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Happy 100th bra-niversary

Lingerie catalogues

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: And now for a story of the supportive role of entrepreneurship in our society. A hundred years ago this month, the brassiere got its first mention in Vogue. Now close to half of the $29 billion spent on lingerie each year is spent on the bra. We sent Marketplace's Lisa Napoli to lift and separate through the lore.


[ Sound of machinery]

Lisa Napoli: This is the sound of a bra in the making.

Dana Schlobohm-Walczuk: This is one of the final operations in putting the garment together, this tacks on the shoulder straps, it finishes up the last little bit.

That's Dana Schlobohm-Walczuk. She's the design director of a lingerie manufacturer near downtown Los Angeles.

In an enormous warehouse, there are endless hangers filled with of all manner of lingerie from the racy to the practical.

The business of the bra has changed since Dana's grandfather opened the National Corset Supply House almost 60 years ago. Back then, the company supplied corset makers with all they needed to make the precursor to the bra.

Even after the bra debuted and replaced the corset as the daily garment of choice for ladies, it wasn't something you'd just buy off the rack.

Roy Schlobohm: Years ago they used to fit bras. You know, you'd go into a major department store or a corsetiere or a small shop and they would fit. That's not happening any more.

That's Dana's dad, Roy. He says 100 years ago, a bra was priced at just $1. Today the average cost is $18, though you could spend hundreds of dollars for just one.

Another difference in the modern lingerie business: The plus size market is growing at a rapid clip.

Schlobohm: See that? This is one of our best-selling numbers. Has been for years. Very sensuous look.

Schlobohm-Walczuk: We run this garment all the way from size 32 to size 50.

Whatever the size, the biggest change in the $14 billion bra business is where this corset-replacement is made. Like much of the apparel industry, there's more competition than ever and most o fit is happening outside the United States.

In Los Angeles, I'm Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

About the author

In more then twenty years in journalism, Lisa Napoli has managed to work for almost every major
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