Underwear makes up 4% of womenswear products currently retailing online across the US and UK markets combined. While this may seem small, on a global scale, lingerie is expected to reach $78.66bn in 2027, making that 4% worth owning.Few categories have seen such significant shifts over time as lingerie. The pandemic accelerated the already-popular comfort dressing movement, propelling soft cup silhouettes into the spotlight. Consumer demand for inclusivity in sizes and shades has been met by viral DTC brands like Parade and SKIMS, forcing legacy players to finally up their game or fade into obscurity.
To trade in this space, retailers need to champion sustainability and diversity, as well as be elastic with prices to react to a volatile market currently feeling the squeeze of inflation. Luckily, EDITED has the tools to help you achieve all this and more.
Get in touch now to take the guesswork out of planning, pricing and phasing assortments for your category using the power of EDITED's SaaS connected Cloud Commerce Platform.
Despite a return to events, demand for comfort is still strong, with retailers increasing their investment in sports bras by 9% and bralettes by 4% YoY. Push-up bras have experienced a two-year decline, down 15% YoY and 25% vs. 2020.
It’s paramount that retailers embed diversity in all aspects of their business and not just as a box-ticking exercise. Darker shades of nude underwear now equal 56% of skin-tone underwear in the US, up from 42% a year ago. However, the UK is lacking with lighter beige hues accounting for 72% of nude products.
In terms of body diversity, big brands have made a greater effort to be more inclusive of fringe sizes such as 2XS, 2XL and 3XL. Yet, core sizes XS-XL remain the most catered-to, while men’s plus size underwear remains a relatively untapped space.
To address sustainability, retailers have invested in period pants which have skyrocketed 273% YoY. The number of recycled bras in stock has surged 266% YoY, though only 15% are described as “100% recycled” for either the whole garment or components, which could suggest potential greenwashing if blended with other fibers that aren’t as responsible.
With cotton prices inflating, products described with 100% cotton components have risen 10% in the US, and 22% in the UK, YoY. Breaking down by style level reveals opportunities to adjust pricing for thongs, which are currently underpriced and experiencing the highest number of sell outs at $25.
Image via Savage x Fenty
Comfort’s reign continues
A trend noted for several years now, lingerie styles have evolved away from the bust-boosting bra styles popularized in the 90s to reflect modern consumers' lifestyles centered on comfort and functionality. COVID-19 contributed further to the decline of the push-up bra. With sleepwear, activewear and loungewear’s emergence as the darlings of pandemic dressing, lingerie that straddled these categories became the MVPs.
Even in a post-lockdown age, these trends continue to thrive. Across both mass market brands and pure play active retailers, investment in sports bras has grown 9% YoY and 20% vs. 2020. Comfort remains an underlying factor in this product’s success, with non-restrictive attributes driving sell outs. Buoyed by cult brands SKIMS and Gymshark, seamless sports bras have been prominent in 2022's buys, equalling 53% and 48% of sports bras at boohoo and PrettyLittleThing respectively.
Further reading: What's Shaping The Sports Bra Market?
Not only limited to activewear, consumer’s penchant for comfort continues to shape key bra silhouettes. Serving both the comfort and sexy dressing trend, retailers are backing bralettes for both inner and outer wear. Since 2020, wireless styles have increased 24% and 4% YoY. While softer shapes take over, push-ups have been pushed down. They have declined 15% YoY and 25% compared to 2020, further proof comfort and functionality are winning right now.
This softer approach is also evident in shapewear. The impact of COVID has seen this category evolve from an occasion to a lifestyle item with core assortments now made up of high-waist briefs, bike short silhouettes and bodysuits. Fashion's cultural reset has led to retailers phasing out describing shapewear properties as "slimming," a term attached to only 9% of stocked items vs. 12% a year ago. Instead, the terminology has been repositioned around "smoothing," "firming," and "sculpting" qualities, emphasizing seamless styles with “comfort” a descriptor on 29% and 27% of products in the US and UK, respectively.
Further reading: The Retailer's Guide To Succeeding In Shapewear
This doesn't mean the end of flirty and seductive silhouettes. Black lace and sexy cut-out sets were among the top performing styles on Valentine's Day.
Are you an EDITED Customer? Log in to get exclusive access to the report Valentine’s 2022 - What Sold?
Send nudes…in every shade
More retailers are waking up to "nude" referencing a vast range of shades, setting a new precedent for inclusivity across skin tones. Several digitally native brands have entered the playing field with diversity baked into their brand ethos. SKIMS offers nine neutral hues, while Heist has developed seven shades of nude, covering over 1,000 unique skin tones. To compete, US brands have seen a more significant shift towards stocking underwear inclusive of darker nudes. Shades on the spectrum of brown are most dominant, making up 56% of underwear, up from 42% a year ago.
However, the UK market tells a different story. Despite brands like Simply Be and Marks & Spencer designing underwear in various flesh-toned shades, the majority of tones in this market is still geared towards lighter bisque hues, equalling 72% of products. This signifies that there is still work to be done to make intimates more inclusive of skin tones.
