A glimpse of one's bra used to be considered risque, but not anymore.
An increasing number of women, such as Ms Ellena Young, are buying lacy bras and bralettes - wireless bras without moulded cups - to show them off under sheer or crop tops.
The 21-year-old Singaporean business student, who is single, says that undergarments are a fashion accessory and they lend a "feminine detail" to her look with lace, intricate straps, embroidery and a pop of colour.
Ms Young, who often lets the lace band of her bralette peek out from under her crop top, says: "I just think it makes my outfit look nicer and makes me feel more confident."
The Ngee Ann Polytechnic student, who has eight bras that she uses as fashion accessories, from brands such as Cotton On Body and home-grown label Naked and Unbound, adds: "I've received stares from strangers when I go out, but I don't really care."
More women in Singapore are lapping up pretty lingerie.
Image: Strait Times - Mark Cheong
According to data from market research company Euromonitor, despite the current slump in the retail industry, the value of the underwear market here has risen from $245.5 million in 2011 to $287.2 million last year - a jump of 17 per cent.
In that same period, the apparel industry as a whole grew just 4 per cent.
Growth in the underwear market has meant more lingerie variety for shoppers here.
There are at least four new brands here, including Naked and Unbound, which was started in late 2015. Other brands are expanding or increasing their lingerie range.
American brand Victoria's Secret - which used to sell only a limited selection of panties, perfumes and body products here - opened a flagship store at Mandarin Gallery in November.
The new boutique sells a wide selection of lacy bodysuits and bralettes with strappy neckline details that can be worn to spruce up an outfit. Sales at the store, which also sells other accessories such as bags and purses, have been 30 per cent higher than expected.
British brand Agent Provocateur, known for its exquisite lingerie, opened at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands in August last year.
And Hong Kong-based multi- label lingerie e-commerce site Avec Amour expanded into Singapore in November after its founder, Ms Tara Lin, saw a gap in the market.
The 36-year-old says: "Seeing how well received Avec Amour was in Hong Kong, I strongly believed there was a need for gorgeous lingerie in Singapore too."
Avec Amour carries a range of more than 20 international designer lingerie brands, such as Heidi Klum Intimates and Stella McCartney Lingerie. These labels boast bras pretty enough to be worn under a sheer top.
Home-grown label Perk by Kate, which opened in 2012 and sells bralettes from its in-house label as well as those from brands such as Ukrainian luxury label Zhilyova Lingerie, saw a threefold increase in sales last year.
Department stores OG and Takashimaya have also noticed more women buying lacy and boldcoloured lingerie.
An OG spokesman says the store has noticed the trend among women aged 25 to 35.
Accessorising with lingerie comes on the back of the look appearing on fashion runways, such as the Spring 2017 shows of luxury fashion brands Kenzo, Prada and Alexander McQueen.
Lingerie-loving celebrities have also helped to push the look into mainstream fashion.
American model Kendall Jenner, 21, for instance, who fronts advertising campaigns for Italian lingerie brand La Perla, is known for her off-duty style of wearing lacy bralettes under jackets; sheer bodysuits; and see-through lace skirts with high-waisted briefs.
All this has turned underwear into a fashion statement rather than something women wear to protect their modesty, says Ms Regina Yeo, adjunct senior lecturer of marketing at the National University of Singapore's business school.
She adds: "Another possible reason is that younger female shoppers and millennials want to look for more fashionable and sexier alternatives compared with the more traditional brands that they identify with their mothers' or grandmothers' eras, which they may perceive as staid-looking and unfashionable."
And unlike the push-up Wonderbra, which had advertisements skewed heavily towards the male gaze during the 1990s, women are now putting their preferences first when it comes to choosing lingerie.
Never mind if the men do not get it.
Ms Karen Goh, 43, who has 70 bras, most of them lacy ones, says: "I deliberately let the eyelash lace of my bralette peek out from underneath a top, but my husband commented that it looks like chest hair."
The housewife, who is married to a commercial pilot and has two children, adds: "The lingerie is for myself. I wear it every day and it's for me to feel good."
Image: Strait Times - Ariffin Jamar
Ms Mary Quek believes that a pretty bra should be shown off and not hidden under clothing.
