For something that mostly isn’t displayed in public, bras are ridiculously expensive when compared to the more readily fashion-oriented apparel like jeans, T-shirts, and shoes.
On the one hand, one might argue that bras are relatively straightforward and simple to make, being the tiny articles of clothing they are.
But on the other, bra design is a very complex process, requiring a lot of ticked boxes that might not be readily apparent.
Because you see, bras are not just there to cover your breasts. This one single garment has a lot of other responsibilities on its shoulder straps.
The Purpose Of A Bra
Bras are expected to hold your breasts for hours at a time and not just hold them. They need to shape them, support them, and lift them up.
As if this wasn’t enough for the poor thing, it also needs to be comfortable, long-lasting, and most of all, it should make you look gorgeous.
Now, with this long list of expectations tied to the design of your lingerie also comes a hefty paycheck for the one doing the designing.
Lingerie design (called contour fashion if you are feeling snobbish) is a highly specialized and technical field in the fashion space, often requiring 4-year degree courses and intimate knowledge of human anatomy.
Economies Of Scale
How much money you pay for your bras is also reliant upon where you buy them from.
For example, a much more luxury-oriented, lingerie-exclusive store is bound to be more expensive than a more general wholesale outlet.
This is due to a significant aspect of commercial operation called the economies of scale. It basically states that the bigger you are, the harder your prices can fall.
Walmart sells bras for as cheap as ten bucks, although if you step into a Victoria’s Secret, it’s no secret that you are in for a hefty bill.
This is because Walmart sells so many different products that lingerie makes up a very small portion of their overall sales. Thus they can sustain the slashed prices.
Victoria’s Secret, on the other hand, is pretty much making all their money from their half cups and their pull-ups, not to mention the quality gap between the two.
The Manufacturing Process
The amount of thought that goes into molding a bolt of silk or lace into a finished undergarment is staggering.
A lot of highly skilled individuals are involved in the process, from pattern-makers to fabric manufacturers.
The question that drives their feats of garment engineering is this: How can they get a few measly pieces of lace or mesh to support the weight of a woman’s breasts?
Furthermore, since the material lies directly on the skin, it has to be comfy and non-irritable as well.
Another factor affecting prices might be a material shortage.
For example, droughts in a cotton-producing country might cause a deficit in the supply and thus an increase in prices.
Cotton and silk are the most common fabrics used in lingerie, and their supply is highly dependent on the weather in the country where they are farmed.
The Components Of A Bra
The aforementioned economy of scale also comes into play when you consider that, unlike shirts and pants, bras are the product of an array of components.
Straps, clasps, adjusters, and any more make up a list of about 25 different constituents that make up your 34 and 36B’s.
Now smaller lingerie stores, which give orders of a mere hundred bras per month, are not going to get any leeway with the prices and thus have to pay for each component by themselves.
But bigger chains, which give orders of up to a hundred thousand per month, are getting those high-paying customer loyalty points.
Research And Development
It’s no surprise that higher quality materials result in higher prices.
Nowadays, human-made fabrics cooked up in a lab and designed with high-tech antibacterial, sweat-wicking, and shaping properties are all the rage.
The development of these materials requires research, and research requires money.
Some of these materials are the results of years worth of trial and error testing to conform to government standards.
The lengthier the development and testing process, the more expensive the endeavor.
And eventually, it all comes down to the customer paying for their services, as these sophisticated materials are sold for ludicrous prices on the market.
The Labour Cost
Most of what makes up the final price of the bra are labor costs, paying the ones who actually get their hands dirty putting all the pieces together, making the undergarment to lift your “spirits.”
Each and every bra or piece of lingerie is handmade in workshops resembling beehives with hundreds of worker bees chugging away on a sewing machine.
While it may be easy to assume that bras made in developing countries are of lower quality, that is most certainly not the case.
Each of these garment makers is extremely skilled at what they do. It’s just that labor costs vary from country to country.
The minimum wage for labor in the US and other countries in the West is higher than the amount paid in Bangladesh and China, for example.
All of this contributes to the final price tag you see hanging on the bra.
There’s a myth among the general populace that there’s no understandable reason for larger cup sizes to be associated with higher prices. You couldn’t be more mistaken.
Designing a bra for a heavier bust is a completely different ballgame compared to making one for a smaller chest.
This is all due to the differences in shape, orientation, and weight distribution for larger sizes.
It requires from-the-ground-up design work, unique patterns, and sturdier materials to handle the weight.
Reinforcements like side slings, interior linings, wider straps, and more seams also need to be deployed.
These changes come with their own costs, and all this adds up to a bra being more expensive than a shirt or pants, which on the surface might seem far-fetched, but in reality, it is entirely feasible.