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Soft and sporty: lingerie's new direction

As shoppers continue to buy into the athleisure trend and look for more comfort-led, relaxed shapes across all fashion segments, lingerie is getting in on the act.

Freya chrystalle clementine bralette ss17

Wacoal chrystalle clementine bralette ss17

Wacoal Chrystalle

Underwear is the invisible foundation of every woman’s wardrobe. Lingerie has been enjoying a steady growth trajectory and now, with new inspirations filtering through, this sector is set for a further boost.

Trend analyst Mintel predicts the UK lingerie market will grow by around 2.1% in 2017 from £2.9bn last year, and is forecasting that this growth will continue, enabling the sector to reach £3.2bn by 2021.

Bolstering this strong outlook is one dominant trend that is inspiring women to expand and update their lingerie collections.

Sharon Webb, Debenhams’ head of buying and design – lingerie, explains: “The move to a more relaxed dressing with the focus on athleisure is undoubtedly creating a want for softer lingerie and a greater requirement for comfort. This has been most evident in everyday lingerie – we’ve introduced Tommy [Hilfiger] into nine stores this spring, perfectly reflecting the customers’ mood.”

Katie Smith, senior analyst at retail analytics company Edited, says the athleisure inspiration for lingerie has also coincided with fashion trends moving away from a focus on the bust, while women are seeking a more natural look supported by a popular rise in feminism and pursuit of “healthier” body shapes.

“Social media is being used to challenge traditional ideals,” she says. “Increasingly, ‘real’ bodies are being used in advertising campaigns, and the effect of that could mean fewer women feel the need to wear push-up bras and create silhouettes that aren’t there. The bust is having some down time in terms of exposure too. If you think about areas of the body that trends have focused on, the last couple of years have been abs followed by exposed shoulders.”

Nine by Savvanah Miller bra sold by Debenhams

Nine by Savannah Miller bra sold by Debenhams

Nine by Savannah Miller at Debenhams

This means women are increasingly moving away from highly structured, heavily padded and push-up bras towards softer silhouettes such as bralettes and triangle and longline bras in more natural materials, as well as sports-inspired lingerie with elastic underbands, moisture-wicking properties, seamless or flatlock seam technology and mesh detailing.

For Debenhams, Webb says: “We’ve shifted sales out of the more heavily-padded lines into lighter, soft lingerie. The momentum with which the shift has happened has been quite quick, so we are continuing to adapt on a weekly basis as we monitor sales. We have been working with suppliers to be more reactive and find ways to be quicker to market.”

Soozie Jenkinson, head of design and product direction for lingerie, active and swim at Marks & Spencer, which has more than 500 bra styles in its range at any one time, is taking a similar approach: “For some time, we have been predicting the move away from heavily-padded and push-up bras towards a more natural silhouette. Wire-free, softer styles are increasingly popular choices – the bralette, with its lightweight and delicate features, is becoming a go-to style and this is having a broader influence on aesthetics overall, so longer lines are becoming more prevalent in our ranges.”

This softer and athleisure-inspired focus has largely been led by younger, trend-hungry millennial shoppers, influenced by celebrities such as models Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss.

However, less-structured bras do not work for all bust sizes, so Jenkinson says hybrid styles are now being introduced: “Many of our customers still love wearing wired bras, and want the shape and support they provide. So, for the autumn, we are launching a bralette with a hidden wire up to an E cup, so that we can offer the bralette style to a wider range of customers, and women can buy into the trend with confidence.”

She adds sports bras are also becoming increasingly trend-led and are now being worn as everyday lingerie.

Wacoal halo lace conch shell moulded bra ss17

Wacoal Halo Lace

Wacoal Halo Lace

Susan Bradley and Belinda Leca both work as head of sales at Wacoal Europe. Its brands, including Freya, Fantasie and B.tempt’d,  have also been tapping into this comfort-led trend.

Bradley and Leca note that bralettes and non-padded bras are growing categories. They believe these softer styles, which offer a more natural shape are being purchased in addition to, rather than instead of, more structured bras, as many women still want the option of greater support. Wacoal’s also offer its softer styles with extra built-in support.

They say shoppers are “definitely choosing these styles more”, but there has not been a negative impact on structured or supportive bra-style sales. The lighter, more casual styles are seen as ”just an add-on extra for their lingerie drawer,” they say.

