The Problem with How Lingerie Brands Sell High Waisted Panties to Plus Sizes

Sassy Cotton Brief Panty by Lane Bryant

Sassy Cotton Brief Panty by Lane Bryant

As a lingerie copywriter, I’m always especially conscious of how trends are marketed. Marketing is more than a set of pretty photos; it’s also about wording product descriptions and marketing materials in ways that will appeal to your target customer. So, for obvious reasons, I’m always interested in seeing how new trends are marketed to both the plus size and core size market.

Today I wanted to talk about the high waisted panty trend and the marketing around it. We’re also going to cover some assumptions it reveals about core size customers and plus size ones that permeate the entire industry.

Stella Maris Panty by Dollhouse Bettie

Stella Maris Panty by Dollhouse Bettie

Why Are High Waisted Panties In Fashion?
The high waisted panty trend has come back in a big way in the past few years for several reasons. The biggest is that retro styles are in and everyone is trying to cash in on the pinup lingerie craze. The second is that high waists are a fairly easy sell in an American market, which is still largely concerned with issues like nipple coverage rather than making a fashion statement. Many American lingerie customers want simple lingerie that disappears under clothing and doesn’t leave any lines. If you’re a regular reader around here, none of this will be news to you. What is noteworthy is how this trend is marketed to different size segments and what it says about the assumptions retailers make about each size group.

Charlotte Knickers by Hopeless Lingerie

Charlotte Knickers by Hopeless Lingerie

High Waist Panties in Core Sizes: Ouvert Panties, Pinup Vibes and Sex Appeal
While you could always buy basic high waist panties from places like Rago, the trend has really taken off in recent years and loads of high fashion brands have jumped on the bandwagon. Brands are now creating lots of ouvert (open back) options, which combine retro flair with modern sex appeal. When simple high waist panty options are sold, they are marketed as being retro chic or retro sexy rather than basic. Panties in core sizes are sold based on sex appeal, rather than to cover up problem areas or to feel more confident/less exposed.

In core sizes, the high waist trend is still all about sex appeal. This leads to a wealth of options in terms of coverage, styling and material. You’ll rarely see a plain white cotton panty, since the market is all about channeling the pinup look.

High Cut Lace Briefs by Ashley Graham/Addition Elle

High Cut Lace Briefs by Ashley Graham/Addition Elle

High Waist Panties in Plus Sizes: Comfort, Coverage and Confidence
High waist panties have really taken over the plus size market in a big way over the past few years, to the point where I’m regularly asked where customers can find bikini panties in plus sizes. Even regular briefs in plus sizes have now developed higher waists, making high waist panties the default for many plus size brands. However, when you look at the way high waists are advertised in a plus size context, the sales pitch looks totally different.

Comfort is a big factor in plus size panty advertising, but it always shows up in product descriptions for plus size panties. Many of them are made of cotton rather than silky fabrics, making this trend about everyday comfort and practical wear rather than sex appeal. In many product descriptions and ads, you’ll see various claims about how panties don’t roll down, cut in or otherwise make you feel uncomfortable. That’s great, but all of those things also happen to core size customers who wear panties — so why don’t we see core size marketing talking about that?

Seamless High Waist Panty by Lane Bryant

Seamless High Waist Panty by Lane Bryant

Coverage is also a big selling point, although not in a retro sexy way. By default lingerie brands assume that plus size lingerie customers want to cover up areas they may be uncomfortable with, like their stomachs. This is problematic for several reasons. Plus size customers are not all the same body type, so they may carry weight in many different ways. By assuming that all customers want to cover up one or two areas, brands are telegraphing that plus size customers must have one shape: “fat.” There are many customers in the core size range who may also be uncomfortable with their stomachs, but you don’t see companies encouraging them to cover up with high waist panties.

Confidence is a big part of lingerie marketing in any size range, but it’s dealt with differently in core sizes and plus sizes — even when it comes to selling the same item. Core sizes are encouraged to “show off their curves” or to show peeks of skin, while plus size customers are sold seamless high waist panties to cover up their problem areas and to appear thinner. One of these is a body positive take on the trend and the other is toxic.

This article isn’t going to change the world, but I do hope it helps you read between the lines when you see lingerie marketed to you. A panty can be more than a panty: it can reveal how companies feel and think about their clients. In my last article, we talked about how plus size customers are stigmatized and therefore have fewer options on the market — this is a good example of that stigma at work.

