Why Victoria’s Secret Has No Business Making Mastectomy Bras

Last week, the internet was all afire with the news that Victoria’s Secret, probably the most famous lingerie company in the world, would not be making bras for women who’ve had mastectomies. In case you haven’t yet heard of this story, Allana Maiden (who’s mother is a breast cancer survivor) created a Change.org petition a few months ago asking Victoria’s Secret to begin making and selling mastectomy bras. Victoria’s Secret took the petition surprisingly seriously, flying Ms. Maiden and her mother to company headquarters in Columbus, OH and promising to review the feasibility of carrying mastectomy bras in their stores.

Well, after much deliberation, the company announced that they were not moving forward with selling mastectomy bras, and gave the following reason, issued in a press release:

“Through our research, we have learned that fitting and selling mastectomy bras…in the right way…a way that is beneficial to women is complicated and truly a science. As a result, we believe that the best way for us to make an impact for our customers is to continue funding cancer research.”

Many people, including Ms. Maiden herself, were shocked. In one article, Allana Maiden compared Victoria’s Secret to Nordstrom, implying that since the latter sold mastectomy bras, then the former should as well. In addition, several prominent fashion websites wasted no time mocking Victoria’s Secret’s decision with headlines like, “Victoria’s Secret Won’t Make Mastectomy Bras Because Science is Hard,” calling the petition “basically a bundle of PR points tied with a bow and dropped in the massive lingerie company’s lap.

But here’s the thing: making mastectomy bras is hard. The needs of women who’ve had their breasts removed is different from the needs of women who haven’t, and Victoria’s Secret absolutely made the right decision here…no matter how unpopular it is. While there are still plenty of reasons to criticize the lingerie giant, their reluctance to jump into the mastectomy bra market is definitely not one of them.

In the original Change.org petition, Ms. Maiden focuses on the emotional side of mastectomy bra shopping, saying “it doesn’t seem fair that shopping for bras is such a discouraging, time consuming and frustrating ordeal,” and “I think they deserve to feel beautiful and Victoria’s Secret is the perfect company to help make that happen with a line of “Survivor” mastectomy bras.” In a follow-up interview with ABC news, Ms. Maiden also says, “But I felt that if anyone could do it, they could. They have everything in place.

While I completely agree that every woman deserves gorgeous lingerie, I disagree with the idea that Victoria’s Secret is the perfect company to handle every woman’s needs. As I’ve mentioned before, no one company can be expected to make every single kind of bra, and I respect Victoria’s Secret’s honesty in admitting that they are not the company best suited for this hard-to-fit market.

The honest truth is that not only is Victoria’s Secret ill-equipped to handle mastectomy bras, most lingerie boutiques and brands are in the exact same position, which is why mastectomy bras are a specialized area of the lingerie industry. The shape of the breast, the firmness, the tissue, the density…everything behaves differently once a woman has a mastectomy. And that’s not even getting into concerns from scar tissue, swelling, fluid retention, and reconstruction. Put simply, you can’t just throw together a mastectomy bra and hope for the best. It does require a lot of specialized research, testing, and trial and error. And of course, selling mastectomy bras also requires fitters with specialized expertise.

It’s easy to accuse Victoria’s Secret of not caring about women who’ve had mastectomies (an attitude which I think reflects, among other things, a complete unfamiliarity with bra design), but Victoria’s Secret was stuck in a Catch-22 here. Refuse to do mastectomy bras and have everyone accuse them of hating female breast cancer survivors, or do a line of mastectomy bras and deal with the inevitable criticisms surrounding fit (and, likely, the accusation that they should have never gone into the mastectomy bra market in the first place).

The fit issues that Victoria’s Secret already has would no doubt be magnified with the special circumstances of fitting women who’ve had mastectomies, and if there is any area of bras and bra fitting where women truly deserve a knowledgeable, sensitive, passionate expert, it is in mastectomy bras. And Victoria’s Secret can’t offer that. A company shouldn’t be punished for admitting they can’t do it all. In fact, they should be commended.

As mentioned above, Nordstrom does offer a wonderful prosthetic program, but unlike Victoria’s Secret, Nordstrom doesn’t make their bras. They sell bras from other companies, and even then, they don’t sell mastectomy bras in particular. Nordstrom adds a pocket to the bras from brands they already utilize. It’s a completely different way of doing business, and it simply makes no sense to compare them.

In my recent article on pretty mastectomy bras, I mentioned how hard it is to find beautiful, flattering, but still suitable pieces. The vast majority of bra sellers don’t make mastectomy bras. And I strongly disagree with the notion that every lingerie company should turn into a Wal-Mart of bras and panties: selling everything in every size in every color to support every need (not just mastectomy, but also first bras, nursing bras, post-surgical bras, etc.). Specialization is a good thing, and it doesn’t make sense to expect every single company to appeal to every single customer.

