For Millennial Women, Undies Are ‘Hot’ Apparel

ASU Undie Run 2009

ASU Undie Run 2009

Perhaps we have Madonna to blame?

In episode three of this seasons’ ABC Family college drama, Greek, heroine Casey Cartwright took a moral stand. She campaigned to uphold a campus tradition in danger of being eliminated by the feminist-leaning sorority President: The Annual Undies Run. To her credit, Casey suffers d0ubt – is this really the issue she wants to stake her reputation on? In the end, Casey concludes the Undies run is just harmless fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Besides, her sorority sisters have some great new bras and panties they have been saving just for the occasion.

A quick Google search reveals that there are undies runs traditions at ASU, ULCA and Austin, although the UCLA tradition appears to have ended in July.  Apparently ‘art’ does imitate life.

The trend of wearing what used to be ‘unmentionables’ as fashion appears to be a growth driver for the women’s underwear industry. According to Mintel, “The U.S. women’s underwear market is worth more than $14 billion in 2008, a gain of 14.8% from 2006, and looks to continue growing … in the foreseeable future.” Mintel notes the trend toward using ‘innerwear as outerwear’ as a major factor in category growth.  Bras and panties account for three-fourths of the category. Victoria’s Secret and Hanes are the brand leaders, with more than a third of teens saying they prefer VS.

VS Pink Models Show Innerwear as Outerwear

VS Pink Models Show Innerwear as Outerwear

A quick glance at the VS Pink web site provides a good example of what Mintel calls the ‘innerwear as outerwear trend’ – bras and panties designed to be part of an overall fashion look.

As the trend to incorporate innerwear as everyday clothing articles continues, the definition of intimate apparel has widened to the degree that pants are now made from terrycloth material, much like bathrobes and nightgowns, camisoles are now considered tops instead of innerwear, and negligees are the new evening dress. The idea of scalloped-top panties peeking above jeans’ waistlines and matching bra straps with halters and dresses appears to be going strong, but there are still new ideas afoot. … Much of the new looks are inspired by fashion designers such as Max Mara and Marc Jacobs, who have utilized innerwear in their upcoming designs for 2009. Victoria’s Secret’s “Pink” label appears to help define the current innerwear styles: boyshorts, sweats, and pajamas with the Pink logo emblazoned across the rear all fall into the casual “hanging out” category, in which girls and young women spend parts or all of their days in the gear, attending classes, going to the store, shopping, and so on.”

For some Millennial teens, underwear is more than a necessity, it is a a passion. In their terrific book on Gen Y shopping motivations, Gen BuY, Yarrow and McDonnell quote a young Chicago-area shopper, Eleanor, saying “I spend more on underwear than I do on my regular clothes. I just really like underwear.” Eleanor may be extreme but she is not alone. In fact, Mintel shows that younger women spend much more than older women on undergarments.

As brands like Abercrombie & Fitch’s Gilly Hicks and VS’s Pink respond to girls’ passion for ‘lingerie’,  new categories of clothing are being created, that have little to do with comfort or support and everything to do with self-expression. Here’s how Heidi, 22, a Boston college student who owns sixty-plus bras and ‘countless panties’ puts it: “But I also felt it was my way of expressing myself and my sexual identity. I felt very sexy when my bra and underwear matched.”

Well, at least we can be happy Heidi still wears underwear. According to the New York Post, Kelly Bensimon of Gossip Girls was spotted last night with no panty lines, because she wasn’t wearing any panties.   We can only hope that trend doesn’t catch on.