The Shadow Bra Industry: Direct Sales

Last week I gave you the context for my upcoming posts about a shadow bra industry, one in which sellers sidestep the traditional brick and mortar outlet but provide in-person attention that online stores can’t give. If you’ve ever dreamed of going out on your own as a bra fitter, then I know you’ve considered the challenges. This is our opportunity to meet some of the brave entrepreneurs who are tackling them.

From what I can tell, the biggest challenge is how to carry enough band and cup combinations to fit every possible D+ customer who needs help. It turns out that’s an impossible dream. As Erica from A Sophisticated Pair explained recently, if you “carry everything from a 28D to a 56N . . . your bottom line is eaten up with excess inventory, and pretty soon, you’re not helping anyone anymore.” Instead, she caters to the bulk of her customers by carrying mostly D-G cups in 30-40 bands, which means “only thirty-six sizes“. Only!

Thirty-six becomes an even bigger number when you multiply it by bra styles and colors. That’s a lot of bras to transport to a single customer’s house! One way to minimize the risk is to work with someone else who will invest in the inventory, make it available to your customers, and give you a percentage of any sales that you make. I’ve often thought it would be great if individuals who are passionate about bra fit could form partnerships like this with brick and mortar stores, or if, in turn, small brick and mortar stores could do the same with giant online retailers.

Until then, there is the direct sales business model. Here are three companies that I’m aware of:

The Cameo bras that I grew up with were sold via “distributors”, and they continue to be sold through individual fitters. An ABTF contributor offers a good write-up of her experience being fitted for one.

Essential Bodywear has been around since 2003. They only offer cup sizes to an American H, but I’m impressed by how lifted their fitters look.

Peach is the new kid on the block. I was extremely skeptical of this company when I met its founder at TechStyleNYC last September, but it’s hard to resist their passion.

Because I’ve experienced Peach most recently, this is the direct sales company that I’ll begin with, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to cover Cameo/LeUnique and Essential Bodywear later. I’m not going to dissect my Peach fitting experience (it was only okay) as much as explore their model for the fit-savvy Hourglassy reader looking for ways to help other women feel as great as she does.

A Better Way for Full Bust Bra Fit? A Shadow Bra Industry

The right bra changes our lives. It lets us play sports–and life–unselfconsciously. It gives an emotional lift at least as great as its physical lift. No wonder a properly fitting bra stirs more passion in the hearts of busty women than any other piece of clothing.

With so many busty women delighting in the intricacies of good fit, it seems like a Perfect Fit for All must be just around the corner. But then there are the rude awakenings.


When I took a friend swimsuit shopping last summer, the Cleo Lucille molded balconnet looked absolutely adorable on her. However, the 34G was a little too big and the 34F gave her a slight quadraboob, so we asked for the 34FF. “It doesn’t come in that size,” the saleswoman told us. I wondered if Panache had done something unusual with its sizing in this style, but a quick internet search showed it hadn’t.


Renee Lowry used to be a bra fitter for a plus-sized retailer. Anytime her company didn’t carry a customer’s size–especially in smaller bands with large cups–she’d send the customer to a different retailer known for its wider selection. Finally, Renee decided she’d like to work for the other retailer instead. She’d referred so many customers to them that they already knew her name, so of course the interview process went well–until Renee told them that she likes to educate her customers. Her interviewer visibly flinched. “Oh no!” she said. “We want our customers to believe in the magic!”

(Along the same lines, in Butterfly Collection’s recent post about how to change the lingerie industry, Claire recalls a well-established retailer who told her that she “should stop giving out free fitting advice because only bra fitters should have that knowledge”.)


It’s easy to feel disillusioned when passion for proper fit crashes into the hard wall of retail practices. I hold back from giving fitting advice because I dread the inevitable “Where should I go to buy a bra?” It shouldn’t be such a difficult question to answer in New York City.

Fortunately, other women don’t shy away from the challenge. For the past few years, I’ve been hearing about what I think of as a “shadow bra industry” where individuals take the place of brick and mortar stores and meet privately with customers or hold events and classes. There are women venturing out on their own (or as part of a franchise) to help other women in ways that physical stores and online retailers can’t.

I’ll be writing about some of these ventures in upcoming posts.

Off the Rack ~ Busty Dressing with Dolman Sleeves Part II

Like Darlene, I mostly avoid dolman sleeves. Sure, they mean there’s more room for boobs, but they usually have a weird boxy shape that completely swallows your figure. Even on rail-thin ladies, I am not a fan. Even with the gorgeous red cocktail dress from Saint Bustier that Darlene shared in her post, I just don’t understand the point. What’s the appeal of webbed armpits??


I tried the same three dolman-sleeve tops that Darlene included in her post, and my opinion remains unchanged. Of course, Darlene and I have different proportions and heights, so what looks good on her naturally may not work on me, but I still had to laugh at how terrible I think these garments look on me compared to her.

