Over the last few years, the lingerie industry has found itself in a place of upheaval. Direct-to-consumer brands have disrupted most corners of the fashion industry, but in the lingerie space, up-and-coming brands have done more than just fight for sales: They've addressed customers shouts to celebrate diversity and broaden an outdated and narrow definition of beauty. Historically, labels dominating the industry catered fairly exclusively to cis-gender women who wear size six and below. But while the past may have been constrained to exclusivity, what’s more interesting, and seemingly much more hopeful, is industry's future. Cora Harrington, the creator of The Lingerie Addict, a site dedicated to all things intimate apparel and everyone who enjoys to wear it, believes that the destination is more positive and inclusive than you might believe scrolling through Twitter. Or at least, it’s getting there. Increasingly, inclusive bra and underwear brands are forcing a slow-to-adapt industry to grow in the right direction.
“It’s true that there never has been a better time to become interested in lingerie than right now,” says Harrington, who has been embedded in the industry’s ups and downs for 10 years. “There have never been as many brands, never been as many sizes, there’s never been easier access.” Through her blog, and most recently her book In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie, Harrington aims to educate readers on their intimates (see: How does every seam of a bra function?) and help any lingerie-loving individual be a better shopper.
Seeing as 2018 has experienced so much movement in the intimates market — with brands like ThirdLove expanding its size range, Everlane launching an underwear line worn by an inclusive cast of models, and Savage x Fenty proving that a lingerie runway show that caters to all women could succeed during New York Fashion Week — Harrington is here to expand on what comes next, what still needs improvement, and what brands you shouldn’t sleep on.
“We're seeing a lot of new players in this space and my general idea about lingerie brands is the more the better,” says Harrington. “The more people we have to serve the consumer, the better it is for the consumer.” She points out that a lot of newer brands focus on comfort — think: direct-to-consumer lines like Lively, Knix, and the aforementioned Everlane. It’s an approach that ties directly to outerwear trends that also prioritize comfort, like athleisure and loungewear, she explains. And though what you wear against your skin shouldn’t be unpleasant, this approach addresses only one customer demand.
A persisting gripe in the existing landscape is finding more options to fit larger bust sizes. “It’s very hard for shoppers to have access to bras beyond a DD or DDD,” Harrington says, adding that such options are more prevalent in the U.K. but not in the states. “That’s been a significant shortcoming of the American market and the lack of those larger sizes lead to more stigma around them, where people believe that nothing larger than a DDD can exist." The result according, the expert explains, "when you don’t have access and exposure to sizes, then your idea of what’s normal becomes quite a bit smaller.”
Ultimately however, the reason that many lingerie brands are still slow to meet demands for a wide size range is not due to lack of interest, Harrington suggests: It’s a money matter. Take for instance ThirdLove, who added 24 sizes to its range this past summer. In a press release at the time, the brand shared that “our new sizes cost 45% more to produce,” yet ThirdLove kept the retail price identical for all customers. “I would like to see expanded sizes become more normalized,” says Harrington. “I would especially like to see newer brands that are doing amazing things — Nubian Skin for example — have access to the funding to do size expansion. And that even newer brands, like Savage X, continue to push forward and see how they can reach those customers who are frequently on the margin.”
The good news through all of this is that there are brands already leaders in the push to be inclusive, though they may lack the same media coverage or the striking ad campaigns that flood our Instagram feeds. Harrington says these under-the-radar leaders include Wacoal European brands such as Elomie and Freya who offer up to a K cup, and Goddess which extends to an O cup. "Playful Promises is a big one,” adds Harrington of a brand whose sizes range between 28DD and 42H. “Every style is produced in core, full bust, and plus sizes and [they are] identical styles, which is something a lot of full bust and plus size customers have demanded. This is their new norm, and further expansions are the goal.”
Though the dust has yet to settle on this discussion, the future of lingerie is determined by both product evolution and also on changing how consumers shop. “For many people the preference is to be able to try on before you buy, and this is especially true for bras. But, I think you can get a much better sense of what’s available in your size and your style [online], even if all you do is search though Amazon, Bare Necessities, HerRoom, Nordstrom, or another one of these large sites,” she suggests. Harrington also aptly encourages those who struggle with finding lingerie that feels as empowering as it can, and should, be to search for blogs and other online forums that normalize conversations around intimate clothing.
“There aren’t a lot of spaces online where women, non-binary, and gender-queer people can talk about their lingerie and their intimate apparel without having to worry,” says Harrington, who created a private Facebook group for such a purpose. “I’m really happy about the space readers have created in this group, where they can feel free to explore their love of lingerie without having to worry about harassment.”
As for those brands that aren’t yet prioritizing a more inclusive outlook, Harrington doesn’t think you should count them out all together. Instead, speak up. “People have the language to demand more. People have seen that other brands can do things differently,” she says, referring specifically to some of the biggest lingerie headlines this past month. “I think people will be more vocal about their expectations from companies and let brands know when they feel they’re not rising to what they can be.” And, of course, nothing speaks louder than where you put your dollars.
Below, shop a selection of Harrington's recommended lingerie brands.