For many women, wearing a bra is just part of getting dressed in the morning. In retail, bras alone are an $8B industry. A study conducted by CivicScience of nearly 2,000 U.S. women 18+ found that most women aren’t keen on wearing bras, whether they choose to or not.
With more than three-fourths of the female population neutral or unfavorable to wearing a bra, you have to wonder what’s driving it. Interestingly, Generation Z women over-index in being unfavorable to wearing a bra. If nothing else, this is a huge indicator of a place in the market. This may suggest a bigger trend of “un-bras” that brands should take note of with the younger generation.
Of course, intuitively, part of the unpleasantness of wearing a bra likely comes down to fit / comfort. According to a recent CivicScience study of 3,800 women, only 19% of women ‘strongly’ agree that they have a bra that truly has the right fit. The bigger story is that 38% of women disagree that they own a bra that truly fits them.
Interestingly enough, Millennial women are the most likely to say they have a proper-fitting bra. Every other age group is pretty much equally as likely to say so or not. Perhaps this is an opening for bra marketers. Fit is not as much of a concern to women 25-34 as it is to other age groups. They’re slightly more likely to agree that they have a well-fitting bra.
Overall, most women buy their bras at big-box retailers like Target or Walmart, brand-specific stores, or department stores. Only 13% say they solely or at least most often buy them online.
Unintuitively, women 55 and over are the most likely to say they buy bras and underwear online. Millennials opt for brand-specific stores the most. Again we see that Gen Z women aren’t a fan of shopping for bras and perhaps don’t at all.
Taking a survey of over 3,000 women, we see that most women prefer to wear underwire bras, followed up by wireless / t-shirt bras, by a wider margin.
We see similar rates when comparing bra type and fit to the topline statistic of 38% in disagreement with owning a bra that truly fits. However, those who prefer to wear sports bras over-index in disagreeing with having the proper fit (43%) while those who prefer bralettes under index (26%).
Women who disagree about having a well-fitting bra are twice as likely to prefer not to wear a bra at all than those who agree.
The study looked at just how often women buy new underwear and bras. Most women buy them less than annually to twice a year.
When cross-tabulating frequency and place of purchase, it’s interesting to see that those who purchase the most frequently way over-index in buying bras and underwear online.
Among American women, income doesn’t play too much of a role in frequency of buying undergarments.
However, place of purchase certainly does. While those in the $50k or less income bracket are the most likely to shop at big-box stores for bras and underwear, those in $100k+ are more likely to go the brand specific or department store route than the other income brackets.
The study wanted to gauge how much access women felt they had to their sizes. It’s all across the board in terms of top-line responses, but notable that 42% of women disagree that they have access to their bra size at most places they’re sold.
When we cross-compare this with the place respondents buy their bras most often, we see a clear trend. Brand specific stores are frequented most by people who over-index in saying their bra size is accessible. On the other side of the coin, women who shop at big-box stores the most often are more likely to disagree that their bra size is accessible everywhere. We know that big-box stores are working to expand their size runs, so this is perhaps an indicator that it’s working. We also see ‘Other’ (perhaps direct-to-consumer or speciality stores online) with the strongest showing for people who disagree strongly with having access to their bra size. This suggests they have to go elsewhere to find their fit.
It looks like the ‘Other” could be the newer direct-to-consumer model for intimates that has emerged in the past several years, like ThirdLove and True & Co. Women who have either already shopped at these places or intend to have the largest portion of women who ‘disagree’ that their bra size is easily accessible. However, more women who feel they have trouble accessing their size are unaware of Lively and Adore Me.
When we rank adoption and intent of these four up and coming bra brands, ThirdLove comes out on top. Adore Me is first in awareness and second in adoption / intent.
Bras are a tricky category, and it’s clear there are still many blindspots in this corner of retail. It will be important for retailers to extend size runs on both ends of the spectrum if they want to stand out and gain trust. It also may not be all bad to embrace the idea of young women opting not to wear a bra at all, or at least the idea that a large portion of women aren’t too keen on it.