3 Small Ideas That Could Be the Lingerie Industry's "Next Big Thing"
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3 Small Ideas That Could Be the Lingerie Industry's "Next Big Thing"

Spanx Shape My Day Open-Bust Mid-Thigh Bodysuit

Spanx reinvented shapewear for the modern consumer. Spanx Shape My Day Open-Bust Mid-Thigh Bodysuit, $84.

Earlier this month, I reviewed a new company aiming to "disrupt" the lingerie industry. Much of the intimate apparel industry is relatively old-fashioned, but in reviewing this company, I discovered that just because someone re-invents something, doesn't mean they're making it better. In fact, sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest impact. I couldn't help but wonder: could small tweaks to existing lingerie styles make a successful new product?

This idea has certainly been done before. Companies like Spanx and Bristols Six brought great, modern versions of old-fashioned solutions to the market in the early 2000s. More recently, there's Thinx, a company breathing life into the world of period panties, and Nubian Skin, which convinced much of the mainstream lingerie industry that, yes, nude is more than beige. None of these brands are coming up with groundbreaking new inventions. For the most part, they're simply classic ideas updated for the modern consumer.

Yet today, many lingerie startups overshoot and miss the mark entirely, by redeveloping things that don't really need to be changed. Even worse, some of them repackage the same old concepts (sometimes literally) and then tell you they're "disrupting the lingerie industry." The three ideas below aren't "disruptions," at least not in the way I'd like to see the lingerie industry disrupted. However, I do believe that if a company harnessed one of these three small ideas, they could actually become staples 0f the modern day lingerie industry.

Ready-to-Wear Bralettes with Smaller Bands + Bigger Cups

Only Hearts Coucou Lola Ruffle Bralette

Only Hearts' bralettes are so cute and great for smaller cups, but the bands are notoriously big. Only Hearts Coucou Lola Ruffle Bralette, $55

OK, let's get real: off-the-rack, straight-size bralettes fit a very small segment of people. I'm not lamenting the fact they aren't supportive. Until some incredible magic fabric comes along, bralettes will never be supportive in the same way underwired bras are, and that's fine. I'm not even upset that they don't fit me. I wear a 32G, and I know that I'm not the "average" bust size. But most bralettes don't really fit most fit people. Either the cups are too small or the band is way, way too big.

Many indie labels offer custom sizing, like Toru and Naoko, or cup-sized bralettes, like Fortnight. However, I think ready-to-wear bralettes in sizes XS - XL that are a few inches smaller in the band and a little roomier in the cups would sell like hotcakes. Say, a size small made for the proportions of a 32D instead of a 32B...which would fit people closer to the average size. With the popularity of unstructured, wirefree bras lately, I think this idea could be a big success.

A Reinvention of the Garter belt for the Modern Age

Wolford Satin Garter Belt

Wolford does a fabulous job of creating simple, modern luxury, and this garter belt reflects that--but its small grips aren't perfect for everyday wear. Wolford Satin Garter Belt, $105 at Neiman Marcus

Since the invention of pantyhose, garter belts have been reduced to boudour fun and retro dressup, but honestly? They're great for everyday wear. Garter belts don't slide down your hips at the end of a long day. They make it easier to use the bathroom. And, in my opinion, they look way nicer than tights. However, it's hard to find the perfect garter belt. I think if one was created and marketed as a modern, smart alternative to wearing tights, it could become a lingerie wardrobe staple. The ideal everyday modern garter belt would need to:

  • stand up to daily wear and regular washing
  • have sturdy enough grips to hold up thick stockings, but not be so big that they look comical
  • be narrow enough to comfortably wear beneath your underwear
  • be smooth enough to wear under bodycon dresses
  • be simple enough to match all your lingerie sets
  • not look like something your great aunt would have worn (in a bad way)

Most of all, the perfect garter belt would need an ideal fabric. I'm imagining some sort of stable knit - something with great elastic memory so it won't stretch out, but not so stretchy that it would slide down. Something wicking, so it wouldn't get clammy. Something long-lasting that won't easily snag or pill. And something that won't roll down, but also won't pinch.

