Book Review: The Bra Zone

I recently finished another book that Hourglassy readers will be interested in: The Bra Zone by Elizabeth Dale of The Breast Life. More than a how-to-fit instructional, this book promises to delve into all the different styles and shopping experiences that could work for a woman–hence the “zone”–and I was excited to receive a review copy.

Even though I was already familiar with most of the content, I love having all of this information in one place. It’s become a handy reference book for me.

Other than a personal reference book, would I recommend this book to a less knowledgeable friend who needs a well-fitting bra? My answer is yes–if it’s a friend who learns best by reading and I could highlight the points most relevant to her ahead of time. The book is only 142 pages with appendices, but Elizabeth covers enough scenarios in it to make it applicable to a variety of friends with a combination of different issues. It originated from the kind of conversations that you and I have all the time: “During conversations with fellow bra wearers, I suddenly realized that despite years of bra wearing, no one felt confident about their own bra shopping skills. Everyone knew what they liked, but no one seemed to know quite how to find it.”

Here are the things I especially like about this book: [Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.