What a Good Fitting Experience Should Be Like

or

How I Will Run the First American Bravissimo, Because Obviously They’d Just Let an Internet Stranger Run the First Overseas Expansion of their Baby

There has been a lot of internet chatter lately about the new Lifetime series Double Divas, which purports to educate American women about good fit, bra sizes, and breast health, while following the antics of the store’s personality-rich owners. I know I should watch it, y’all, but even though my office was closed on Monday, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.*** I’m not sure why. Maybe because I’ve been burned before by stores that claimed they’d change my life? Maybe I was turned off by the over-the-top Southern! Wackiness! Shtick! that saturated the preview clips I watched online? Maybe because I don’t care for reality shows in general? Mostly, though, I didn’t want to watch it because of what I read from 1) commenters on the Lifetime site who watched the show and 2) other, more intrepid bloggers who had thoughts to share.

***N.B. I know it’s deeply unfair to judge a show and a store without even watching said show, but I want to share some of the discussion I’ve read and use it as a jumping-off point to talk about what to expect from a supportive lingerie boutique. If/when I do watch the show, I will share a review and continue the discussion.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into the comments, because internet comment sections stress me out, but I’ll just say that I did NOT see a lot of comments that said “I now love my breasts,” “I feel confident about fitting my boobs,” “I know now that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with my boobs,” “I feel pretty,” or “thanks for helping me figure out what I like!”

After reading Fussy Busty’s, The Lingerie Addict’s, and Hourglassy’s reviews, I REALLY didn’t want to watch the show. I think the store owners are certainly filling a market void– based on the clips I’ve seen, they stock many brands I love and recommend: Freya, Elomi, Parfait, Love Claudette, Cleo, and others, and they are spreading the word that the boob alphabet doesn’t end at D, or even DDD. One of the store’s owners even works to build and sew garments for customers who can’t find something in their size in stock, which is really, really wonderful and would be fun to see more of. The fact remains, however, that there is nothing, NOTHING, that excuses store owners/employees who body-snark their customers. It is NEVER acceptable to use “Whoa,” “gross,” “HUUUUGE,” “tiny,” and other loaded words to describe a person’s appearance or boobs. All women deserve a welcoming, judgment-free lingerie shopping experience. Men deserve it too: I was appalled to hear that one of the store’s employees mocked “moobies” during one episode. I’m sorry, I have no patience with that shit. I have been made to feel ugly, weird, inappropriate, wrong, and abnormal because of my breasts, and I’m a woman. I cannot imagine how the emotional pain and shame are compounded if you’re a man who’s seeking the same support I do. Making fun of “man-boobs” shows an extreme lack of empathy, and it’s totally unacceptable.

Congratulations, dumb-fuck lingerie boutique.  You just lost every customer with a brain.  (Thanks to Busts4Justice for naming and shaming)

This sign is NOT from Double Divas, but nevertheless, congratulations, other dumb-fuck lingerie boutique. You just lost every customer with a brain. (Thanks to Busts4Justice for naming and shaming)

Enough of that nonsense. I thought it would be nice to address what a really, really good, even exemplary fitting experience would be like. I haven’t had a lot of them in New York City, unfortunately. My very first fitting was at Nordstrom shortly after graduating from college, and it was wonderful, positive, reassuring, and helpful. My experiences in NYC have been . . . stressful. The stores are small, the sales staff are either overly aggressive or absent, there’s a sense of no-nonsense authoritarianism, and, my biggest pet peeve, you can’t SEE the damn lingerie. It’s all tucked away in boxes and backstock, and unless you know what to ask for, you might never see anything beyond 2 or 3 styles. As frustrating as this is to me, a lingerie obsessive, I can’t imagine how bewildering it must be to someone who’s just starting out on her lingerie/boob-loving journey. So this is what I, Sweets, would like to find in a bra-shopping experience, and I’d love to hear what others think!

A dressing room at Faire Frou Frou in Studio City, California.  Photograph by MakingMagique.com

A dressing room at Faire Frou Frou in Studio City, California. Photograph by MakingMagique.com

  • You, the customer, are welcomed to the store in a friendly way. (Note to retailers: Someone who jumps on me when I walk in and chirps “DID YOU KNOW YOU’RE PROBABLY WEARING THE WRONG SIZE?!?!” tells me she isn’t invested in me as a customer. She hasn’t even asked me why I’m there yet. She is invested in spouting the party line, the advertising rhetoric, the gimmick that will make a sale. She doesn’t want me to learn to love and fit my boobs; she wants to sell me a bra and make me keep coming back to her. It’s the single biggest turn-off to me, right up there with D+ bras that only come in beige and black and small-cup bras that only come with three inches of padding.)
  • The store is clean, attractive, well laid-out, bright, accessible to those with disabilities, and welcoming to nursing mothers. Dressing rooms and restrooms are clean, well-lit, and private. There is room for your shopping bags, strollers, and small children.
  • There are lots of racks or displays showing available styles and products. You can browse and choose and compare products on your own if you want to.
  • Derriere de Soie in Charlottesville, VA

