I had the unexpected opportunity to meet Miss Underpinnings and several other full-bust bloggers yesterday at the full-bust clothing swap hosted by Darlene at Hourglassy. Darlene, thank you for a delightful afternoon! It was a particular pleasure also to meet Sweet Nothings, who is indeed Sweet as hell, and who thanks to Courtney’s putting in a kind appearance with the Dirty Dolls goods scored a pair of suspender pants that I did not even begin to appreciate till I saw Sweets model them. Damn, girl.
There wasn’t as much opportunity as I’d have liked to get into a deep discussion about Miss Underpinnings’ assessment of the situation in the full-bust marketplace. She has defined the unmet need as the missing “middle market”:
Full busted women are allowed two choices when they go lingerie shopping and I’m growing dissatisfied with both. On one side, Tutti Rouge, Cleo, Bravissimo, Curvy Kate, and Evollove reign over the market for youthful spontaneity; the second domain belongs to Fantasie, Fauve, Empreinte, Prima Donna, Panache, and newcomer Harlow and Fox, who offer elegant timelessness and exquisite European laces. As much as I love both, I don’t completely relate to either. I’ve outgrown the juniors’ section and I’m not ready for side support panels or full cups. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way so I’ve begun to think of myself (us?) as “the middle market”. We’re the ones who are caught between too cute and too classic. Every full bust brand assumes we’re part of their target demographic, while no one seems to be designing anything expressly for us.
And here is her depiction of the existing categories:
(I am deeply horrified to note that Cecily thinks the Fauve Bronte longline belongs in the same market basket as whatever that grim beige thing is in the upper left corner, but I’m not complaining, because I took away a stunning Fauve Coco halfcup from her swap contribution yesterday. It’s a fair cop that I’m more in Fauve’s target demographic than Cecily is. Sometimes, the old lady laughs last. It does point up some nuances of the category structure outlined here that want a little more sorting out, and I have a post or two upcoming on this, so stay tuned.)
I think that this analysis has a lot of resonance and, broadly speaking, is spot on, in that it points out the elephant in the room: the tremendous, almost incredible unmet need in full-bust for product catering to what, really, is a substantial chunk of the market. Formal fashion categories aren’t really useful here, but think about where you go when you go to a department store. There’s one area or floor where you’ll find juniors-inflected brands like Free People, KOKO, and James Perse, and then there’s a second floor where you’ll find young but more adult brands like 10 Crosby Derek Lam, Equipment, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Theory. Those two groups may be found in proximity as they are both technically “contemporary”, but you are likely to find them together, not mixed randomly in amongst one another. Then there’s a third floor with better and bridge brands targeting somewhat older women, like Elie Tahari, DKNY, Lauren Ralph Lauren and Michael Michael Kors. Finally, there’s a fourth floor with brands like Prada, Alexander McQueen, and Versace.
Well, in full-bust lingerie, it’s like that whole second floor is just missing. It’s not there. (I’d also point out that the fourth floor isn’t there, but, that for another post.)
I’ve put together a sketch of the category structure that emerges from Miss Underpinnings’ astute diagnosis:
An excellent starting point for discussion. It’s very true — for the adult woman who has any engagement with fashion, whether it’s just to notice the trends and indulge in a good shop for wardrobe-updating items twice a year, or to take a more profound interest, there really isn’t a lot going on. If it isn’t pink frilly cupcake prints, it tends to be uninspiring and bland, and there aren’t a whole lot of simple, minimal staples available much less anything edgy or interesting.
But wait a minute — adult women who have any engagement with fashion … doesn’t that describe kind of a lot of women between 20 and 50, if not older? How can the industry possibly be failing at something this huge? Well, there are historic and contextual reasons. I think most of the industry has been misled by poor-quality, bias-driven market research and really doesn’t have a strong understanding of what the full-bust customer looks like, whether in terms of age, socioeconomics, core drivers, diversity, or sheer numbers.
Consider for a moment the problems faced by the plus-sized clothing customer. Fat women, too, face a choice between dowdy and gaudy. There are significant unmet needs among “inbetweenies,” roughly misses 10-16 or plus 12W-14W, 0X-1x, who often are served neither by misses nor by plus. And the entire plus market proper faces a really dreadful paucity of quality options that gets worse and worse as size increases.
It’s notable here that the full-bust customer tends to get conflated with the full-figure customer, a basic but pervasive error particularly prevalent in the benighted U.S. market.
My guess is that the bias creating the roadblock to full-bust lingerie realizing its potential is “full-bust = fat = poor = no dollars to spend on product, and no taste.” Broken at every single turn … but that, I think, is the core deterrent factor for industry. And it’s been a powerful one. I do think it’s past time to clear away these cobwebs and do better. Indies like All Undone and Sunday Intimates are breaking ground on a small scale, but Big Lingerie now needs to put its muscle behind a paradigm shift. Eveden and Panache in particular have a sufficient knowledge and fluency base that the opportunity is very strong for them to lead, shape and expand an imminent transformation in the marketplace.