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How Athleisure herald the Death of the Push-up Bra

By Vivian Hendriksz

Mar 28, 2017

London - Even though the first push-up bra, also known as the Wonderbra, didn't hit the international market until 1964, it seems as if the sensual padded bra has met an untimely death this year. British Vogue already declared that cleavage was ‘officially’ out of fashion last winter, as women across the globe seem to favour a softer, more natural breast shape in lieu of highly rounded pressed together bosoms. In order to achieve this more natural look, consumers have been seeking out more comfortable, functional bra styles - like sports bras, bralettes, and triangle bras.

Famous lingerie retailers, such as Victoria's Secret, La Perla and Agent Provocateur - best known from their sexy push-up bras, have in fact been struggling with the shift in consumer preference. Victoria Secret recently downgraded it's earnings estimates, whereas Agent Provocateur was sold off in a pre-pack administration deal after been hit by a decline in luxury spend. On the flip side, other lingerie retailers such as Aerie, For Love and Lemons and Lonely Girls have seen their sales soar over the past year. Why?

Athleisure is said to have paved the road to ruin for padded and push-up bras

Data from retail analyst firm EDITED shows that the sell-out rates of push-up bras have dropped by 50 percent over the last three months. In comparison, the sell-out rates of bralettes and triangle bras have skyrocketed by 120 percent according to an analysis of 80 lingerie retailers across the UK, US and Europe. In addition, the sale of padded bras, once seen as the lingerie segment staple and most stocked style, has fallen by 22 percent over the same period of time - a true indication of the change in favoured bra styles.

"Established lingerie brands are facing stiff competition from newcomers like Lively, Negative and Adore Me," noted Katie Smith, Senior Fashion & Retail Market Analyst at EDITED. "With athleisure apparel now an everyday item, retailers need to break bralettes and sports bras out of trend status and add them to their core selection."

In order to cater to consumers shifting preference lingerie retailers have begun embracing the softer side of the bra business. The 80 lingerie retailers studied - which include Victoria's Secret, House of Fraser and Nordstrom - have all reduced the number of new padded bra styles coming in by 38 percent on average over the last three months in comparison to a year ago. Push-up bras and t-shirt bra categories have also been reduced by 38 percent, while maternity bra styles are down 55 percent, strapless bras have been cut back 50 percent and balcony bras by 40 percent.

Overall, the amount of bra styles have decreased by 16.5 percent over the past three months, whereas the bralette and sports bras are up 18 percent and 27 percent respectively as the only bra categories showing growth. As consumers continue to seek out functional and comfortable apparel to take them from the office to the gym, sports bra and unstructured and wireless bras have seen a spike in demand.

However the growing trend for softer bras does come at a price for the lingerie market, as unstructured bras tend to cost up to 26 percent less than their structures and reinforced counterparts according to EDITED. Soft-formed bras tend to cost much less to manufacture as they require less materials and sewing, as padded bras consist of more than 45 different components. But this in turn means that soft, unformed bras retail at a lower price point. This means that lingerie retailers have to sell more of their soft bras to order to reach the same sales figures as before.

In order to keep their sales of softer bras high, a number of lingerie retailers, like Victoria's Secret, have invested in marketing campaigns targeted at younger consumers to encourage them to continue buying this 'hot new trend'. Data shows that lingerie retailers sent out nearly 6 times more newsletter mentioning bralettes in February 2017 versus the same month last year, as new soft-bra styles mentions grew 29 percent.

These new, softer formed product lines are also competitive as more and more lingerie retailers are moving to fill their lower price points - for example a year ago only 4.9 percent of Calvin Klein lingerie priced between 20 and 30 US dollars, versus 26.7 percent this year. A year ago 21 percent of Marks & Spencer's new bra arrivals were priced less than 20 dollars - now up to 73 percent cost less than 20 dollars.

But perhaps it is lingerie giant Victoria's Secret who has had the best response to the rise of the soft bra. The US lingerie retailer recently launched a new product, the sports bralette, which has had a tremendous response. The new bra style, which retails for 20 dollars, arrived in stores on January 1 and is currently sold out across six colours and four sizes. However no one knows how long the soft bra trend will last and how long consumers will continue to seek out soft bras, as many of these unstructured styles fail to offer sufficient support for larger breasted women.

Photos:Victoria's Secret SS17 and Aerie SS17, Courtesy of Victoria's Secret and Aerie