According to Zion marketing between 2017 and 2024, the global lingerie market will grow from a $38 billion industry to a massive $59 billion. And as sales grow, tastes also appear to be shifting. US startup ThirdLove was established when co-founder Heidi Zak simply wanted to provide bras with a better fit. A sharp contrast from the 90s when the vast majority of bra designers seemed to be focused on augmenting and enhancing the appearance of the cleavage. Back then consumers were fed a steady stream of images of sultry athletic-looking women wearing push up bras. Comfort was not something brands emphasised in their marketing. So what’s changed?
Before we dive into that it’s worth looking at a broader history of the bra. Often considered an authentic French word, Bra or Brassière is a French word that has been repurposed. In France, the word for a bra is “Un soutien-gorge” which means “hold the throat” while “une brassière” is a piece of clothing for a baby.
Bras first appeared in the early 20th century when women were moving into the workplace to replace the men heading off to fight in the First World War. This transformative change in the daily routine of hundreds of thousands of women demanded comfortable clothing and undergarments. In 1910 American inventor Mary Phelps Jacobs had famously rejected her ill-fitting corset and quickly sewed a ribbon and handkerchiefs together to create a new garment. Her invention, arguably the very first bra, came to supplant the stiff and restrictive corsets that had dominated before.
However, comfort would once again be sacrificed at the altar of beauty. The 1940s saw film stars on-screen with bigger breasts and visible cleavage. Seeing the mass market appeal of this aesthetic, Frederick Mellinger of Frederick’s of Hollywood created the first padded bra in 1947, followed by an early push-up bra a year later.
The pendulum would swing for comfort again a few decades later. By the 1960s a new youthful vibrant young woman came of age. She saw herself as distinctly different from her mother. New silhouettes, new textiles and designs led to the adoption of the Baby Doll, hip-hugging briefs and pantyhose, the last of which ushered in the decline of the notoriously uncomfortable garter belts. For bra design, this meant comfort was once again back in vogue.
Throughout history, the design of women’s underwear has swung from serving their comfortable and practical needs to serving fashionable and aesthetic needs. At its worst bras design can cause discomfort and even injury. Something many women have come to expect as a normal part of wearing a bra. In fact, 81% of women are wearing the wrong bra size and don’t even know it.
As the design of bras has changed over the decades its marketing practices have stayed much the same. Until recently, lingerie and underwear were the least inclusive of the fashion industries with brands like Victoria’s Secret coming under fire for a lack of racial and physical diversity on their catwalks.
Now brands such Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty are proactively running highly visible campaigns for bras designed for different skin tones and body shapes. Solutions-oriented brand Skims, is also on a mission to create the next generation of underwear, loungewear and shapewear, setting new standards by providing solutions for every body. With increased demands for comfort and enhancement, a single brand must be able to cater to the changing needs of a diverse range of shoppers.
All this, however, doesn’t solve the issue of incorrect sizing. As the industry seeks to better serve the needs of different types of women, it can go further and try to serve the individual needs of every individual woman. A big ask, but not impossible.
Recognising that all women’s bodies are different, leading lingerie brand Wacoal has pioneered the art of bra fitting. With more of their shoppers buying online they needed an online solution that could match the precision and accuracy of their acclaimed in-store, in-person measurements. They partnered with Sizer to develop an app capable of accurately measuring their shoppers breast shape and size before making a size and style recommendation from the vast Wacoal range. The result is an industry-first body measuring app powered by computer vision and deep learning algorithms, that can measure a woman’s breast with extremely high accuracy, having managed to increase standard industry measurement accuracy by 300%. The Wacoal mybraFit™ app combines a simple user experience with powerful Sizer technology to give every shopper the ability to experience a perfect fitting bra whilst shopping online.
Thanks to emerging sizing technologies, the way bras are sold online will be game-changing . Whether the emphasis is on functional or form enhancing bras, modern digital measuring technology means comfort, as well as style, is now a constant consideration. By focusing on the specific sizing needs of the individual the lingerie industry can serve every body shape, size and ethnicity better than ever before whether shopping in store or at home.