TV & Radio
FEATURE-Bras now designed for girls growing up fast
Sun Jul 3, 2005 4:52 PM ET
By Rasha Elass
NEW YORK, July 3 (Reuters) - As parents lament that children grow up too quickly, lingerie companies are spotting an opportunity to market bras especially for younger girls.
Companies like Sara Lee Corp.
Indeed, some large department stores have started to train their employees that one of their responsibilities will involve bra fittings for "first timers."
"They're either so shy and embarrassed that they'd rather be anywhere but in (the intimate apparel) department, or they're so proud and enthused about being a grown-up that they choose something totally inappropriate," said Beverley Hinkson, national bra fitting specialist at JC Penney
Hinkson, who has been fitting customers with bras and training sales associates to do the same for the past eight years, said first-time customers are coming in at increasingly younger ages.
"It's usually their mother's idea to come in for a fitting," she added.
Indeed, some girls as young as 6 are starting to develop breasts, said Iris Prager, who has a Ph.D. in health education and oversees the Web site sponsored by Procter & Gamble Co.
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
While the average age for menstruation has been stable at 12, other signs of puberty, including breast development, are appearing much earlier, Prager explained, referring to a large U.S. study of 17,000 girls.
The study, published in Pediatrics in 1997, found that the average age at which girls first develop breasts has declined to a little over 9 for Caucasian girls, and a little over 8 for African-American girls.
"Different factors, both genetic and environmental, control puberty," said Dr. Steven Dowshen, a specialist in pediatric endocrinology at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and chief medical editor of KidsHealth.org, an online site for parents and their kids.
No one really knows why girls approach puberty at a younger age today than what used to be the norm.
But theorists have come up with such disparate reasons as the increasing incidence of obesity in children, an abundance of hormone-laced food in the average American's diet and even the influence of mature sexual themes in movies and on television.
Whatever the reason, the medical community agrees that, at the very least, American girls today look more developed at a younger age than they did a decade or so ago.
And they're shopping for bras.
Sara Lee Branded Apparel, one of the largest manufacturers of bras, started three years ago to respond to this new market.
"When we introduced 'Barely There' three years ago, we immediately found it appealed to this whole category of customers," said Joanne Kaye, director of merchandising at Sara Lee. "This customer is very modest ... and not ready to wear the underwire."
To appeal to a young girl's fashion sense, Sara Lee makes the bras in blue with yellow or pink and green with cranberry, Kaye said.
SPORTS BRAS RULE
There is another dynamic driving the demand for bras by girls today that wasn't as prevalent a generation ago: sports.
"In my daughter's school, they won't let you play without a sports bra," Kaye said. "If you have an 8- or 9-year-old girl starting to develop breast tissue, these bras also have a nice modesty effect."
Then there are half sizes.
Kaye said this patented system is popular with developing girls whose breasts may not conform to traditional sizing.
Maidenform -- an iconic brand whose bra ads in the 1950s and '60s with slogans like "I dreamed I was a toreador in my Maidenform bra ... " became part of American culture -- introduced a version of its "One Fabulous Fit" bra for younger girls in 2001.
But not all companies did so well with this demographic.
Abercrombie & Fitch
These included thongs decorated with phrases like "Wink Wink" and "Eye Candy" that caused an uproar among parents and child advocacy groups. The company withdrew its line.
But with a large selection of modest, functional and affordable bras for young girls, even single fathers are comfortable dropping their pre-teen daughters off at the mall and letting them pick their own.
"We're prepared for the single dads," JC Penney's Hinkson said. "They bring their daughter and say, 'Please fit her with eight or nine bras and I'll be back in an hour to pay for it.'"