    Derriere de Soie in Charlottesville, VA

  • A store associate will politely ask you if you have any questions. If you say you’d like to be fitted, she will offer to make you an appointment or will offer to assist you.
  • You will be guided to a private, flatteringly-lit, comfortable dressing room, with a seat and hooks for your bags and belongings.
  • The fitter will ask you to remove your shirt if you’re comfortable doing so, and she will ask you some questions about the bra you’re already wearing:
    • What size is it?
    • How old is it?
    • What do you like about it?
    • What do you dislike about it?
    • How does this bra make you feel?
  • If you’ve never been fitted, the fitter will, in a non-authoritarian, non-judgmental manner, explain how a new bra should fit:
    • band firm without digging, lying horizontally across back, fastened on loosest hook
    • straps adjusted to support and smooth the cup, but not so tight that they dig into shoulders
    • cup completely encasing breast tissue, including under, around, and over the breast. Center front lies flush against sternum. No double-boob or wrinkling in the cup.
  • She will show you if there are any signs that your current bra may not be the best fit or may be worn out, and offer to bring you some new bras to try on. She will say “I think we may be able to find a better fit” instead of “you’re doing it wrong.”
  • Before she leaves to get some bras, she will ask you if there is a particular style or look or feel that interests you.
  • Bravissimo, London.

    Bravissimo, London.

  • When you find a new bra that you think fits, she will ask if she can see it.
  • She will ask you what you think of it and how you feel.
  • She will point out to you why the fit is improved, and tell you how to determine a good fit for yourself in the future.
  • She will listen to you if you still feel unsatisfied or uncomfortable, and she will either reassure you (wearing the right band size can feel strange if you’ve gotten used to the wrong one, and having cup size shock if you’ve been wearing the wrong cup size is totally understandable) or offer other products.
  • She will NEVER tell you that your size is set in stone, that your boobs are wrong, or that you should make the best of what you’ve got, and she will never force you to buy a bra or set or shape you don’t love. She will certainly never dream of saying “well, you need a G, but we don’t carry G cups, why don’t you try an F?” This is disingenuous and misleading, and she’d be trying to force you to buy something that isn’t right for you. What kind of way is that to keep a customer? She will also never fit you into a band that’s too loose for you unless the store offers free alterations to ensure a good fit and long bra life.
  • A Sophisticated Pair.  Burlington, North Carolina.

    A Sophisticated Pair. Burlington, North Carolina.

  • She will offer to bring you as many different sizes/styles as are available to you, and she will respect any budget concerns you may have.
  • She will be understanding if you decide not to purchase anything that day.
  • She will be honest if a particular bra isn’t made in your size, and she will suggest alternatives, even if that means suggesting another retailer.
  • She will be aware of any shyness, embarrassment, or shame that women may feel about their breasts or breast-related health issues, and she will be sensitive and understanding.
  • She will be upfront about the store’s return/alteration/shipping policy.
  • She will thank you for visiting the store and cheerfully wish you a pleasant day.

If you do not find this experience in a store, and/or you leave feeling bummed out, ashamed, or disappointed, do not go back to that store. Until the perfect experience is available, we have the internet.

Also, champagne and sweets in the dressing rooms would go over SWELL, although I understand we live in a sadly imperfect world. ;)

The Body Public: Talking About Lingerie

Since I started writing Sweet Nothings, I’ve found myself thinking and talking about lingerie more than I ever imagined I would.  I’ve learned a ton over the last 7 months, and I want to share it with everyone I meet.  Unfortunately, this means EVERYONE.  It is embarrassingly, horrifyingly easy to set me off on a dissertation.  I get louder, my voice drops into a stentorian Gandalph register, and I start talking very, very fast, eager to cram as many salient, important points about lingerie into a single discussion before my poor, captive interlocutor escapes.  How bra sizes ACTUALLY work!  It’s about fit, not size!  Victoria’s Secret isn’t actually great for “big” boobs!  Everyone deserves pretty lingerie!  It’s not you; it’s your bra!  For this situation, try this bra!  Or this one!  Luxury lingerie!  Bargain lingerie!  Cup construction!  Breast shape!  Body Shame and Body Acceptance!  Tissue Migration!  Bravissimo!  BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS!

I mean, Sweets. Honey, rein it in.

Photo: Lillian Bassman

Photo: Lillian Bassman

I see misinformation about bra sizes EVERYWHERE.  I see it in fit guides.  I see it in snarky gossip magazines.  I see it in the Google searches that bring people to my blog.  I overhear it in restaurants.  I even got the sadz when I read it in Mindy Kaling’s otherwise enjoyable Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, when she referred to an unusually (and, she suspected, unnaturally) full-busted woman with an otherwise very slim frame as “32D”, like her (alleged, likely inaccurate) bra size was her name, her being, her whole identity.  I try to respond tastefully, sensitively, and politely when I hear these things, but brevity quickly goes out the window.  Pull up a chair and grab a drink, friend, because Sweets is about to talk your ear off.

