I always bought underwear at Victoria’s Secret, more specifically I mean: panties. To high school me, it was one of the stores at the mall—a place I could access by bus before I got my driver’s license—that felt a little grown up. I liked sorting through the displays of lacey and pink things, even if I usually opted for basics. At something like five pairs for $25, they were affordable, too.
What I couldn’t buy at Victoria’s Secret were bras. They were frequently not big enough for my boobs. And when they were, they were padded and push-uppy, which, in addition to being the opposite of what I wanted to do with a chest that was doing just fine on its own, thanks, was uncomfortable. This, to me, was the real problem with Victoria’s Secret, a brand that has been doing not-so-hot in recent years: It was a store that centered tits in its ads, but not in its offerings.
Now, Victoria’s Secret is ditching its famous angels, “those avatars of Barbie bodies and playboy reverie,” the New York Times reports. When I was shopping at Victoria’s Secret, the models were a sort of confusing additional insult to the injury of not being able to buy a bra at the store—look how nicely these bras fit our boobs, which are pictured here in the mall display window as large as your head. In their stead, current shoppers will soon be shown the “VS Collective”—a squad, if you will—whose membership includes soccer star Megan Rapinoe, size 14 model Paloma Elsesser, and general superstar of things, Priyanka Chopra Jonas. (The Collective is still gorgeous, if less uniform.) “With platforms like VS, where you enter the living rooms of all people, that’s where you make radical change,” Elsesser told the Times.
If the presence of Elsesser, Rapinoe, and Jonas in ads for a mall-brand makes some slice of women, especially teen girls, feel more comfortable in their bodies—great. But you know what’s a little more important than ads with high-achieving women that come in a diverse array of body types? Actually being able to buy something that fits your own body. The brand has historically offered up to a size DDD, with sizes in the D range difficult to find in stock. The average breast size of the American woman is a 34DD, an oft-cited somewhat shaky statistic that traces back to a lingerie retailer’s survey in 2013; nonetheless, the point is that lots of breasts fall outside the Victoria’s Secret size range of yore. In an Instagram post from 2018, influencer and author of Body Talk: How to Embrace Your Body and Start Living Your Best Life Katie Sturino featured herself wearing a Victoria’s Secret bra—with the bra effectively giving her two very painful looking sets of cleavage. It’s a riff on a regular feature called Make My Size in which she models the largest sizes offered by a brand to show how comically small they are on her (though in this case, she captioned the post #DontMakeMySize, citing the infamous Vogue interview in which the brand’s higher ups champion the skinny-fantasy world of the fashion show).
Others have approached the frustration with the brand more earnestly. “I love Victoria’s Secret so much that I even have their credit card,” wrote the author of a 2019 Change.org petition imploring the brand to “Add Plus Sizes to Your Product Lines.” “Every year I watch the Angel fashion show and would love to purchase the items I see on my screen but can’t because Victoria’s Secret doesn’t sell plus sizes.” That might be a confusing amount of enthusiasm for a brand that does not sell very many goods that one is able to use. But it also highlights the particular cruelty: Even if you enjoyed the fantasy of the ad campaigns, you weren’t necessarily even allowed to pay money for a Body by Victoria bra of your own.
I am personally more concerned with a bra brand supporting my breasts than my feminist ideals. And along with expanding their range of models (a bit), the brand is expanding their sizing (a bit). The brand now goes one size beyond a DDD (or E) to a G cup (if that sounds like a rather large pair of breasts to you—I blame Victoria’s Secret for spending so long refusing to acknowledge that they exist!). After launching a swim line in 2019 with suits going up to a size large, the brand more recently expanded that all the way to….an XL. Depending on who you ask—size is frustratingly a bit subjective—that’s a size 12 (according to a competitor), or maybe a size 18 (according to Victoria’s Secret). Either way, as Eliza Huber laid out in a Refinery 29 piece critiquing the brand’s use of plus size models showing off the swimsuits without offering truly inclusive clothing, it is not big enough—given that the average woman is a size 16, you can hardly call the swim offerings inclusive. Elsesser told the Times that she will lobby the brand to carry up to an XXXXXL, which is good, but—why is it the model’s job to lobby for this?
Perhaps they’ll listen to their new hire. Along with the models and the slightly-expanded cuts, Victoria’s Secret has also linked up with the soft-bra revolution to sell a selection of wireless bras and “lounge bras.” It does indeed seem serious in its desire to stop actively insulting so many of its (potential) customers. As long as they haven’t already moved on.