Off the Rack ~ A Visit to NYC’s Town Shop & Some Mini Bra Reviews

This week I went into a brick and mortar bra store for the first time in my life. I saw a Cleo bikini in a shop window and stopped in my tracks before I realized I was standing outside Town Shop (in NYC). It was 30 minutes before closing, so I popped in just to see what they had on offer.

I was immediately approached by a saleswoman who asked if she could help me. I asked if they carry size British 28G. She was confused by the specifier “British,” but I clarified that I just meant brands like Freya and Fantasie. I noted that technically American sizing would put me in a higher letter. I’m not surprised she was a little confused, though, since there are barely any American brands that carry big cup sizes and use the American sizing schema. In fact, the only DD and up American brands I can think of all use British sizing (Claudette, Parfait, etc).

Anyhow, the saleswoman took me straight to a fitting room without even browsing the floor. She then returned with five or six bras all in size 28G. I was excited to see a few styles I’ve been wanting to try for years (Freya Gem and Rio, Cleo Lucy). Not being shy, I whipped off my shirt to try them on, at which point the saleswoman marveled at my beautiful new Ewa Michalak bright green lace bra (the S Musisztomiec).

As I tried each bra, I commented on what I liked or not, what I thought of the fit, and so forth. We went back and forth on fit a little, but the saleswoman was polite and not at all disagreeable. For example, I thought one of the Freyas seemed unusually tight, and she tested the band and agreed, but said she didn’t think it would be a good idea to go up a size since it would stretch out. I liked that with each bra I tried on, she tugged here and there to make sure everything was situated in the right way. I especially appreciated when she yanked up on the straps to make sure the underwire was right up under my breast tissue where it should be. If only I could have a bra assistant with me every morning!

It was a little trying that I had to ask about price with each and every bra. I would prefer if she had said the prices straight off the bat. In fact, I was actually ready to purchase one bra she said was $53, but then later she double-checked and it was actually $60-something (which I wasn’t quite prepared to pay).

I ended up not buying anything, but didn’t feel pressured to do so at all. I’ve read a lot of stories of women feeling pressured to buy after a saleswoman has spent all that time with them. But when I said I was going to skip it, she just said okay, thanked me for coming in, and left me to get dressed. I think it helped that it was so close to closing time. In fact, I almost felt a little rushed, but honestly that was kind of what I was hoping for. I just wanted to pop in, see what they had, and pop out. I’ve no idea if the experience would be different on, say, a weekday morning when things are slower.

Later I checked the prices she had quoted me, and found that they pretty closely matched up with various online sources (barring a sale or coupon). It’s nice to know that they’re not jacking up the prices.

One last little complaint is that I wish Town Shop had more bras out on the floor for browsing. They don’t need to have all the sizes out, but it’d be nice if it were possible to browse at all. I only took a cursory look, but it seemed the only stuff on the floor was loungewear and robes—basically stuff that comes in sizes small-medium-large. I know bra stores have massive inventory when you consider all the sizes, but it’d be nice if they had a small, attractive display of the brands they offer, or even just the newest releases. Still, it was fun and a refreshing change of pace to walk into a store and be able to try on bras in my size!

As for the bras I tried, there were three Freyas, one Cleo, and two Panaches. I didn’t get the names of the Panaches because I didn’t like them, but they did fit better than I was anticipating. Aside from the sports bra, the last Panache I tried was the Porcelain molded strapless bra something like 4 years ago. It was so shallow and wide-wired on me that the wires couldn’t physically be placed under my breasts. It could only sit a couple inches down my rib cage. It was just about the worst fit I’ve ever had in a bra of the proper size.

These two Panaches certainly had too-wide wires, but the shallowness didn’t present nearly as much of an issue, I’m guessing because it wasn’t molded so the fabric was a bit more flexible. The gore was perfect—it laid flat, was just the right width, and didn’t stab my sternum. But the shape was quite east-west and somewhat minimized up top, so I still wouldn’t buy the brand.

The Cleo I tried was the Lucy. Normally I need to go up a band in Cleo bras, sometimes also a cup. This one was certainly extra tight, but again not enough that I would need a 30. If I were to buy it, I’d probably start out with an extender until it stretched a bit. The 28G cups also seemed a little small. But I’m not sure if they were actually too small or if the cups just didn’t suit me. They weren’t quite tall enough in the outer corners where the strap attaches so it seemed like I had a lot of uncovered side-boob. Otherwise the shape was the usual perfectly round orbs I’ve come to expect from Cleo.

