Why Are Plus-Size Bras More Expensive?
Bra shopping is already an uncomfortable experience but now we have to ask why larger sized bras are more expensive than their smaller bra size counterparts. The easiest way to answer that is they should not be. In reality, it is not really that much more in material consumption assuming the designs are the same. Labor is the exact same cost. Marketing should not need to change. Demand should technically even be higher for the larger sizes. So why do brands consistently claim this as the reason they do not expand into wider sizes? We broke down several excuses and took a deeper look into this unfortunate trend.
Plus-size, as it relates to bras in the United States, is a moving target. Statistically speaking, 70% of women are a D cup or above. The average dress size is a 14/16 which is the equivalent of a 44/46 bra band. Every major brand has announced a push towards inclusivity within the past five years but even with all of their resources, Lululemon (42DD), Nike (44DD), Altheta (42DD) do not reach the median. Those who launched extended size lines often put them only online or worse, they priced them higher in stores. Old Navy, for instance, charges more for their coveted extended women’s sizes, but does not follow the same pricing for men’s. Bra size price discrepancy is ever more prevalent, So then why are bras specifically in extended sizes costing consumers more? Marketing, inventory and for some brands that focus on it, design changes.
For some of the more simple designs that you find at a mass retailer like Walmart or Target, it can be two pieces of inexpensive fabric sewn together. But for a technical product like for instance a Bloom Bra, there are 36 components from strap adjusters to cup cinchers and a strong base layer to replace harmful underwire. Plus, mass merchants like KMart and VIctoria Secret are buying hundreds of thousands of a few sizes. That factory is making practically the same bra style for many of those retailers so they are recognizing economies of scale. When you get into the larger sizes, there are many more variables. Without that volume, economies of scale will not be met. The end product is driven by costs so not a ton of R & D or specialized materials are used as a result.
A pair of D-cup breasts can weigh up to 15 and 23 pounds. That is the size of a small child or dog. A 3 pound weight would be carried differently than a 12 pound weight. The breasts are no different. A good bra should pull the weight from the front up to the back. 90% of the weight falls onto the underwire in a bra and causes pressing and pulling. Plus, that weight is the cause of the red lines and the digging into the shoulders we, women face. Thicker straps and and heavier materials are used to bare the heaviness of the breast.
The comments on social media for fat shaming are enough to make anyone’s blood boil. It gives us such pleasure to watch the rise of body positivity sites and communities. Business Insider famously ousted Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO Mike Jeffries “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told the site. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” The athletic wear industry is predicted to hit almost $350 Billion this year. The plus size fashion industry is estimated to hit $14 billion. A Huffington Post article exposed ex-employees hiding larger sizes “this treatment of larger clothes and customers reflects the culture that Lululemon represents — one that falsely suggests skinniness is the paramount feature of health.” All of this brings us to the next point of marketing.
Brands like have been essentially printing money for years. They have been showing the same images of the aspirational Nike-esque models. Every few years, they make a change in the sports bra category to add a new feature or color. The advertising changes focus to a new demographic for a season. And yet, it is usually short-lived. If they start to cater to new markets, the brand will need to up to triple their inventory which drastically negatively affects the bottom line. In addition, they will need to change imagery to be more inclusive. Mannequins will need to be updated to showcase the new product line (see Nike’s plus size line from 2019). The messaging to get this additional target consumer into the store must be altered. It is not easy and goes against their tried and true strategy. This adds cost to the product which is passed along to, you guessed it, the consumer. Bras are more expensive than any other item in the athletic apparel area to begin with. Now add these additional costs and the final price becomes unreachable for the masses.
Often low cost bras do not focus on comfort which is extremely important especially for the well-endowed who are not often found without a bra on during the day who want something soft or durable. The hooks, wires, fasteners are likely to be plastic instead of metal without lining. Plus scaling is often off. Creating a pattern to fit a 34G, they’re taking the pattern created for, say, a 32B and just making it bigger. If you put those women next to each other, they will look and hold different. There are more variables when you add in girth. The budget needs to be higher for development for materials that will hold up the weight with a directive towards fit. Materials are softer, more luxurious, unique and will be built to last longer.
Athleticwear deemed “athleisure” has been growing exponentially with no sign of slowing down with one report estimating that the athleisure market alone will see an increase of $80 billion by 2024 according to Technavio. Julianne Ruckman, sports bra designer, told Outside. "We used to fit bras by cranking [the measuring tape] as tight as possible without breaking a rib." Innovation paired with demand has changed the game. More and more women have taken to wearing a sports bra to provide support all day - especially during pandemic times for comfort versus going bra-free entirely. "Our breasts are made up of ligaments and tissue. Over time, that movement of going up and down contributes to the stretching in that area," Jené Luciani Sena, author of "The Bra Book," told Real Simple. "Most women don't want to have saggy breasts; not only for aesthetic reasons, but a comfort reason. It can be painful!"
The biggest issue is really if you are wearing an ill-fitting sports bra. "Not enough support, and the continuous compression of muscles in the neck like the upper traps, levator scapulae, and pectoral muscles can cause chronic postural overload," Emily Kiberd, a chiropractor, told Vogue. "This will place excess strain on the structures of the neck leading to tension headaches; muscle tightness; short, shallow breathing; anxiety; and nerve pain." According to website www.thelist.com A too-tight sports bra could also potentially lead to skin problems. Dr. Tutela told Real Simple, "Any tighter compressive garment that isn't taken off can lead to some irritation such as a rash, and even a fungal infection." So if you do not need the compression and support of a high-impact sports bra all day, try out a low-impact style or a bralette to get many of the same benefits without the discomfort.
The fact is that sports bras and traditional bras for curvy women should not be any more expensive than their quality counterparts. Brands who understand the needs and desires of modern women of today should be able to utilize spending power, marketing dollars and innovative resources to close the gap. And until they do, they should be willing to split the difference between the smaller and larger sizes as a way to show their consumers that they care. It is the only way that change will happen. Retailers also should be responsible for making sure that their loyal customers and underserved markets have equal opportunities for sizing at fair pricing. Material improvements, durable hardware and expert sewing should not be specifically for the larger breasted women. So the next time that you go into a store and see an expensive bra or sports bra, take a look at the construction and seam work knowing that was hand produced unlike t-shirts, pants, socks and other assorted items.
Bloom Bras has the mission to empower women of all shapes, sizes and stages of life to feel good while moving. We focus on inclusivity in our sizing and photography with bras ranging from a 28C - 56L all with the same costing.