‘What does a woman do the first thing when she gets home? Take her bra off,” said Reshell Douglas, owner of Not Too Shabby in Vancouver’s Uptown Village.
But if a woman never leaves the house, will she ever put that bra on in the first place? This is the pressing question I took to Facebook and local fashion experts.
First, let’s define what we’re talking about. By bra, I mean the supporting undergarment with wires made famous by buxom movie stars of classic Hollywood like Lana Turner and Jayne Mansfield, designed for shape but not comfort.
Sports bras began to appear in the 1970s and trace to a prototype fashioned when the inventor sewed together two jockstraps. While more comfortable, sports bras don’t do much for shape, which makes them a poor choice for wearing under fitted clothing.
Bralettes don’t have an underwire and are designed for comfort. Due to their popularity, manufacturers have created a variety of sizes and styles. They can be worn under clothing or as a crop top.
In my informal Facebook survey, some women responded that they weren’t wearing any bras, while the majority said they wear sports bras or bralettes. One bra-free friend summed it up by tying it to the environmental movement: “Reduce plastic and energy consumption, eat organic goods, compost, and let the girls roam free under your shirts and sweaters,” she said. A couple of my older, more well-endowed friends stuck to their underwire bras.
After discovering that very few women I knew were wearing underwire bras, I talked to few local fashion experts to inquire if they were seeing the same bra-wearing (or not wearing) trend.
“History and what happens in current events really affects fashion,” Douglas said. She pointed out that during World War II, women stopped wearing nylon stockings because of scarcity of that material. Despite the fact that women are dressing from the waist up for Zoom meetings, Douglas is seeing more women transition from underwire bras to sports bras and bralettes.
Daron Deonier-Clemons, personal stylist and buyer at The Difference boutique in downtown Vancouver, hasn’t ever seen so many women regularly wearing sports bras in her 10 years as a stylist.
“Early in the pandemic, clients were wearing athletic wear and sports bras. For fittings, I would ask them to bring a different bra because it really affects fit,” she said.
“Initially, people stopped getting dressed all together. Then they realized getting dressed wasn’t about everyone else. It’s about you,” Deonier-Clemons said. “Women are not dressing for what others think, but for themselves and wanting to feel good. How does the fabric feel? Is this flattering? How does this color make you feel?”
Current bra-wearing habits correspond to a woman’s age and the size and shape of her body, Deonier-Clemons said. Full-busted women feel more comfortable with styles that lift and have wider bands. Fortunately, the bra industry has noticed. Brands like True & Co., Knix and Cosabella now offer bralettes for women who wear bras in cup sizes from A to G.
Nonetheless, Deonier-Clemons finds that women in the 50-plus age bracket feel more comfortable wearing a traditional underwire bra. During the pandemic, their bra-wearing habits haven’t changed because they wouldn’t feel dressed without a traditional bra, while 20- to 40-year-olds have embraced the bralette and layering techniques. They were more likely to dress in athleisure before the pandemic and are comfortable with athleisure-style lingerie.
Deanna Gaines, owner of Wild Fern in downtown Vancouver, believes that women are still wearing bras when they leave the house, but given that it’s winter and everyone’s wearing thick clothing and coats, it’s hard to tell what’s going on underneath their clothes. But she has a theory about what they’re doing while living a virtual life stuck in their houses.
“I bet people aren’t wearing bras — I’m not — because they’re at home and why would you?” she said.
When spring and summer arrive, women prefer tops and dresses that require a bra or bralette, Gaines said. She’s noticed the uptick in bralette wearing during the 4 1/2 years she’s owned her store.
“Women with a size C or plus cup love it when they can find a full cup bralette. It’s like they struck gold,” Gaines said.
Unlike Deonier-Clemons, Gaines observes that older women prefer soft cups or bralettes without a wire. There’s even a bra line specifically designed for women age 50 and older.
“When you think of how long they’ve worn a bra, it’s a long time,” Gaines said. She believes that these women are looking for a more comfortable alternative.
Organizing a mass bra burning in Esther Short Park may be premature. These fashion experts (even the bralette-whisperer, Gaines) see unstructured, loose and slouchy shirts with cozy, athletic-type bottoms like leggings and joggers continuing into spring and summer. However, when pandemic restrictions lift and things open up again, they believe that women will want to go out and dress up in fancier, more form-fitting clothing and they’ will again wear underwire bras.
“I definitely feel in the future when people can wear clothes again they’re going to burn their sweatpants,” Douglas said. She predicts that gyms and personal trainers will be busy with women trying to lose weight to get back into their structured fancy clothes, and they’ll also return to wearing traditional bras.
Wearing an underwire bra after being loose for over a year will be a painful transition for women.
“Everyone’s going to feel it,” Gaines. “But it’s not the worst of our problems.”
Rachel Pinsky: email@example.com