This month is Bluestockings’ six month birthday. (Yay!) In anticipation of our birthday, I’ve put together a two-part series reporting on our sales over the last six months. Those in the lingerie industry will recognize that I’m taking inspiration from my friend Erica Windle, owner of the North Carolina boutique A Sophisticated Pair, who writes a yearly sales report for her boutique.
It is rare for a boutique owner to report on which sizes and styles sell and which don't. Much is shrouded in secrecy for customers, who are left wondering why boutiques stock some sizes, styles, and brands and not others.
I’ve written about the inventory selection process here at Bluestockings before, but now, having six months of sales data to mine (and as we approach Christmas!), I wanted to go a little more in depth so as to really help elucidate why I’m bringing in some new things and not others.
This week, we’re tackling Tops, which means binders, soft bras (bralettes), and underwire bras. For the purposes of this report, I’ve also included cage bras and harnesses as tops.
A Quick Note on Size Categories + Confidence
In this post, I'll refer often to categories in the bra world like "core" sizes, "full bust," "plus size," and "small bust." I'm going to refer to what are, for me as a retailer, sizing benchmarks for these categories, but I want to affirm that you should use whatever words you want to (or don't want to) use. Consider this the ex-academic in me coming out that wants to "define terms" at the start of a paper to make sure we're all on the same page, and my words may not be your words. For the purposes of this blog post:
"Core" Sizes: 32-36 B-D (sometimes counts DD) - generally regarded by the lingerie industry as bestselling bras; sizes you can find everywhere
Full Bust: 28-34 bands, above a DD/E cup
Plus Size: 36 band and up, above a DD cup
Small Bust: 28 and 30 bands A-DD; 32-36 A cups; 38 bands and up A-C cups (sometimes also called large back/small cup)
I also want to disclose, right out of the gate, that personally I wear a range of sizes under the full bust and plus size categories. Wearing a variety of sizes is normal! (One of my favorite blog posts of all time is You Are Not a Cup Size by full bust blogger Sweet Nothings.)
Your body is beautiful, and nothing - NOTHING - should make you feel feel ashamed of it.
I'm also not here to tell you that you're wearing the wrong bra size. That statistic has been used to bully people, especially women, into guilt-purchasing and it is one of the most shameful tactics the lingerie industry employs. Every person should be wearing the underthings that are most affirming to their body, their identity, their values, their style. And y'know, sometimes that means that the fit isn't the best.
(Yes, I'm a boutique owner and I said it's okay if your bra doesn't fit perfectly - binders are a little bit different, for safety reasons.)
If your underthings make you feel 100% your best self, that is the most important thing.
So yes, today, we are talking about what sizes sell. But at the end of the day, my hope is that my customers end up with underthings that make them feel their best self. Yes, a well fitting bra can have a transformative impact on your wardrobe. But you can't beat confidence.
Confidence wins - every time.
Finding #1: Soft Bras & Binders > Underwire
Underwire bras are the bread and butter of most traditional brick and mortar lingerie stores - so it might come as a surprise to y'all (or not) that this alternative, decidedly non-traditional lingerie store does far better in the other direction.
I knew soft bras ("bralettes") and binders sold better, but it was really surprising (in a good way) to see the numbers and realize that they outsold underwire bras nearly two to one. I knew that soft tops were more popular than underwire, but realizing just how much more popular they were has definitely inspired me to completely reassess a few orders I was contemplating this week--especially since so many of the underwire bras only sell on sale.
Finding #2: "Core" band sizes sell. Others... don't.
I don't expect to make friends here, but 85% of the underwire bras that did sell were a 32, 34, or 36 band.
Only 12% were a 30 or 38 band.
3% were 28 or 40. (All of which only sold on sale.)
I stock 42 bands... to date, no sales there.
The graph shows the % of sales each band size accounted for in the underwire category
I am very aware that inventory selection affects this. There are only 5 bras available for 30 bands across A-G cups. There are 13 bras available in varying cup sizes, A-G, for 34 bands. But the difference in demand, full priced sales, and speed of sale is staggering.
Bluestockings launched with a 28-42 band range. Looking back, that was a mistake; I should have focused on a smaller range and just taken the heat (after all, I got plenty of criticism anyway - folks didn't think that 28-42 was a wide enough range, even though fellow industry professionals raised their eyebrows and told me, "Good luck.")
Given where sales are, I would rather build into my existing band range, offering more options per cup size and also offering more options for full busted customers, rather than trying to invest in people who aren't buying.
