Big Bust Bra Shopping: Where Have All the Good Ones Gone?

Last night I confided in a friend that today’s post would be about removing two stores from my list of  Good Ones because of inconsistency. She said, “Well, it’s probably like going to a restaurant for lunch. One time you get an amazing sandwich. The next time it’s not so great.”

But why can’t it be great 99.9% of the time?” I protested. “There are restaurants out there with that kind of reputation. Why can’t there be bra stores like that?”

Perhaps it’s because breasts and women’s bodies are waaaaay different from the ingredients that make up a Michelin-rated dining experience. Bra stores stock what they can for the customer they hope will walk through their doors, whereas a chef only stocks what he needs for a predetermined menu over which he has complete control (a giant oversimplification of what happens in a great kitchen, but I maintain that great bra fitting is more complicated). Then there are the individual preferences and biases of both the customer and the fitter. Add any body issues a woman may have, plus a fitter’s need to sell, and it’s incredible that any of us ever carry a bra to the cash register.

There are also the factors beyond anyone’s control. Perhaps the fitter has a throbbing headache, or maybe the very best fitter had a family emergency so the store owner is forced to use her B-team with less supervision than she would like to give. This is why I no longer publish store reviews on Hourglassy that are based on a single store visit.

I don’t mind sharing reviews on forums like Yelp where my experiences are supported or balanced by other reviewers. In fact, the more we use and contribute to such forums, the more the bra fitting landscape will improve. Imagine if we could look up lingerie stores the same way we look up hotels on TripAdvisor. With enough reviews, we really could figure out which stores are great 99.9% of the time!

On the other hand, my method of hearing about a great store from several sources and reporting to you that it’s One of the Good Ones is highly fallible. I learned this in August when I took a field trip to Zoe &  Co. and in September when a reader emailed me about Barbara’s New Beginnings.

Don’t get me wrong. These stores are way above average, and almost any full-busted woman can find something to fit her at them. But when I say that a store meets my three criteria for One of the Good Ones  (fitters that are knowledgeable; fitters that know how to relate to their customers; and an inventory that is wide and deep), I want to be confident that it does so consistently . . . that they would get more “excellents” than anything else on a BraFitAdvisor. Maybe they would, but not based on my and my reader’s recent experiences.

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If you’re interested in the specific experiences that reduced my list to only One of the Good Ones (please don’t let me be down, Lion’s Lair), you can read about them below.

I. Zoe & Co.

When I visited Zoe & Co. on August 29, I expected to walk to the cash register with at least four bras that I couldn’t live without. After all, I was desperate for new bras that fit, and Zoe & Co. was a guaranteed Good One. I was a little doubtful after reading these women’s bad customer service and bad fitting experiences at the New Hampshire store, but I was going to their Westerly, Rhode Island store.

On the two and a half hour drive, I debated whether to disclose that I was a blogger. On the one hand, anonymity would give me a more realistic picture of the store, but on the other hand, when I try to pretend that I don’t know anything about fitting, I feel dishonest. As I got out of the car, I decided that I would let the fitter lead the way, and when she asked where I was from and what I did, we’d have a good laugh about how happy I was to finally visit her store and how I couldn’t wait to tell my readers all about my great experience there.

Well, she never asked. Not only did she never ask where I was from or what I did, she never even asked me about past fittings or what I liked or what I needed. I just showed her the sad old Fantasie 4520 I was wearing in 34G. She measured my underbust, added four, and said I was likely a 36GG. (It’s a mystery how she arrived at 36 because I couldn’t squeeze that tape measure around me tightly enough to get anywhere near a 32, but I was pleased she didn’t start at 38, where a lot of fitters begin.) She returned with the Fantasie 6001 (Belle), which she explained was just a starter bra to establish fit, and she gave me some privacy while I put it on. As I suspected, I was able to fasten it on the tightest hooks immediately.

fantasie 6001

When she came back, she immediately re-fastened the bra on the middle hooks, explaining that this would give me more flexibility. She then raced through a spiel about proper fit, but I was in too much shock to pay attention–except to notice that there was no instruction to scoop and swoop. Finally, she proclaimed that the 36GG fit perfectly and went to find every 36GG bra in the store for me to try.