Lucy_Bra

I next tried the Freya Gem and Rio, which were easily the best fitting Freyas I’ve ever tried! It’s no surprise that they fit so similarly since the Gem is actually based on the Rio cut, according to Freya’s website. Freya is known for giving a more natural, ever so slightly pointed shape. These two had the natural shape, but less of the pointyness. They also held me in really nicely on the sides, especially compared to the Cleo.

I absolutely love that the black Gem has a baby pink underlay. It turns a basic black bra into something special. For the Rio, I love the fishnet-like mesh on the upper portion. For both of these, the straps are unfortunately a bit wide. I’m still going to buy one of each at some point, but these straps are definitely designed for comfort, not looks.

GEM-BLACK

RIO-BRA

The last Freya I tried was the Ooh La La in black. I recall that it was a big hit when it debuted at CurvExpo. I didn’t think much of it at the time (I rarely care about black bras), but it was really lovely close up and on my body. The black isn’t quite as sheer as the photo looks. And the copper embroidered details are much more vibrant and sparkly. It made me think of Halloween. The semi-sheer black and sophisticated details make it really sexy but not trashy. Yet something about the fit just didn’t wow me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it seemed more compact and flattened than the others.

freya-ooh-la-la

A Great D+ Destination in Delaware: Bare Essentials (where I tried Freya Lounge for the first time)

Mia is preparing her interview with Big Ballet dancer Carol Hartley, so look for her column again next week. If you hurry, there’s still time to ask your questions! I’m studying everything I can about collars, which is why you didn’t see a post from me yesterday, but I’m taking a quick break to share the post I meant to publish.

While my husband attended a conference one Saturday in early April, I seized the opportunity to explore Bare Essentials, a store in Wilmington, Delaware, that I’d heard about through The Full Figured Chest.

I loved the layout . . . three rooms filled (but not overcrowded) with many of the brands we count on. The third room was a surprise tucked at the top of the stairs and devoted solely to straplesses and bustiers for bride, bridesmaid and prom customers. It even had its own dressing rooms. Brilliant!

bare essentials upstairs 0

bare essentials upstairs 1

And yes, they do have 28 and 30 backs in regular bras–and they can tell you which bustiers run tight enough for 28/30 backs.

bare essentials 28 and 30 backs

What I really appreciated was being able to browse the racks myself. Even with an abundance of beige options, I like to be the one choosing what to try instead of depending upon a saleswoman to bring what she thinks I need.

bare essentials 1

more of bare essentials second room

Unfortunately, they didn’t have a Fantasie 4520 in stock in my size (now a 34G), but they had something else I’ve been wanting to try since telling you about it three years agoFreya loungewear!

freya lounge top

Actually, they only had the Sweet Dreams long sleeve top and matching lounge pants, but that was enough for me. I tried the top in Medium/B-DD. Only later did I realize I needed a Medium/E-G, which Bare Essentials didn’t have but could have ordered.

As it was, I loved the set so much that I was tempted to buy it anyways. The fabric is a great quality with a nice drape, and the design details are elegant.

freya lounge top side

Here’s what my side profile looked like when I fit myself into the “secret support” shelf. Not my preference, but not terrible.

freya lounge generous bottoms

I can’t remember if these were a medium or large, but the fabric and bow detail were generous. Even though full-busted women don’t NEED the bottoms, they were definitely worth buying together with the top. (And I think there were pockets.)

Here are the two reasons I knew I needed the Medium/E-G. First, the weight of my breasts inside the support shelf pulled the cream binding down from the neckline so that it didn’t lie flat or remain visible (red arrow). Second, the weight of my breasts also pulled at the arm scye, creating a tightness in the sleeve and armhole area (yellow arrows). Those factors, together with the approaching warm weather, helped me resist the purchase.

freya lounge all together

Bare Essentials also stocks the Freya Paradise halter swim cover-up, so of course I had to try it, too.

fantasie cover small

Small. Stretching to fit over my boobs made it sheer.

fantasie cover large

Large. If you could see the profile, you would see how low the elasticized bodice dips in back. A medium probably would have been just right.

Finally, the service at Bare Essentials was nice. From what I can tell, they begin by asking what bra size you’re wearing and go from there, and there doesn’t seem to be any high pressure saleswomanship going on. My saleswoman thought the Freya lounge top and the small swim coverup fit me well, and I’m fine with a difference of opinion when it comes to outerwear. Since I didn’t try any bras, I can’t attest to their bra-fitting expertise, but I have a feeling that a well-educated customer could do quite well at this store.

