updated 31 Jul 2010, 13:06
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Sat, Jul 31, 2010
Urban, The Straits Times
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Bosom buddies

They may be still in primary school, but Singapore girls are busting out at an earlier age than ever. Girls dubbed 'tweenagers' - between being children and teenagers - are increasingly needing to wear bras. Some are even needing adult-sized ones.

Unlike in the past, when developing adult appendages was a source of embarrassment for some, today's tweens and teens are proud to be 'valley' girls with cleavage.

These new-generation budding beauties enjoy shopping for lovely lingerie.

And no wonder, with underwear brands keen to boost this developing niche market. Teen bras are no longer limited to neutral shades and boring designs, but come in pretty colours and styles.

Some even offer new designs every month.

One young bra wearer is Nicolle Wu, 13, who is in Secondary 1. She started wearing a training bra - a supportive top shaped like a sports bra, made of soft but slightly thick fabric - when she got her period in Primary 5, at the age of 11. One year later, she had already filled out enough to wear a small-cup adult bra.

She recalls that when she started wearing a bra, she was at a mixed-gender school. She did not want to wear one as she was worried that it would make her breasts look big.

'I did not want boys to notice,' she says.

But now, she declares that she is proud of her assets and enjoys shopping for bras with her older sister Natasha, 15, and mother Jeanette Wu, 43. She also has a young brother aged seven.

Wu is part of a growing trend - literally. Increasing affluence and better nutrition is resulting in an earlier onset of breast development and puberty in Singapore, says Dr Sadhana Nadarajah, a senior consultant of reproductive medicine, IVF and adolescent gynaecology at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

The average age for the onset for periods was 14 years old in the 1960s, but today it is around 12 years old, she says.

Indeed, Sherill Hong, 22, a marketing assistant for underwear label Triumph International who conducts introductory programmes on bra wearing for 10- to 13-year-olds, says four out of 10 Primary 4 students that she sees already have fully developed breasts.

Not only are they younger bra wearers, they are also more worldly about styles.

Pamela Yang, senior marketing and communication executive of Canadian lingerie brand La Senza, says: 'Teens today are more fashion savvy thanks to more media exposure.'

The assistant brand manager for Triumph's tween range, Sloggi and Beedees, Vanessa Yeo, says: 'Older teens have more spending power earned from working part-time to make choices on their purchases.'

Tina Lee, an assistant manager at the merchandising department of Tangs, says: 'Teen bras are no longer just for support. They are a functional fashion item.'

Teens prefer bras with underwire and often opt for a gentle push-up effect, says Yeo.

She also notes that teens are increasingly going for bolder colours and trendier pieces. 'American singer Katy Perry popularised the vintage pin-up style and we have seen more interest in Sloggi's vintage design collection due to this.'

The swelling teen market is also being targeted by La Senza, which until now has focused on adult women. This month, it is launching its La Senza Girl collection for 12- to 15-year-olds, with designs that feature fun prints and colours.

Yang says: 'Young girls might not be comfortable wearing a bra designed for an adult, so we want to offer them more choices and different styles that are suitable for their age.'

Triumph's Yeo points out that brands like Sloggi bring in new designs on a monthly basis for teens.

Shafiqah Rodriguez, 13, who buys an average of four bras per shopping trip, says: 'When I go bra shopping with my mother, I go for more colourful patterns and prints and avoid boring plain ones. My mum doesn't mind if I pick something loud.'

Lingerie brands also woo trend-conscious teens with bras made of high tech material.

Triumph's Bee Dees range uses a fabric called 'chitlin', which is sweat absorbent, anti-bacterial and has odour removal properties. Its Eco-Chic range is made from natural materials that promise to nourish the skin.

However, teens are also price-conscious. Evangeline Lim, 15, whose mother pays for her bras, says: 'It doesn't make sense to spend so much on a bra because we are growing and will need to change bras quite often.'

This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times.

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