EDITED pinpoints the shades retailers are investing in by using retail analytics and image recognition technology. Reach out to see this function in action.
Given the state of the environment, sustainability can no longer be ignored by retailers. With underwear worn daily and an essential in all consumers’ wardrobes, it's a category that requires a serious eco overhaul due to the disposable nature of cheap underwear, excessive dyes and the use of petroleum-based fabrics.
As an environmentally-friendly alternative to single-use sanitary products, the menstrual underwear market has continued to garner attention and gain momentum. Period pants in stock have seen a 273% increase compared to 2021, with styles introduced at Victoria's Secret PINK, J.Crew, Next and Marks & Spencer.
Similar to the wider market, recycled materials continue to make up the bulk of sustainably-described underwear products in stock. Bras described as recycled have swelled 266% YoY, with brands like Aerie, Monki and Gap growing their investment. Of the recycled products available, 70%-79% recycled content is the most common, with 30% of styles falling here. Just 15% of styles feature “100% recycled” in their description for either the whole garment or particular components, as noted at Tezenis, For Love & Lemons x Victoria's Secret and Free People.
Using recycled materials isn’t the only measure of a product or company's sustainability efforts and shouldn’t be seen as the bare minimum. Retailers need to be tackling the environmental crisis from multiple angles - not just their products' care and composition label, but also extending to the emissions within their value chain, what happens to their products at the end of their lifespan and the welfare of their garment workers.
Size does matter
As a category synonymous with sex appeal, major lingerie brands have rewritten their narratives to represent a broader audience. There's been a striking shift away from advertising geared towards cis straight men to products designed with comfort in mind, more gender diversity and inclusive sizes. As barriers break down across fashion, the lingerie sector has been one of the fastest adapting categories. In addition to Victoria's Secret’s extremely public image makeover, the brand also increased the proportion of styles stocked in fringe sizes like 2XS and 2XL and introduced options in a 3XL.
Image via Victoria's Secret
Similarly, Gap US and Monki UK have included more underwear options in a 2XL vs. last year. Despite these efforts, all these brands are still focusing on serving core sizes like XS-XL. Retailers unsure about the payoff of inclusive sizing only need to look at Savage X Fenty and SKIMS. These labels have an equal distribution across sizes, allowing customers to purchase the same products regardless of body shape. Recently, Savage X Fenty secured $125mn in funding to expand to brick-and-mortar, while SKIMS doubled its valuation to $3.2bn.
While diverse body shapes have been somewhat embraced in women's underwear campaigns, they are noticeably lacking for men. Despite the average US male having a 40-42 inch waist (usually an XL in underwear, though it may vary depending on brands), retailers continue to prioritize casting lean and muscular male models. Once again, Savage X Fenty has disrupted this space, including plus size male models in its runway shows and product campaigns to accompany its menswear range, where all underwear styles are available between XS and 3XL.
Further reading: How Inclusive & Sustainable Is Underwear?
Prices have inflated
Due to ongoing supply chain bottlenecks impacting raw materials and shipping costs, all categories have faced various inflation levels. Underwear is no exception. Its reliance on cotton, which is at a ten-year high, has led to products made with 100% cotton components hiking 10% in the US, and 22% in the UK, YoY. Alongside the aforementioned growing demand for comfort styles and sustainable innovation, retailers are going to need to make smarter price adjustments to align with these market shifts.
In the US market, 16% of bikini cuts and 15% of briefs and thongs in stock over the past three months were priced under $5. Yet, all three of these styles have seen higher sell out percentages at deeper price points, a clear example of unnecessary margin erosion.
Instead, briefs are most successful selling between $15-$20, as noted with NA-KD's high-waist lace panties at $16.95. For thongs, the pricing sweet spot can be elevated up to $25, as per SKIMS offering thongs between $20-$22, while H&M justifies a $24.99 price point with seamless multipacks. The same proportion of boy short styles has sold between $5-$10 and $40-$45. To elevate prices, retailers can capitalize on comfort's command by investing in premium materials like Pointelle and Modal.
Meanwhile, men’s underwear has also felt the impact of inflation, with the average full price of individual boxers rising 9% YoY to £8.25. This is also reflected in the US, with prices climbing 5% to $20.31.
At retailer level, Bershka (UK) inflated the price of its three-pack boxers by £3 to £17.99 since 2021 despite having the same 76%/77% cotton composition. Abercrombie & Fitch occupies the exit spot in the US after introducing a new 12-pack offering last August at $118. Meanwhile, UNIQLO has kept its pricing architecture the same for the past three years, positioned tightly between £5.90/$9.90-£9.90/$14.90.
Further reading: Retail Solutions For Perfecting Underwear Pricing
Multiple product styles at various price points and so many factors to consider make lingerie a tricky area to unpack. EDITED can help simplify this category, giving you the power to make the best decisions for your brand using real-time data.
Want more solutions to everyday retail challenges delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for our weekly Insider Briefing.