Lingerie, oddly enough, can be extremely polarizing. I, for example, hate bras. I’m a D cup and have always felt self-conscious, restricted, and generally uncomfortable when wearing one underneath my clothing while out in public (bedroom lingerie, however, is another story). It might seem counterintuitive to feel more uneasy in a bra than with big ol’ wobbly breasts, hanging a little lower and appearing more nipple-y than if they were supported, but that’s nature versus nurture for you. Our boobs aren’t always meant to be sexualized by satin and lace, and it’s not entirely natural for them to be floating like two perfectly curved globes just south of our chins. That's why I’m pretty damn glad the era of the push-up bra is over, and the reign of the bralette has begun.
Providing support and comfort should be the primary goal of a bra — not creating a centerfold ideal of heteronormative feminine sexuality. The problem with the push-up bra is that its central focus is to titillate, and it does that by creating a fantasy projection of what women should look like. That projection, of course, is shaped by that pesky male gaze we haven’t completely shaken off. Though bras meant to push up breasts have been around since the 15th century, the first “official” push-up bra (a.k.a. the Wonderbra) was introduced in 1964. Since then, it’s maintained a steady presence in our vision, from Bond girls to Spice Girls, as a mainstay in the hypersexualization of the female body. But — and quite suddenly, might I add — the silhouette seems to have fallen out of favor, first with the fashion set (with bralettes popping up on the runways of Topshop Unique, House of Holland, Alexander McQueen, and Dries Van Noten this year), then with 2016’s nouveau brat pack and their fondness for the piece (think Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, as styled by Monica Rose). For the once ubiquitous push-up bra, the final death knell was, perhaps, falling out of grace with the mainstream lingerie industry; Victoria’s Secret, the item's greatest proponent, saw a sharp decline in sales, and as a result introduced a range of bralettes and an accompanying campaign. Unfortunately, VS wasn't just slow to the trend — it never understood quite how to market it, either. This year, the company has seen a share price drop of 29%, which Gabriella Santaniello, founder of A Line Partners, which specializes in retail research, told the NY Post last month is because the company "missed on the bralette and tried to recover.” Plus, its campaign, which rested heavily on the slogan, “No padding needed!” was perceived as body-shaming to customers with bigger breasts (and therefore requiring some kind of support from their lingerie), and as a too-little-too-late sentiment from others who found the new direction to be somewhat hypocritical.
But VS isn’t the only one feeling the turning tide — lingerie brand True &. Co saw sales of its push-up bras plummet from 24% to 15% in a year, while bralette sales soared. The company also collected over 60 million data points from a sample of 2.7 million women about their bra preferences, and found an increasing desire for comfort, modernity, and relaxed style over the more stylized, pin-up shapes of the past. Meanwhile, Google’s search trends have also seen a huge surge in searches for “bralette” over “push-up bra” in the past year, and the NPD Group has reported that 41% of millennials wore a sports bra in the preceding seven days, finding that the highest priority for bra wearers in 2016 was “comfort.” Lingerie brand Only Hearts has also reported a 40% increase in demand for the “barely there look” in the past two years. Founder Helena Stuart refers to it as “celebrating of the natural female silhouette.” It should come as no surprise, then, that women are embracing what the female body actually looks like, and stepping out from the oppressive patriarchal rules that have so far dictated it. It might not seem like much, but it's really a revolution of sorts. It’s not just reclaiming female bodily autonomy, but it's also igniting the declassification of “breasts” as the essential piece of flesh that defines womanhood. With gender fluidity also comes the idea that sexuality doesn’t need to be performed through a heteronormative male lens any more — what it means to exist as a female person is so much more than what you can squeeze into the cups of a Wonderbra. It means acknowledging and loving the skin you’re in, seeking comfort over constant modification and objectification, and creating a new visual code for what "sexy" really means.