What other lingerie trends do you see marketed different to multiple size ranges? How do you feel about it?

Mad Mimi Form


Article Tags :
Holly Jackson

The Full Figured Chest provides creative and elegant copywriting for the high end lingerie industry.

16 Comments on this post

  1. Yessssssss. Yes. A thousand times yes.

  2. WideCurves says:

    I agree. The verbiage is always centered around comfort, slimming, etc., and a majority of styles are just blah. There are plenty of plain shapers, and some cheap-looking boudoir pieces…but not much of interest between.

    High waist panties are a requirement for me, due to my long rise (you won’t hear me asking for bikinis) but I need them coupled with high cut legs…a style which is VERY difficult to find.

    • Holly says:

      I love high waisted panties too, but purely for the retro look rather than for any “coverage” issues. I think it’s notable out of all of the options in this area of the market, they are all basically the same cut and style when it comes to plus sizes. Another way they are produced differently for plus and core sizes!

  3. Jeanna says:

    This is so fascinating and I have (unfortunately) never noticed it before. Your article prompted me to go back and double check all of my product copy. Thanks for another awesome article, Holly. There’s always a huge takeaway + something applicable on the business side.

    • Holly says:

      I think a lot of this stuff isn’t even conscious on the part of retailers most of the time. They’re honestly trying to provide what they think plus size customers want to hear. Unfortunately, most of the time that sends an underlying message that isn’t so great. I think it would be great if all retailers thought about the sociological implications of their product descriptions (and I certainly do when I’m doing my day job and writing them) but that is a big ask. It’s great that you do and that you care so much about making your customers feel at home.

  4. Sydney Nordhagen says:

    You’re my hero for calling this out and helping me to identify why so many high waisted panties for plus size were making me feel so frustrated! Not only because they are said to cover up problem areas etc, but also because of the inherent differences in how they are talked about, from plus size to core size. WOW! :) Thanks very much! (p.s. I sent you an ask a long time ago wondering why so many plus size lines were high waisted and why that is, so I’m really glad to see you write something on it. I know you’re busy, which is why it makes me so happy.)

  5. Thursday says:

    This has been bugging me for some time – you’ve articulated the issue quite well. I have a few pairs of high waist knickers in my drawer because I like the look, and they can offer a cleaner line under fitted skirts, not because I want “coverage”. And the majority of plus size ones are unattractive, cotton deals that are just going to look terrible on most people.

    • Holly says:

      I’m like you: I love high waisted panties, in part because I live in a walking city that gets windy and I like to wear dresses a lot. I’m with you in wishing that high waist panties could be made both more luxurious and more attractive for our size range – why can’t we get the same fabrics and design details as everyone else? There are so many awful cotton ones out there.

  6. Anna says:

    Great article. I’ve noticed at Moda for the past few seasons that plus size brands (primarily Sculptresse, Elomi, Goddess) tend to only have one choice for a matching brief, and it is almost always a mid or high waist. I understand that plus size pieces will be yet more of a niche for full bust brands, and cost-wise it’s a safer bet for them to just go for one matching option per bra, but the lack of choice for plus sizes (and the reasons why only these options are available) is definitely noticeable.

    • Holly says:

      One of the things I love about brands like Tutti Rouge is how many matching bottoms they offer, from tiny to fuller coverage. I agree that the lack of options in the plus size market is definitely noticeable, whereas full bust companies or core size companies are now offering multiple options for every bra.

  7. […] fuller brief, but since plus-size underwear seems focused on options with maximum coverage (a topic Holly covers well on the Lingerie Addict), I am recommending the No Panty Line Bikini to break up the monotony.  The mid-rise and microfiber […]

  8. JoAnn Horton says:

    You said “I’m regularly asked where customers can find bikini panties in plus sizes.” Any ideas? I have searched endlessly and have not been able to find 100% cotton bikini panties in size 10. Thanks!

  9. […] of late. As Holly Jackson wrote for The Lingerie Addict, this definitely comes with its own pros and cons. However, more body positive, feminist names exist in 2016 than ever before. Take Neon Moon, for […]

  10. Ashley says:

    How to choose the right cup bra and where we have to get for plus size

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