Last year, Freya introduced its Fancies range, offering both a non-wired bralette (£9.48 wholesale) and longline style (£14.22) for the fuller-bust customer, while Wacoal has reported good sell-through with the underwired Chrystalle bralette (£25.10) and the Halo Lace underwire moulded bra (£15.29). 

sloggi zero feel

Sloggi Zero Feel

Sloggi Zero Feel

For German brand Sloggi, this trend is akin to a “cultural movement which is redefining what it means to look and feel sexy, in line with a growing emphasis on wellness”.

Anna Stark, head of marketing for northern Europe, explains: “Our consumer is no longer willing to compromise comfort in order to look stylish.”

For spring 17, Sloggi launched the Wow Comfort bra, which replaces underwire with a “fleximesh” fabric, that offers greater comfort and shape, and for spring 18 the brand will release Zero Feel –  a seamless crop-top and bralette in a new, patented material. It will also unveil an activewear collection called Sloggi Move for autumn 18.

For larger-bust brand Curvy Kate, this trend is being interpreted as a push for more comfort-led and smoother finishes. Head of marketing and PR Hannah Isichei says the brand’s shoppers are looking for this to be combined with intricate detailing, including embellishments and embroidery: “traditional sexy pieces that have athleisure influences” and can be worn every day as “comfort is key”.

She cites the Victory statement balcony bra (£13.90), with cut-out detailing teamed with a smoother, less fussy design, as an example.

curvy kate victory bra

curvy kate victory bra

Curvy Kate Victory

Isichei explains that in response to current fast fashion offerings, women are demonstrating that they are happy to spend a bit more for a well-fitted bra, but are justifying this spend by wanting to wear it in multiple scenarios such as with eveningwear, daywear or for weekend comfort.

Georgina Willis, owner of independent Guilt Lingerie in Petworth, West Sussex, agrees that designs are getting smoother and softer, as “customers want invisibility”.

“There’s a move away from restricting shapewear to half-slips, full slips and pretty camisole tops that can be used as underwear and outerwear. There is a huge demand for the flattering new invisible blush colour, and less plain black is being sold.”

Following this trend into panties, she adds they “are getting bigger and more invisible, and thong sales have plummeted. Women seem to be buying more than one pair of pants with each bra, so getting away from the usual ‘set’.”

Reger by Janet Reger crop top and bottoms

Reger by Janet Reger crop top and bottoms

Reger by Janet Reger

Another strong trend continuing to influence the sector is that of greater embellishment, florals, ruffles and contrasting lace, and sexier lingerie that can be worn as outerwear.

Webb says: “We don’t see the trend for sexier lingerie abating – the lingerie as outwear trend continues.”

Aliza Reger, CEO of Janet Reger, which is sold in Debenhams, agrees and explains that for her customers, “it’s all about fabulousness”.

“Women want to buy something for the feel-good factor,” she says. “They are buying pretty, and a bit special. People are upscaling – they want it prettier, bolder and more gorgeous.

“Lingerie is having a moment now because in times of uncertainty people buy lingerie as they want to give themselves a boost, and rather than buying a whole outfit, they buy lingerie. It’s the lipstick factor.”

She highlights a lace body with built in support (£36) and a non-padded bralette (£24) also with built in support as selling particularly well.

But even as customers look for “fabulousness”, the athleisure trend and desire for more comfort-led clothing shows no signs of slowing in the UK fashion market. Expect this to be a dominant force throughout the lingerie sector for coming seasons, as brands and retailers seek to tap into this lucrative trend, and adapt it to suit women’s different shapes and sizes.  


Edited changing bra trends

Edited changing bra trends

Retail analytics company Edited’s research – based on a sample of 80 UK, European and US lingerie retailers and brands including Victoria’s Secret and House of Fraser – shows that in the first quarter of 2017, sellouts of push-up bras fell 50% and padded bras fell 22% compared with a year ago, while sellouts of bralettes and triangle bras increased 120%.

Overall, the number of bras available across all styles decreased 16.5% in the first quarter – the bralette (up 18%) and sports bra (27%) were the only styles that grew.

But analyst Katie Smith warns the price differential between softer, comfort-led bras and more structured styles, means retailers and brands need to sell more of them to make the same profits. Bralettes are on average 26% cheaper than a push-up bra, as soft-formed bras cost less to manufacture. Sports bras are on average 20% cheaper.

This, she says, means retailers and brands have to stick closer to trends than ever before has led to lingerie featuring more frequently in advertising campaigns and on brands’ social channels.



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