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February 19, 2013

Teen lingerie luring ever-younger girls

NEW YORK — When Kathleen Jordan stopped at a Victoria's Secret a year ago to buy something for herself, the visit had an unintended consequence: her 13-year-old daughter got hooked on Pink, the lingerie brand's young collegiate line.

"Now she has more bras than I do, in every color under the sun," said Jordan, a principal at design and architecture firm Gensler in New York. "She's not alone — all her girlfriends are into Pink, too. I recently overheard one of her girlfriends excitedly sharing the details of her favorite Christmas gift from Pink."

Limited Brands Inc.'s Victoria's Secret isn't the only retailer generating sales as it becomes more acceptable for middle-and high-school girls to show off bras under clothing and buy intimates. Teen chains are, too.

Hot Topic Inc. is testing an edgy lingerie line called Blackheart, and Urban Outfitters Inc., which has said intimates could eventually make up 10 percent of sales, has bolstered such offerings across its brands. Even Justice, the store for 7- to 12-year-olds owned by Tween Brands Inc., is selling $21.90 tie-dye bras and $9 flowered panties online.

Retailers are taking care to present the garments as cute versus sexy, said Marcie Merriman, founder of retail and brand strategy consultancy PrimalGrowth in Columbus, Ohio.

Stores are "all going to say they're targeting 18- to 22- year-olds, but the reality is you're going to get the younger customer," she said.

A decade ago girls had little choice in underwear; a first bra was typically a plain garment bought at a department store or discounter such as Target or Kohl's.

"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," said Dan Stanek, executive vice president at brand consultancy Big Red Rooster in Columbus, Ohio. They're aiming to imitate the lingerie styles worn by role models and celebrities seen on the Web and social media, he said.

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