A Happy (Big Bust Bra Fitting) Ending at Empreinte

It’s my dream–and I’m sure it’s yours–that if a brand makes bras in my size, to be able to walk into a store and try EVERY style available in my size. Since this didn’t happen for me earlier in my week in Paris, I squeezed in a visit to Empreinte an hour before it closed the evening before we left. Dream accomplished.

empreinte purchase

Despite the late hour, my fitter Céliane was incredibly thorough. She answered all my questions and accommodated my every preference. After confirming my size, she wheeled a rack into my dressing room that held every bra that Empreinte makes in 32F.
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The Shadow Bra Industry: New Options, New Issues

Throughout the Shadow Bra Industry series, you met two New Yorkers, Jessica and Anina, one Chicagoan, Adrienne McGill, one Californian, Lisa Cole, and two direct sales companies, Peach and Essential Body Wear. Today I wrap things up with some final thoughts on the subject.

As you read the articles in this series, did you sometimes feel like you were reading infomercial scripts? I certainly felt like I was writing them! I think it’s because I was introducing you to individual women who work from the shadows to bring good fit to their clients. It goes without saying that each fitter in this series is human, so I decided to go without saying anything critical. None of the private fitters has a huge marketing budget or much time to promote herself on social media. She simply cares about other women feeling great in their skin. By agreeing to be interviewed, she gave Hourglassy readers one more answer to the question, “Where should I go for a fitting?”

When I began this series, I also didn’t anticipate the need for discretion–not discretion about celebrity clients (although these fitters have them), but about trade secrets! There may be a limited universe of bra fitting techniques, but when a fitter has spent years tailoring her approach to the way that her clients think and feel, it isn’t fair for a blogger to swoop in and tell everyone exactly how she does it.  I also didn’t think it was fair to include their fees in my posts because what may look expensive on your screen will seem insignificant when you meet the fitter in person. In my opinion, the women who have decided to build their livelihood on private lingerie fittings are the biggest argument against free bra fittings. It isn’t only the time involved for each appointment, but their determination that every client will walk away satisfied (and lifted, supported and comfortable!).

Although I knew better, I naively hoped that a magical solution to every big bust bra fitting issue would emerge from the shadows through this series. Instead, I learned more about the challenges in the industry.  For instance, there’s a reason that you probably know more about big bust bra fit than many department store fitters. In the past, bra manufacturers held early-morning training sessions for department store employees in the hours before the store opened to demonstrate how their products were supposed to work. Today, the bra companies still want to train, but the stores don’t want to pay their employees to show up.

The ability to carry multiple styles in many sizes remains a major challenge.

  • I thought that partnering with an online retailer would be the perfect solution, but online stores haven’t yet learned the value of having someone on the ground to fit their customers for them. One fitter worked closely with a large online seller, only to be told “You’re no longer an affiliate,” when her main contact moved to a different company. She moved her business to another big online store but has never been acknowledged for the giant orders that she brings them.
  • One private fitter confided that she runs into the same dilemma I had hoped to resolve with this series: To whom can she refer women with the largest bands and/or cup sizes that she doesn’t carry? If we’re picky about finding fitters we can trust, you can imagine how a professional fitter must feel!
  • Although the direct marketing model is a great way to offload inventory risk, focusing on one brand can be limiting, especially if the brand doesn’t work for you.  I have to admit that my Peach bra is now my gardening bra. I wore it on my flight to Paris last month and couldn’t wait to take it off. My Essential Body Wear bra continues to perform well, but it’s a basic that isn’t my top choice when I get dressed in the morning.

Finally, while writing this series, I learned about a DIY option from Ali Cudby. Having trained hundreds of bra fitters, Ali has a good idea of who the good fitters are. But even those fitters can have an off day. After a friend of hers had a bad experience at a reputable store, Ali decided it was time to train the customer. For the price of a Victoria’s Secret bra, she teaches all the basics and some of the finer points of bra fitting in three modules that last a total of one hour. Ali’s goal is to empower the customer to be able to find what she needs no matter who the fitter is or what the store’s inventory is like. It’s great to have one more way to help our friends find their fit!

 

 

The Shadow Bra Industry: Uplifting the Girls with Lisa Cole

Today I continue my Shadow Bra Industry series with the final of four women that I interviewed who are forging separate paths to help women find their perfect fit. Earlier I introduced you to two New Yorkers, Jessica and Anina, one Chicagoan, Adrienne McGill, and two direct sales companies, Peach and Essential Body Wear. Today you get to meet Lisa Cole.

Each of the women in this series has taken a separate path to storeless fitting. Lisa Cole began with the biggest store of them all–Nordstrom. She started in their lingerie department in 1993 with seven other women. By the end of her first year, she was the only one remaining. Everyone else had either quit or transferred to a less challenging department. As Lisa explained, lingerie is hard work because there is so much detail involved. You have to be passionate about helping women find the right bra. Otherwise, all the details will scare you away.

