By Kim Tong-hyung
The economic turmoil has customers cutting down on unnecessary spending but ― at least to South Koreans ― unnecessary doesn't include lace bras and thongs.
Sales of sexy underwear are soaring, according to department stores and lingerie firms Sunday, hinting that cash-strapped couples are looking for less-expensive alternatives to their lavish nights out.
Sales in everything from racy bras to so-called ``T-panties'' have surged in the past year, and this has retailers adjusting their product lineups and marketing strategies to exploit the new consumer trend.
In particular, sales of lingerie at Shinsegae Department Store outlets jumped 15 percent year-on-year at the end of last week, with popular brands such as Calvin Klein, Emporio Armani and Triumph enjoying annual growth rates of over 50 percent.
The sales of ``home-wear lingerie,'' which includes slips, also rose by 30 percent compared to last year, Shinsegae said, with couples spending more of their evenings at home.
``For younger women, T-panties are becoming popular too,'' said a Shinsegae salesperson.
``Sexy underwear is becoming more popular among younger consumers and also consumers up to their mid-40s, so, as with the miniskirt, this seems to be another recession myth proving itself true.''
Lotte Department Store is also seeing a significant increase in lingerie sales, which climbed by more than 12 percent year-on-year as of April 9.
The sales of products the retailer categorizes as ``erotic'' have spiked even higher. Sexy underwear purchases rose by 19 percent compared to last year ― representing for nearly 40 percent of all lingerie sales ― when it accounted for around 20 to 25 percent.
Hyundai Department Store is reporting 13-percent annual growth for its lingerie sales this year.
With underwear hot off the shelves, retailers are competing to stage more marketing events. Lotte Department Store's central Seoul outlet will offer 50-percent discounts on some products from Venus, a Korean maker of ladies' underwear, from Monday to Thursday.
Hyundai Department Store is planning a ``lingerie of the world'' event in its four Seoul outlets, selling a limited amount of brands that haven't been previously available in Korea.
``Previously, consumers preferred simple designs with monotone colors, such as black. However, bright colors and bold patterns are now the hot trend, with bright red and yellow becoming popular for bras, panties and slips,'' said an official from Venus.