After losing 20 pounds over the last year, I realized that my bras no longer fit the way they should. As a large busted woman, I can’t simply go to Kohl’s or Target to pick out a new one. Bra shopping for me requires going to a specialty store where they carry cup sizes up to an H (DDDDD).

There are two such stores here in Madison. One that I’ve been going to for years, and one I’ve never been to before. So, I decided to stop at the shop I was already familiar with the weekend before my birthday, as we were on that side of town and my husband wanted to go “play” at his friend’s house.

I hadn’t been in for about a year, as that’s how often I tend to replace my bras. While I wasn’t particularly happy with my last purchase there,  they do not require appointments and I knew I could just pop in and be fitted.

brasIf you’ve never had a professional bra fitting in a setting like this before, it isn’t the same as getting measured at Victoria’s Secret, where they use a flexible measuring tape to measure you over your clothes in a few places and then tell you what equivalent size those measurements come out to be. In fact, the last time I set foot in a Victoria’s Secret and asked to be measured, the woman who worked there took one look at me and disapprovingly said “I don’t think we have any sizes that fit you”.

Needless to say, I never went back.

At a specialty lingerie store, they do usually measure your band size in the same way, though I’ve found the measurement to be way more exact if taken without your shirt on. However, to gauge your cup size, they usually eyeball it, or actually “cup” your breast to get a sense of size and proportions.

You can’t really be shy in these situations, because you try on bras in front of your fitter and usually with their assistance.

A professional fitting also comes with free education. Your fitter will tell you exactly how a bra should fit. Like how the “bridge” (or middle of your bra) should lay flat on your chest, not bow out in the middle. Or how the straps really don’t do any of the work. It’s the band that actually keeps your girls up – along with a well-fitting cup.

They also tell you how you should put the bra on to help preserve it’s shape and structure. (Hint: it’s not flipping it upside down, buckling it in the back, flipping the cups up over your boobs and then pulling the straps up, like I tend to do). And they help you get them on the correct way – which is generally, put the straps most of the way on, lean over and place your breasts into the cups, reach behind you to secure the band, pull the straps all the way up, and then scoop each breast into place to fill the cup.

Bra shoppingThankfully, I’m not shy because they also bring you LOTS of bras to try on while there. Again, unlike Victoria’s Secret or a department store lingerie section, you don’t just grab your size off the rack of available bras to try on. The bras are actually kept in a storeroom in the back and your fitter pulls them for you and brings you several styles to try.

On this particular visit, I told my fitter what I was looking for – a basic nude and basic black bra good for everyday wear, along with a strapless since I didn’t have one.

I also shared with her that I’ve consistently been a 38FF (UK) for years and that I had recently lost 20 pounds and therefore wanted to be re-fit. In addition, I told her the last time I was in, I was fairly certain I was miss-sized because the bra that I bought rubbed me the wrong way in several places and I hated it so much that I wound up donating it a few weeks later. There went $78. Did I tell you that high quality, larger cup size bras are EXPENSIVE?

The first basic nude bra she brought me was the exact same one I hated the year prior. So, we quickly ruled that out. Ironically though, that was the only nude basic available in my size that they had in stock. Which seemed kind of weird to me…She suggested that maybe I could get away with wearing the strapless as a basic until I found a better one.

Also weird.

In any sense, we nailed the strapless issue quickly, as the first one I tried on was a perfect fit. I asked her what size it was, and get this. She wouldn’t tell me. She kind of dodged the question and said something about how bra size is all relative and it’s based on the style and manufacturer, etc. When she snuck out of the room to pull a few more styles for me to try, I took a peak at the label. Imagine my surprise when I saw that they had ironed on a store label to cover up the size.

WTF.

When she brought me a pretty floral lacy number to try on next that fit nicely and would shake up the basics, again, I tried to peek at the size. Store label. Size covered. So, I asked again, “what size is this?” And again, she wouldn’t tell me.

She told me she had trouble with people coming in to simply be fitted and try on a bunch of bras and then go buy them cheaper online. Listen, I get that. These bras are expensive and there have been several instances where I have found the same style that I purchased in store available online for at least 30% less than the store price. And I also understand that their staff invests a decent amount of time in fitting clients during each visit. But seriously? Ironing store labels into the bras to cover the size? And refusing to tell people their bra size?

Not cool.

She told me the labels would come off after a few washings and I could figure out my size then. This pretty much sealed the deal for me that I would probably never go back.

Nevertheless, I bought the strapless and the pretty floral number and cashed in my punch card for a free pair of matching undies, since it was my sixth bra purchase there. Good thing I got to take advantage of that deal, because I left feeling like they might not be in business much longer with that strategy.

