COMMENTARY | Victoria's Secret has a new customer -- and she hasn't even hit puberty yet. Victoria's Secret PINK brand -- originally geared toward college students -- is now bringing in an even younger fan base. With it's new line of "bralettes" and "bandeaus," girls as young as nine are gravitating toward the bubble-gum pink store.
In my day, training bras came in three colors: white, nude, and light pink. There was some unspoken law that required your mother take you to buy your first one, generally purchased at Macy's or JCPenney's or the department store of her choice. Inevitably, the whole experience ended up with your mother making you show the old lady with the measuring tape how the bra looked while the poor bra desperately tried to stay on your budding chest without riding up.
In regards to what "intimate apparel" meant for a teen's growing interest in the opposite sex, the rules of my generation were clearly outlined in the film Ten Things I Hate About You. If you had black underwear, you were thinking about having sex. If you didn't, you weren't. End of discussion.
Times have apparently changed because now girls are shopping for bras at Victoria's Secret, not JCPenney's. And I don't even know what it means when an 11-year-old reaches past the white, nude, and even black bras -- and grabs the newest tie-dyed one that is designed to show through your shirt.
Should kids -- because 9-years-old is still a kid, whether or not a bra is required -- be shopping at Victoria's Secret? The company long lauded for it's sexy lingerie models and controversial fashion shows is more than up to the task of helping women dress for men. But are parents willing to let the company start dressing their daughters? And if girls are buying (and presumably wearing) the sexy undies, who are they wearing them for? (Parents, insert anxious gulp here).
Stuart Burgdoerfer, Victoria's Secret's chief financial officer, thinks that young teens are the perfect target for PINK's line. The Columbus, Ohio-based company employee said, "When somebody's 15- or 16-years-old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that's part of the magic of what we do at Pink."
Turns out, Victoria's Secret isn't the only brand to tap the market of pre-pubescent girls looking for their first training bra (or, rather, "bralette," as Victoria's Secret has dubbed the minuscule creations). American Eagle's Aerie brand launched an intimate apparel line in 2006, just two years after PINK's debut. Hot Topic and Urban Outfitters followed suit.
Even Justice -- a clothing store providing apparel for girl's ages 7 to 12 -- now sells little tie-dye bras and matching panties.
Dan Stanek, executive vice president at brand consultancy Big Red Rooster, explains, "Sensuality and body image continues to be a message that young girls are seeing and are being exposed to in a much less controlled fashion perhaps than even 10, 12 years ago." Girls are "aiming to imitate the lingerie styles worn by role models and celebrities seen on the Web and social media," he said.
Jennifer Foyle is Aerie's senior vice president of global merchandising, and says that while the intimate apparel line is geared for pre-teens and teens, the message isn't one of overt sexuality.
"We really use the word 'pretty' more than 'sexy' --that's really not the Aerie girl," Foyle said. "We see this white space out there for the kind of trends we want to address. We see Gen Y as a very confident young lady who doesn't need to be the showy supermodel, she's just confident in herself."
The way I see it, a parent has two options in the face of Victoria's Secret marketing. Option one is to shop. It is, after all, a parent's responsibility to teach their children about sex, sexuality, body image, and all other topics discussed in sex ed. Isn't it? Victoria's Secret gives mothers a chance to make a debut bra-shopping experience fun. The professional staff and luscious fitting rooms of Victoria's Secret seem like an elegant way to congratulate a young girl on her entrance into womanhood.
Mothers can show their daughters that they don't balk at the half-naked women on the lingerie side of the store (though they could take the opportunity to casually mention that everyone at the mall doesn't need to see Alessandra Ambrosio in her unmentionables). In fact, perhaps Mom could think about trying on some things herself, if only to show her daughter that sex is fun and totally appropriate in the proper place and setting. Mom could mention how buying a pretty bra and underwear set doesn't have to be for men to see, but because for some unknown reason, a woman always feels better about herself when she's wearing a sexy bra.
Option two: Run away as fast as you can. Don't discuss the situation with your daughter. Take her to Penney's, buy her the white training bra. And hope that when your daughter visits Victoria's Secret with her friends, its not the friends who are buying the PINK bedding set that says, "Get In Bed" and "Up All Night" on the sparkly pillows.
Those are the girls buying black underwear, if you know what I mean.
Do you think that Victoria's Secret should be aimed at young girls? What do you think a parent's response should be?