First, the snuggly sweater:


Look, Ma, no waist! This sweater is super soft, but I was super not-a-fan of the tighter hem hitting me at just the right spot so the folded over bits on the side blossomed out right at my waist—and turned it from my smallest part to my biggest. It was even worse if my arms weren’t glued to my sides:


What is happening at my biceps??

It’s not as bad if I strike a sassier pose, but I certainly wouldn’t be standing around like this all day—and I still don’t like that webbed armpit!


Next up is the Rock Cotton tunic, but again I wasn’t happy:


This tunic was shockingly long. I thought maybe it just looked long on Darlene because she’s more petite, and that it might be true tunic-length on me, but it’s definitely long enough to be a dress. In fact, it would probably look cute with black tights and a pair of moto boots…that is, if it didn’t swallow my waist again.

Like the sweater, the fabric here is a dream. It’s really soft and stretchy, and I like the goth tie-dye look of the print. But it was very tight on my hips, which made te top half billow out even more, a look I did not appreciate. If the whole thing were loose, I could probably wear it with a wide belt, but as it is, the proportions just don’t work for me.

Once again, though, a crooked elbow and a cocked hip make all the difference:


Finally, we have the cropped blazer, which I actually quite like!




This one highlights my waist instead of hiding it: The bottom button hits right at my waist’s smallest point, the flared opening creates an arrow pointing right at my waist, and the sleeves stop at my waist. The jacket is conspiring to make me look thinner instead of boxier!

Something about the way the stiffer, tailored fabric lays in the armpit region also keeps it from bunching up on the front side of my armpit.

Still, I think a normal-sleeved cropped jacket with a peplum would be similar but slightly cuter.


Like the Diva jacket from Heart of Haute—hello lovely!

So, conclusion: Big boobs don’t really affect how flattering a dolman top is…because they’re not very flattering on any shape, in my opinion! (Sorry, Darlene.)


Busty Dressing with Dolman Sleeves

Each of us has a personal set of cardinal rules for D+ dressing, and for many years mine has included “No dolman sleeves.” Dolman sleeves fit a large chest, but is the fit worth looking like a lollipop? I dismissed anything like the top below whenever I browsed store racks.


Last year, however, a few dolmans slipped into my wardrobe. One was the purple jacket I included at the end of my fall roundup of busty blazers and coats; another was a super snuggly sweater that I found for super cheap on Black Friday; and the third was the Rock Cotton tunic that I lived in while on vacation.batwings for the bustyNO ONE has complimented the purple jacket or the snuggly sweater on me, leading me to believe that dolmans truly are off limits (I refuse to abandon my snuggly sweater, however). I wonder if it has something to do with my height or average-to-short torso? After all, Sarah over at Stackdd is quite a bit taller and longer, and she has written about her great success with dolman tops (also here) and sweaters. To test my theory, I shipped the items to Leah, who also has a long torso. She’s going to take pictures of herself in them and give us her take on dolman sleeves this Friday!

In studying these photos, I realize that all dolmans are not created equal. Here are my observations:

  1. Length matters. If a big balloon of fabric is going to hide the top half of a torso, don’t end things suddenly. Keep going. I look leaner in the sweater (it’s all relative!) and the tunic than I do in the blazer because the hems fall below my hips.
  2. Knits trump wovens. Drapey fabrics give a little definition where they skim the body. Stiff fabrics stand out from the body.
  3. Contrast helps. The dark sleeves in the tunic distinguish my arms from my waist.

My friend Renee Lowry of Braology added her own insight on the subject with the help of this handy napkin diagram.extreme batwingIn her experience, the most flattering dolman sleeve tops are ones where the sleeves don’t take over the waist completely (blue lines) but instead allow for some fit and structure (red lines).

A representative for Saint Bustie, also weighed in on the subject in a recent email exchange:

Dolman sleeves can look super stylish, but it’s wise to choose carefully. Most importantly, don’t wear them to try and hide anything. To wear them well–particularly but not exclusively with big boobs–avoid dolman sleeves with too much volume or draping. Be ultra careful if you have broad shoulders–big bust or no!–as they can make you look somewhat triangular.  At the end of the day though, it’s how you wear it that really counts. Accessorize well and wear with confidence, and you will look fabulous!

One of her favorite dolman sleeve dresses at the moment is the Lauren Dress, seen below in garnet red, which also comes in black, blue and ivory white.


Finally, Angie at YouLookFab has a great overview on dolman sleeves, including this specific pointer for petite, full busted or strong shouldered women: keep the volume [under the arms] fairly subtle. And as one commenter pointed out, if you fall in love with a top that’s too voluminous, it can be a pretty simple alteration to narrow the sleeves and waist.

It looks like I won’t be snubbing every dolman sleeve top that I see in stores anymore! Instead, I’ll be experimenting with these new discoveries and looking for more.