The bumper crop of plus size, full bust, small bust, mastectomy, and nursing bra brands that have popped up lately are a direct result of behemoths like VS choosing to avoid those markets, and the lingerie industry is better for it. Unlike what some fashion blogs choose to believe, this isn’t an easy issue and Victoria’s Secret was in the right. So instead of encouraging this company to completely upened their business model, why not support those companies which are already making beautiful mastectomy bras?

Brands like Royce, Anita, and Amoena need your money and your publicity more than Victoria’s Secret ever will. Petition them to make prettier bras. Then petition your local boutiques to carry those bras. Heck, tell Nordstrom to carry them. Because at the end of the day, Victoria’s Secret isn’t and shouldn’t be the answer for every woman.

Cora

Cora

Founder and Chief Editor of The Lingerie Addict. I started TLA in small studio apartment in 2008. Since then, my little site has become the leading lingerie blog in the world, and it's been featured in Entrepreneur, Forbes, CNN, Time, Today, and Fox News. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that every woman deserves gorgeous underpinnings that help her feel comfortable and confident. Body snark free zone since 2012.

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16 Comments

  1. Mira
    30/05/13 at 1:09

    I can’t imagine VS making mastectomy bras. It would be an absolute nightmare. Never mind the manufacturing issues, they just don’t have the customer service wherewithal to fit and sell them properly.

    • 03/06/13 at 2:13

      Exactly. I feel the same way.

  2. 30/05/13 at 6:02

    There’s nothing wrong with saying – we’re going to stick to what we’re best at. At the end of the day, if you’re going to do something you need to do it right, and if VS don’t feel that they can honour the ladies that have been through a mastectomy properly, then they are right to say so. Good on them for being brave enough to say no, especially as they have spent the time to look into it fully before making a decision.
    VS have gone up in my opinion by doing this

    • 03/06/13 at 2:15

      I agree! A lot of media outlets predicated that VS would want the PR push and start to carry mastectomy bras. I’m so glad they decided against it. It reveals an amount of integrity I didn’t expect, not to mention just being plain good business sense for the brand.

  3. michele
    30/05/13 at 12:31

    After reading this article, I fully support the VS decision to state their very valid reasons for choosing not to manufacture and stock mastectomy bras. It would be a customer service nightmare for the women, the sales staff and the company. As a 40 year old woman who went from a ‘teenagesish’ body at 38 to a much more, ahem, matronly body at 39, following the birth of my daughter, I found Victoria Secret crowded, overwhelming and way too youthful for my size and tastes (i.e too skimpy, too bright, too many items with words on them etc.) I left empty handed and have not been back. I have been thinking this past year about how wonderful it would be if their was chain of stores that would cater to more mature tastes and needs ( sexy but flattering basically) and maybe this dream store could stock and train their staff to assist women with the mastectomy bras. In my part of Canada the only lingerie stores you can find in a mall seem to be exclusively geared to young women, teens and maybe, maybe the lucky older woman who can rock those styles. Love to see this concept come to life.

    • 03/06/13 at 2:17

      I know you said you lived in Canada, and I’m not sure if this store is where you are, but have you taken a look at Soma? I think of them as the more mature equivalent to Victoria’s Secret.

  4. 30/05/13 at 14:38

    bEING A WOMAN WHO HAD BOTH BREASTS REMOVED DUE TO CANCER, IT WASNT EASY TO GO THROUGH ALL OF THAT AN FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE,THE TRUTH IS IT IS MUCH HARDER TO FIND CLOTHES THAT FIT RIGHT NOT JUST BRAS OR NIGHTWARE, AND IT IS A SHAME THAT WOMEN ARE MADE TO FEEL SO TOTALLY UGLY , OUR LIVES DID NOT STOP , WE STILL FEEL THE NEED TO FEEL PRETTY.MAYBE WE FEEL THAT NEED MORE BECAUSE OF WHAT WE HAVE BEEN THROUGH, SO STEP UP AMERICA THERE IS A LARGE MARKET FOR WOMEN LIKE ME, IT WOULD BE WELL WORTH THE EFFORT FOR A COMPANY TO NOT USE MAKE BRAS AND NIGHT GOWNS UP ALSO DRESSES TOPS AND JUST PLAIN CLOTHES TO FIT WOMEN LIKE ME

    • 03/06/13 at 2:18

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences here, Penny. I’m glad you commented. :-)

  5. 30/05/13 at 15:38

    Couldn’t agree more – and I’m not one to ever pull my punches on Victoria’s Secret – but it’s the same reason I’d never suggest they should attempt fuller cupped lingerie too. Their schtick isn’t providing carefully fitted and supportive lingerie – it’s about selling a particular version of sexy and a crap load of bras to anyone who’ll buy them. I might not like them or what they stand for, but I respect them for making this decision.