Suzette, a New (Old) Best Friend for Big Bust Bra Shoppers

Remember that wasted trip I took to Zöe & Co. last summer? Instead of driving 2.5 hours to Rhode Island, I should have driven half an hour to Yonkers. I thought I knew every decent store available to full bust bra shoppers around New York City. Whenever anyone from the Bronx asked for a recommendation, I’d sigh and say, “I’m afraid you’re going to have to make a trip to Manhattan.” Boy was I wrong. Not only do residents of the Bronx, Yonkers and Westchester not need to travel to Manhattan, residents of the rest of New York City may want to make a special trip to Yonkers.

Suzette’s Lingerie has been around since 1958, but I only heard about it last February. I made my own special trip there last Friday to reward myself for lowering my LDL cholesterol from 219 to 137 since my birthday in December. I lost 25 pounds in the process, creating baggy cups and a slippery band on my 36H Fantasie Jana–a great excuse to visit a new bra fitter. (I tend to avoid writing about weight loss on Hourglassy. However, if you need to recalibrate your eating habits, I highly recommend a nutritionist. Appointments qualify as preventive care so they are covered 100% by insurance. My own nutritionist, Maria Bella at Top Balance Nutrition, is amazing.)

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Before I continue, I admit that I’m violating my own rule not to publish a store review based on a single visit, so if you have a different experience from mine, please let me know so that I can consider updating this post.

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Now back to the store-y. I had a good feeling about Suzette’s when I called a few weeks ago to see if they carried the Panache Envy. I wanted to try it because the Panache rep at Curve told Leah and me that this style was super popular, and it’s even coming out in a body in Fall/Winter 2014 (with adjustable hooks at the bottom for those of you with long torsos). For more on this bra style, check out reviews from Sweet Nothings and Bras I Hate.

envy body front
A woman named Megan answered the phone, and when I told her my size, she asked, “Is that European or American?” Good sign. They didn’t have my size in stock but were expecting a shipment soon. When I visited last Friday, that shipment hadn’t arrived, so it’s still on my To Try List.

My first impression of the store was that it was spacious, uncluttered, and pleasantly pink–an important feature since you can see Victoria’s Secret from its front door. Too many “good” bra stores focus on inventory to the exclusion of atmosphere. When I spend money on something as special as lingerie, I want a setting that is more than simply functional. Suzette’s customers that upgrade their fit from Victoria’s Secret (and Suzette’s wins over a lot of frustrated former VS customers) don’t have to downgrade their shopping environment.

suzettes inside right

See the ladder in the background? It slides along the wall to the various size bins. It’s like a library for bras!

Suzettes inside left

Another ladder on this side. Also, notice the cashier’s great scoop necked top from Vince Camuto.

vince camuto striped scoop neck tee

She found this top last summer, so of course it’s no longer available. It was super flattering on her, as it would be on any of us.

My fitter Shannon greeted me as I walked in the door, and when I told her I needed a fitting after losing weight, she took me to a dressing room and got started right away.

Her method was new to me, but it seemed to work. First, she tugged my bra straps up and had me hold them there so that she could get a precise measurement of my underbust. She got 31″ and decided to add 3″. Before coming, I had measured my own underbust super tightly without lifting the straps and gotten 35″.  Next, she measured above my breasts to check against her first measurement. Finally, she measured the depth of an individual breast–another first for me! After a little calculating, she decided to begin with a 34I.

Whaaaaat?

When she brought the Panache Dahlia and I checked the paper tag, I breathed easily again. It was a UK34G with “I” handwritten in ink onto the paper tag. It turns out that Suzette’s default sizing system is American. I found this super confusing, but at least they’re consistent within the store.

The Dahlia was gorgeous with its sexy, streamlined lace. It tacked perfectly and lifted beautifully. If Suzette’s had had a 34GG in stock, I would have bought it even though it didn’t give quite as much forward projection as I prefer. However, I felt there was a slight line of indentation where the top edge of the cups met my breasts. It wasn’t quite quadraboob, but it meant I would be self-conscious about not having a smooth “rim” under my tees. (For reviews by two bloggers who own this bra, check out Faustine’s Foundations and Iliketweet.)

panache dahlia image

Shannon’s suggestion for dealing with this issue was also interesting. It involved holding the bottom of the cup where it is closest to one arm (using the hand of that arm) and lifting the cup ever so slightly, then using the opposite hand to gently press the breast tissue away from the rim. I admit I was scandalized by this. Wouldn’t this negate the scooping and swooping? It didn’t matter because it didn’t work for me, but I wonder if any of you have tried this. And guess what?! Every saleswoman in the store learned this technique from Freddy, the best bra fitter in the world. I must remember to ask Freddy about this the next time I see her, but for me, finding out that the fitters had been trained by Freddy gave Suzette’s a GIANT boost of credibility.

