It seems like a simple enough premise: lingerie and underwear that's inclusive enough for any woman to feel comfortable in it. Yet, remarkably, that hasn't been the case. In fact, as a crucial category in the gendered fashion system, intimate apparel has been one of the last to revolutionize — or "get woke," so to speak. For decades, it has remained entrenched in outdated normals and ideals, not just in terms of body shapes and sizes, but also with regards to what women actually want to wear on the most intimate parts of their bodies. That's finally all changing, thanks to a new wave of mostly online-based brands striving for inclusivity in various ways: expanding sizing, or broadening the context of what's considered feminine or sexy, for example.
Take Everlane's recent women’s underwear launch, comprising a handful of all-cotton basics, including four bottoms and a single, tank-style bra. The brand, which advertises the line as "no frills" underwear that's devoid of lace, padding and other embellishments, is one of several new brands championing a modern feminist outlook centered on inclusivity and comfort over fantasy fulfillment. With the launch, they're looking to further disrupt Victoria's Secret's former stronghold on the market, which has been consistently slipping over the past few years.
Everlane claims that its spare lineup carries a significant meaning with its "no frills" designation. "Underwear should be made for you. But for decades, it's been designed with someone else in mind," reads the brand's mission statement for the line. Indeed, there's nothing frilly, ruffled, embellished, nor sheer about the cotton pieces, which come in a handful of neutral colors and six sizes (XXS through XL). If anything, the minimalist styles, which fall on the utilitarian side of things ("No frills. No bows. No bullshit."), couldn't be further away from the hypersexualized trademark aesthetic of Victoria's Secret.
Everlane also becomes the latest of the next generation brands in the intimates category to uphold a refreshing "everywoman" image through its ad campaigns, which are based on body acceptance conveyed through underwear that comfortably fits the body versus constricting or re-shaping it. Victoria's Secret, which has been around since 1977, finds itself at a disadvantage these days for its fixed association with the narrowly-held body image — think tall, thin-but-lean, super-tanned glamazons — idealized by its famous Angels. (The ill-timing of last November's Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, which aired in the wake of the unfurling Harvey Weinstein scandal, and the rising #MeToo movement, certainly didn't help the brand's image either. As further proof that the brand's base seems to have lost its taste for skimpy pageantry, ratings hit an all-time low, dropping 30 percent from 2016.)
The online retailer joins other recent entrants to the market pushing for comfort and a more versatile, basic aesthetic. Last fall, former Agent Provocateur founder Serena Rees launched Les Girls Les Boys, based on a "bed to street" concept. The collection, which includes bras, briefs and bodysuits alongside T-shirts, hoodies and sweatpants, mostly in sizes extra-small through extra-large, has an overall versatility that allows one to wear in private or in public. "The line is about being carefree and feeling comfortable," says Rees. "I really want people to feel like they don't have to use these pieces for one specific purpose. If you want to wear a bodysuit to bed, you can all wear it with shorts to the club, or to dinner with your friends," she adds.
Les Girls Les Boys is an especially remarkable concept coming from Rees, considering Agent Provocateur's signature racy, high-end aesthetic. Times have changed, Rees acknowledges, and what was considered "sexy" in the '90s (she founded Agent Provocateur in 1994), has become less clear-cut. "Everyone has a different view on what sexy is now, compared to what it was, and I think that change is for the best," Rees says.
But when it comes to lingerie and championing the modern-day everywoman, and realistically serving every woman's physical needs, basic tank-style bras in a handful of non-specific sizes aren't necessarily the answer, especially for women who require more from their bras in terms of support. "At the end of the day, these are functional garments that do serve some kind of purpose," says ThirdLove's co-founder Heidi Zak. ThirdLove, which launched in 2013 and occupies the largest space of the market amongst the new, direct-to-consumer digital brands, equates inclusivity with sizing for all. The brand currently carries bra sizes 28-42, from AA-G (in full and half-cup sizes), with even more sizes launching soon. "It's really about the functional elements — what is the end use and how can we make something that actually works for any woman who's wearing it," Zak adds.
Likewise, as more brands expand their sizes to accommodate a wider consumer base, the more consumers demand the same of others. For example, Rihanna's newly launched Savage X Fenty line claimed size inclusivity as one of its major platforms, with sizes extending up to 3X for underwear and up to 44DD for bras. However, after fans swiftly took to social media to protest that only a limited number of styles actually came in those full ranges, the brand announced that it would indeed roll out more size offerings (though the exact sizes/styles and timing remains unclear).
The 99-piece Savage X Fenty lineup, comprising an assortment of lace-up corsets, sheer marabou-trimmed robes and rompers alongside more basic options like bras and various underwear styles in microfiber stands in stark contrast to Everlane's "no-frills" series. Likewise, ThirdLove's best-selling item is its 24/7 Classic T-Shirt bra, a nylon-spandex bra in a simple silhouette, with a few delicate flourishes. "I think beauty and comfort don't have to be separated," says Zak, who says ThirdLove strives for a balance between day-to-day wearability and a more feminine, subtly European-inspired aesthetic. The brand's tapped into a likeminded consumer base, too: its revenues have grown 400 percent year-over-year since its launch.
But ultimately, what these newer digital brands reveal is that there's no one answer for what women want to wear. That's how they're revolutionizing the category the most: by collectively offering something for everyone and empowering consumers with the freedom of choice. "Being a feminist doesn't mean you can't feel beautiful, or confident or sexy, or whatever you want to be. And that, to me, is really important," says Zak.
Homepage photo: @everlane/Instagram.