You know I’m the worst bra shopper in the world. Half the time I’m buying them too small, and the other half I’m buying them too large, but every time I think they fit when I leave the store. So I wondered if this bra truly fit me perfectly and my breasts were supposed to hang in a hammock like that. If so, I could never be happy in anything that fit me like the 36GG Belle, but I decided to give all the other 36GG’s a chance just in case. I made it through half of them before I finally broke down and told her, “I’m kind of used to a 34.”

I half hoped that this would lead to questions or an analysis, but it didn’t. She merely began to bring me a variety of 34H’s, and instead of staying around to see how they fit, only came by periodically to ask how I was doing. I used to believe that I would LOVE to have every bra in my size delivered to my dressing room like this, but it was oddly demoralizing. Maybe it was because so many of them were truly ugly. I was already feeling frumpy that day, and these selections only added to my insecurity (as in, “She must think I really don’t take pride in myself if she’s bringing me these”).

Guess which one fit perfectly? The Goddess 6160 in 34L. At least it was a purple zebra print.

goddess 6160

I really, really liked the Fantasie Celia and would have purchased it if not for the bubbling seam across the center of one of the cups.

fantasie celia

It also didn’t tack. A lot of the bras didn’t tack, and I think my fitter got tired of me constantly bringing this up because when I pointed out that the Celia didn’t tack either, she finally said, “Sometimes they just don’t.” It just so happens that she’s right, and there’s a reason that bras tend not to tack on me that I learned from Freddy at Curve in August (even when Freddy managed to get a bra to tack on me during her workshop, it would un-tack as soon as I sat down–something to do with very high-set breasts + full on top breasts + short torso), but this fitter wasn’t going to take the time to address the issue with me. When I said that plunges would probably help, she didn’t volunteer to bring me any to try.

The best part about the entire experience? She didn’t act disappointed or upset when I decided not to buy anything. And lunch at the Ocean House was amazing.

The day would have been perfect if I could have had the experience that Zoe described two years ago.

II. Barbara’s New Beginnings

In addition to the reader email that I share below, Karen told us about her visit to this store in January. The overall experience was good, but their inventory was shallow in the smallest band sizes:

[The fitter Susie] went to the back room and brought back two bras at a time.  I had an immediate let-down feeling as I saw granny-bra after granny-bra pile up. Each bra was nude in color with 1? or wider straps, a seamless full cup, and in 30 bands. After trying these bras on and not finding one that even slightly fit, I asked if she had anything more “fun” and would she mind bringing me an identical bra in a 28 and a 30 band so I can compare the two for a better fit. Susie said that, unfortunately, all that they had in my size were seamless full cups and that they don’t carry many of the fashion colors because there are not as many women buying in this size range as in the 34-38 bands; the nudes stock better. She did bring me the Panache Porcelain that I was wearing when I came in, both in a 28G and in a 30FF.

Here is reader Christine’s experience:

I wanted to let you know about a recent experience I had at Barbara’s New Beginnings, one of the shops listed under your “one of the good ones” list. I’m not trying to be negative at all, just trying to share that not all experiences there are great!
-I recently moved to Indianapolis from a small town in Missouri. I was so excited to go to Barbara’s, especially considering all the good reviews I read.
-My sister was visiting from out of town when we went there. My sister had a breast reduction in high school and is now pregnant. I knew she was wearing the wrong size, and she was reluctant to try anything D or higher because she didn’t want to feel like how she did before the reduction.
-I went in wearing one of my well-fitting Ewa Michalaks. When the fitter asked what size I typically wear, I said “this is a polish bra, so the sizing isn’t exactly the same, but I usually wear a 30H and they usually fit well in that size.” She measured my underbust (29 inches) and my overbust, and proceeded to bring me 32Gs (which is the size I wore a couple years ago before realizing they really weren’t working).
-I told her I really prefer the band to be tighter, and she reluctantly brought me some 30s, but still in GG. I have no idea why she didn’t start me with at least a 30H, because the bra I was wearing showed all signs of a good fit with no gaping.
-She didn’t tell me to swoop and scoop, but I instinctively did a little bit while putting them on. I really needed to bend over and do it better, but I already had quadraboob when I did my half-swooping. She seemed okay with the quadraboob and said it was a good fit.
-I have some migrated breast tissue just underneath my band at the outer edges of the cups from years of “tucking” my boobs back into my bras and pushing them out through the bottom. I instinctively push in those bits when I put on a bra. She looked at me funny when I did that, and said “those aren’t part of your breasts.” I said that I push them into my bra because otherwise it hurts to have the underwire squeezing into them. She then said “well, all women have issues with their body.” It was very offensive to me. I wasn’t saying that I was self conscious about my body. That’s just something I’m doing to try to fix my migrated breast tissue!
I felt very pressured and dismissed by the fitter, so I ended up getting the 30GG bra (a Cleo Juna, which I knew came in an H and I intended to just exchange it sometime). My sister walked out of her room with a bra too. I bought them both.
-After we got back to my apartment, I had my sister try on the bra, a molded cup 38C. It was terrible. The center gore was not laying flat, and the band was way too loose. The cups looked okay until I had her swoop and scoop. I recommended that she go back to 36s (the band size she went into the store wearing already), and try a DD. We looked at HerRoom online and we ordered a Juna in 36DD.  After it was sent to her, I looked at it again and recommended a 36E because she had some slight overspill, and with being pregnant it would probably increase. She is happy with the 36E, even though she feels its “too big” for someone who had a reduction. A 38C and 36E are very different, and for a size that they certainly carried, I can’t believe the fitter didn’t try them. All they did for my sister was get her a bigger band, even as a pregnant woman who clearly needed to size up in the cups!
-I did end up going back and exchanging my Juna for a 30H (although I probably would have been better off at a 30HH because of some overspill), and I’m relatively happy with it. It’s just irritating that I had to basically talk my way into getting the exact same size I originally said I wear comfortably. That, and the merchandise is in the back, so the only way to try it on is to ask a fitter. I got store credit for my sisters bra (they don’t do refunds, which I didn’t realize when we were there the first time), so I plan on getting another Cleo in a few months to use up the credit, and then not returning there anymore.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my experience! Hopefully I’m one of the few women who have had a bad experience here, but considering both me (large bust, small band) and my sister (relatively “average” in both band and cup size), I doubt it. I read bra blogs all the time and consider myself to be pretty “in the know” about bra brands, styles, and sizes, so it makes me sad to think of the women who aren’t as up to speed on all of this and get misled by their fitters.

Comments

  1. Lion’s Lair was really nice to work with, but I can’t swear if they’ll put you in the exactly right size.

    But they were very happy to work with me running between 30 and 32 for normal, and for my “Lookie my pretty boobies” Deco in a 34G as I have to stitch the gore up, which tips the cups and makes it closer to a 32GG/H which is SLIGHTLY too big, but a 34FF gives me quadboobage which I brought along to prove that since I do not measure that I’d need a 32GG/H at all in Freya as I can usually actually wear a FF/G in that line in padded bras.

    Fauve, I run a 30 or a 32 longline, Freya I run 32 or 34 for Deco or longlines. Balconette, I go up a cup size from padded half cup styles. I will not wear a full cup, nor did they recommend one for me. Plunges were agreed to be a potential issue due to some “extreme” center fullness, I spill out of a lot of plunges. They also didn’t bring any Curvy Kate when I said it’s a line I will not wear. They also agreed that while Cleo (I was wearing my Lucy) fits well, Panache just doesn’t.

    However, they did agree that for me, tacking gore is just not a likely fit ever. I’m close set with a hollow sternum that is above my breast root. I can push a gore flat with no cup spillage, and a 28 band will dig in enough to go flat. I measure at 31.3″ around, 28 is way too small. EM also tacks, but then rests 1″ too far in on the arm side and sits on breast tissue because the wires are way too narrow for me. Mine is fairly easy to prove, put me in a fitting bra bumped up to the max cup size, the gore still floats in lala land, and I have wrinkled cups from too much fabric.

    Zoe & Co doesn’t put me in anything near the right size. Even VS and Soma put me in a closer to right size, and 36DDD I am not. Per Z&C blonde haired “fitter”, I needed a 40C. I’ve not been a C cup since I was 10, and the only place I’m 40″ is my hips and overbust measurement.