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.

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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.

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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”.)

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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.

Back to Suzette’s Lingerie for More Everyday Bras

A few weeks ago, my friend Tina and I were making plans to get together when she asked, “Do you mind if we go bra shopping?”

MIND? I could hardly wait!

Since Eveden’s fit expert Freddy re-sized me in February, I’ve known that my 32FF Fantasie 4510 T-shirt bras were “too much bra”, as she put it. She actually fit me into a 30G Fantasie Susanna, but I found it uncomfortably tight.

The thing about contoured cups is that you can get away with an imperfect fit when the foam lining keeps you from looking deflated. In my case, the top edge of the cups didn’t gap, so I kept wearing it. At the August Curve, Tutti Rouge rep actually complimented me on how I looked in my bra!

Then something weird happened: every time I wore my 4510 or even my Panache sport (also a 32FF) for any length of time, my skin beneath the band became unbearably itchy. Even though the 32 bands felt fine when I put them on and the bands didn’t look stretched out, there seemed to be just enough imperceptible movement to cause irritation.

So when Tina suggested bra shopping, I suggested Suzette’s. We made a Sunday afternoon of it and ate lunch at Red Lobster beforehand. We felt positively suburban!

suzette lingerie bag

Just like the last time, we were immediately matched with a fitter and ushered into dressing rooms. Tina tried on a couple of seamless beige bras, chose the cheapest one, and was done.

I tried on at least 15 and took my own sweet time. Maria, my fitter, was a complete trooper. I told her I needed beige and black tee shirt bras and she began with Wacoal and Chantelle. That’s when I realized that I can no longer stand the way I look in molded, non-contoured tee shirt bras.

I ended up with a black Freya Rio in 32F and my all-time favorite, the Panache Idina balconette, in beige in 32FF. It is SUCH a relief to be wearing lighter bras that fit again. I’m still in the market for a lifting beige tee shirt bra to wear beneath my classic white shirts, but for everything else, the Rio and Idina are all I need.

Now that I’ve had a chance to wear them for a few weeks, here’s a rundown on how they’re working out. First, the Rio.

freya rio

Contrary to BrasIHate’s critique of this continuity bra, I’ve always gravitated the Rio’s interesting fabric and paper-clip-like decoration at the center. To me, the design is simple with a little something and feminine without being frilly. It also fits perfectly.

32F Freya Rio front

I liked the front view so much that I forgot to check out the side view, which I don’t like. At. All.

32f freya rio left side

As the day goes on, I find I have more space at the base of the cups, but it doesn’t affect the support. At only $58 (and full disclosure: a $50 credit from Suzette’s that favorably disposes me toward this store even more), I’m fine ignoring my profile.

Maria put me in the 32FF in the Panache Idina because it runs small in the cups.

32FF panache idina balonet front

I like my more rounded and lifted profile in the Idina.

32FF Panache Idina balconet side

Even in the store there was slight quadraboob, but I was able to adjust myself to get rid of it. However, the quadraboob keeps happening, so I wish I’d tried in a 32G. The stretchy top edge of the cups means this isn’t uncomfortable, and it hasn’t been noticeable under most clothes, so I tend to ignore this issue and simply enjoy the support. Like my last Idina, the band stretches quickly, and I’m already wearing it on the middle hook.

[Side note: Contrast this to the Panache Hepburn that was gifted to me by Panache last March. I wear my Hepburn frequently and still fasten it on the loosest hook. Interestingly, although this bra doesn’t give me quadraboob, it does indent across my breast tissue in a line that is parallel to, but lower than, the top edge of the non-stretch cup. Other than that, the Hepburn is excellent. It has no extra space at the base of the cups and gives me a nice lift, albeit less rounded than my Idina balconette.]

Once again, I had a great experience at Suzette’s. Maria was going to bring me bras until I found what I wanted. She brought me a broad range of styles in a lot of brands, including pretty options in Heidi Klum and Tutti Rouge. She had definite opinions but respected mine. If they didn’t have a size or color in stock, they could order it for me.

Suzette’s is a store that has something for everyone–as evidenced by the variety available to me. However, they get a lot of customers who wear U.S. M cups and higher, and they aren’t treating them as after-thoughts. Suzette’s constantly requests higher cup sizes from manufacturers.

[Interesting side note: You’ve probably heard that boutiques are the gatekeepers who determine what manufacturers produce, but Maria told me that department stores are even more influential. If giant stores won’t place giant orders for a size, then the manufacturer often chooses not to produce the size for small boutiques either. I’d heard an echo of this from the brand side of things at Curve last month. Natori + Support is a good example. We know that Pure Allure is made in 30 and 32 bands, but Nordstrom only offers it beginning in a 34 and calls it a “full figure” bra. Fortunately, this style is available in its full range of sizes and colors from Bare Necessities, another giant retailer. Perhaps Natori + Support would have continued to make Pure Allure in 30H without Bare Necessities, but I’m willing to bet that Bare Necessities is extra insurance for its offering.]