Lisa has stuck with the details for 23 years and is still going strong. Today she delivers motivational speeches to women’s groups and helps new store owners find their way. She also continues to work with individual clients who find her through events and referrals. Although based in Los Angeles, she can meet with clients in any city where she has a speaking engagement, which is how I met her in New York City six years ago when she put me into the Panache Tango.

I now prefer other bra shapes and styles, but my experience of being perfectly fitted into the Tango is one reason I know I can trust Lisa to take care of others. After my fitting , I would flash my Tango at every female lingerie store owner that I met, and they’d always be impressed. The other reason for my trust is that Lisa told me, “It is imperative that women feel good about themselves. That’s my bottom line.” Good fit alone isn’t enough. If a client’s response to a bra is, “I guess I can live with this,” Lisa makes sure she doesn’t have to.

Lisa’s typical client is the woman who has been to ten different fitters and stores, has shopped online, and is exhausted. Lisa works with every demographic–she wants the Walmart customer and the Nieman customer. She also works with every niche, including weight gain and loss (she recently helped a client who had dropped from a size 18 to 8 and needed swimwear for a Hawaii vacation), pregnancy, nursing, cancer, breast augmentations, and reductions. Many of Lisa’s clients work 60-hour weeks, and they appreciate that Lisa can have them in and out in an hour with everything from bras to swimwear and everything in between.

If you send your friend to Lisa, what type of experience can she expect? First, the private consultation can take place in your friend’s own home or at a store. Lisa’s approach is consultative because her goal is to help each client into a space where she says, “Oh, OK, I feel good around her.” To determine your friend’s size, Lisa brings a set of bras with her in every size. Afterwards, she shows your friend what she has with her (a curated set based on customer favorites) and what can be ordered in over 100 brands. In-home consultations are great because Lisa can help a client with solutions for what is actually in her closet. On the other hand, she also offers fun group sessions that cost a lot less.

Lisa has watched a lot of changes in the bra fit industry and has been a pioneer as a private fitter. However, her biggest love is simply helping women. As she put it, she may be a speaker, expert and authority on women’s intimate apparel, but lingerie just happens to be her teaching platform to help women see themselves differently through shaping their bodies.

 

The Shadow Bra Industry: Adrienne McGill in Chicagoland

Today I continue my Shadow Bra Industry series with the third of four women that I interviewed who are forging separate paths to help women find their perfect fit. Earlier I introduced you to two New Yorkers, Jessica and Anina, and two direct sales companies, Peach and Essential Body Wear. Today I want you to meet Adrienne Mcgill.

Most of us are happy just to find a bra fitter who wants to put us in the right bra, but Adrienne McGill is a like a bra fitting life coach! I feel ready to take on the world after only a few minutes with her, so imagine how her clients must feel.

The women who work with Adrienne are usually experts in their fields who value others’ expertise and are willing to pay for it. Adrienne spends time developing relationships with each client and visits Curve with each one’s specific preferences in mind. She’ll tell a husband who wants to buy his wife some lingerie, “Truthfully, this is the bra she wants, and it’s coming out early next year, so it’s worth waiting for.”

Advice like that makes me want to refer my Chicago friends to her.  Adrienne has spent over ten years honing her skills. As she puts it, “I’m in the business to help women feel good about themselves. It’s important to me that I leave a woman better than I found her.

If you’re referring a friend who isn’t certain about the financial commitment of working with Adrienne, have her inquire about Adrienne’s once-a-month, entry level, no-fee events. At those events, she usually runs two fitting rooms at a time and spends 20-30 minutes with each client.

Here is what your friend can expect from a fit session with Adrienne:

  • no tape measure (“It’s only a guideline anyway”)
  • encouragement not to worry about size, only fit
  • a separate changing room with a closed door . . . no undressing in front of Adrienne unless she chooses to, and Adrienne will always ask permission before entering the room
  • no touching–especially since she needs to learn how to put her bra on properly at home–but Adrienne will ask permission before adjusting the straps

Adrienne carries bands from 30-44, and cups from European E-H. For women outside this range, she can special order or find someone to help them.

Once Adrienne and the client have worked out sizing, they’ll move on to wardrobing. Adrienne finds the interplay between wardrobing and fit to be very personal and consultative. The key question that guides everything is: What are we trying to accomplish? Although Adrienne may show her client that a cut and sew bra provides a better fit, she won’t sell it to her if she isn’t going to wear it. If her client has been wearing the same bra for 10 years, Adrienne probably won’t start her in the tightest band. If a client is on a tight budget, in transition with her weight, or expecting a baby, Adrienne will recommend just three bras–one to wash, one to wear, and a spare. She’ll find out what shades and colors are in the rest of her client’s wardrobe, whether she prefers smooth or textured bras, and what her lifestyle is like. For example, if she’s a young mom running after kids all day, Adrienne won’t recommend a demi cup.

According to Adrienne, the average woman only returns to a bra store every 3-5 years, so a retailer will try to sell as much as possible in each visit. Adrienne’s business model focuses more on helping her clients than on simply turning product, which explains why they schedule regular sessions with her. If her client’s face doesn’t light up at a bra, then Adrienne can’t get excited about selling it to her.