I wrote this post because I wanted to explore the different shapes that I see as customary to countries with different lingerie traditions. Of course, these are not universal, as oftentimes designs travel globally, but given my lingerie immersion, I thought I would identify some trends.
One reason that I think that lingerie is so distinctive by country is the fact that bra pattern drafting seems to be a skill disseminated in very narrow, specific ways– there are very few books on how to draft bra patterns, but it’s clear there are a wealth of ways that are passed down though schools and companies that aren’t available to consumers. Of course, plenty of companies imitate each other, even across state borders, but any themes by nation are interesting to note.
Another interesting piece of this puzzle is that American brands do not seem to have the same strong tradition of bra drafting that some of these other countries have and often pick and choose the aesthetic they embody, based on access to materials, where the product is manufactured and their own knowledge.
A good follow up would be someone with a lot of technical knowledge discussing the construction techniques that are customary in these different countries, but for now you just have me and my observations! Enjoy.
I often find French lingerie easy to identify because they have a distinctive tilt to the underwires. It’s hard to describe exactly how to identify this tilt, but whenever I talk to other bra enthusiasts, they know exactly what I’m talking about.
Part of this difference is the overwhelming preference for a divided or very narrow cradle, which decreases the ability of the bra to keep both cups in place. Additionally, many French brands (such as Chantelle, Princesse Tam-Tam or Huit) frequently use stretch-lace for the wings, which creates a more delicate and less sturdy garment.
With French bras, I primarily see sheer, darted cups or push ups with small removable pads. Many French brands also make molded cups, usually adorned with stretch lace.
Given that China is so often the place where bras designed all over the world are made, I find it fascinating that China has such a distinctive bra style of its own. Of all the bras from different countries, I find bras constructed with a Chinese style to be the easiest to identify.
The characteristics I see in Chinese bras all contribute to the goal of creating the most cleavage possible. Usually, they have a thick cradle and wing, with 4 or 5 hooks and eyes in the back. Construction is solid and durable, with molded or cut and sewn cups that sometimes even have boning in the sides in order to encourage breasts to nestle even more closely together. Strapping breasts in tightly and a balance of powerful stretch and non-stretch fabrics are key to creating what I think of as the typical ‘Chinese’ shape.
As Faye notes on Fashion, Beauty, etc. (where I also got these images of Chinese brands), the Chinese consumer prefers brighter colors and styles and you can see that reflected in the brightness of the lingerie, which often incorporates lace overlay, embroidery and patterns.
The mainstream American lingerie market must be seen through the lens of Victoria’s Secret. One interesting thing about Victoria’s Secret is the emphasis on fabric and shape innovation to improve push-up, which is something I don’t see anywhere else. Although the UK has some companies who tout their comfort innovations for bras, Victoria’s Secret is the only one for whom the pursuit of push-up is seen as a valid reason to continually introduce new fabrics and shapes.
Victoria’s Secret enthusiasm for the molded, padded push-up makes it the default shape for American bras. The emphasis on a ‘T-shirt bra’ is also seen throughout mainstream designs, with lace only used as an overlay to a molded cup. Victoria’s Secret did use sheer, darted cups in the French style for their ‘Designer Collection’ but the failure of those bras suggests that it’s a style we will be unlikely to see again soon.
Another thing to consider about the US is the popularity of the unwired bralet, such as those by Eberjey. These are basically the opposite of Victoria’s Secret in terms of shape, but it seems like it can be difficult to find something outside of these two extremes, especially for smaller busted women who have to choose between extreme padding and no padding. The only available options for full-busted women from US brands is Parfait by Affinitas or a plus size brand like Cacique.
Japanese bras also feature much padding, but it seems to be a hybrid between the French and American styles, with cleavage still being a main focus, but fewer ‘t-shirt’ options. I’ve recently been extremely into Japanese lingerie because of the gorgeous frills and girly colors. Although there is clearly a Japanese style when it comes to embellishment and coloring, there doesn’t appear to be a distinctive cup shape. I will say that I have seen a few popular cup shapes from the Japanese brand Ravijour that I have never seen before, including the push up with a round cups and a wide center gore to create a central line of cleavage between the breasts, as well as a myriad of embellished, adhesive strapless/backless bras.
The UK has one of the most diverse lingerie communities that I’ve seen, but the bra shape that I find most particular and characteristic is the very rounded 3-piece cup. Freya, Claudette, Miss Mandalay and Cleo by Panache all use this very particular shape and it is very popular for full-bust bras in particular.
Although brands from other countries (namely Poland) use this cup shape, I have seen the most variations in the UK market. Who came up with it first I do not know, but I’d love to find out.
Both Myla and Agent Provocateur are prominent luxury UK brands, but neither has a distinctive cup construction ‘style’ that I can identify, but they seem to take after their French counterparts more closely than the more affordable brands.
There are many more countries and styles I could talk about—but I think this is long enough for now. Poland is one that I definitely want to get to in an update, but I am still learning about their lingerie and don’t have quite the knowledge to pinpoint a particular style. Miss Underpinnings’ reports from her trip to Poland really help though!
Please let me know if you find this interesting or helpful or just plain crazy—I’d love to hear what you think!