Daily Mail

I’m generally a very private person.  There are certain parts of my life that I keep to myself.  I’m even writing this blog with some anonymity measures in place, and I don’t really share it with anyone at work.  And yet on New Year’s Day I found myself blathering on about my lingerie and shopping preferences with a man I’d just met over black-eyed peas at my cousin’s apartment.  On the train on the way home I started berating myself for monopolizing the conversation.  Dear God, he had absolutely NO NEED to be on the receiving end of a lecture on bra sizes and the different size markets.  What on earth was I thinking?

I felt a little embarrassed for hijacking the conversation, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t so much my manners; I was ashamed of the SUBJECT.  “Oh, hi, there is this thing I care about, I actually think it’s kind of a big deal, it’s underwear, and– oh god don’t look now but I’m about to TELL YOU EVERYTHING.”  I felt ashamed for caring, ashamed for speaking up, and embarrassed for deciding that I was going to be the one to tell people that “yes, actually, bra sizes are a pretty big deal for lots of women, and can carry a lot of psychological and emotional weight.”

This man, though?  Turns out I really had no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed (as my cousin later reassured me).  In fact, he was mostly curious.  The idea of having enough to say about lingerie to warrant a few posts a week genuinely intrigued him.  WHY did I have so much to say about bras?  WHY were most women wearing the wrong size?  WHY was Victoria’s Secret actually not great for big boobs?  WHY were bra sizes this great mystery that it took a know-it-all to explain?  Good lord, there were really a sizes that a lot of women wear that aren’t readily available?  He was ready to believe me when I said it was an emotionally sensitive topic, but he genuinely didn’t understand why.  How could he?

*     *     *     *     *

Women’s bodies, boobs, and bra sizes are in such a weird place, public-relations-wise.  There’s a very popular editorial cartoon making the rounds on Facebook featuring a mall cop chastising breastfeeding mothers for their brazen flaunting of their naked breasts, against a backdrop of an enormous, sultry, bare-all, come-hither lingerie ad in a store window.  I sometimes feel like 25% of the internet is made up of articles speculating on celebrities’ bra sizes, breast sizes, and the fluctuations thereof.  If our boobs are showing, we’re “flaunting” them, if they’re not, we’re “prudes” or “frumpy” or “cold”, if our breasts are visible we’re bimbos, if they’re not we’re nerds, if our breasts are noticeable at work we’re trying to use sex to get ahead, if they’re not we’re trying to be “one of the guys”.  They should be perky like a teenager’s and full like a mature woman’s, but woe betide us if they respond to, you know, gravity.  If we contradict someone in an online forum, it’s “Tits or GTFO”.  Some men’s online dating profiles specify a range of “acceptable” and “unacceptable” cup sizes for prospective partners.  There is so much public scrutiny of women’s breasts and what we do with them and how we dress them that we internalize a LOT of it, whether consciously or unconsciously.  The way we feel about our breasts can so easily become the way we feel about ourselves.  The divide between what’s public and what’s private totally breaks down.

Vintage ad

I want DESPERATELY for women to feel okay about their boobs.  I want every stranger I see on the train to feel okay about her boobs.  My coworkers, my friends, my family, myself.  I hated mine for such a long time.  I wanted to be a ballerina, after all, and then suddenly along come these things I NEVER ASKED FOR and ruin my line and throw off my balance and fuck up my arabesque and get in my damn way (there is also the matter of the flat feet and above-average height, but guess where I channeled all of the blame?).  I wanted to die whenever someone noticed them or talked about them: they were out of my control!  No fair!  My brain!  My heart!  Stop looking at my fucking boobs!

Here’s the deal: your fucking boobs are great.  They really, really are.  They are part of you, but they do not define you.  As hard as it sometimes is to believe, you can do whatever you want.  Wear the lingerie you want (even though I really, really want you to wear pretty things, you’re even allowed to wear beige if you want), draw attention to them if you want, find clothes you love, hang out with people who love and accept them too.  I’m not sure when or why a woman’s breasts became A) public domain and B) the physical manifestation of her character and worth, but that shit is bananas and illogical and silly.  It’s totally fine to find boobs sexy and attractive, but it’s not fine if that’s all they’re allowed to be.

As long as lingerie, women’s breasts, and their sizes are discussed publicly, and discussed with judgment and shame, I’m going to keep discussing them too, without self-censorship and (hopefully) without shame. The idea of the “right” size, shape, and silhouette is almost purely an artificial construct, created for the benefit of manufacturers and retailers. I didn’t pull this very private thing into public, but I’m going to keep it there until the misinformation and judgment have been replaced entirely with love, appreciation, and honor. Every time someone hears that her breasts are too big or too small, or that her proportions are weird, or that she needs corrective lingerie for figure flaws, she’s hearing someone tell her that her body, the personal one she carries around with her, has been found faulty, or worse, that her body is all she is, discounting her talents, her soul, her spirit, and her intelligence.

Congratulations, We All Win

Bra sizes are not a competition.

