Source: American Eagle Outfitters

Little Bras Are Lifting Sales for American Eagle

The mall retailer’s Aerie bralettes are all the rage.

Bralettes are undoubtedly having a fashion moment. But are they here to stay?

That’s the “million-dollar question,” according to Jennifer Foyle, president of lingerie retailer Aerie. Lightweight and breezy, bralettes are a more comfortable alternative to padded bras with underwire—and they’re what the label is best known for. 

Aerie, and parent company American Eagle Outfitters Inc., got a jump-start on other lingerie sellers by specializing in less-lined bras just as the trend took hold last year. The success in bralettes has been a coup for Aerie, with the styles leading the way to six straight quarters in double-digit jumps in comparative store sales.

“There’s a whole runway here as far as the lightly lined categories and unlined categories that I think are going to be strong and will continue to be strong,” Foyle said on a conference call with analysts on Wednesday.

This is all good news for American Eagle, which despite a cheerless holiday earnings forecast Wednesday has been resurgent over the past 12 months after a few years of ailing sales. A revived denim business is largely credited with sparking the retailer’s renaissance, but Aerie’s surge means it may play a more important role in the company’s performance come 2017.

Vertical Bralet for Inline
Source: American Eagle Outiftters Inc.

Aerie “forms a smaller part of the business and is still a relatively immature concept,” wrote Neil Saunders, chief executive of retail consultancy Conlumino, in a note to clients. “However, both things mean that Aerie has a lot of runway for further growth, despite its run of stellar performances. We expect the momentum within this part of the business to continue into the final quarter and beyond.”

Lingerie trends tend to last three to four years, said Cora Harrington, who runs the Lingerie Addict website. Bralettes started gaining traction a few years ago through indie designers and Etsy, then popped up at such European retailers as H&M and Asos. Aerie, alongside such social media stars as Kendall Jenner, helped popularize the look in the U.S. Now everyone from Target Corp. to Calvin Klein is pushing bralettes as they try to take advantage of the hot items. But fashion trends are always vacillating, and it remains unclear what will come next.

“We really haven’t seen a clear next trend emerge,” said Harrington. “But I wonder, now that customers see that it’s OK for them to wear these unlined bras, maybe we’ll continue in this direction—but with more support.”

So for now, it’s still all about the bralette. Even Victoria’s Secret, longtime peddler of sex-infused pushup bras, has jumped on the bandwagon in an attempt to fend off its rivals. It sent e-mails to shoppers telling them that “no padding is sexy.” This holiday season, window displays at Victoria’s Secret stores and its Pink sister shops are both chock full of bralettes, according to Cowen & Co. analyst Oliver Chen.

Meanwhile, Aerie’s Foyle provided analysts a cryptic preview of where her brand’s bra designs are headed as the bralette trend begins to morph.

“We certainly hit on the trend, but we believe that there’s a market change in the intimates business going forward,” said Foyle. “We think there are some big trends coming our way out there.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.