A HUGE caveat to this: remember that only 1/3 of the bra & binder sales were underwire. A high number of my small busted and "in between" sized customers have transitioned to soft bras.
Finding #3: Core band sizes are consistently popular with soft bras and binders, too.
Y'all can see that the size distribution mirrors the underwire band size - and this is for a reason
When it comes to the alphabetical scaling, every designer has their own way of doing things... to an extent. Generally speaking, within US sizing, S = 32 bands, M = 34 bands, and L = 36 bands. XS = 30 and XL = 38. So you can see that there is a strong correlation between the sales distribution of underwire bras vs. soft bras/bralettes and binders.
Cup sizes are much harder to guess based on this chart - I wouldn't attempt it. A brand like On the Inside or Sophie Hines recommends only A&B cups; harMonica makes different bralettes for A-C and D/DD. I've seen people up to an 32 E or F wear the Anais Bralette by BlackBird Underpinnings. Cup size really varies with soft bras and is also heavily dependent on your own breast shape and breast tissue.
Finding #4: The underwire cup size range is all over the place - predictably.
The graph shows the % of sales each band size accounted for in the underwire category
I'm gonna be real with you all: I'm honestly still figuring out the right amount of each cup size to offer, and that kind of all over the place, throw it at the wall and see if it sticks approach definitely shows in this chart. (Like, how on earth are C cups not that popular? How is that humanly possible?)
Full busted and plus size underwire-wearing folks looking at this chart and full-out groaning: I hear you. As someone who has sizes like 34G, 34GG, 34H, and 36FF in my regular rotation (which are, by varying definitions, full busted and plus sizes in the bra world), I want to offer those options in Bluestockings. But as a very new store, that might not be feasible, especially given the pretty severe sales drop off between F and G (which is directly due to the cup size options in the brands I stock). Many "full bust" options also experience a "cut-off" between F and G cups (a manufacturing challenge lingerie professionals far more experienced than I have written about in detail). Moreover, and to my unending frustration, it's extremely difficult to find underwire bras that are ethically manufactured, particularly for full bust and plus size (see: the Bluestockings Ethical Manufacturing & Sustainability Policy).
So, this is something I'm thinking about when I look at the gorgeous new winter collection from one of my brands but then am like, oh fuck,
- I want it!
- But full bust and plus sizes aren't selling so I want to bring those in but ugh I really shouldn't.
- But do I really want to be THAT RETAILER who brings in yet another bra in just core sizes and lets people down AGAIN even though it won't sell in certain sizes?
- (Because I don't have the budget to have dead stock sitting around for representational purposes, y'all. I wish I did.)
- And also, can I really afford to drop $1000 plus shipping on a new line of bras that may not sell at full price?
- Nope. Okay. Maybe next year.
That's basically been my conversation with myself over and over for the last month.
Finding #5: Nubian Skin sells. (This finding is for other retailers specifically.)
We all need to #boycottnude already and own up to the fact that when a brand manufactures one "nude" shade that's white woman nude, they are telling everyone that their ideal customer is a white woman. (Which is why I will never stock any item that's called "nude" here at Bluestockings.)
It's not that complicated, y'all. So are we honestly surprised that Nubian Skin has exploded the way they have, and that their bras actually sell?
Their bras are some of my bestsellers, p.s. But here are my top five bestselling tops, cause you asked.
The common denominator between #2-4 is that all have a wide size range. The Dessous by Claudette goes from 30-38, B-F. The TSV Strapless comes in XS/S, M/L, and XL/XXL options. The TSV Half Binder goes from XS-2X. The Cage Bra from Origami Customs goes from XS-3X.
I think this is important. Even though the majority of sales for these items may be in the "core" size range, the sales in plus sizes, in particular, are deeply important to mark.
The "you have to make it available for people to buy" is real. The "PLUS" page that is now visible in the header at the top of the website gets a lot of views. People have to know you've got stuff that's available for them.
Cut back on underwire
- With the exception of Nubian Skin, the majority of underwire sales have been on sale.
- Underwire bras take up over 50% of Bluestockings' physical storage space.
- Sales at this time don't justify expanding the size range.
More soft bras
- Soft bras hit many marks: they're easier to store and also easier to ethically and sustainably manufacture.
- Bringing in more soft bras in plus sizes is a smarter, more cost-effective risk than bringing in an entire run of an underwire style.
Wait it out
- This is only the first six months' of data. (Almost - this was the data as of October 6.) Time will tell if these trends continue.
What do you think? Did these statistics surprise you? What do you hope to see at Bluestockings in the future?
P.S. Stay tuned for the round up of bottoms, loungewear, and other extras next week!