I cringe when I see how quickly a comment thread on a “celebrity bra size” article or a bust-related post on Facebook can devolve into an “I have it worse than you” contest. An article will appear suggesting, say, some curve-friendly button-down shirts. Commenters will immediately chime in that they can’t wear button-downs, because they are too curvy. The first wears a 36DD. Another says “oh, yeah?” She “has it worse.” She wears a 28J. Another’s plight is sooo much worse, she wears a 38K. One wears a 30A, and she thinks everyone else needs to count their blessings and quit whining. One wears a 34C, she doesn’t believe that these other commenters’ bra sizes exist, as she has enough trouble finding clothes as it is, and these other commenters must have implants (and therefore deserve condemnation). Then the whole conversation devolves into a series of angry, hurt, sad, and confused protests. The final straw is that these commenters will almost all say “I’m A [Bra Size]” instead of “I Wear A [Bra Size]“, which we know bugs the bananas out of me.

It’s really tempting to join in, isn’t it?  I know I’ve done it.  I’ve joined a conversation with women discussing their struggles with their breasts, and I’ve dropped my full-bust size on them without warning, just to provoke a reaction.  I did it . . . I don’t know why, actually.  The self-righteous side of me says I did it to startle the other women, to show them that there are sizes beyond D-cups, to educate, like the Bra Band Project does.  The more honest side of me says that I did it, frankly, to shame them.  “You think you have it bad?  Shut up.  You don’t know what I suffer.”

*     *     *     *     *

This week the Daily Mail published an article in which Linda Becker of Linda the Bra Lady fame allegedly claimed that modern bras are vanity-sized so that women feel like their boobs are bigger and their backs smaller than they really are. Now, look, call me crazy, but there is just the eensiest, tiniest chance that the Daily Mail exaggerated, sensationalized, and twisted Linda’s words to provoke emotional reactions and undermine the self-confidence of its women readers. This is a publication that red-pens every alleged flaw or indication of “excess” weight on a photo of a female celebrity while simultaneously concern-trolling celebrities who are “dangerously” or “scarily” thin. If you scroll down the sidebar on the Daily Mail site, most of the articles about female celebrities mention their age, bodies, weight, or some other physical attribute in the headline. So I’m not really inclined to respect their journalistic integrity, and considering Linda’s years of fitting experience and the incredibly vast range of sizes and styles she sells in her stores, I think it’s more likely that she was misquoted, or, at the very worst, that she misspoke. Update: Fussy Busty and Christina on Facebook directed me to the original article the Daily Mail appears to have used as its source, and to which, unfortunately, Linda proudly links on her own blog.  It does in fact appear that her words are less benign than I’d hoped.  Bummer.  Claire at Butterfly Collection has a great post up that clearly explains, in detail, the differences between bras manufactured today and bras manufactured earlier in the 20th century, which goes some way towards explaining what I suspect Linda was trying to say (be sure to click on her link to an article breaking down the very term “vanity size”; it’s worth your while).

Busty Girl Comics illustrates the competitive mindset for us. How lovely are both of these women? Very. But it’s excruciatingly hard to break free of the compare/contrast mindset. Caitlin Moran even talks about this in How to Be a Woman, which– have you read it? You need to read it.

The Daily Mail article is an example of the sort of messages women are bombarded with every. damn. day. that lead to competitive negativity. We are told our bodies are all that matter about us, and we are taught to break them down, belittle them, judge them, qualify them. We compete to see who can break herself down the worst, and we internalize the messages that say we have flaws. We have problems. Other people have it easier. Our breasts are problematic. I even heard it once at S Factor, after two hours of beautiful dancing: “No, seriously, my boobs are a PROBLEM”, and it broke my heart into thousands of pieces. Our breasts, NO MATTER THEIR SHAPE, SIZE, COLOR, OR CONSISTENCY, are not problems. They’re human. Everyone has them at some point in their lives. True, some breasts are small, big, scarred, tired, augmented, reduced, young, old, cancerous, or leaking (holla new moms!), but we all have them. Every single one of us (dudes too). And if we can tune out the shenanigans like the Daily Mail article that try to plant the fear in our minds that the lingerie industry is appealing to our “vanity” to disguise the fact that we are in some way flawed and deluding ourselves, we can better accept our own beauty and others’.

Let’s challenge ourselves to stop comparing and stop competing. Let’s remember that we wear bra sizes, we are not bra sizes. Let’s remember that all the extra numbers and letters allow us to calibrate fit for literally hundreds of different sizes and shapes of women, and that those numbers and letters aren’t there to threaten or challenge or insult or define or confine us. Someone has never heard of a G-cup, and thinks you’re exaggerating? Someone tells you your small breasts “don’t count”? Someone needs to look around and get a life.

Bra sizes are not a competition, because we all have a bra size.  We all win.  Competing for the best or worse is illogical.  True, you may find some things more difficult than another woman, but please remember that the degree of your struggles does not diminish any struggles she may face, and to imply that it does is hurtful and unfair.  Let’s change the conversation.  Let’s keep it positive, and let’s keep it encouraging.

P.S.  It’s October, and it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. The single most important thing you need to do this month, even more important than wearing pink or posting something on Facebook, is to perform a breast self-exam, encourage others to do the same, and make it a habit. I’m TERRIBLE about remembering to do this, but let’s all do it, and remind our friends to do it, too. Breast cancer affects boobs of every shape, size, and age, and dudes aren’t exempt either. Take care of your spirits, and take care of your boobs.