Once home, I tried to peel off the label on one of the bras to learn my new size. Because she’s right, I was planning to log on to Bare Necessities to see if there were any clearance bras in my size to round out my collection. I am a bargain shopper after all.

One label wouldn’t budge. The other peeled off easily. New size? A 42DD.

Umm…I lost 20 pounds and went up two band sizes and down three cup sizes? That didn’t seem right.

Thing is, since she had been helping me into my bras the whole time, I didn’t realize that the floral bra had been fastened on the third hook in order for it to fit properly. The THIRD hook. Which is the clasp you use when the elastic in your band has stretched out from many wears. You start on the first hook and make your way to the third hook after several months people. You don’t start there. So, basically, I bought an $80 bra that might not make it longer than a few months.

After two disappointing experiences there, I decided to give the other shop in town a try. I still needed the basic nude and black bras I went looking for in the first place.

I had never made it in before because I work full time during the day and then pick the kiddo up from school. Their hours are by appointment only, unless you’ve previously been fit.  They also close at 6:00 some nights and 8:00 others. And are closed on Sundays. So, it was hard to find a time that worked for me to get in for an appointment.

Desperate for some new bras, however, I looked at their “next available appointment” time via the calendar online one day. Wouldn’t you know it, they had an 11:30 a.m. appointment available that same day. I decided to take a long lunch  and went ahead and booked it.

When I arrived I had to ring the doorbell to enter the shop. Evidently, during private fittings, the shop is not open for browsing, to maintain the comfort and privacy of their clients. The woman who let me in offered me a cup of tea and had me fill out an intake form prioritizing my needs for the visit.

After a short wait, my fitter came out to greet me and showed me to my fitting room. Which was actually more suite than room. There was a comfy armchair for me to sit in as we talked about what I was looking for. Along with a soft hooded robe for me to wear during my fitting, if desired. Nice touch.

In addition, the room had a free-standing full-length mirror in the middle of it. And a curtain sectioning off the fitting area so I could have some privacy as she entered and exited the room . Kind of like the doctor’s office, but fancier. It also had a Parisian vibe due to the decor and music playing. I felt almost immediately comfortable.

My fitter took my band measurement over the dress I was wearing and eyeballed my cup size. Since I was wearing a dress, she offered me a pair of pajama pants to wear so I’d be more comfortable. After that, she brought in a few nude basics for me to try on to determine fit. Then we went from there.

After trying on at least 10 bras, I kept coming back to the same style. The Rebecca by Fantasie, which is evidently a best seller. I wound up buying it in both black and nude, as it fit really well and had good coverage.

My new size? 38G. So essentially, I went down one cup size after losing some weight this past year. Yet, the band stayed the same. This made a lot more sense than going up two band sizes and down three cup sizes did.

swimsuit shoppingThis particular shop also had a swimwear section, sexy chemises and teddies, and everyday wear pajamas that you could browse up front. I also appreciated that they had a sale area. ‘Cuz if you know me, you know I love a good bargain. So, I rifled through the 50% sale bins on my way out.

One hour and $250 later, I was armed with two new bras and four pair of fancy underwear. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Also yes.

Buying well-made and well-fitting bras is an investment. And I also make sure to take care of that investment to get as much wear out of them as possible.

I’m certainly not a professional bra fitter, however, I’ve taken their advice to heart over the years.

Here are my tips for caring for your bras:

1. Don’t ever put them in the washing machine. Seriously. The washing machine is just too rough on delicates like these.

2. Hand wash all of your bras. Buy a delicate detergent specifically made for hand-washing undergarments, like The Laundress Delicate Wash. Soak them in the detergent with very hot water and let them sit for about 10 minutes. Then rinse them out. DO NOT RING THEM. You want to be gentle and help the cups maintain their shape.

3. Don’t ever put your bras in the dryer. The heat from the dryer can wear down the elastic quickly, meaning they won’t last as long as you’d like them to. Instead, lay them flat to dry or place them on a drying rack. But don’t hang them from the straps, or they will stretch out.

4. Wash them every 3-5 wears. This depends on personal preference. But oils, lotions, sweat, etc. that rubs off on our bras through regular wear, means you should wash them often.

5. Replace them once a year. Or after you’ve lost some weight and feel they aren’t fitting properly anymore. After about a year’s worth of wear, you’ll probably notice you’ve moved on to the third hook, which means the elastic has stretched out and it’s probably time for a new one.

Most lingerie shops carry a wide range of sizes. So whether you are a 32A or a 42H, do yourself a favor and book a private fitting. It’ll change your life. Or, at least make the girls a lot more comfortable. And presentable.

Last tip: Buy yourself some fancy new underwear. You deserve it. And you are worth it.

‘Cuz let’s be honest.  When was the last time you replaced those?

 

 

 

 

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