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fashion-scoops

What Lies Beneath

Cotton, Color and Cut Add Clarity to Intimates Preferences

John Gallianos sketch of Diors reindeer tree

John Galliano's sketch of Dior's reindeer tree.

Photo By WWD Staff

Does anyone wear foundation garments any more? What about bras and panties? Of course they do, but those terms reflect an outmoded mode of intimate apparel thinking. Today's offerings, and the way that women are shopping for them is all new.

"Fresh new basics are really driving our business right now," affirms Cynthia M. Kelly, president of Hanro USA, a luxury intimate apparel brand. "Today's customers are younger in their thinking and seeking more modern looks in their bras and panties."

These modern looks translate to newer cuts that wear well underneath today's apparel and offer cleaner, nearly seamless silhouettes. "Today's ready-towear market impacts the way that women are shopping for their bras and panties; you have strapless bras for tube tops, and racer backs for deeply cut sleeveless shirts and tank tops. Women want their bras to offer complete opacity under today's well fitting garments," offers Maureen Stabnau, senior vice president of merchandising for Bare Necessities, an online intimate apparel store.

Not only is there increased breadth in merchandise, but today's intimates are also serving a greater audience, Stabnau continues. "The top selling bras now come in sizes for the fuller busted woman, who used to make do with the best supportive bra she had, whether that meant her straps showed or not."

What you don't see is ultimately what defines a good undergarment, particularly in the warmer months, considers Michael Kleinman, president of Fresh Pair, an internet-based business selling various intimate apparel brands.

What fiber do you prefer for underwear
(Female respondents aged 18 to 35)
100% Cotton79%
Cotton blends4%
All other fibers9%
Do not wear underwear2%
No preference3%
Do not know4%

"The summer season is all about different solutions in bras and panties; women want undergarments that are not visible but still flatter their figures. One of the easiest solutions on top is a convertible bra, so you can move the straps around and, on the bottom, thongs and boy shorts are popular cuts that are almost cut to fit for wear with today's clothes."
Most women trust what experience has taught them about buying undergarments. According to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™, three in five female respondents aged 18-35 prefer cotton above all other fibers in their underwear and half of the same demographic prefers cotton for their bras.

"There's a very loyal customer who wants only 100 percent cotton in her undergarments," observes Stabnau. "They relate cotton to comfort and they don't want a synthetic close to their skin for that reason."

According to the NPD Fashionworld's AccuPanel, the majority of panties (57.5 percent) purchased by women aged 18 to 35 were 100 percent cotton; compared with previous years, these same women are buying more all-cotton panties on both a dollar and unit basis.

While comfortable, cotton also boasts a functional element, says Kleinman, the retailer. "High end cotton undergarments have wicking abilities and that is particularly important in terms of moisture management."

"Yes, intimate apparel is all about functionality and comfort, and we find that the Soma Intimates customer wants a fabric that will give her support and longevity, but also a wonderful hand-feel," adds Lexi Funk, brand director for the company. "All our garments feel exquisite and luxurious, but are ideally functional for everyday use."

Care is critical to the longevity of all apparel, and most women have learned hard lessons about consulting the care labels. Of the 50 percent of women who told the Monitor that they experienced apparel shrinkage, 40 percent levied blame on the laundering process. This ratio may explain why nearly 70 percent of women told the Monitor that consult garment care instructions to better understand the care involved with their apparel.

Perhaps the newest and most relevant aspect of underwear shopping is not what women are buying, but how they are buying it. The success of online retailers like Bare Necessities and Fresh Pair demonstrates that women have a confidence in their intimate apparel purchases and need not make them in the proverbial flesh.

"Convenience is a motivating factor and women like shopping online for their undergarments as it is simple, they can do it from home, find out if the garment is available in their colors and sizes with real-time messaging and make their purchase," Stabnau from Bare Necessities asserts.
It's particularly easy if a woman already knows what she wants and has a favorite brand, adds Kleinman from Fresh Pair. "Our typical customer buys multiples and if she has a brand she trusts, she not only replenishes the styles she already has, but orders new ones."

Women are definitely more comfortable with using the internet for fashion research and purchasing. Fifty-seven percent of female respondents in the first quarter of 2007 told the Monitor that they browsed the internet for apparel, up from 38 percent in the same quarter a year earlier.

"Online sales are one of the fastest growing areas," affirms Kelly from Hanro. "The customer is really responding to online product as we are learning from our retail partners."

It appears that a wider assortment, enhanced offerings, increased functionality and 24/7 access to products go a long way in building a foundation for the modern consumer looking to line her underwear drawers.

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Appearing Thursdays in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.
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