Brand Introduction: Freya

For those of us who know our bra sizes better than our social security numbers, Freya is nothing new, but for many women, particularly in North America, who are just getting to know their full-bust sizes, Freya’s is the first friendly face they’ll meet.  While Freya may not be for everyone, I want to share the brand with you because 1) it’s widely available in North America now, 2) it’s moderately priced (generally), and 3) Freya really paved the way for many of the beautiful, varied full-bust companies on the market today.

Lots of Styles

“Deco” molded plunge bra, available in black and beige as well as seasonal colors. Sizes 28-38 B-GG (some exceptions).

Being an internationally recognized leader in the full-bust market, Freya has the resources to offer many, many different styles over the course of a year.  On average, around 20+ new styles hit the market every season, including swim, lounge, lingerie, and athletic wear.

Clockwise from top left: Active, Lingerie, Lounge, Maternity, Swim

Freya offers lots of different shapes, too: padded half-cup, seamed balconette, molded plunge (the enormously popular Deco bra), soft cup, nursing, sports, and strapless bras as well as bikinis, tankinis, and full-length swimsuits, so there’s a chance that even if one shape isn’t your cup of tea, Freya may offer another shape that works for you.  Last year they introduced a longline style which returns this year in multiple prints.  Some bras are padded, some are sheer, some are opaque, some are frilly, some are basic, so you have a great chance of finding underwear to suit your needs and tastes.  Freya will be launching some pretty shapewear next spring, and Freya and sister brands Elomi, Huit, Fauve, Fantasie, and Goddess offer beautiful, colorful options for a range of shapes, sizes, styles, and budgets.

Lots of Sizes (sometimes)

Freya was one of the first labels to offer K-cups and 28-backs, and they should be applauded.  Competitive labels have expanded their size ranges in order to keep up, which means more options for everyone.  However, sometimes there are weirdly arbitrary sizing black holes.  Some bras start at C-cups, others at D, 28 bands frequently aren’t available in the full cup-size spectrum, the athletic and sleepwear ranges don’t go to K cups, and some other styles arbitrarily stop at G or GG instead of extending up to the full GG-K range (particularly in larger band sizes– boo).  Many women are waiting for Freya to adapt the Deco bra for larger cup sizes, and I am baffled as to why the longline bras can’t go higher than a G.  If it’s because the longline bras feature the padded half-cup shape, then make it an unlined balconette longline bra!  Hell, I’d prefer it unlined.  A longline version of the Arabella range would knock my socks off.

Right? Wouldn’t this make a super-sexy longline bra?

Holy crap, you guys, I am a design genius!  Freya, get on that: I will buy the hell out of it.  A longline bra with its six hooks feels like such a blessing to so many full-busted women, since, as we know, support comes from the band.  I know that the design, construction, and, well, architecture of larger cup sizes is more challenging and more time-consuming, but women who wear these sizes often want supportive sleepwear and sports bras most of all, and there’s currently a huge hole in the market.

Lots of Accessories

I’ve made my feelings on matching sets known before: I love them, I crave them, I feel so pretty in them.  Freya usually offers at least two, if not more, coordinating knickers (and occasionally suspenders) for each of their bras and coordinating bottoms for each of their bikinis and tankinis.  As an avowed thong-hater, I love this, because I can build lingerie ensembles of my choosing, with pieces that I know flatter me and feel the most comfortable.

Some of the accessories available in the following ranges: Pier (swim), Gem, Ashlee, Patsy.

Lots of Color

While my first Freya bra was a fairly basic black (“Pollyanna”, I know I keep harping on it but RIP I miss you), the first thing that made me notice the brand was color.  Again, the full-bust landscape has changed dramatically in the last five years, and brands like Cleo, Miss Mandalay, Parfait, Claudette, Curveturiere, and others feature bright, bold, on-trend colors and a sophisticated design approach, but when I first started figuring out how to fit my breasts, my only point of reference was your average US department store, where my options were beige, black, and white, if they carried my size at all.  Freya bras, on the other hand, came in reds and pinks and greens and blues and deep purples, and they were trimmed with lace and contrasting bows and ruffles.  The designs were interesting, the colors popped, and the whole feel overall was so much more youthful, sexy, and fun than the beige minimizer bras I’d turned to for years.

Some of the many, many colorful lingerie pieces released over the last few years.

Lots of Print

Polka dots. Bows. Flowers. Tattoos. Flamingos. Russian dolls. Feathers. Stripes. Freya really stands out in the full-bust market for its sometimes completely bonkers prints (I mostly mean that as a compliment).  While it’s really lovely to have elegant, luxurious lingerie in your drawer, sometimes it’s also nice to inject a little fun into the mix.  I will always love polka dots, and I LOVED the Nieve print (which sort of kills me, because I found the fit in both the balconette and the longline bras to be pretty strange (more later)).  There’s a nice playfulness to some of the prints, and a charming sensuality to others.

