Even as many women basked in the freedom of bralessness while they stayed at home during the pandemic, sales of bras actually climbed! Market research firm the NPD Group says bra sales rose 1 percent during the last six months of 2020 – even though total sales for women’s apparel fell 19 percent. “The truth is, women are still wearing bras,” says Todd Mick, NPD’s inner wear analyst. “They are just wearing very different ones, like wireless and pullovers.”
Wireless bra sales in the second half of 2020 climbed 14 percent over 2019, and pullover bra sales were up 31 percent. The move toward less restrictive undergarments was reflected in reports from individual lingerie brands. Joanna Griffiths, founder and CEO Knix, says her company’s sales were up 100 percent in January compared to the same month in 2020.
The 37-year-old Italian lingerie company Cosabella went big on bralettes about two years ago, producing styles such as racerbacks, plunges, and bandeaus. The gamble paid off: Bralettes became 50 percent of Cosabella’s business during the pandemic, and the company grew 30 percent in 2020. Provocative styles also enjoyed the surge in demand. Luxury brand Fleur du Mal couldn’t keep racy bras with open cups in stock, according to its founder and CEO, Jennifer Zuccarini.
No Secret to Bralette Popularity
The shift toward wireless bras was already emerging before the pandemic spurred on sales. One of the first modern wire-free bras was a nylon “no bra” introduced in 1964. The trend really took off around seven years ago as brands began ditching wires and leaning hard into bralettes.
Companies that sell only soft cup bras, such as Knix, were springing up. American Eagle’s lingerie brand, Aerie, adopted a 2014 advertising campaign showcasing unretouched photos of models wearing wireless styles. Rihanna asked designers for soft cup designs when her Savage x Fenty line debuted in 2018. By the summer of 2019, bralettes were showing up under see-through tops and roomy jackets and even worn on their own by celebrities such as Zoë Kravitz and Bella Hadid.
There’s no wonder why bralettes are enjoying a moment. This lingerie, which is mainly defined by not having underwires, typically offers comfort and coverage without support. In a marked departure from heavy-duty Brünnhilde foam bras, a bralette doesn’t pinch or dig into the skin. Instead, it offers wearability, but not much uplift or cleavage. Bralettes leave the breasts in their natural shape and create a soft, lower-slung silhouette that’s gentle and easygoing.
Sports Bras Are Running a Close Second
Sports bras designed to go from Zoom chats to Zoom workouts have been another pandemic success for companies like Aerie and Knix. Brands say women buy sports bras thinking they are more likely to get in a quick workout if they’re already dressed for it. Particularly successful are hybrid sports bras that go easy on compression, but even heavier compression ones are emerging as go-to all-day bras.
Brands are racing to climb aboard the sports bra train. Lululemon is expected to expand beyond clothes for running, training, and yoga to activities like golf and hiking as pandemic-safe solo exercise continues in popularity. Cosabella is expected to release its first sports bra in 2022.
Next Up: More Sizes
Many companies plan to expand the number of sizes they offer, recognizing the market for larger cup sizes in unstructured bras hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Many women, particularly those with larger chests, want less restriction but aren’t willing to go braless.
Knix recently debuted H cups and size 44 bands and says 70 percent of its wireless bras are a D cup or higher. Cosabella has also been expanding its sizing.
Lingerie lines continue to recognize wireless bras as the new style norm. Aerie offers a wide variety of options, from long-line styles to barely-there bras. Summersalt delivers a bralette for the sustainability-minded. (The elastic lace fabric is crafted from recycled plastic bottles.) The Bliss bralette from Harper Wilde won recommendation from Wirecutter as “the best for lounging.” Chloé Julian, former designer for Savage x Fenty, introduced her own line of wireless-only bras, Videris, in September.