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Why Is Lingerie So Expensive?

Antique Corset Catalog

It's time for another Why do Lingerie Retailers...? feature, and this one asks the ever-popular question "Why do things cost what they cost?" If you've ever wondered what goes into the price of your favorite lingerie brands, Catherine (of Kiss Me Deadly fame) is here to explain:

My heart sank when Treacle asked me to put in something about prices, because that’s a 10,000 word essay in itself. So, I'll try and cover some of the basics. As you may recall from a few years back when I wrote about hosiery, pricing basically depends on the amount of time that goes into making a product and the cost of the materials.

But it won't always be obvious to someone not involved in making something what might be the expensive bit of a product. Ayten Gasson does a roll hem or French seam on all her pieces, for example, as it's more attractive and comfortable than the standard cheaper overlock... but you don’t see the inside of a garment when you buy online, and how many of you know that bit of trivia anyway?

You should also factor in the time it takes to develop a product --- sampling, fittings, grading (i.e. different sizes), marketing, and photography. The post-production time is where it costs you money.

Obviously you can reduce those costs considerably by having key patterns that you just restyle regularly. At the other end, there are costs associated with having stock sitting on the shelves. Space equals rent and bills and staff to count things, so a product sitting around is costing you money. It’s a fine balance keeping enough in stock without ending up with huge overheads that maim your profit margin into the kill zone.

Then there are lots of additional complications. For example, in the UK we pay 20% VAT (sales tax, basically) on most things, so about 1/5th of what we charge goes pretty much straight to government. We also have to factor in national insurance (the chunk of peoples' wages we send the government to help with pensions and whatnot), business rates (tax on our offices that goes to our local councils for services they provide) and of course in the event that we manage to make any money, 20% of that goes (yes, you guessed it) straight to the government again. Unless you're Vodaphone, in which case you can mysteriously avoid these things.

We should supply a certificate if you manage to read all this stuff. It’ll be super handy if you ever do a business qualification, I promise.

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

15 Comments on this post

  1. I understand why independant companies charge the high prices they do and really enjoyed this article. However I buy from both sides, when I can afford to splash out I buy WKD, I’m addicted to Von Follies since Dita launched it and generally its very affordable with bra’s starting at aound £30 & there’s always an offer on ASOS or the Debenhams website which beings the price down ever more. (even though her latest collecting starting to come out has drastically gone up in price)
    I also have high waisted vintage inspired briefs from Tesco and ASDA that are worth every penny, made incredible well and last! – Miss Amber Theron recently did an article on her blog and I found out a very fun fact. The same factory that produces Victoria Secret underwear produces ASDA’s underwear!

    I think as someone said earlier yes you must factor in tax/storage/over heads but also what someone is willing to pay vs. How much you want to be getting for it.

    Very enjoyable article, they always are though


  2. firelizard19 says:

    “i’d love to see a price/quality comparison chart or other tool that could help me weed out the brands with prices that don’t reflect certain standards of quality.” @ shauna

    @Stephen Booth I see your point there, brand names can definitely mislead us, but in a way they’re the closest thing we have to the way-old-fashioned days when you knew the tailor who made the clothes or the merchant selling them, and could therefore rely on your past experience of their quality and their local reputation to know if their work was any good. The brand is what the reputation for quality/value/cheapness/lack-thereof attaches to now, whether it is clothing or food or lawn care supplies. So I wouldn’t argue that they’re totally useless, although of course the brand will try to promote itself in all sorts of ways. That’s why I quoted shauna above- she hits the nail on the head. The solution is not to throw out all brand names as useless data, but to sort through which ones back up their price tags with quality and which don’t. Of course, that’s a big challenge, but blogs like this and industry reputation can help a lot.

  3. Stephen Booth says:

    And of course the main one, because they can. You can only sell something for what someone will pay for it, but conversely you can sell something for whatever you can convince someone to pay. Even if the only difference between two items is the label attached, if you can portray one as higher quality, through advertising and brand image, than the other you can charge a higher price premium. If people didn’t buy into the image you present then you couldn’t charge the premium. If people wouldn’t pay £300 for an item that has a total production cost of £25 (including design, marketing and shipping from the factory) then the retailers would have to drop their price.

    I remember reading, in the trade press (don’t know why it never made the mainstream press) about a T-Shirt. Two different retailers sold a plain white, round neck, unisex T-Shirt. One was a well known high street brand name retailer who sold their T-Shirt for £19.99. The other was a well known supermarket who sold their T-Shirt for £4.99. It transpired that both T-Shirts were made by the same company, in the same factory, from the same cloth, from the same pattern, cut by the same cutters and sewed by the same machinists, all at the same time. The *ONLY* differences between the two were the brand label that was sewed into the neck, the label on the hanger it was hung on and which crate it was packed into. Whether a particular item was sold at £19.99 or £4.99 depending on if it came off the production line and went right or went left. There was no label on the outside so you couldn’t even tell which someone was wearing unless you looked in the back of the collar. There was an investigation by Trading Standards who confirmed the situation but no action was taken as the retailer of the higher priced T-shirt never claimed their shirt was better than the lower priced one, they simply let the customers assume that because they sold it then it most be better than one sold by a supermarket. At either price it was a good T-Shirt.