Freya Prints: Nieve (longline), Tabitha (balconette), Carly (molded plunge)

Does Freya have it all?  Well . . . they have a lot!  I think branching into shapewear for Spring 2013 was a really smart decision, given that shapewear’s surging popularity shows no signs of stopping.  I hope Freya listen to feedback and continue to expand their size ranges, as there are currently lots of ladies falling into the gaps.  There are sometimes baffling fit inconsistencies that make shopping online a real pain.  In the last year or two it seems like Freya’s bands have gotten much, much stretchier, and sometimes the cups have too.  I have the balconette version of the Nieve in what is, for me, a pretty average size, and I’ve worn it a few times, but it has stretched so quickly I’m already wearing it on the tightest hooks, and the cups are bizarrely unsupportive and droopy.  I almost feel like I should have gone down 1 band size and up 2 cup sizes, a fit adjustment that is impossible to anticipate and which most likely means an online shopper will have to pay shipping and returns.  The “Faye” style is very popular as a basic bra, but I have yet to find the right fit on me.  I find the band somehow loose and tight all at once, the cups are shallow, and the fabric feels flimsy to me.  However, these complaints might be specific to my body type, and maybe to a women with firmer tissue or differently shaped breasts, Freya’s recent design changes are a breath of fresh air.  Freya’s wires tend to run narrower than Panache’s, which are notoriously wide, so Freya bras in general might suit some women better than others.  Finally, many of Freya’s unlined bras give a kind of retro pointy shape, which can be either really appealing or a huge turn-off, depending on your preferences.  I’m not a fan of the shape for me personally, but I have found that the silhouette tends to soften to a more natural look after a few wearings, almost like I have to break it in first.

While I don’t think Freya will ever be everything to any one specific customer,  I do think Freya has a little something to offer a wide range of women, no matter her age, shape, or style.

Have you tried Freya?  Do you have a favorite style?  I’ve mostly featured past styles, but if you want a sneak peek of Spring/Summer 2013 (and the chance to preorder anything that catches your eye), check out A Sophisticated Pair’s preview of some of the beautiful styles to come!

Rant for a Monday

So the always-on-the-alert Georgina at Fuller Figure Fuller Bust recently brought a ground-breaking piece of investigative journalism to my attention (sarcasm alert).  Read it.  It’ll take you like 30 seconds, and probably only kill 5 brain cells.

You’re back?

Hoooooooooookay.  Y’all.  I’m trying to be calm and measured in my response to this.  But can we get the obvious out of the way first?  This “article” is COMPLETE AND UTTER BULLSHIT.

Now, let’s get down to it:

First of all, a woman’s bra size is her own business.

Second, unless you are an experienced, professional bra fitter who is not employed by Victoria’s Secret, you will not be able to tell a woman’s bra size on sight.

Third, celebrities have been known to lie about clothing sizes before.  Probably to avoid being stigmatized and shamed in crap articles on the internet like, oh, I don’t know, this one.  So even if this article has been fact-checked (haaaaaaaaaaa!), it’s probably still only an accurate reflection of either A) the lie the celebrity/celebrity’s people told or B) the (incorrect) size the celebrity buys because she doesn’t know better.

Fourth, the alphabet doesn’t end at D.

Fifth, a bigger number doesn’t mean your boobs are OMG huge.  The number part of a bra size represents the approximate dimensions of your ribcage.  Everyone’s different, of course, but generally your band size will be around +/-1-2 inches of your underbust measurement, if it differs from your underbust measurement at all.  Many of the celebrities pictured in this article are curvy, yes, but they also have slim waists and narrow ribcages compared to their busts and hips.  I’m going to contradict myself and size them (partially) on sight, but I would guess more of them are in the 28-32 band size range rather than the 34-36 range.

Sixth, articles like this perpetuate the myth that D-cup bras are enormous and shocking.  Y’all, no matter the number/letter on the tag, your boobs are not shocking.  They’re your boobs, and they’re totally lovely (they really are.  Small, large, veiny, perky, droopy, stretch-marked, scarred, whatever: they are a part of you, but they do not define you).  There are over 100 different bra sizes readily available for sale all over the internet.  Very slim women can wear D-K-cup bras, full-figured women can wear A-C cup bras, and vice versa.  Your overall shape or clothing size in no way dictates your bra size.

Seventh, this article is sexist and size-ist.  It seems to be measuring female pop stars’ merits by the size of their chests, reducing their bodies to one isolated physical trait, and ridiculing anyone who dares to have excess flesh like the unfortunate gentleman in the last picture.  Haha, you’re so hilarious, article writer.  Really, shame the man for having boobs.  Guess who has boobs?  EVERYONE.  BECAUSE WE ARE MAMMALS.  IT’S SCIENCE.

Eighth, I remind you again that bra sizes, and indeed clothing sizes in general, are arbitrary.  They are averages.  They are mass-production conveniences created for manufacturers and retailers and, in an ideal world, for shoppers, so that we can guess at our best fit.  The use of standardized sizes streamlines the retail process, but it’s not Divine Writ.  Fit and size vary from brand to brand, item to item, and even sometimes from color to color.  Sizes don’t define us as types of human beings.  We are more than our clothing sizes, and we are more than our bra sizes.

