Buying a first bra has long been considered a rite of passage for young women. These days, however, it’s the ditching of the undergarment (or wearing wire-free versions) that’s empowering female Millennials.
Sure, going braless is nothing new — the concept is at least as old as the women’s liberation movement of the ’60s — but young women today aren’t doing it with quite the political fervor as their feminist predecessors. Today, pushing back from push-ups — by wearing an unstructured bra or no bra at all — is a personal triumph, a choice to be comfortable and a trendy move. ShopStyle.com reports a 56% increase this year to date in shopper searches for bralettes alone.
For Victoria’s Secret, the trend presents challenges. The retailer’s parent company, L Brands Inc., gets about a third of its revenue from bras. L Brands’ shares are down nearly 30% this year so far. Analysts expect adjusted profit to fall 6.3% in the current fiscal year compared with last fiscal year’s levels, says S&P Global Market Intelligence.
According to Gabriella Santaniello, an analyst focused on fashion at A-Line Partners, “(Victoria’s Secret’s) message has been a very in-your-face sexy message for so many years: You need a push-up, you need to be sexy, models stick out their hip. Now, it’s good to be natural — so they’re a little late to the game.”
Going natural and “not wearing a bra is a choice I find empowering and fun, but I think there’s less passion behind it (than when burning bras was done out of political protest),” says poet Savannah Brown, 19 from London, whose popular YouTube video “sav’s guide to going braless” has over half a million views. “It’s just a day-to-day choice (to skip bras or wear bralettes only). It doesn’t play a huge role in my ideology. It’s more of a quiet protest.”
YouTuber Stella Rae, 17 from Seattle, has another video (also seen by over 500K viewers) on the topic: “WHY I DON’T WEAR BRAS.” She says she started going au naturel “just as a comfort thing. … I never intended it to be a discussion or anything.” And then she kept doing it, and so did her friends.
“Going braless is as old as feminism but it seems to be bubbling to the surface more recently as a direct response to Third Wave moments like #freethenipple, increased trans-visibility like Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover … and Lena Dunham’s show Girls (which features young girls often without bras),” says Allure’sFashion Director Rachael Wang, via email.
Wang says that waifish supermodels have long gone braless, but “where I have seen a shift is in street style and on bloggers and celebrities who are wearing slip dresses and crop tops without undergarments or with no-wire meant-to-be-seen lacy bralettes.”
The likes of Kendall Jenner, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Lawrence and Rihanna have been photographed in a number of bra-free outfits, from Jenner’s thin black shirts shown on Instagram, to Lovato’s nothing-under-her-jacket ensembles on the red carpet, Lawrence’s bralette style at movie premieres and Rihanna’s braless tour attire.
Costume designer Cynthia Summers, who works on Lifetime’s UnReal and Bravo’s Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, has incorporated bralette and bra-less looks into her shows..
Girlfriends’ character Phoebe (played by Beau Garrett), who lives in Silver Lake, Calif. and favors low-cut boho-dresses, “is pretty much braless all the time,” says Summers.
Fruit of the Loom, the No. 2 bra-seller for Milliennials according to market research company NPD Group, has seen buyers increasingly opt for wire-free and unlined bras over the traditional padded and underwire versions. “We started seeing the impact of this trend in our sport bras initially,” says Melissa Burgess-Taylor, senior vice president of brand management and sales at Fruit of the Loom, in an email.
According to a 2015 NPD Group study, the sports bra is the fastest growing bra style among Millennials, while ShopStyle.com reports the lace bralette represents 32% percent of bralette searches from shoppers, up 121% this year to date.
Victoria’s Secret declined to comment for this story. This year, the lingerie brand released a new line of unpadded bralettes, which mark a change from the company’s signature push-up bra.