When Victoria’s Secret, best known for lacy underwear and cleavage-enhancing push-up bras, first introduced a line of sports bras in 2013, it had a hard time selling them. The company didn’t specify why, but one possibility pointed out by a writer at Jezebel was that active women like her “literally do not give half a jiggling fuck about looking sexy” while doing high-impact exercise.
Victoria’s Secret appears to have learned the lesson that women—not unlike men—are looking mainly for performance and comfort in their workout gear. The company introduced “Victoria Sport” with a video on July 21, and while it still features Victoria’s Secret’s roster of well-known models, the emphasis is now on stylish athleticism, rather than just sex appeal.
In a departure from the marketing for Victoria’s Secret’s main line and the youth-focused line Pink, in which buxom models pose provocatively in lingerie, the Victoria Sport website features stylized photography of models in minimal makeup, hair tied back in pony tails as they run, stretch, and sweat in the brand’s athletic gear.
The line includes products from tank tops to performance bottoms, but the main focus is the thing Victoria’s Secret does best: “The world’s #1 bra brand has created the world’s best sports bras,” its website declares.
This appears to be a rebranding of the previous Victoria’s Secret Sport line, according to Business Insider. After cutting back on other parts of its business, Victoria’s Secret looks to be putting more emphasis on its sportswear range. We’ve reached out to the company for more information and will update this post with any reply.
Even though Victoria’s Secret has struggled to sell sports bras in the past, it makes sense to keep at it. Sports bras are no longer just for the gym—like sweats and yoga pants, they are a staple of the athleisure-obsessed millennial woman’s wardrobe. A survey by research firm NPD Group found that 41% of millennial respondents had worn a sports bra in the past seven days, compared to just 21% among non-millennials. Of sports-bra wearers, 54% used them primarily for exercise, but 46% incorporated them into their everyday wardrobe.
Victoria Sport, and its aesthetic, taps into the ideal of an active lifestyle that many US women have embraced (whether or not it fits their reality), and it also emphasizes comfort, a top priority for US clothing shoppers today. Victoria’s Secret also just released (paywall) a line of bralettes, without padding and underwire.
As NPD points out, brands that play to these demands are more likely to hold onto millennial customers as they mature, and Victoria Sport takes direct aim at competitors such as Nike and Adidas that have been doing their best to lure active women to their products. The site quotes Victoria’s Secret model Jasmine Tookes as saying, “When I tried these, I threw out all my Nike bras.”
There’s also plenty of room in the market for a brand that can make a good sports bra, a notoriously difficult technical challenge, as Racked has reported. Breasts are all composed differently, so even with the whole range of band and cup sizes, fit is a perennial problem. Many women wear the wrong size, and the underwear industry is still scrambling to address that.
A sports bra has to take into account all those factors, as well as the type of exercise a woman is doing. Breasts are made of glands, fat, and other tissue, but no muscle. The skin is their primary natural support. They bounce and move easily during exercise as result, causing pain and even limiting physical activity for some women. A woman may have different demands for the bra she uses to run and the one she uses to kickbox or go to yoga.
Victoria’s Secret claims to have applied its extensive bra expertise to solving these problems. “We make the best bras,” it claims on its website, “so we applied our expertise to create comfortable, supportive, anti-smash styles.” Key to this claim is a different approach to fit: Unlike many brands that sell sports bras in sizes XS through XL, Victoria Sport offers regular bra sizing from 32A to 40DDD, in addition to some bras offered in XS through XL sizes. And according to its bra guide, its bras reduce “bounce” by as much as 74%.
The push into athletic wear fits with the recent emphasis on athleticism at Victoria’s Secret. Its much-vaunted yearly fashion show, in which famous models stride down a runway in gravity-defying heels and feathered angel wings, was described in a 2015 Atlantic article as an Olympian display of strength and endurance. This could be seen as a step toward a slightly broader view of beauty: Of course the company still presents a traditional ideal of slender feminine beauty, but abs and toned muscles have increasingly replaced curves as a model’s most desirable traits.
The sports bra today represents all these shifts at once. It’s a lot for one garment to do, but then it’s also a lot for the women wearing them to do.