In a world before mass-production, clothes were literally made-to-measure, and we had to find things to obsess over and fetishize other than our clothing sizes, because there was no such thing as a “size 4” or a “size 18”.  I absolutely and 100% do not care what size you wear, and I’m working hard not to care what size I wear.  I care about fit.  Your clothes should fit you well and make you feel good.  Period.  People will want to size-shame you, probably because they have unresolved issues of their own or because all they see are idiotic articles like this one, which they accept as gospel truth.  They will tell you that a size 10, 12, 22, whatever is “fat”.  They’ll tell you that a size 0 is “anorexic.”  They’ll tell you that “A-cups don’t count.”  They are full of it.  You wear what size fits you, supports you, and makes you look and feel fabulous.

*     *     *     *     *

Further reading: Busts 4 Justice’s excellent post on the idiocy of cup-size shaming by a lingerie shop

“Universal Cup Size”: You’re Doing It Wrong

I remember timidly exploring the world of online lingerie shopping shortly after moving to New York.  I Googled my size at the time: 34DDD, according to Nordstrom.  Even though I soon found websites like HerRoom, FreshPair, Figleaves, and Bare Necessities, knowing my size wasn’t much of a help.  Some of these places didn’t seem to carry anything over a DD cup, or they had letters like Es and Fs, and I wasn’t sure how those corresponded to the size I was wearing.  If I did find a 34DDD, the offerings were bland and boring (the next salesperson to suggest I try a Le Mystère bra gets it hurled back in her face).  It was then that I learned that shopping as a wearer of D+ bras would forever be a crapshoot.

Flash-forward (eesh, five years already), and my goodness how things have changed.  Online lingerie retailers offer huge inventories of merchandise for many previously under-served customers.  Just take a look at Invest in Your Chest’s recent report from Moda of the Spring/Summer 2013 trends.  Many of the items she photographed are made by companies that cater specifically to smaller or fuller busts and/or smaller back sizes and/or fuller figures, and the styles, colors, details, patterns, and cuts are sexy, feminine, fun, and enticing.  It’s wonderful, and it’s an acknowledgment from designers and retailers that 34-38 B-D will no longer cut it.  Women come in so many shapes and sizes, and they’re better served, lingerie-wise, than they’ve ever been before.

It’s still confusing though.  French, English, Italian, American, and other European manufacturers all have the opportunity to pick a different cup-sizing method, if they want to.  The vastness of online lingerie retail means that it’s the shopper’s responsibility to do a little homework before she makes a purchase.  She needs to know her brand’s country of origin, and she needs to know her size across different manufacturers.  Many e-retailers try to solve this problem by placing a disclaimer next to a product (ex. “This bra comes in UK sizes.  Be sure to order your UK size” or “see International conversion chart here”), but HerRoom decided to eliminate some of the homework and create a “Universal Cup Sizing (UCS)” system.  In theory, this is great: all the world’s bras united under one sizing system, which simplifies a confusing shopping process.  EXCEPT IT’S LOATHSOME AND DUMB, BECAUSE ONCE AGAIN IT CUTS OFF AFTER D. Continue reading

Curveturiere Preview

On Monday night I had the privilege of attending a cocktail preview party for the new intimates line Curveturiere! I was delighted and a little star-struck to go to my first press event, but I had such a lovely time speaking with the founders, Mary Pifko and Kelly Moore, having some bubbly, meeting buyers and other writers in the fashion and lingerie fields, and chatting with Avril, the gorgeous fit model who showed off some of the styles that will launch in 2013. Curveturiere’s journey has been a whirl-wind; Kelly told me that work on the line began in February 2012, and they’re already showing their first collections. They should be able to reveal their first buyers and retail locations in about a month! Mary and Kelly each have an impressive background in fashion design and marketing, and their experience really speaks in their attention to detail.

A quick run-down: all Curveturiere styles, including strapless and wire-free bras, will be available in sizes 32-50 D-K. Note that Curveturiere uses the US cup-sizing system (generally, A, B, C, D, DD, DDD/E, F, G, H, I, J, K), so women who wear higher than a UK H/HH-cup may be sized out. Curveturiere is making a point of soliciting customer feedback even before the launch of the full line at Curve Las Vegas. Kelly told me they’ve already had multiple requests for 28 and 30 back sizes, and if they get enough requests they may even have time to get these sizes patterned, cut, and ready for sale in 2013! That’s a pretty dazzlingly quick turn-around, so hopefully women who are currently sized out at any end of the spectrum can speak up and see items in their sizes in the near future. Continue reading

Virtual Bra Fitting: Butterfly Collection

Claire Dumican, the owner of Butterfly Collection, an online lingerie shop based in Canada, and creator of the amazing cup size comparison chart I highlighted a while ago, recently posted a really beautiful article on her blog about the shop’s Skype bra-fitting services.

I have to admit, when I first heard about the service, I was intrigued but also perplexed.  If you were wearing the wrong size, how could the fitter determine the correct fit via Skype without a range of sizes on hand for the customer to try on in person?  How could a fitting by Skype possibly be better than an in-person fitting?

