By ELISABETH DALE
More and more men are struggling to find bras to support their developing breasts. Gynecomastia (male breast growth) is a well-documented medical condition linked to several causes, and is a side effect of many common prescription and over-the-counter drugs. According to some experts, nearly half of all men will experience gynecomastia at some point in their lives but will be too embarrassed to consult a physician about the problem. The only treatment options for men who grow breasts are (a) breast reduction surgery, or (b) wearing a bra.
Why should the intimate apparel industry pay attention to this non-traditional group of potential bra buyers?
First, their numbers are growing. While some choose surgery (over 20,000 annually, with male breast reduction surgeries up 13% since 2000), it’s not an option for everyone. Many can’t afford the cost or aren’t medically eligible. Their stories can be found on the very active gynecomastia forums, where information on bra wear is shared. There’s even a male blogger in Germany who posts helpful bra reviews. But men with breasts don’t always know where to buy a bra, or if they’ll be rejected by fitters or stores. Many find female friends or a compassionate spouse to help with basic bra issues.
Second, they have a real need. Men with breasts can’t hide their breasts under extra baggy t-shirts and jackets. They work in all industries, represent a wide range of ages, and measure from B to H cups. Many are looking for relief from constant back aches, in addition to reducing everyday bounce. Some males look for sports-like compression or classic minimizers, while others appreciate more fashionable bras. Their tastes are as varied as those of female bra buyers.
Third, men with breasts look for quality construction and exhibit solid brand loyalty. They approach bra fit and buying in a very matter-of-fact way. Those who write to me or comment on my blog posts appreciate well-made bras. They are familiar with brand names like Playtex, Wacoal, and Panache; and also Simone Perele, Empriente, and Prima Donna. Unlike some female bra buyers, they’re not splurging on a new bra because they’re dating someone new. (Quite the contrary, most men with breasts try to keep their bra wear hidden and often wear vests over shirts as extra camouflage.)
It’s not clear whether this new bra wearer is taken seriously by the intimate apparel industry. In my conversations with brands at a recent lingerie trade show, no one seemed very interested in talking about this niche market. Instead they laughed off the issue with a ‘we’ll take all customers’ attitude. This may represent a willingness to allow men to buy their bras. But there’s no real compassion for or focus on treating men as “normal” bra-buying customers.
How could this under-served group be helped? Bra brands could add a male bra fitter to their bra fitting team, if only on-line or as a phone resource. Brands might reach out to the female fitters who have fit men, and ask for their advice. Industry insiders could put together a focus group of guys who wear bras, in order to assess their needs. Bra retailers could train female employees or have policies about men who ask for bra fittings in their stores.
The bra industry could welcome this new group of bra wearers because of the very real medical reasons why men need to wear bras. As one 45-year-old male said: “it’s about time that the world is accepting that men also have boobs, and some need to wear a bra.”
What do you think? Should bra brands be doing more for the growing population of men who wear bras?