I regularly hear lingerie shoppers ask for something like this, but I think it would be a challenge to market garter belts to the everyday, non-lingerie-addicted public. However, if Thinx can convince everyone period panties are fabulous, normal, and super-hip, I'm sure we can do the same for garter belts.

Customizable Lingerie Basics

Chantelle Merci Demi Bra

The Chantelle Merci is one of those bras that fits so well, but people often hate the straps, the bow, or the trim on the top. Chantelle Merci Demi Bra, $78 at Nordstrom

Because of the hours of labor required, custom bras are cost-prohibitive to many people. Companies like Impish Lee and Uye Surana offer custom lingerie and loungewear at relatively affordable prices, which is excellent, but I talk to people every day who fall in love with a bra...except for the bow on each cup or the lace trim or some other small detail.

A company that created well-fitted bra-and-panty sets with customizable embellishments would satisfy both the ultra-picky consumer and the creative lingerie lover who wants their personal style reflected in their basics. What if you could pick the material for your straps (velvet or grosgrain elastic?) or the detail on the gore (a bow or nothing at all?).

This is a difficult concept because, like Karolina talked about in her Impish Lee review, sometimes the consumer doesn't know what they actually want, and might be unhappy with the finished product. However, by limiting customization to just embellishments and other small details, I believe you could please a lot of people.

Look towards the success of Bow and Drape, which turned affordable, customizable clothing into a fast-growing start-up. I'm not saying the average consumer wants pizza-shaped sequin appliqués on their bra cups, but Bow and Drape's marketing is particular and successful. The company's customizable clothing is positioned as something special enough to spend money on but casual enough that you won't fear it being deeply untrendy in a month. That balance between luxe and casual is careful, but could totally work for this concept.

However, this idea is more than just "put some stuff on bras for people." It would require some experience in lingerie to know what works and what doesn't. For example, those custom straps would have to be the right type of elastic for lingerie, and they'd also have to be scaled up in width for larger cups. And even a customized bra won't get return customers if it fits poorly. But a well-fitted basic bra with special, personal details? I think that could be an industry staple for sure.

All three of these concepts are simple ideas, but they could be successful for lingerie-wearers, given the right platform. True, none of them are groundbreaking, but you don't always have to reinvent the wheel to make a difference (or turn a profit). Sometimes, you just need to make what exists a little bit better. What small innovations would you like to see from the lingerie industry?

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Quinne Myers

Quinne Myers is a lingerie expert living in Brooklyn, NY, where she creates quippy written content, crafts dreamy illustrations, and runs the ethically-made loungewear line, she and reverie.

14 Comments on this post

  1. Alyssa Woods says:

    Love this article- my lingerie company was actually born out of my frustration with #1- super limited bralette sizing. It’s funny that you should have mentioned size 32D- this is my size and the size that I could find no bralette to comfortably accommodate, which is kind of crazy because, as you point out, its quite a common size. I now make bralettes that come standard in sizes 30A-38G!

  2. Thursday says:

    On number two, you really can’t go past the classic Kiss Me Deadly suspender belts. Firm, hard wearing, a practical number of straps, invisible under clothing, nice designs…I think Catherine already succeeded on that count :) Have you tried one of them? The Van Doren eight strap is awesome, (although not sure there are plans to restock them) but the six strap does pretty well too.

  3. Trudi McLaren says:

    Oh, and more on the garter belts – nice big clips that don’t even come accidentally undone, even when dancing or making a mad dash when late to work (trust me, I’ve put that to the test!), and even for boudoir fun – seriously, nothing more of a passion-killer than straps constantly coming undone. They even do some six-strap ones. Also, the one time I had a clip come off, I asked how I could fix it on their FB page, and Catherine (the designer/owner, no less, who is constantly in touch with the page) asked me to just message her my postal details so she could send me a replacement – which she did, with instructions on how to replace it, and a couple of spares – just in case! Sorry – gush over – I just think they’re the best ever :-)

  4. Trudi McLaren says:

    Umm… first two points – (*especially* 2!), Kiss Me Deadly do already, and they even arguably do 3, to an extent – but by getting their fans (we go way beyond ‘customers’) to have input into the designs that get made, and then the detail – even to the point of giving us surveys on what versions we like best.

