin will do the same on the West Coast.
Marcia Haimbach, vice president of intimates at Federated Merchandising Corp., stated: "The customer is reacting right now to two totally different products--figure-enhancing bras and performance bras. The customer clearly wants a number of different end uses in her wardrobe."
Haimbach said consumers are developing a better understanding of the functions of a bra, because of the "figure-enhancing explosion" and the growing importance of performance bras.
She singled out Champion Jogbra, a top label in sports bras, for its innovative styling.
"Bras are hot right now, and when something is hot, consumer consciousness of the item is very far reaching," said Amanda Bluth-Diaz, buyer of foundations for the catalog operation of Frederick's of Hollywood.
"We were Wonderbra'd to death by the media until the O.J. Simpson case came along," said Bluth-Diaz. "But now, it's beginning to take off again."
She added that "cookies," removable foam pads and fiberfill pads also are part of the bra wardrobing package, because many women are inserting two or more pads in each bra cup for ultimate cleavage.
Dennis Warden, vice president and general merchandise manager for Frederick's mail order business, added, "A woman is now looking in her bra drawer and asking herself if there is another bra that will enhance her figure. The concept of bra wardrobing can start with a stick-on cup and go to a full corselet."
Frederick's has been doing cleavage-enhancing bras for over 40 years. Warden would not provide any specifics, but said bra business in the catalog operation has grown "dramatically" this year.
As some retailers see it, the bra styles that typically make up a bra wardrobe can be divided into several key looks: seamless styles of nylon and Lycra spandex that give a sleek silhouette under knits; an everyday soft cup or underwire bra of nylon and Lycra, or cotton and Lycra, and corset looks for special occasion dressing--a strapless bustier with a built-in underwire bra and a Merry Widow, an elongated corset with a built-in underwire bra that falls over the hips and has removable garters.
There's also a convertible bra, which can be worn four ways: as a halter style; crisscross straps; strapless, and with bra straps over each shoulder.
Further heating up the action in bra departments are the myriad choices of cup styles: demure demi cups that graze the nipple; full cups for complete, smooth coverage, and two padded push-up styles--cups that are vertically cut to lift the bosom up from each side, and a balconette style that cantilevers the bosom.
The consumer base, according to the stores, is also broken down into two cup-size groupings. One group is made up of A-, B- and C-cup women, who generally want padded bras, and the other consists of D and larger cup-size women who typically don't want padded bras, but want extra support, such as wider straps.
Margaret Crandell, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and juniors at Jacobson Stores, Jackson, Mich., noted, "A bra wardrobe should have about 14 bra styles, especially if a woman changes her bra every day and for different occasions."
At I. Magnin, San Francisco, Jaime Villavlanca, general merchandise manager of intimate apparel and other areas, said, "Our padded push-up business has been very, very strong with Gossard's Super-Uplift, but we see the wardrobing concept taking place with camisoles and slips."
The reason, he said, is because many consumers have been layering the camisoles and slips under sheer apparel.
Villavlanca further noted that consumers are beginning to take the wardrobe concept one step further, and many are wearing the slips purchased in the lingerie department as evening dresses.

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