The Best Bras Right Now
Post-Quarantine, underwire, color and sexy are back
You’ve switched from sweatpants to slacks, and squeezed your toes into shoes, but have you given any thought to putting away your pups? Sports bras and bralettes, especially those comfortable wire-free breast-hugging options, were great while we were stuck at home thanks to COVID-19. But now that many of us are heading back to the office, or going out to socialize, or attending celebrations, it’s time to get the support we need to look and feel good. Underwire bras remain your best option, lingerie experts say. Meanwhile, molded cups and wire-free designs are extremely popular, and lingerie makers are bringing sexy back in a big way.
Here’s a look at what’s selling right now, according to some of the top regional independent lingerie retailers in the US and an intimate apparel buyer from Nordstrom, the American department store chain with 341 stores, including Nordstrom Rack.
At 133 years old, New York City’s The Town Shop is one of the oldest lingerie stores in the US. Located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the store’s team has outfitted generations of women from the same family, including this writer, this writer’s daughter, and late mother.
“During the heart of the pandemic, we saw a tremendous turn away from underwire, which is what people generally wear in the workforce. People were looking for freedom and comfort, soft cups, bralettes and sports bras,” says store owner Danny Koch, whose store closed temporarily from April to June 2020 while the online business remained open.
Bralettes — generally unlined, wireless bras without a clasp that you slip on over your head — had become popular before the pandemic, but the comfort and light support they offer were perfect for the tough stay-at-home days. Koch’s clients were going for France’s Chantelle Soft Stretch wirefree collection, which is sized from XS-2XL, and Cosabella’s Never Say Never Curvy bralette. The Curvy collection was introduced in 2017, but the range was expanded last January to include both smaller band sizes and bigger cups (as high as 40H); Koch could barely keep up with demand.
Once vaccinations started in 2021, retailers report that people began to seriously shop again for lingerie and loungewear. Now, sales have been trending to pre-COVID levels, Koch notes, with customers looking for supportive underwire bras and minimizers.
“A wired bra is best for breast support,” Koch explains, echoing what many lingerie professionals say. This is because the engineered construction of underwire support literally helps one’s posture. Koch notes that the bulk of The Town Shop’s customers’ buy cup sizes from D to F and need strong underpinnings. Koch explains: “We are trying to defy gravity, and underwire bras accomplish that much better than soft cup bras.”
Retailers also report a big demand for sexy lingerie sold in matching bra and panty sets, or three-piece ensembles including a garter belt, in a myriad of colors and in sizes no longer reserved for runway models. Sales for The Town Shop’s most expensive brand, France’s Empreinte, with prices for underwires going from $119 to $192, are surprisingly up, notably the Cassiopee molded bra with spacer foam, from $188, says Koch, and the Melody seamless bra in molded Chantilly lace, from $178. “Spacer” foam fabric is woven sort of like a honeycomb. It provides the coverage of a padded bra but without the weight and extra heat.
Jeanne Emory, the proprietor of three Bra Genie shops in Covington, Baton Rouge and Metairie, LA, also experienced a drop in demand for underwire during the hardest pandemic days.
“[Customers] were looking for comfort, comfort, comfort,” says Emory, who noticed, however, that the last quarter of 2020 and first quarter of 2021 saw a “sudden return to sexy. Maybe customers were stuck at home with their significant other and wanted to spice things up.”
One of Bra Genie’s best-selling bras is the Evelyn & Bobbie Beyond bra, $69, a wireless bra that Emory says offers strong support. This, along with the brand’s Defy seamless pop-over-your-head bra, $69, started to rack in $10,000 in weekly sales during quarantine days. Other current top-sellers include the underwire plunge Elomi Sachi bra, $66, as well as the $40 sheer mesh, unpadded, underwire bra from Curvy Couture.
