The unstoppable underwear as outerwear and athleisure trends have driven a huge uplift in bralette sales in the first three months of 2017, but to what impact on constructed underwired styles, which were born out of a need to fit and support global consumers?
It seems eagle-eyed Paris show organisers were right – 2017 really is the year of the bralette.
In the last three months, lingerie brands and retailers from ASOS and John Lewis to Bluebella and Freya have seen a surge in sales in this category, according to research carried out by Lingerie Insight.
For Mimi Holliday, seven out of its 10 best-selling styles in January were non-wired triangle bras, versus just one out of 10 in the same period last year.
Research by fashion analysts at Edited also shows that bralette sales have rocketed 120% at 80 retailers across the US, UK and Europe since the beginning of the year.
But what impact has this trend had on the sale of highly constructed underwired bras? And are consumers, particularly those with a fuller bust, getting the support they need through wireless bralettes?
Lingerie Insight interviewed 13 UK-based lingerie brands and retailers to find out.
Origins of the bralette
The bralette, a lightweight, feminine take on the bra, is not a new fashion item. Lingerie Insight remembers first spotting them on the stands of young labels at intimate apparel trade shows four years ago. But as consumers have grown more accustomed to seeing them in fashion magazines and on celebrities, they have become mainstream.
Underwired bras are still very strong for us despite the crop top trend. Our own-brand John Lewis wired bra has seen a 15% uplift on the year.” – John Lewis lingerie buyer Nancy Szachno-Dressel.
The increased demand for this lingerie style has largely been driven by the popularity of ‘athleisure’, which hinges on the fusion of comfort and style, the unstoppable underwear as outerwear trend and busy lifestyles. For AW17, ‘hybrid’ fashionable bralettes that can be worn to the office, the gym or sophisticated evening do have been developed.
“The soft bra category has seen a great surge in popularity over the last year, where trends have encouraged customers to buy into this profile,” explains ASOS branded lingerie buyer Rachel Miles.
So has the lift in bralette sales come at a cost to the overall lingerie market?
The impact on underwired styles
An initial spot poll carried out by Lingerie Insight last month revealed that lingerie brands and retailers have witnessed a fall in underwired sales due to the popularity of the bralette.
More than half (54%) of the 57 respondents to the poll, which was posted Lingerieinsight.com and Lingerie Insight’s Twitter page, said they had witnessed a decline in underwired bra sales, while 32% said they hadn’t.
But more in-depth analysis contradicts this survey. In fact, all of the 13 brands and retailers we interviewed said they had seen an increase in the sale of bralettes, but not to the detriment of underwired styles, such as the plunge, balconette and push-up bra.
Boux Avenue senior lingerie buyer Lisa Annand says: “We haven’t seen a decrease in demand for our underwired bras as a result of the bralette trend. In fact, we sometimes see our customers buying both – an underwired bra for fit and function and a triangle bra as a fashion choice.”
John Lewis lingerie buyer Nancy Szachno-Dressel comments: “Underwired bras are still very strong for us despite the crop top trend. Our own-brand John Lewis wired bra has seen a 15% uplift on the year.
“Crop tops and soft pieces are, however, very important and we are actively designing these for our fashion own brand range and buying them in from brands,” she continues.
Bralettes for bigger boobs
It’s no secret that the bralette offers less support than an underwired bra and it’s generally not recommended for everyday wear, especially for fuller-bust customers.
“As a plus size brand, many of our customers struggle with the weight of their chest and a bralette just doesn’t give them the support they need,” explains Hannah Isichei, head of PR and marketing at Curvy Kate.
“The movement of a heavy bust can be painful and I think our customers are happy with the security a wired bra offers, from day to day.”
But while fuller-bust customers won’t be running up any stairs in this lingerie style any time soon, the bralette is fulfilling another purpose.
“The bralette can only enhance the market as it simply gives clients another bra shape to make them feel the best version of themselves.” – Rigby & Peller chief stylist Kelly Dunmore.