    • 03/06/13 at 2:21

      Yes!!! I know a lot of people wish Victoria’s Secret carried fuller bust sizes, but, honestly at this point, I don’t think they’d do anyone any good by breaking into that market. Not only would they be perpetuating the fit issues so many women are dealing with right now, they’d also crowd out the fuller bust brands that are doing so well stateside…brands that are at least partially successful because VS decided not to pursue this market.

  6. 30/05/13 at 19:38

    This is one of the most thoughtful blogs I have ever read on this subject. It says all that needs to be said on this issue. During my career, I have worked extensively with Victoria Secret. They are consummate professionals whose standards are very high. Their business model is very precise and frankly their store environment is not at all conducive to any “hard to fit customer” They are doing quite well by not trying to be all things to all people. Cora is correct, they have helped to create healthy competition and raised the bar for everyone in the market.

    • 31/05/13 at 12:46

      I’m glad you liked it! I agree that their business model excludes any hard-to-fit customer, not just mastectomy bras but also maternity/breastfeeding bras, post-surgery bras, or bras for women with physical limitations. But the flip side of this is that it opens the market to companies that do want to focus on those areas, and I’m glad, because more brands is always more better.

  7. Karen
    30/05/13 at 22:23

    The petition’s efforts were probably misplaced. Their next move could be to petition department stores to carry established post-surgical bra brands, and heck even the clothing too. They’re honestly pretty OK. But with regard to VS-grade sexy, there’s no reason they couldn’t consider it once they have a firm place in a large number of stockists.

    Amoena/Victoria Secret collaboration anyone?

    • 31/05/13 at 12:37

      Great point, and I agree. I think the petition could have made much more headway by directly appealing to a mastectomy bra manufacturer or to a department store chain. Stocking brands which already exist (or tweaking lines a brand is already making) is a much more feasible goal than creating a specialty product line from scratch…especially since VS’ current target market (in terms of age, taste, size, and consumption patterns) likely doesn’t overlap with most women who’ve had mastectomies. But I am glad Victoria’s Secret took the petition as seriously as they did. At the very least they acknowledged this is an important issue, and that’s more than I expected from them.

  8. Sayde
    14/08/13 at 15:42

    Agree– Victoria’s Secret could perhaps make but not fit and sell mastectomy bras. But I do think that it would be nice for the mastectomy bra makers to think about styles that look more contemporary and especially, more choices in small sizes. There are many women who have not had full mastectomies but who want a customized bra — a little help for uneven breasts — a better solution than just cramming a cutlet into a regular bra. There are few pocketed bra options out there that are offered in small sizes (and look right in small sizes — most bras that cover the whole range are hopelessly overstructured and bulky for a petite woman). I think that the mastectomy bra makers need to think more about appealing to this market segment of petite, non mastectomy (but still in need of correction) women — and it is not just a question of pretty colors and lace.

  9. Heather
    26/05/14 at 22:39

    I haven’t had cancer, nor have I had a mastectomy. However, due to having a condition where I’m missing the pectorals on one side of my body, I’ve had to wear mastectomy bras and forms since I was 13. As you know, most mastectomy bras are rather matronly, and having to go to a medical supply store to get bras while all of my friends were going to normal places sucked. I didn’t fit in anywhere. My point is that there are loads of women and girls who have to wear mastectomy bras due to reasons other than mastectomy. The fitters whom I have worked with over the years have told me that while cancer survivors are the majority of their clientele, a very large percentage of the mastectomy bra market is made up of women who need a pocketed bra that will fit a substantial silicone breast form. Also, I imagine that women who have had their mastectomy for years and years don’t need the same amount of “support” and extra-wide straps that those who are still healing need. In other words, the market is much more vast than the current specialty bra manufacturers realize, and I wish that would wake up a bit. It would be really nice to buy a bra that is not white, beige or black! One last thing: for Canadian women, La Vie En Rose does make a mastectomy line (Muse). I own one bra from there, and it’s the prettiest bra I own (also, it is a colour!), but their sizes run big. They start at a 32 B and it’s a generous band and cup, so I’m kind of out of luck. However, other women might find it useful.

    ETA: I just realized that I’m pretty much repeating what Sayde said. Power in numbers!

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