Shannon also brought me the Dahlia in 36G, and while it seemed to fit, I’ve been burned too many times by Panache 36 bands stretching out prematurely. Next, she brought me a Panache Idina, which I fell in love with and will review later. She also brought a few Fantasies, including the pinstriped Fantasie Lois, but by this time everything else looked frumpy compared to the Idina.

Only as I’ve written these styles down here has it dawned on me that every bra Shannon brought me was a current style. They were the styles we would have seen at Curve last February. Never did she bring me a Tango, that boring standby that so many others have tried to sell me in the past (and that I bought once and swore never again when I saw how both east-west and pointy it made me).

Here are a few other things that I appreciated about Shannon and the rest of the staff of Suzette’s:

  1. Collaboration. Shannon may have disagreed with me on the fit of the Dahlia, but she didn’t take an I-Am-The-Expert approach. Instead, she accommodated each of my requests. If I had wanted to see even more bras, she would have brought them. She also helped me discover that I wear a 34G in the Panacha sports bra.
  2. Style names. Unlike my favorite Manhattan store where the fitters only use style numbers and stare at you blankly if you ask for a bra by name, Shannon knew all the names (she wears a 30DD, and the Patsy is her personal favorite). When I commented on this, she said, “The bra styles are my co-workers. I have to know them by name.”
  3. Size range. When I asked if they carried 28 bands, they acted like it was no big dea (they do)l, and they carry cup sizes to a KK (U.K.).
  4. Passion. Shannon is studying journalism (she may write a guest post for Hourglassy soon!), so she doesn’t see herself as a bra-fitter for the rest of her life, but that didn’t stop her from talking to me extensively about the different styles and needs of their customers (for instance, what a shame it was that Elomi was discontinuing the Abi since it works for so many women). Because I blog about being full-busted, I can never contain my enthusiasm in a bra store. It’s such a wet blanket when the salespeople don’t care about their product. As far as I could tell, everyone at Suzette’s cared, including the saleswoman in the striped Vince Camuto top who told me that she loves the Idina.
  5. Knowledge. It’s wonderful to visit a store and learn something I never knew before. For instance:
  • Have you heard of Gossard Glossies? They start at a 30 back and go up to a British G. Suzette’s doesn’t offer Claudette because their younger customers refuse to wear seamed bras, so they offer Gossard Glossies instead.
  • Did you know that Fashion Forms now makes wide invisible straps?
  • Since Panache sports bra cups run large, some women who are usually sized out of the Panache cup range can still fit the Panache sports bra.

Speaking of knowledge, I’m extremely pleased to know about this store. It’s the kind of place I can recommend to a bra-fit newbie without (a) worrying that the fitter will put my friend in the wrong size because the store doesn’t carry the right size, or (b) feeling like I should go with her to ask questions or point out fit issues on her behalf. Actually, I enjoyed shopping at Suzette’s so much that I’d be happy to go with my friend for the chance to shop there again.

 

 

 

Mini Big Bust Roundup

Inspiration hasn’t hit me, so instead of writing my own post, I’m going to share others that have caught my eye.

Need to feel affirmed as you start this new week? Then start with Weirdly Shaped’s thinspiration (“thinspo”) alternative. My favorite message: “There is no such thing as perfection, but you *are* so very special.” I actually felt my shoulders relax when I read it the first time. Be warned–this post’s glowing review of the Panache sports bra will make you want to buy one and live in it.

Thank you to everyone who answered our survey for the bras to add to Wellfitting‘s spring 2014 collection. These were your top choices.

comexim finalists georgia arizona illinois

If you’re thinking about ordering a Comexim bra, be sure to read Dressing Curves’ Comexim roundup.

If you’re in the market for a black blazer, you’ll want to check out Curvy Wordy’s super helpful review of the Urkye blazer.

And if you’re one of the lucky ones in the market for a swimsuit right now, Venusia Glow has written about the Panache Savannah and Cleo Lucille. [Even if you’re not in the market, you may want to stock up on the Panache swimwear on Zulily right now! Here’s my referral code, and here’s a link to the sale itself.]

Finally, Invest in Your Chest is back with more useful information, this time about how to tell if your bra band is too tight. I may be guilty of straining hooks–do you think any straining is bad, or is it a matter of degree?

One more post that excited me–Laura’s review of her Angela Friedman custom overbust corset. SO beautiful!