By Katie Burke
Doesn’t it seem like underwear and shapewear are having a moment? In the past two years it seems that an increasing amount of new interpretations of these items are coming onto the market and changing the game for the better. From the sexy lingerie worn by 1950s pin-ups, to Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein campaign, to the infamous Bridget Jones knickers, underwear has become synonymous with expressing how we are feeling. However, given that these items are primarily only seen by their wearers on a day to day business, why are certain underwear and shapewear brands having such a moment with consumers?
First, we need to look at what can entice people to buy nice underwear for themselves, apart from the obvious reasons why people choose to wear underwear. According to FashionPsychology.com, a website set up by Shakaila Forbes Bell (BSc., MA in Psychology for Fashion Professionals), lingerie began to transition into something to become attractive in the late nineteenth century. Since then it has evolved into a successful industry, from the eye-catching ‘Hello Boys’ Wonderbra ad starring model Eva Herzigová, the iconic early noughties Victoria Secret Shows, and the evolution of shapewear in the form of Spanx. But as the industry evolves over time, we are constantly questioning who lingerie and shapewear is really for? Is it for our own self confidence or is it for the benefit of others? For some, they can simply get a thrill from just wearing matching underwear. For others it’s to benefit someone else. According to FashionPsychology.com, in an article written by Raelynne Larson, we see underwear as a way for women to leave their comfort zone and take on a new sense of confidence or persona.
The lingerie and shapewear industries seem to have taken a turn in the past year or so and are attempting to reflect an accurate depiction of today’s society. The calling card of these up and coming brands are to instil a sense of confidence in their customers to be their best selves, whatever that may mean to the individual wearer, regardless of size, skin tone, or even if you’re on your period. There are new brands such as Savage x Fenty, SKIMS, Stripe and Stare, and ModiBodi, to name but a few. With a lack of representation being called out in many industries, it was only a matter of time before the discussion was brought to the world of lingerie and shapewear. Consumers are no longer depending solely on brands such as Victoria Secret to make them feel beautiful when they don’t see themselves in their campaigns. With their recent shows frequently sending the stereotypical tall, slim, blonde model down the catwalk, viewers are tired of seeing the same thing. They want to be excited by seeing all shapes and skin tones proving that sexiness does not simply come with being skinny, but with confidence in yourself. With their broadcasts on network television losing millions of viewers per annum, it is unsurprising that other brands which are perceived to be more inclusive are gaining more traction in their place. In a profile on Kim Kardashian West in The Wall Street Journal by Christine Brinkley, it was reported that Victoria Secret’s market share had shrunken to 24% in 2018, in comparison to the 31.7% it commanded in 2013.
So, what other brands are making their mark and grabbing the attention of consumers? First up there’s the now famous Savage X Fenty by Rihanna. Bursting onto the scene in 2018, Savage X Fenty has a distinct laissez-faire attitude with Rihanna quoted in a Vogue article as saying “I want to make people look and feel good, and have fun playing around with different styles”. From the basic T-Shirt bra to the more risqué collections, the brand has styles for an extensive range of sizes, thus showing that feeling confident in nice lingerie doesn’t stop at a certain size, but that it is how the person themselves carry it with confidence. As Rihanna is quoted as saying in the same Vogue article online, “There are really no rules with lingerie,” she explains. “Cute and edgy can live in the same collection. The line dares you to try something new while completely remaining authentic to yourself”. The first show for the label went viral on social media when it hosted a range of models from the slim Bella Hadid, to the very pregnant Slick Woods; thus, reinforcing the brands message that anyone can feel like a goddess in good lingerie.
Another celebrity’s take on this industry is SKIMS by Kim Kardashian West. In comparison to the well-known Spanx, Kardashian’s range features a more extensive colour range, a positive step in reminding society that nude comes in a variety of colours. It also ranges in size from XXS to XXXXL, and the website shows models from a US size 2 to 18, as Kardashian said that women want to see clothes in their own size. While Rihanna’s range encourages customers to be confident in letting it ‘all hang out’ so to speak, Kardashian’s brand offers a different kind of confidence. If you’re having an off day and just want to feel a bit more sucked in, then feel free to wear whatever gets you there, regardless of your size or skin colour.
Of course, there are other underwear brands making their mark without a celebrity founder. Stripe and Stare is a brand set up by two women to produce comfortable, aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly underwear. Using Lenzing MicroModal, sourced from Beechwood trees, this naturally soft fibre goes into creating soft and comfortable fabric for their products. Using 95% less water in production than cotton, this environmentally friendly brand produces high quality products, that are both comfortable and aesthetically pleasing for their customers, and also tap into the huge drive from customers for more sustainable clothing options.
ModiBodi is another brand aiming to be more sustainable but also empower women while on their period, after questioning why women’s underwear hasn’t evolved given all the recent advances in technology. Following extensive research the brand “uses high quality, tech-savvy fabrics (like Bamboo, Merino Perform Wool and Microfibre) and the latest in breathable, antimicrobial fibres antimicrobial fibres with [their] patented Modifier Technology™ – a super slim (only 3mm) stain resistant lining for modern periods and leaks, and Modifier Air Technology™ – a moisture-wicking, odour-fighting lining for getting sweaty”. I discovered this brand when I spotted some influencers and bloggers posting about it, showing that their message to make the ‘unmentionable’ more mentionable is gradually becoming more mainstream.
None of these brands are claiming to have the ultimate answer to inner confidence, but what they all do is they give their customers options to decide what confidence means to them. If you want to feel confidence by showing off your body in gorgeous underwear, then go for something like Savage X Fenty. If sucking in your wobbly bits means confidence to you, then by all means go for something like SKIMS. If you want to feel confident on your period or do your bit for the environment, then go for brands like Stripe and Stare or ModiBodi. Confidence means different things do different people, and these new brands are showing the old stalwarts of the industry that underwear can, and should be, for everyone regardless of body shape, skin colour or time of the month. After all, it’s what’s underneath that counts.