“Bras have always been a barometer of social change” (Kate Finnigan, Financial Times 2020)
From the symbolism attached to ‘bra burning’, to the new focus put on bra functionality during WW2 as womxn were entering the workforce en masse, the bra has always been an important reflection of the changing perceptions of womxn in society. Coronavirus might just be the catalyst for such a change. With the absence of the strict workplace dress code expectations, which have been shaped by historical and continued dominance of men in positions of power, trends in bra wearing are shifting.
The hypersexualization of womxn’s bodies is still pervasive in society and the workplace. The fact that male nipples go fully unquestioned and unnoticed at the office but female nipples are deemed too ‘sexual’ and too ‘unprofessional’ is a prime example of this. Female bodies are often seen as inherently sexual, and this has led to too much focus being placed on wearing the ‘right’ type of bra to hide feminine bodies so they can “go unnoticed within the masculine regime of power” as Florence Williams puts it in her book Breast: A Natural and Unnatural History. The extreme sexualization of female underwear in general, which has historically completely been centered around the male gaze, has just reinforced this destructive notion. This is clear in the way that bra trends have focused on shaping the bodies to whatever idea of ‘femininity’ is seen as desirable by men at the time. From the dangerously unrealistic shape that the corset twisted womxn into, to Wonderbra’s famous ‘Hello Boys’ 90’s marketing slogan, womxn’s underwear has been focused on men for too long, and consumers have decided that enough is enough.
In March, as zoom calls abruptly replaced office meetings, and life was put into a whole new perspective, womxn were free to make choices based fully on their own needs and desires. And things changed. While a few have chosen to stop wearing bras altogether, many are opting to prioritise comfort and functionality in their bra choices. It seems like soft-cup, wireless and sports bras are really becoming the popular choice, as womxn have stopped being so concerned with what society expects from them. Selfridges have reported a 40% increase in soft cup bra sales in the past year, as Thirdlove reports a 58% increase in wireless bra sales since the beginning of the first lockdown, and Lively sees triple digit growth in bralette sales. Underwire bras sales are down 37% from last year, and 80% of customers now list comfort as their main priority when shopping for underwear. That is not to say that comfort has become the only important dimension of lingerie, but confidence and attractiveness is no longer being based purely on the expectations of others, instead is moving more towards personalized conceptions of beauty. The tone of brand communication is changing too, putting the everyday woman and her own personal needs and desires back at the center of their messaging.
Is this shift here to stay: a catalyst for a pre-existing trend?
While speaking to Alex Pluthero, founder and CEO of Wear My Freedom, a brand focused on producing comfortable wireless bras in D+ sizes, it became apparent that this shift is one that has been coming for a while. The message behind her lingerie line is to “provide something for real womxn to wear”, filling the gap in the market that has up until now failed to provide wireless, supportive and comfortable bras in average and larger than average sizes without compromising on style. As average in the UK is now a 36DD, the lack of attention placed on this size and everything above it has been a huge oversight and missed opportunity in the market. Though the brand launched in June, just in time to reap the benefits of the pandemic accelerating a changing mindset, it had been in the making for 2 years, with this vision driving it:
“My goal is to change the way in which the lingerie industry speaks to womxn because it’s so outdated, it’s still so sexist, it’s still so focused on oversexualization of underwear… I’m not anti sexy underwear but it takes up too much of the market in proportion to what womxn are actually demanding”
As brands are slowly becoming aware of the need to be inclusive in every way, and geared towards empowering womxn on their own terms, smaller players in the industry are gaining more of a voice and challenging the status quo. When asked whether she thought the shift was here to stay post-pandemic, the answer was “Absolutely, absolutely here to stay… and quite frankly it’s overdue”. Change takes time, and this shift has been one in the making for a while. If we’re looking at the few positive things we can take away from this not-so-fantastic year, an acceleration in this shift is definitely one of them. As Alex said to me “when you have challengers in the industry like myself, that’s the beginning… you’ll know [change] has definitely happened when the big guys start really listening and making changes”.
Written by Carla Mcdonald Heffernan, our Brarista Blog Contributor!
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