Today when someone in New York asks me for a bra store recommendation, I always include Suzette’s in my list because I’m confident that a trip to Yonkers won’t be a waste of time. If you hate shopping and just want to get in and out like my friend Tina, you’re going to find something. And if you love shopping and want to try on everything they have, you’re going to find something, too.

If you’re coming to our 4th Annual Big Bust Clothing Swap, you might be the lucky winner who gets to experience this store for yourself. Suzette’s is donating a $50 gift certificate as a raffle prize!

Fitting In: Up where we belong . . .

(Note: Fitting In is fitting into Mia’s Best Breasts Forward spot today.)

Love lift us up where we belong

Where the eagles fly, on a mountain high….

Was that song an Oscar winner? Marvelous ending song to An Officer and a Gentleman where Richard Gere in his dress whites picks up Debra Winger and carries her off. A. Perfect. Movie. Ending.

You know what was a perfect ending to my first day at Curve? Being fitted by The. Fit Specialist. from Eveden. Darlene and I popped into Eveden Fit School and learned along with Fashion Merchandising students from Marist about the history of the bra and fit concerns. Check here for a brief history lesson.

Then it was time for a fitting.

Most of my adult life, I’ve worn a 40-something. When asked my size, I say “I’m in the neighborhood of a ____,” because frankly, it really does depend on the bra. The specific bra. I’d been fit into a 40H in a whole slew of Eveden bras in last winter’s visit to Lion’s Lair in Islamorada. Elomi seems to love my shape. In a year’s time, that batch was quite stretched out and last month I picked up some Prima Donna bras at  Le Piège des Boobies in Brooklyn. I’d also lost a bit of weight, and wasn’t surprised the band size went down. I was wearing a Prima Donna 38I when I got to Curve.

Freddy first put me into a 38K (US)/ 38H (UK) size bra. It had a nice lift like my Prima Donna, but still with plenty of room in the band and a little room in the cup. Out came the tape measure–36. Ah!  We try a smaller band. This one tacks better. My Elomi size: 36K (US)/ 36H (UK). The right bra has got me up where I belong.

I did not want to take that sucker off. Now I know I once again need new bras. We had a peek later in the week at the rest of the Eveden offerings, after which, a shopping trip is in order. Coming down from a 40 band size to 36 opens up a new slew of brands. Elomi still loves my shape, and I’ll pick up a few of those. I like to have enough bras to get through to a weekend to do laundry and have enough dry time. My ideal, money-is-no-object, shopping list:

  • A few more in more black.
  • At least 2 flesh tone. I’m pale, so the ubiquitous beige is actually dark on me. I look for the palest pink I can find to wear under white dress shirts.
  • 1 red. Because.
  • 1 Navy and 1 Turquoise — again, just because. Actually, it’s because I like to match the bra color to my clothing color and I wear a lot of blue and teal.
  • Some fashion colors and fun patterns.
  • Sports Tank. I have the Panache, but I’m eager to try the Freya version I saw at Eveden. I don’t want a situation where I skip a workout because my bra needs to dry. I always want another one ready to go.
  • Then bikini tops in as many colors as I can find. Why? This is my under-a-sundress bra alternative. The straps are going to show, no matter what I do. I prefer that it be of something meant to show.

Any gaps in your bra wardrobe?   And when was your last fitting?  Changing size is quite the norm.

 

Best Breasts Forward ~ Having a Fit

I learned so much at Curve this year, but the one thing that really stuck with me is that when it comes to bras there are many opinions about “fit”. I truly believe that there is a difference between “personal preference” and “fit”.

Always on the lookout for bras that will work for me, Darlene encouraged me to visit a brand that makes bras up to an American N cup in hopes that just maybe the 34 bands would run tight and I could sister size.  Instead, the owner of the company told me that my breasts were too low, the wrong shape and my 32 band was too tight. She told me that if a band leaves marks and creates “back fat”, it’s too tight. But that is what I call “personal preference”. My breasts are very heavy and if my band is not snug, the weight of my boobs will push the front band, underwire and all, downward. My band was comfortable to me until she rudely shoved and pulled on it while sucking her teeth and rolling her eyes. That was followed by her measuring me over my sweater and over an inch below where my underwire sat. As for back fat, it’s there because there is fat on my back.

As far as the shape of my breasts in my bras, I always prefer a rounder shape. I do not like cone shaped bras. I don’t like how they look, and because I am full on top, it is difficult to find one that the girls don’t bubble up and out of.

I say all of this because at the end of the day these are my breasts. Helpful tips from others I welcome, but especially when you are in an industry serving the very personal need of your customer, don’t be rude or snarky.

My bras may not fit your taste, but that doesn’t mean they don’t fit.