As the pandemic continues and working remotely is accepted as a long-term reality, consumers are changing what they spend their money on: Pelotons are replacing gym memberships, pajamas are replacing officewear, and camping trips are replacing international getaways.
One thing consumers are continuing to buy, though, is bras.
Though many people have celebrated on social media that they haven't worn a bra in months, bra sales are actually faring better than general women's apparel, according to data from the NPD Group. While total women's apparel sales were down 28% from April to June, bra sales were only down 16%.
"What's really interesting is that the intimates business is actually performing much better and recovered much faster than traditional women's apparel and sportswear," says Todd Mick, executive director for fashion apparel at NPD Group.
There has been a shift in what kind of bras are popular during quarantine. Underwire bra sales April through June were down 16% compared to last year, according to data from the NPD Group. However, sports bra sales increased 32% during that same time period, and bralettes, or less structured bras without underwire, were up 5%. Smoothing bras were up 9% as well.
Natalie Parker, a 27-year-old investment analyst in Philadelphia, says her bra routine has followed an "inverse bell curve" since she started working remotely.
"I began wearing my normal underwire bras most of the time, quickly realized that was unnecessary, and switched to no bra and bralettes," she says. "Now I'm spending most of my time wearing bralettes and seldomly a normal underwire bra."
Popular intimates brands report that they saw a shift in what consumers were buying pre- and post- pandemic. At ThirdLove, wireless bra sales increased 58% since the shelter-in-place orders went into effect in March, according to Ra'el Cohen, creative chief officer at the company.
Loungewear sales at Lively were up 1,000%, according to their founder and CEO Michelle Cordeiro Grant. And bralette sales saw "triple digit growth," Grant told Grow.
"In March and April, we typically would be focused on our swimwear category in our marketing," Grant says. But after surveying the company's shoppers, "all things pointed to lounge, bralettes, and no-wire bras."
Parker has expanded her loungewear collection to fit her needs. She splurged on some "professional pajamas" — loungewear she can wear during Zoom meetings — and added a couple more bralettes to her existing collection.
"I almost exclusively wear bralettes during my leisure time, if I wear a bra at all, and that hasn't changed since the pandemic began," she says. "What has changed is the amount of leisure time that I have and how I spend that time."
Now, her social life doesn't call for a bra with underwire, she says. "I used to go out in the city on weeknights and weekends, had dinners out with friends, went to parties. Now, I almost exclusively hang out at home or spend time outdoors."
A surge in bralette and wire-free bra sales can be traced back to several influences, Mick says. "Wire-free bras are obviously trending because they are more comfortable," he says. "Plus, any trends that were happening prior to Covid were just accelerated."
Cohen agrees that the shift in consumer spending at ThirdLove wasn't surprising. "We have always had a strong business for our wireless bras and did see an uptick in purchases in those styles [during the pandemic]," she says.
Pre-Covid, consumers were already moving away from underwire bras and brands like Victoria's Secret, a company that has struggled to remain relevant in recent years. In America, "One in four bras used to be sold at Victoria's Secret — now it is 1 in 6," Mick says.
Victoria's Secret did not respond to requests for comment.
Brands that market flashier styles have been falling out of vogue for a while, Mick says. Victoria's Secret, for example, "just has the wrong product."
He adds, "Their current marketing campaign is, like, rhinestone-studded bras, and no one wants that."
Parker agrees: She was already a fan of bralettes before the pandemic and owned about six. Quarantine just ramped up the need for them. "I probably wouldn't have bought any new bralettes had I not been spending so much time in the ones I currently have," she says.
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