New York Times

Nursing Bras That Show Mothers in More Than ‘Work Mode’

By August 31, 2011

MATERNITY and nursing bras have long been the ugly stepsisters to gorgeously constructed lingerie. If you became pregnant or nursed your child, scratchy, unadorned, matronly bras — probably colored inconspicuously “nude” or white — were your lot. Elisabeth Dale, the founder of the Web site The Breast Life, which has bra reviews and health information, says she thinks this was because functionality and sex appeal can seem incompatible.

When your breasts “are in work mode, they don’t get to wear nice fabrics,” she said wryly, adding that you’re “sterilizing” your breasts “by putting them in a boring white milk curtain.”

But perhaps not anymore. Some of today’s maternity and nursing bras boast lace in conspicuous hues like coral or purple, with added features like rhinestones, and coy nicknames like Awakened by Her Desire and She Craved a Little Decadence. This, of course, along with convenient hooks that allow each cup to drop for easy access to hungry newborns, extra fastenings to accommodate diaphragm growth and comfortable linings.

In the last few years, a growing number of niche lingerie companies, like You Lingerie, Cake, and HOTmilk, have begun selling unapologetically provocative maternity bras that they say can be a pick-me-up for new mothers during a stressful time. “It’s really about celebrating the sexy woman inside the loving mother,” said Lisa Ebbing, the marketing director at HOTmilk, an import from New Zealand that had one of its video ads of a stunning mother-to-be in a matching bra and panty placed under age restrictions by YouTube after viewers flagged it.

“I love being a mother, but lingerie is not for a mother,” Ms. Ebbing said, defending the images. “It’s for a woman.”

Tiffany Holtzinger, 24, a stay-at-home mother in York, Pa., recalled that, when she decided to breast-feed her third child, she refused to settle for “plain, frumpy-looking bras” that she found “disgusting.” A month after her son’s birth, Mrs. Holtzinger bought Cake’s navy-and-white floral-print balcony-shaped bra on Zulily, a daily-deals Web site, to add to her collection of three HOTmilk bras, one in navy with contrasting cobalt mesh frill on cups and straps.

“I can see myself wearing these after I’m done nursing,” she said. (To do just that, Bravado Designs, known for its more basic styles, has a kit to remove shoulder clips after weaning.)

Kirsten Cannon, 20, an actress and a waitress in Paducah, Ky., says she made do with basic nursing bras she bought at Wal-Mart until her daughter, Georgia, was 9 months old. “I had reached a point that I’d almost forgotten who I was as a woman,” Ms. Cannon said, explaining why she bought HOTmilk’s Radiant in Her Rescue, a peachy floral-print bra offset with gardenia-patterned lace (roughly $40 with underwear). “I needed a pick-me-up. I needed my husband to look at me like I wasn’t just Georgia’s mom.”

Much has changed in the two decades since the Vanity Fair cover of Demi Moore naked in her third trimester caused a stir. There is now no shortage of celebrities flaunting bared bumps for magazine covers, or “yummy mummies” at the local playground. Designer maternity garb runs the gamut from flirty to sophisticated. Perhaps it was only a matter of time that expectant and nursing mothers sought out provocative underthings with distinctive details, a world away from the black T-shirt bra look-alikes sold at outlets like Destination Maternity.

Tracey Montford, the designer of Cake Lingerie, said she was inspired to help start the company, based in Sydney, Australia, because “baggy matronly lingerie doesn’t make you feel good.”

“I enjoy my fashion,” she said, but “I had horrendous bras peeking through the top and ruining my outfits.”

Apparently Aussies are ahead of the curve, as it were: the model-turned-entrepreneur Elle Macpherson has had a few nursing and maternity styles on the market since 2005.

And since roughly the same time, the British boundary-pushing lingerie company Agent Provocateur has sold its Cupid maternity-nursing bra.

But the average Jane is also venturing into the market. “One of the biggest drivers is women are accepting their bodies for what they are, and not hiding it or being ashamed,” said Uyo Okebie-Eichelberger, the 31-year-old founder of You Lingerie, a 10-month-old company in Atlanta that sells attractive maternity bras for $29.99 to $34.99. “Another driver is the rapid growth in size, influence and power of online mommy culture.”

Mrs. Okebie-Eichelberger’s brand, which is carried in 30 brick-and-mortar clothing stores, got exposure from Web sites like The Bump and BabyCenter, she said.

Cake, which came stateside in 2010, now is carried in 100 brick-and-mortar stores, making the United States its “fastest growing market” globally, according to Keith Hyams, the company’s marketing director. “We found, to start, some of our pieces with more neutral colors were selling very well,” his colleague, Ms. Montford, said. These days, “pieces with a bit more lace, or adventurous in terms of color combinations are becoming popular,” like the Turkish delight ($59.90), a purple-knit number in either balcony or plunge styles that can be paired with a matching string thong ($29.90).

But Kathryn From, the managing director of Bravado, a no-frills line owned by Medela, the breast-pump maker, which is carried in 700 outlets nationwide, is skeptical that such daring items will do much business in the long run. “The No. 1 best seller in North America are smooth cupped nude bras,” she said, adding of her core customer: “We are much more your girlfriend who lives next door. She’s confident, and great, but isn’t overtly sexual.”

To read the entire article click here