That is why the 62-year-old often wears them under tank tops with low-cut armholes, as well as with backless or strappy blouses.
The spunky and petite Ms Quek even sported one - a black bralette from home-grown lingerie label Naked and Unbound - at her elder son's wedding at the Church of St Vincent de Paul in Yio Chu Kang in January last year.
She wore it under a sheer yellow kebaya top as she felt a camisole "did not look striking enough".
Her outfit certainly drew lots of stares and comments from relatives, she says. "Everyone thought it was cool and they did say it was a daring look, but I never felt uncomfortable about it."
"There's nothing to be shy about. When you buy such a nice bra, you might as well show it off."
Her husband and her two sons do not mind, she says, adding that her elder son bought her a sheer white bralette with floral applique for Christmas last year.
As for wearing the lacy number to his wedding, all her son said was: "Wow, very nice, mummy."
Ms Quek, who helps her husband with administration and customer service at his audio-tech distribution company, started making a fashion statement with bras in 2015, after she chanced upon a sheer black bralette from Naked and Unbound.
"The bralette was meant to be shown off," she says. She now has 10 bralettes, five from Naked and Unbound. She also likes Swedish lingerie brand Bjorn Borg for its geometric patterns and bright colours.
She says bralettes, which are wireless and may be padded or unlined, are also more comfortable and fit her 32A bust size better than bras with moulded cups.
She quips: "Clothing nowadays is sheer or revealing, so I think showing off one's bra is quite okay. People should not judge if I dare to wear (it as such)."
Image: Strait Times - Desmond Foo
As a small-chested woman, Ms Kate Low, founder of home-grown lingerie label Perk by Kate, understands how frustrating it can be to find pretty undergarments that also fit well.
Just five years ago, she could shop only at a limited range of brands such as La Senza and Triumph, or at Victoria's Secret's e-commerce site. Even then, she often found the bras too big for her.
The 32-year-old says: "It was difficult to find good lingerie that could fit and last well, so I kept thinking about this (gap in the market)."
Eventually, despite having no background in entrepreneurship, the former digital marketing manager launched her e-commerce site, Perk by Kate, in 2012.
The multi-label store started off selling lace bralettes from American lingerie labels Eberjey and Honeydew Intimates.
When customers started asking for bralettes with removable padding soon after, Ms Low quickly responded by designing her own bras and launching them under her in-house lingerie label, also called Perk by Kate, in 2014.
One reason for the popularity of her range, say her regular customers, is practicality: They do not need to worry if the bra straps are visible.
A regular customer, housewife Karen Goh, 43, says: "The strap on T-shirt bras tend to be thicker and come in boring colours such as nude or black, which don't look good when they show."
"But Perk by Kate's bra straps are skinnier and come in pretty colours."
Ms Low's range of pastel-coloured bralettes with thin ribbon straps were a hit, selling out within a week. Prices for her Perk by Kate line range from $39 for panties to $69 for a bra.
One of the label's best-selling styles is the Alexis ($49), a triangular-shaped padded bralette with delicate eyelash lace trimming.
Ms Low, who quit her job in February last year to focus on her label, also designs unlined bras for special occasions.
On Valentine's Day last month, for instance, she launched two front-clasp styles: Ada, a triangular lace bralette, and Flora, a sheer bralette with floral applique.
And when customers wrote in last year to request different colour, strap and style options for their bralettes for different body shapes and needs, Ms Low launched a bespoke service to accommodate them.
She recently also introduced convertible-style bralettes, which allow the wearer to change the straps to suit racerback or sleeveless tops.
Ms Low, who is married to a lawyer and has no children, says that the company's revenue tripled last year to hit a "healthy six-figure sum".
She is in talks with a multi-label lingerie retailer in Hong Kong to carry Perk by Kate.
In April, she will launch a maternity bralette as she says many of her customers are nursing mothers who "want something nice to wear during and after pregnancy".
The brand's nimbleness in responding to customers' wants has resulted in continued support, which helped the business to grow, she says.
Fashionable lingerie may be trendy now, but Ms Low thinks pretty lingerie will remain an essential item in every woman's wardrobe.
She says: "Singaporean women are practical. They want a bra that fits well, that they can wear every day, and that looks good."
Article first published on Strait Times