How much should you spend on a bra? That's a hard number to nail down, since bra prices seem to be all over the place.
You can get a push-up molded cup at Walmart for under $10. Victoria's Secret sells a similar style for $48. Buy from a luxury lingerie brand like La Perla, and you might pay over $200. But does the higher price reflect greater quality? What goes into the price of a bra? What should women look for when buying lingerie?
I sat down with Ellen Lewis, industry expert and founder of Lingerie Briefs, to get some answers to these questions. With over 30 years in the intimate apparel industry, Ellen knows everything there is to know about lingerie manufacturing and retailing. As a bra wearer, she also understands the challenge of finding the best fit, style, and support for your money.
"Women need to take the same approach to buying bras as they do to buying shoes," Ellen said. "How many pairs of shoes do you own? We wear different shoes for different things. Sometimes we can afford something more glamorous. If we're on a budget, we'll shop at a shoe outlet." We try on what looks and feels best on our feet. Ellen believes, "The most important thing is how it makes you feel about yourself and your body."
Just like shoes, not all bras are created equal. Ellen points to five things women should consider when judging the price of a bra:
1) Labor costs. Manufacturing costs are lower when companies pay cheaper wages, like those found in many third world countries. Handmade items from Europe or the U.S. add to the price tag. Check labels for country of origin.
2) Number of components. Multiple laces, hooks, sliders, elastic, and wires, all drive up the price of a bra. The smaller number of pieces (few or no hooks, non-adjustable straps, wire-free) translates into lower overall costs. Add up the number of parts, including stitches, to get a sense of how much work has gone into a bra.
3) Construction. It can take up to 18 months to create and test a new bra design. Different resources are needed for "cut & sewn" versus molded cup bra styles (watch this video about the process). Bras can be made up of a few or over 50 different pieces. These individual items must all be dyed to match the same bra color. A bra style engineered to fit a B cup is often altered to support a G cup.
4) Cost of fabric and accessories. Larger lingerie brands buy in bulk and can meet the "minimum" purchase orders set by lace and fabric manufacturers (often 10,000 yards). Bras made by smaller lingerie brands are more expensive because they don't have the same buying power as these world-wide corporations.
5) Mark-up. It's tough to figure out the actual wholesale price of a garment as mark-ups can range from 50 percent to 75 percent. Even if a lingerie brand gets a great deal on labor, laces, elastic, and other pieces, there's no guarantee this discount will be passed on to consumers.
But back to Ellen's shoe analogy. We wouldn't buy a pair without trying them on first. They might pinch our toes, dig into our heels, or just look all wrong on our feet. Sometimes we buy a style to match a specific outfit, knowing we won't wear them much. We try on tons of shoes to get a sense of the qualities we prefer. Most of us have favorite brands. Why not treat lingerie the same way?
Ellen added that lingerie companies focus on different aspects of the business. Some choose to put more time and money into advertising and marketing; others concentrate on research and development; some make training and education a priority -- whether through bra fittings or enhanced customer service.
You may want to consider where a bra brand spends the bulk of their money when deciding how much you're willing to pay for their bras.
What about you? Do you stick to a budget when bra shopping? How many styles do you own? Does Ellen's advice change the way you'll look at bra buying?
This article first appeared on The Breast Life.