Women Ditch Shapewear and Push-Up
It’s safe to assume that Caitlin Moran has spoken on behalf of many women when she detailed the glorious feeling a woman gets when she comes home from a day in the world, takes off her bra, and throws it on for the evening (it’s also a measure of good friendship, she notes, if you can do the same at a buddy’s house).
Bras – and their equally uncomfortable bed-mates, fitness clothing – were designed to lift, smooth, tighten, suppress, and otherwise manipulate the female form to create a pleasing figure. Something that – insert heavy air quotes here – makes the clothes fit better. A way, in other words, for women to present themselves to the outside world. And now it looks like we are finally opening up a crucial question: to please whom?
And what exactly happens when the outside world no longer has the meaning it once had? What happens to the humble bra when introducing yourself to others often means a little more than dressing shoulders up?
It has already been established that in the era of the work-from-home style, locked-down casual wear has shifted from the simple garment you wear at the gym to the one you wear at Zoom meetings. We have managed to bridge the sartorial gap between dressing for absolute comfort and avoiding slob territory. Plus, we love it.
What this means is that shapewear, corsetry, and push-up bras, once sexy and feminine tools of power, have obviously declined. And no wonder.
Wearing this thing is a kind of performance in itself, and it mainly targets the eyes of others. If no one is around to see it, why bother to be harnessed and hoisted at all?
It seems that utilitarian and more comfortable underwear has eclipsed the perennial popularity of shapewear, as well as underwired and push-up bras.
“There has been a significant shift in customer demand towards products focused on comfort,” says Rachelle Hanley, lingerie buyer at Brown Thomas and Arnotts. “We have seen a rise in soft lingerie which still offers good support. We have also seen an increase in brands offering products with flexible sizes, such as one-size-fits-all or no-fit models.
Before the pandemic, about one in three M&S customers bought wireless bras and bralettes. Now, nearly half of the chain’s customers are opting for softer styles
“Sports bras sales have been incredible – reflecting the huge increase in customer demand for sportswear,” she adds. “There has been a drop in demand for shapewear and hosiery due to the lack of social outings and events for everyone right now. We have definitely seen a shift in demand from products that would be worn for work or for socializing to what would traditionally be worn at home – we have seen a significant demand for sleepwear, loungewear and slippers over the course of the last year.
At Marks & Spencer, research shows that before the pandemic, about one in three M&S customers purchased non-wired bras and bralettes. Now, nearly half of the chain’s customers are opting for softer styles.
“During closed sales of high waisted panties, and softer non-wired bra styles like bralettes have increased,” observes Soozie Jenkinson, head of design (lingerie and sleepwear) at Marks & Spencer.
It stands to reason that, as women have spent much of the past year in some sort of hibernation mode, they would trade in any idea of bodily ideal for personal comfort and utilitarianism.
Whether the trend looks set to continue now that we have been freed from the tyranny of the restrictive bra is a whole other question. Helen Travers, owner of Contour Lingerie in Dublin’s Stillorgan, believes that in the coming months Irish women are likely to return to favoring the structured bra styles they used before the pandemic.
Last year, she made “very little” sales in terms of corsetry or shapewear – which she attributes to people who do not regularly attend weddings, communions and conformations. However, she too has seen a palpable increase in sales of sports bras.
Maybe after Covid we will see an increase in demand for glamorous underwear to supplant the free-form, wire-less lockdown lounging bra.
“I sell as many bras as usual,” she explains. “Over the past couple of months, especially online, it’s been back to more structured bras,” she adds. “There was definitely a time when people dressed a little more casually and wore softer bras under their clothes. But people are starting to wear nicer clothes again, and I think they’re starting to realize that when you don’t wear a structured bra it doesn’t look very good under clothes. Everything is sitting very well at home, but people are starting to go out again.
“What I see a lot are women ringing the bell and saying, ‘I’ve gained weight, tell me where I can get a bra that doesn’t bother me.’ They want to look better again. “
When Contour reopened last June after the first lockdown, Travers said it could “hardly keep up” with the demand. “People keep asking me when we’re open for fittings again. I am constantly on the phone to answer questions about this. “
After the 1918 pandemic, the roaring 1920s, without lack of hedonism and glamor, followed.
Perhaps after Covid we will see an increase in demand for glamorous underwear to supplant the free-form, wire-less bra of lounging lockdown.
“Women want to spend money and they want to go back. They desperately need a little hedonism, and when it comes to women and shopping, I think things are going to get crazy, ”says Travers.