“Lottie” bra by Curvy Kate at Butterfly Collection

I’m embarrassed to say that this is the kind of tunnel-vision people in New York get (rightly) blamed for all the time.  I am fortunate to have many boutiques and shops available to me in the city itself, and shipping something to New York City isn’t a problem for most international retailers.  I’m able-bodied and childless, so there’s nothing preventing me from skipping down to the subway after work and traveling an hour if there’s a shop I want to visit in another borough.  I’m also internet-savvy and have the time and resources to dedicate to online research to find what I need.  It’s beyond presumptuous of me to assume that all women enjoy the same conveniences of location, availability, and resources that I do. Continue reading

Suggestions for the Full-Figure Lingerie Shopper

There is SO MUCH lingerie on the internet.  In many ways, it’s thrilling and empowering: the industry is really booming, brands are really listening to customer feedback and paying attention to fashion trends, and new brands are emerging all the time that cater to specific shapes and sizes of women.  It feels great to know the options are out there, but it’s also hugely overwhelming.  I wanted to spotlight a few options that I’ve come across recently that cater to a full-figure customer.  In some cases there will be some overlap for the full-bust customer, but by and large I want to focus on brands that cater to women who may struggle to find sexy lingerie that fits their hips and bellies as well as their breasts.

Hips and Curves

Skirted Thong (1X-4X) and Strappy Stretch Lace Bra (38-44, no cup sizes specified), stay-up stockings (1X-6X). This seriously looks like a set from Agent Provocateur, at a fraction of the cost. Very pretty!

Wow.  I kind of love everything on this site.  I think Hips and Curves is a great place to start, if you want to dip your toes into super-sexy lingerie.  The prices are eminently reasonable, and the designs are elegant, sophisticated, on-trend, and sensual.  The site offers bras, panties, sleepwear, costumes, fun burlesque accessories, shapewear, corsets and bustiers, stockings, suspender belts, even leather and patent lingerie.  It’s a fun one-stop shop for any lingerie needs- everyday wear, special occasion, bridal wear, and more risque fun. Continue reading

How Not to Shop, with Sweets

Wow.  So, I keep telling y’all to stand your ground in lingerie shops and demand your size or demand pretty things in your size, and I just went into a boutique on my lunch break and totally bombed.

Very Nice Store Representative: Can I help you find anything today?

Sweets: No thanks I’m just browsing?

VNSR: Okay, well let me know if you need anything.

Sweets: [aimlessly wanders teeny-tiny store, glancing at labels and tags.]

VNSR: Are you sure there’s nothing I can help you with?

Sweets: Um, well, um, I guess I was wondering if . . . um, you guys were going to bring back any full-bust sizes?  Because I bought my favorite bra ever from you all a few years ago and you don’t seem to carry it anymore?  Could I sound any more sheepish?

VNSR: Oh, um, well, uh, what’s your size?

Sweets: [Size, but with lots of apologetic question marks]

VNSR: Oh.  Well, um, yeah, we have these over here. [Goes to drawer with 1 style of beige molded cup bra]

Sweets: Oh, that’s okay, really, that style doesn’t fit me very well . . . I was kind of hoping you had, um, some Claudette and Mimi Holliday?  Because both those brands make full-bust sizes, and I want to try them on?

VNSR: Have you looked online?

Oy.  This happens all the time.  The store representative can’t help it that they don’t stock my size, but I know she feels badly, and she wants to offer me something, anything.  She sees my disappointment, and she wants to offer me a balm.  But it’s a SUCKY one.  I don’t want beige!  I don’t want shipping charges and uncertainty!  I want the pretty shiny lacy silky things!  I want to grab my size off the wall and ask “May I try this on?” and have options.  This VNSR gets extra brownies points because, unlike one of her predecessors on a previous shopping trip, she didn’t suggest I try on two band sizes bigger and two cups smaller, because “it would probably fit.”

So what to do in this situation?  What to do if, like me, you know what you’re looking for and you don’t see it?  Well, look, you’re not gonna get an answer that minute.  You may even get a polite but firm “we have no plans to expand our size/brand range at this time.”  But what the VNSR eventually offered me was a spot on their mailing list, confirmation that they’d be expanding their online retail presence, and assurance that if there was anything I wanted to see, I’d be welcome to contact the store via their website and request it.  I think that’s a great response, because it speaks to the store’s flexibility and interest in their customers.  She wasn’t a manager or owner, so she couldn’t answer my questions, but she directed me towards people who could.  Thanks, VNSR!

I don’t know why I still get sheepish in lingerie shops, but it can feel overwhelmingly embarrassing to have to ask for your size, no matter which end of the spectrum: petite, small-bust, full-bust, full-figure, basically any size that deviates from the Standard Sixteen.  Here’s how I’m trying to look at it: how will the store know what its customers want if the customers don’t ask?  For every person who sticks to her guns and asks, there could be countless women who didn’t.  Also, every time I step up and ask for my size, my brands, my choices, it gets easier and less mortifying.  I am not my boobs, and I am not my bra size.  I just want to take care of them and dress them well.  A good store will be there to help me.