US Bra Sales Statistics,  1960 - 1982

 

by

Roger K

 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

Discussion of the Bra Sales Table

   Table: Annual US Bra Sales in Thousands

Discussion of Bandeau Bra Sales Trends

   1.    Strapless bras sales declined sharply in the sixties

   2.    Padded bra sales rose sharply (117%) in the sixties, then reversed

   3.    Sales all bras declined during 1975, a probable anomaly

Discussion of Longline Bra Sales Trends

   1.    Longline sales declined by 2/3 from 1967 through 1977

 

 

Discussion of the Bra Sales Table

On the next page is a table of sales figures for various categories of bras. Unfortunately, the Census Bureau wasn’t farsighted enough to include the category “underwired,” which would have been of most interest to us historians.

 

Column Headings

 

1.      Year.

2.      Regular (in other words, unpadded bras with straps).

3.      Padded, including contour-lined.

4.      Strapless or convertible.

5.      Total of Bandeaus (the non-longline items above, 2–4).

6.      Longlines, defined as “with band 3 inches or more, excluding bra-lettes [torsolettes, or Merry Widows].” (The Census Bureau retained the term (dating from before WWI of “brassiere” for longlines, and also the old term “bandeau” for non-longline bras. This parallels the way “girdle” used to mean only “open girdle” or “straight girdle,” with “panty-girdle” having to spell out its deviation from the norm.)

7.      Total of All bra-types. This figure differs from the Census Bureau’s total, because I have categorized “bra-lettes” (torsolettes, or Merry Widows) as shapewear (since their main purpose was to squeeze the waist) and placed them in the girdle category. See my other article.

8.      Longline sales as a % of Total bra sales.

 

 

Regular

Padded

Strapless

TOTAL: Bandeau

Longlines

TOTAL: All

Longlines     as %  of Total

1960

130,704

30,516

13,848

175,068

18,456

193,524

9.5

1961

138,216

33,648

13,632

185,496

17,280

202,776

9.0

1962

143,652

35,484

12,876

192,012

17,088

209,100

8.2

1963

142,380

35,412

7,824

213,204

17,712

230,916

7.7

1964

155,904

42,924

7,080

205,908

17,196

223,104

7.7

1965

158,412

48,864

6,756

214,032

17,724

231,756

7.7

1966

164,652

57,120

5,448

227,220

18,216

245,436

7.4

1967

165,180

61,476

5,232

231,888

16,404

248,292

6.6

1968

167,100

66,324

5,556

238,980

16,260

255,240

6.4

1969

166,992

63,168

4,608

234,768

15,744

250,512

6.3

1970

158,436

51,276

4,104

213,816

14,016

227,832

6.2

1971

155,784

55,368

3,696

214,848

14,076

228,924

6.1

1972

158,292

54,360

4,260

216,912

14,952

231,864

6.4

1973

157,104

51,720

5,748

214,572

12,720

227,292

5.6

1974

143,256

51,348

5,340

199,944

8,556

208,500

4.1

1975

126,828

43,884

4,752

175,464

8,076

183,540

4.4

1976

137,352

51,456

6,432

195,240

7,488

202,728

3.7

1977

136,056

53,544

9,252

198,852

6,192

205,044

3.0

1978

130,248

53,736

11,976

195,960

6,108

202,068

3.0

1979

141,816

51,228

11,424

204,468

6,804

211,272

3.2

1980

133,464

58,284

12,648

204,396

7,308

211,704

3.5

1981

135,876

55,596

12,552

204,024

6,948

210,972

3.3

1982

131,148

51,096

11,520

193,764

6,120

199,884

3.1

 

Table:  Annual US Bra Sales in Thousands
 

 

Discussion of Bandeau Bra Sales Trends                           

1.  Strapless bras sales declined sharply in the 60's

1970 sales were only 30% of those of 1960. This presumably indicated a decline in interest in dressing up for special occasions where formal strapless gowns were worn, like proms and so forth, and an increasing focus on everyday clothing. The same trend away from the centrality of formal affairs is indicated by the even sharper decline in the sales of torsolettes (Merry Widows)—1970 sales were only 22% of those of 1960.

 

2.  Padded bra sales rose sharply (117%) in the 60's, then reversed

This compares to a rise of only 28% for non-padded bras. This was part of a strong trend toward the acceptance of more artificiality in everyday dress. (E.g., makeup was more often worn as an everyday item, and much more often worn by schoolgirls. Most schoolgirls got their ears pierced and therefore regularly wore earrings, which they hadn’t done in the 50s. Etc.) Following 1968 this trend was reversed by a new trend toward naturalness and authenticity: by 1974 padded sales had fallen 23%, compared to a decline of 14% in non-padded bras.

3. Sales of all bras declined in 1975, a probable anomaly

Sales of all categories of bras fell sharply in 1975, but three of those categories rebounded just as sharply to their previous levels in 1976. I suspect there was some anomaly in the data collection process—e.g., one or more companies may have gone bankrupt or been taken over and had failed to report their sales at the end of the year. So I would assume figures for the three categories that rebounded hadn’t actually declined.

Since bankruptcies were ongoing throughout the 70s, the likely failure of many of these firms to report their sales to the Census Bureau in the first quarter of the next year may well have artificially depressed sales figures for several years. So foundation sales probably declined a little less sharply in the 70s than they are thought to.

 

Discussion of Longline Bra Sales Trends                

Longline bra sales declined by from 1967 through 1977

Longlines were usually sold for use in conjunction with high-waist girdles worn by older women. (They concealed the ridge of the girdle and the bulge above it.) Longlines sales held steady through 1966—but that meant their share of the bra market declined, because overall bra sales were rising. This indirectly supports the view that the increase in girdle sales in that period was not due to women who regularly wore girdles adding to their girdle wardrobes as a result of rising prosperity, but rather to younger women wearing girdles more often, and starting at a younger age.

Sales of regular bras over the next nine years, from 1966 to 1975, declined by about 25%, but sales of longlines fell more than twice as sharply, by 55%. This was only a bit more than the roughly 50% rate of decline in sales of girdles and other foundations during those same years. Because longlines were a girdle accessory and were primarily worn by women over 35, this suggests that it was primarily girdles that were being “burned” during this period, not bras.

The stabilization of longline sales at the six million level after 1978 was probably due to the arrival of waist-length “posture bras.” (It’s a pity the Census Bureau figures didn’t split them out, because they aren’t really figure-forming items, or “foundations.”)