- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What’s the world coming to?

It’s coming to granny underwear at a Wal-Mart near you, apparently.

That’s right, sexy underwear is giving way to basic and practical.

While Victoria’s Secret posted huge losses for the last quarter, Hanes - maker of Playtex - is gaining market share.

Maidenform, which hasn’t released its fourth-quarter earnings, is also going relatively strong, posting gains for the third quarter of 2008.

“Consumers are in the mood for basics - just as they’re letting go of the frilly extras at the grocery store, they’re also passing it up when it comes to lingerie,” said consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow. “Practical, basic, trusted, timeless - these are the types of products that feel satisfying to consumers right now.”

And feelings are what drive fashion trends - from personal emotions to the collective unconscious mood of society, said Ms. Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

“Conspicuous consumption has given way to considered consumption,” she said.

But aside from our current ill feelings about the frilly as opposed to the basic, there is also a real price tag difference between Playtex and Victoria’s Secret. The former typically offers bras at between $15 and $20, while a typical Victoria’s Secret bra costs about $48.

Marcia Mogelonsky, a senior research analyst at Mintel International Group Ltd., a market research group, said she thinks the fact that Victoria’s Secret is losing customers while the lower-end lingerie brands like Hanes and Maidenform are doing better has to do with real finances.

“People who went to Victoria’s Secret were the same people who bought the entry-level Coach bag and went to Ann Taylor Loft,” Ms. Mogelonsky said. “They were in the aspirational category. They aspired to wear what people above them wore, but they couldn’t. But they had a credit card.”

And now, with levels of personal debt mounting, credit is drying up.

“I think the aspirationals are the hardest hit,” Ms. Mogelonsky said.

The rich, she said, will keep buying their La Perla bras (which can typically be had for about $250), and Wal-Mart and Target shoppers will still go for the $15 Playtex bra.

But the aspirational consumer who bought a new bra with every style change is hurting, she said.

“I think this is more about real finances than it is about psychology,” she added. “Three months ago it was about psychology. Now it’s real.”

Real frumpy.

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