Bras are back. Not that they ever really left, but after years of pandemic comfort and soft, sporty styles, structure and sexy are making a comeback.
“We’re seeing our underwire sales pretty much explode this year,” said Cosabella co-chief executive officer Guido Campello. The brand, known for its bralettes, has launched three new underwire styles this season due to the surge in demand. Campello said they are already some of the season’s bestsellers.
While bra sales have edged down slightly from 2021, they’re up 17 percent over 2019. “We had all this next-level growth over the past two years, and now we’re sort of settling down to a more realistic demand cycle,” said Todd Mick, executive director of NPD Group, which analyzes the intimate apparel market.
The demand cycle may be more realistic, but the steadier return to work, school and social activities after the false start of 2021 are impacting consumers’ choice of more fanciful and elaborate styles.
This time around demand for underwires and embellished styles are driving sales. “The consumer is rebalancing to have a little bit more pretty and a little bit more structure to give her that shaping to go out and re-emerge into social events,” said Mick.
In contrast to the full-coverage T-shirt bras that were popular before the pandemic, the newer underwire styles are fun, light and lacy. “Now people are asking for that same kind of support but being more sheer, more sexy,” added Campello.
The focus is also on fit as brands have expanded their size ranges and consumers have become more educated about what is available to them. To that end, specialty retailers are booming, as women want personalized service across the entire size spectrum.
That’s true in both the U.S. and Europe, though Europe has seen a stronger return to department stores, in part because the concession model allows more brand control, inventory flow and specialized customer service, Campello said. U.S. retailers have been less successful in keeping up with sizing needs, he claimed.
According to NPD data, Millennials make up about 34 percent of the marketplace, Gen Z roughly 23 percent, for over 50 percent of the market combined. Still, sales of embellished styles are growing in the Gen X and Boomer categories as well. “It’s actually happening across the generational spectrum,” said Mick.
Luxury lingerie between $120 and $150 remains strong, with Campello seeing growth in the category across the Calida Group’s brands, which include Cosabella and French label Aubade. “We’re actually selling more units at the higher price points as ‘structured sexy’ than lower-priced, basic structured for us. So we do know that there’s a desire.”
Celebrity brands such as Skims by Kim Kardashian and Lizzo’s Yitty are holding court with consumers, in part because they are meant to be seen. “Legacy brands are driving sales through innovation, and d-to-c brands are really driving it through fashion,” said Mick.
Rihanna’s very feminine Savage x Fenty brand has also seen major growth this year. “It’s very embellished and very emotionally inspired,” said Mick of the singer’s label. “Younger consumers really think of lingerie as a way of personal self-expression. They want to look pretty and show it off to the world.”
Kayla Marci, market analyst at data and retail intelligence platform Edited, cites the ’80s influence that is infusing fashion at the moment, from strong shoulders to Barbiecore brights.
“This era is really having a moment culturally, and with that comes more maximalism and more rigid structures,” she said. That trend is also putting a focus on sexier looks, sheer fabrics and the “naked dressing trend” that is permeating all price points. “There is definitely a hypersexuality influencing fashion, and that is coming from all categories and really blending lingerie and apparel.”
With bras front and center layered under blazers at fashion weeks — think Celine or Ami Paris — the focus has been less on utility and more on versatility. “It’s an empowerment point in terms of saying that now you can really mix and match the way you wear your bra, you actually are creating a lot of different facets to your wardrobe. They’re being much more creative with how they wear their bras and much more purposeful,” added Campello.
Innerwear as outerwear and the purposeful, provocative dressing play into larger societal shifts. “It’s not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but from a political one as well,” said Marci. “It kind of harks back to the miniskirt, the 1960s as a uniform of protest.”
Edited tracks sales data from retailers across categories in the U.S. and Europe. Their numbers show that new arrival sellouts of miniskirts and dresses have increased 140 percent since the start of the year, with a spike in June following the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision rescinding abortion rights.
“Coming up to spring 2023, we’ll continue to see that trend be very prevalent and also a lot of political messages, as it has been quite a challenging couple of months. It’s a reflection of what’s happening from a socio-political standpoint,” she said. “As we’ve got what’s going on in the U.S. in terms of Roe v. Wade, and with that comes women reclaiming their bodies and opting for sexier styles.”