Theyre calling it "the lingerie wars." Victorias Secret has made a lot of money selling very tiny undergarments, and now, some major retailers are throwing their bras into the ring, hoping to cash in. A visible bra strap used to be an embarrassment, these days it is a fashion statement, thanks in part to Victorias Secret, which has made stylish skivvies a clothing staple. Americans are spending more than ever before on their unmentionables, but now theyre changing the way they shop for them. "I think people are slicing and dicing intimates a lot more finely than we once saw, and as a result the former bra monopolies are being broken up to some degree," says Adrienne Shapira, an analyst for Goldman Sachs. Ironically, while Victorias Secret was the first to bring lingerie to the front of the closet, sales there are slowing. At the same time, competition from mainstream retailers is gaining. Wal-Mart and JC Penney are expanding their selections. "It really is taking advantage of what Victorias Secret has, theyve trained the younger shopper that lingerie can be a seasonal, a fashion purchase," says Kelly Tackett with TNS Retail Forward. New players, like teen retailer American Eagle, are launching intimate apparel lines aimed at the teens who are leading the trend. There is a lot of money in the little pieces of fabric. Americans spent $10.5 billion on underwear last year, and that number is growing fast as retailers try to cash in on rising demand. Another expanding market: plus-sized women. Their waistlines arent the only thing getting bigger. Lane Bryant launched its plus-size underwear line earlier this year. With intimate apparel one of the most profitable categories of clothing, expect the lingerie wars to heat up.
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