Busted Bra Shop is a five-store lingerie retailer with stores in Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Rochester Hills, MI, as well as in Chicago, IL. Proprietor Lee Padgett, a Navy veteran who worked in cryptologic technician maintenance (shhhhhh, it’s top secret!), opened her first store in 2013 after market research that showed Detroit, a once thriving retail capital, was bereft of stores offering a decent lingerie selection and fitting services.
“You can’t buy a bra at the Dollar Store,” Padgett said.
During shut-down, Padgett said that her company “had a highly functioning website.” This, coupled with the fact that the store offers band sizes from 28-56 and cup sizes from AA to P, allowed Busted Bra to have a relatively healthy revenue stream. Like other retailers, bralettes and wire-free options sold well during the tough days of the pandemic but, surprisingly, Padgett said her sales for sensual lingerie went up by 362% for the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.
“We were sending sexy, wired bras all over the country,” Padgett said, adding that she got a lot of orders from female truck drivers who were very busy during shut-down and who probably got a glimpse of Padgett’s own van wrapped in the logo of her store. “If their bra broke, and they were a 38 JJJ, they were in trouble.”
Meanwhile, Padgett reports that nine months after shut-down, sales of maternity bras went up 67%, she assumes because people were “repopulating Detroit the old-fashioned way.”
Padgett notes that bralettes and wire-free comfort options are doing well at Busted Bra as are smooth bras in basic colors, “…[styles] that can be worn with a button down shirt or t-shirt and not show.” This includes Chantelle’s C Magnifique unlined minimizing bra, $74, and the $48 wire-free smooth bras from Montelle. The Keira underwire by Goddess at $48 remains a staple as is the sheer mesh and embroidered Matilda underwire bra, $69, from Elomi. With parties back on, Padgett also notes that she cannot keep Booby Tape or Brassy Bra breast tape in stock, and some clients come to the store before an event and ask to be “taped up.”
At national retailer Nordstrom, bra purchasing trends reflected those experienced by independent retailers.
“Our customers quickly gravitated towards our wire-free and sport bra category. Women wanted comfortable bras and bralettes that they could wear all day — from work calls to lounging on the couch at night,” observes Aya Shimizu, an intimates buyer for Nordstrom, referring to the stay-at-home period of COVID. “We also saw a spike in sport bras as health and self-care became amplified.”
Shimizu noted that even during the trend for soft bras, underwire styles remained the store’s best seller. Currently, she notes that customers are looking for styles using memory foam as well as for spacer bras. Customer favorites include the Wacoal Red Carpet convertible strapless bra, $68, that comes with removable straps and the True & Co. Wire-free bralettes, $44-$64.
Jenette Bras, owned by Jenette Goldstein, has four locations in the Los Angeles area and one in Atlanta, but no online business. The company slogan is “The Alphabet Starts at ‘D’,”’ and the store caters to full-bust women. During COVID and its strict stay-at-home protocol, Goldstein saw an uptick “in sports bras, lightly supportive loungewear and high-end kinkwear,” but nothing remarkable, as overall sales were sharply down.
With the start of vaccinations, however, Goldstein says there was a “small surge in fashion bras and matching sets. Some clients expressed a refreshed appreciation for the social aspects of life and for the value of dressing well.”
Bralettes, Goldstein emphasized, do not offer enough support for the full-bust women who are her clientele. Thus, they are not among her top-selling bras. Her clients are seeking out bras that are “unpadded, unlined, and colorful. Less armoring, [They are] more a celebration of the natural form.” Jenette Bras’ best sellers include styles from Primadonna, Empreinte, and the beautiful and exclusive hand-embroidered selections in large bust sizes from France’s Louisa Bracq, notably the Ziggy bra, about $121, and matching panty, $75.
As for upcoming trends, Goldstein enthuses: “The bra as a beautiful garment, meant to be seen…is the trend for Spring and the trend for the decade.”
For the best support, you need to get the right sized bra. The best way to do that is to go to your local independent lingerie retailer for a fitting, or schedule an appointment with a fitter at a department store if that service is offered. If you do not have these options nearby, several online stores offer virtual fitting solutions.