    In some cases there are quality differences between products sold at one point and those sold at a different point. A lot of the time, the most expensive part of an item is the label in the back and what people are prepared to pay for it..

  4. shauna says:

    when i was younger i preferred the fun of shopping more often for cute crap over the frugality of selecting classic, well-made pieces. now i do the research and put out for something with a price that forces me to hand-wash.

    i’d love to see a price/quality comparison chart or other tool that could help me weed out the brands with prices that don’t reflect certain standards of quality.

    also, the conspiracy theorist in me would like to vet designers and opt for those who don’t resent it when retailers sell price-accessible versions of their products (occupy my lingerie drawer! ha!).

  5. Julian Maccioni says:

    I have to agree! Lingerie can be extremely costly with some brands charging as much as $200 for a bra and $ 150 for the bottom as evidenced by brand labels such as Agent Provocateur! Even lingerie such as baby dolls, slips or playsuits reach a price of up to $ 700 +

  6. Becka says:

    I understand why, it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Most of us “normal folks” will wear department store lingerie our whole lives because we will never have means to purchase these items no matter how much we love them. That’s my situation. For example I buy cheap mass produced corsets and alter them myself, give them my own touch, since I know I’ll never own a real custom made one. But I guess when your addicted you make due with what you have :)

    • Tricia says:

      Your comment proves what I usually argue when it comes to prices. There is always a trade off. You’re paying less because you’re willing to buy something that is not the right size. The time to alter it is another trade off.

      I’m in the same situation as you are. I buy mass produced because that is what I can afford.

      • Elegy says:

        On the other side of the trade off is just having less items. Like sacrificing 5-15 corsets and instead putting the money towards one. I buy a WKD bra and know I would be forgoing 6 other bras I could pick up 15 minutes from my home, at least. But I want them, so the sacrifice is worth it to me. The cost of pets annually could save me a pretty penny for a trip around the world, but, again, they’re worth it to me. Agent Provocateur, with the exception of the occasional sale, is not worth the time and money to save for their items- not to me- when I could put that money towards a Kiss Me Deadly piece, shoes, or practicalities like school items.

      • I’m definitely in both of your positions-I truly understand WHY these smaller, high quality brands need to charge what they charge and I say if they have the target market who CAN afford to buy their products, more power to them!

        If I could afford to buy quality, I’d definitely be part of that target market!

  7. Aimee says:

    This is so true for KMD and I COMPLETELY understand why small brands charge their prices. I.e. KMD must average around £100 retail for a complete set (bra, sus, knix). However, its notable that Catherine’s points don’t match up to larger brands. I’ve seen the mark up between wholesale and retail with major brands and the fact is often that you’re paying for the label. In my opinion small brands such as KMD, WKD, ayten gasson, made by nikki are the best value. Often with better fabrics, workmanship and passion. Ax

  8. Caz says:

    Another great post! It is hard in retail to justify prices, I always go by quality and make my mind over margins etc after I have tested the quality.

    Great post!

  9. amy lou says:

    just wanna say i love you blog i love underwear and im a fellow addict thank you for blogging x

  10. June says:

    I’m really glad for this post and specifically how certain stitches/unseen adjustments can affect the quality and price. One interesting discussion would be to see what the difference in price translates into in terms of quality, comfort, sizing testing etc.

    I’m curious too… how big of a factor do the choice of materials play into the price?

  11. Hi Catherine,
    Price can be a touchy subject. We sell at the high end of the price range but the most important aspect for us is the bras need to be good value. If you are paying a high price you should be getting the best there is on the market! Unfortunately a high price doesn’t always mean attention to detail or quality materials. It is also difficult for niche brands who don’t benefit from the same economies of scale. I think videos like you did on corsets are invaluable in helping people understand what they are paying for.

    • Drew says:

      I agree here. I think this is one of my biggest concerns about buying pieces for my lady. I recently looked at a piece from Strumpet & Pink (yes, my lady has VERY good taste), and was rather shocked at the price tag initially… until I read the description that was sent to me. (Incidentally, they provide excellent service via email. I sent off a request late in the day on Saturday, and a response within a few hours!)

      I am so tired of seeing mass-market pieces that fall apart literally while you’re putting them on. Spending a few extra dollars is worth it–especially if SHE enjoys it!–for a piece of higher quality. You do get what you pay for, but you have to be willing to spend it. There was a comment, I believe it was on Lingerie Diva’s blog, about how different the US and Europe are. In the US, lingerie is a special occasion thing that people don’t want to spend a lot of money on, whereas in Europe, lingerie is an everyday thing, and people will spend more money on it.

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