  5. Marnie says:

    I would die for bralettes with better sizing options.

  6. Kat says:

    Hm, I don’t really agree with the bralette one. I believe that sizes labled small should be small. As a truly small busted woman, I don’t consider 32D to be a “small” size. I know it’s not huge, either, and that women who require B cup or smaller in a small band size (like myself) are not a large portion of the population. But the bralette has been a godsend to many women who often find themselves directed to the little girls’ department for lingerie. While I personally like a bra that provides a bit more shaping, and I only wear bralettes for lounging, I know lots of smaller busted ladies who absolutely swear by them now. Instead of nixing smaller size cups in ready-to-wear bralettes in favor of larger busts, size ranges could be extended to be more inclusive.

    • Quinne says:

      Definitely don’t believe in “nixing smaller size cups in ready-to-wear bralettes”. One or two companies that make bralettes with slightly roomier cups won’t limit your options whatsoever! :)

      The idea of 32D not being “small size” is highly subjective, but FYI: the “technical” measurement for a 32D-sized person (of course, it varies a TON) is a 36″ bust with a 32″ ribcage, which correlates to many ready-to-wear apparel brands’ size “small”.

      • Kat says:

        Thanks for your reply. I know sizing (what is big/small) is subjective, and I realize that my opinion might not be everyone else’s. I guess as a woman who fluctuates between a 30B/32A depending on brand, hearing D cup women (who are wearing larger than a 28 or 30 band) refered to as “small busted” makes me kind of salty lol. But since bralettes are super comfy, I am not at all opposed to them being made available for a larger range of sizes.

      • Nevena says:

        36” bust Small?
        I’m a pattern maker and that’s not true at all.
        Small is 32.5” approximately. 36” is Large.
        I’m not quoting a particular brand’s sizing, it’s an official guideline.
        Of course I have nothing against clothing makers doing whichever sizing they want, we all want more happy customers.

        • Quinne says:

          There are no “official guidelines” for the fashion industry, but for a lot of modern RTW brands, a 34″-36″ bust is a size Small. Thankfully, I think the last time I tried on a size Large meant for a 36″ bust was at American Apparel. :)

  7. Mya says:

    The bralette idea is -so- on point. I work at an independent lingerie boutique and I know that would go over well. Just a tad smaller in the band, and a tad larger in the cup.

  8. Catherine says:

    So . . . like the Gerbe suspender belt but with wide straps and metal clips?

  9. Lohla J says:

    Love this piece & totally agree! It’s so frustrating to continually see the narrative of outsider “disruption” as being somehow more important to an industry’s growth. To me, the way publications & commentary center fashion & lingerie outsiders in those industries really speaks to how people’s expertise, work, knowledge, study etc is often really devalued coming from certain industries, especially those that are coded as feminine. It’s a trend I’ve noticed before in a lot of reporting and it really bothers me how people talk over designers and others who’ve studied and practiced and designed and learned about lingerie for years. Thank you for calling it out!!

    Also, super excited to see Uye Surana in this article!! I think we also fall under your first point about bralettes. People just think of bralettes as a type of garment that will always be easy-to-size and imperfectly-fit, but there are a ton of ways to improve the fit with craftsmanship, small design changes or creative thinking. We’ve personally found band/cup sizing rather than “resizing S/M/L” to be the most elegant way for us to serve the best fit to the widest range of people, particularly those customers who are not currently able to wear mass-market bralettes, but sizing is just one element of improvement and there’s different ways to handle it. There are so many different pieces where smart design choices can come into play and make a big difference or make garments more accessible, functional, etc.

    anyway great article, Quinne, thanks!! x

  10. Noire says:

    Oh this is a fun list! I love the idea of braletts that fit more than the very small section of women. I love wearing stockings but my issue isn’t with the belt or the stockings but rather my skirts; they’re too short! I with suspender belts attacked a few inches higher!

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