Paris trade show organiser Eurovet said at Salon International de la Lingerie in January that the bralette’s triumph has been driven by its ability to promote freedom of movement and natural curves, and it’s certainly lived up to that role.
“The bralette is mainly being purchased for loungewear,” says Claire Woodall, owner of lingerie boutique Lincoln Bra Lady.
“Many ladies don’t want to go braless in the evening, but they don’t want to put a bra on either. The bralette is filling this gap.”
New innovations, such as Bravissimo’s Sleep Bra and the Freya Fancies bralette, are giving larger-cup customers the opportunity to purchase more relaxed lingerie styles.
“My job is to ensure that we can offer these types of products to our customers in a way that works for big boobs,” says Bravissimo product manager Clare Harris.
“So, for us, it’s an exciting time of innovation. The Sleep Bra received a phenomenal response when we launched it in February and has been a best seller.”
Harris believes that it is essential to ensure that all bras – no matter what style – offer the right level of support for each individual customer.
“The bralette trend in its purest form as a non-wired soft bra will always offer less support than an highly constructed, underwired bra. However, we treat all our customers as individuals, making choices that are right for them, and so what constitutes enough support will depend on their own individual shape, size and requirements.”
Any fashion trend within lingerie is beneficial to the industry. Women are now choosing their lingerie with as much thought as they choose their clothing and cosmetics.” – Lizzie Faulder, buyer for lingerie, nightwear and beachwear at Fenwick Bond Street.
Alongside the Freya Fancies bralette, which has been favoured for lounging around the house in, or supporting the wearer in bed, Freya has also launched a new innovation in its Soiree range for AW17.
“This combines the look of a bralette with the support of a wire. It combines soft lace with a hidden structure so there’s no compromise on support,” says Freya design and development director Jo West.
“We want to give our ladies the choice and the opportunity to buy into these exciting trends. For us, the challenge is to develop products that are fashion forward but deliver the high level of fit that our consumers expect.”
Meanwhile, at Mimi Holliday, the brand has developed a selection of non-wired styles that incorporate a larger band under the bust, for added support.
“Triangle bras have historically been favoured by smaller cups. However, there are definitely certain styles which enable larger cups to enjoy great support and comfort without compromising on design,” said Mimi Holliday PR and marketing manager Thea Cooper.
“Bisou Bisou Zoo and Peach Melba are examples of this, as well as our ‘Shoulder Bra’ styles which, with added support from thicker bands, hold everything in place and ensure comfort all day.”
A blessing or a burden?
For many brands and retailers, the bralette is simply another option to add to the lingerie wardrobe, and not a replacement for underwired styles.
Rigby & Peller chief stylist Kelly Dunmore says: “I feel [the bralette] can only enhance the market as it simply gives clients another bra shape to make them feel the best version of themselves.”
Bluebella CEO Emily Bendell comments: “Bralettes and sports luxe bras are more often worn as crossover outerwear pieces than the traditional wired bra, so these styles are, in my view, expanding the market and taking a share of the ready-to-wear market.”
Michele Poynter, owner of Cornwall-based independent retailer Mish, agrees. “It seems that the brands that we stock have included the wireless bralettes as an addition to their collections, rather than a replacement,” she says.
“The only area which we have seen a slight decline is previous high fashion styles, such as the longline bra.”
Lizzie Faulder, buyer for lingerie, nightwear and beachwear at Fenwick Bond Street believes the bralette trend will help, not hinder, the growth of the lingerie market.
“Any fashion trend within lingerie is beneficial to the industry. Women are now choosing their lingerie with as much thought as they choose their clothing and cosmetics, considering colour and shape, as well as comfort, technology and price.”
Debenhams head of lingerie buying and design Sharon Webb seconds that argument and adds: “I think the bralette is adding excitement and newness to the lingerie category. The shape is already evolving, with halter and padded versions being launched.”