Lisa Mullan, who in a previous life helped usher HubSpot through its IPO, got her start making “beautiful, functional” silk undies because she didn’t want to choose between style and comfort.
Local lingerie purveyors say they are seeing a lift in part thanks to the blitz of Instagram ads from direct-to-consumer brands like ThirdLove, Lively, and Cuup that use algorithms, quizzes, and “fit therapists” to help women find their perfect size.
Meredith Amenkhienan and Rachel Wentworth, owners of the Forty Winks boutique in Harvard Square, will celebrate a decade in the lingerie business in April, and said they had their strongest year in 2019.
The “better fit” messaging that ThirdLove promotes is actually driving shoppers into their store. You can’t get one-on-one fittings when you’re getting a bra in the mail, Amenkhienan joked.
They want to come in and touch and feel. It’s helping us.
Now in her 40s, Lauren Beitelspacher, a marketing professor at Babson College, said she used to be the target audience for Victoria’s Secret. “But I’ve gotten older, and it hasn’t gotten older with me,” she said.
“I don’t want to shop there anymore, and the younger generation doesn’t want to shop there because they don’t want the things that it stands for.”
Jonathan Wiggs/GLOBE STAFF
As Valentine’s Day is upon us, the prospect of receiving a frilly, lacy little number doesn’t jibe with the current cultural climate, she said. Customers are less concerned with the male gaze, she said, and are instead responding to marketing messages promoting self-love and empowerment.
“I don’t see it as being a gift that people want to give anymore,” she said. “My husband is not going to buy that for me, I want to buy it myself.
Victoria’s Secret just “didn’t change with the times,” said James West, who’s worked as a Boston-based lingerie salesman since the ’80s and now represents several European brands. Other lingerie brands like Chantelle and Cosabella have proven more nimble, and are increasingly pushing T-shirt bras, wireless bralettes, and larger cup sizes.
Younger shoppers are seeking out American Eagle’s Aerie line for bras, panties, and sleepwear. The company’s #AerieREAL campaign ads feature a full spectrum of body types and use untouched photos of models like athlete Aly Raisman and actress Busy Philipps.
Noelle Scarlett, 24, who works as an associate at Wayfair, said she’s been shopping at Aerie since she was a teen. Their ads “have really authentic, beautiful women of all different shapes and sizes,” she said, and their garments are both cute and comfortable.
“I don’t want things that are wedged up there,” she joked.
” Even if they are taking steps to be more inclusive, she said, “they don’t showcase it.”
L Brands has tried to broaden Victoria’s Secret’s appeal, hiring transgender and plus-size models and adding two additional women to the parent company’s board, which until recently was dominated by white men with a median age of 71.
In November, the company canceled its televised fashion show, saying it was rethinking the format. The company’s board of directors said in a statement to the Globe that it’s made “significant strides” in recent years in providing “a safe, welcoming, and empowering workplace” for its employees and remains “fully committed to continuous improvement and complete accountability.
In the meantime, upstarts are rushing into the breach. Masha Titova broke into the bra business after working in apparel manufacturing for Los Angeles-based brands like BCBGMAXAZRIA and Kanye West’s Yeezy line.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
“I kept feeling like I could be doing something better,” she said. So last June, she moved home to Massachusetts to launch Titov, a line of sexy yet supportive bralettes and underwear designed to fit larger sizes.
Her line, which is manufactured in East Boston, is already gaining traction: It’s featured in the UnderClub monthly lingerie subscription box, and Titova held a Valentine’s Day pop-up shop this week in Rebecca Minkoff’s SoHo store. Titova, 26, has a specific audience in mind for Titov: Women of a certain age.
Instead, support and comfort top the list.
“Our line is all about comfort and fit. The whole idea is that it doesn’t come off in five minutes.
Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.
com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.