The Frontiers of Science

Wacoal Lingerie: In Pursuit of the Ideal Figure

Science Technology Society Lifestyle

Lingerie today is about more than just showing off a shapely figure. More and more women are looking for undergarments that also bring health benefits, such as improving posture. Japanese manufacturer Wacoal has been at the forefront of this trend toward developing lingerie that is both flattering and functional.

A New Role for Underwear

The lingerie manufacturer Wacoal launched its popular Good-Up Bra in 1992, with the catchphrase “yosete, ageru” (“clenches and lifts”), waking young Japanese women up to the body-shaping potential of lingerie. The bra’s unique design—featuring a twin-wire system to bring support both above and below the cup using a special, highly elastic amorphous fabric—lifted the wearer’s bust from the sides and bottom at the same time to produce a cavernous cleavage.

The company’s latest offering, the Yakusoku No Bra (literally “Promise Bra”), released in July 2014, goes one step further by not only pushing together and lifting the bosom, but also bringing a slimming effect. The straps attach to a special, patent-pending “clench-and-lift” technology that creates volume in the bust while also pulling in the flanks to create a trim, hourglass silhouette.

But these undergarments do more than just create graceful lines; they also improve body mechanics and posture.

The Art of Stylish Sitting

By supporting the hips and lower back, the Chakuseki Bijin girdle series sets a new standard of functional underwear for office workers. In combination with the Yakusoku No Bra, even greater improvements in posture are possible.

In summer 2014, Wacoal launched Chakuseki Bijin (literally “Sitting Beauty”), a series of girdles designed to help desk workers to project an air of elegance. This product works by countering the tendency to slouch when seated, helping wearers maintain an upright posture. Made from a special fabric to give support from hip to tummy, front to back, the Chakuseki Bijin girdles keep the buttocks pert when standing, and straightens the spine when seated.

“So many women spend their whole working day seated at a desk,” says Sakamoto Akiko of Wacoal Human Science Research Center. “Try as you might, you tend to lean forward, which can cause the lower back to sag, placing more stress on the pelvis. I spend a lot of time seated at work myself, and I began to feel the need for underwear that wasn’t a strain to sit in for hours. That’s where the idea of the Chakuseki Bijin girdles came from.”

How A Woman’s Body Changes with Age

Wacoal Human Science Research Center has a long track record of developing products based on detailed analysis of the female form. Every year, the center takes precise measurements from the bodies of around 1,000 women and girls between the ages of 4 and 69, amounting to more than 40,000 subjects in total over the last 50 years. For the past 30 years, around 200 of those individuals have been returning for follow-up measurements every six months, generating a database of unprecedented detail, and helping to shed light on the exact mechanisms behind changes to the female body as it ages, with a particular emphasis on the shape of the bust and hips.

Initially, the whole body begins to gain weight and lose firmness, and in turn the bust and hips begin to sag. Eventually, tissue mass around the hip and thigh area begins to slip to a more central position, while the breasts start to droop to the sides. Although the age at which these changes occur varies greatly among individuals, the order is always the same. And, once made, each step is impossible to reverse.

Changes in bust shape with age: These changes usually start in a woman’s twenties, but some are already at Step 2 by that age.


Changes in hip shape over time: The age at which this change begins varies greatly, with some women in their forties still at Step 0.

Sakamoto explains these metamorphoses in more detail: “Age brings changes in hormone balance, and there are also shifts in the relative proportion of breast mass taken up by fat or the mammary gland. But these proportions aren’t the only difference between the developing bust of a teenager and the bust of a woman in her forties. Because age-related changes also take place in terms of elasticity and flexibility, choosing the ideal bra involves more than just size, it’s also important to account for factors like firmness and shape.”

Reconstruction of the typical bust of a woman in her twenties (left) and in her forties (right) based on Wacoal’s measurement data. The models are accurate in terms of firmness as well as form.

Healthy Habits Pay Off

Along with all the painstaking physical measurements, subjects are interviewed about their habits and thoughts. This has made it possible to identify several things that individuals who maintain a youthful physique regardless of age seem to have in common. The common traits include a good, evenly balanced posture; the habit of walking regularly at a fast pace, taking wide steps; a balanced diet; and healthy sleeping habits. Women who maintain such good habits for 10 or 20 years seem able to retain their youthful figure almost indefinitely.

Of course, it is not easy to suddenly change longstanding habits, which is why Wacoal offers a range of products aimed at improving posture and gait. Wearing the company’s underwear and other lingerie products can be a first step toward improving a woman’s lifestyle.

Wacoal’s Fitness Walker and Cross Walker product lines of undershorts are made with a special fabric that supports the thighs and hip joints in the same way as athletic taping. This increases the width of the wearers’ step, enhancing walking speed as a result, which in turn boosts the number of calories burnt while walking. With these benefits, the garment has strong potential as a tool for fitness. 

Comfort Is the Key

Undergarments are placed on Wacoal’s “apparel pressure-balance evaluation system,” which is capable of moving in a walking motion to test for uncomfortable tightness.

But even if functional underwear can improve posture and movement, such products will not be popular unless they also are comfortable to wear.

“Comfort is the most important thing. Many things can impede comfort, such texture or stuffiness, and chafing as you move,” explains Sakamoto. “Since our products are items for people to wear every day, durability and design are key. So during the development process there are a lot of points we need to consider.”

Because undergarments come into direct contact with the skin, they should not chafe the skin or be uncomfortably tight. With this in mind, Wacoal uses a specially developed “apparel pressure-balance evaluation system,” to assess comfort according to a quantifiable scale.

When it comes to taking measurements, although Walcoal still uses the good, old-fashioned tape measure, its Human Science Research Center now employs a “no-contact 3D measurement apparatus.” This machine uses lasers to provide detailed statistical analysis of a subject’s entire body without the need to get up close and personal. And for the assessment of more subjective factors that cannot be objectively measured, Wacoal relies on the finely tuned senses of its female researchers.

Sakamoto Akiko of Wacoal Human Science Research Center, sitting at the console of the laboratory’s “no-contact 3D measurement apparatus.”

In this way, the company gathers comprehensive data on women of every age group, and develops products to fit every attribute. Whether exercising, lying in bed, or sitting at work, Wacoal has an undergarment to suit a woman’s needs.

Sakamoto is optimistic about the future of these products, as she explains: “I would be pleased if people become more aware of how underwear—which is normally something you put on without thinking about—can actually enhance your life and make you look more beautiful than ever.”

As lifestyles continue to change, it seems likely that innovative types of new underwear will also arise to meet the fresh challenges. 

(Originally written in Japanese by Ushijima Bifue. Banner image: Wacoal’s Yakusoku No Bra)

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