A couple of weeks ago we met up in Coffee, Cake and Kisses for tea, cake, and bras. First lesson; don't put cake in your bra. Also don't get over-excited when a US brand says their bra comes with cookies; they just mean removable padding, not edible treats. This is a source of perpetual disappointment in my life.
Due to a family emergency, my esteemed colleague Karolina wasn't there, so we went for an informal ramble round the issues of bra size and fit rather than a points-of-order debate. And then we wore bras as hats.
In no particular order here are a few notes and questions from a very long discussion; most importantly, have any of you who have had lumpectomies got any bra recommendations?
The most important thing to know about bras is there's no standardisation at all. There's no agreement on what counts as x or y size, styles vary over time and country, all sorts of things. You can even get the same bra in the same size from the same brand but if it's a different dye batch/roll of foam or a different factory or just a blip (because they're sewn by people, bras are allowed to be sewn to within a 0.5cm room for error on each seam; sometimes that 0.5cm can make all the difference!), it might fit differently. For this reason, I suspect you can easily drive yourself completely demented if you get fixated on bra fit. Also, no-one agrees on what counts as a bra or a bralet or a soft bra or a demi-cup or . . . you get the idea.
For some reason people seem to get much more het up about this than about similar issues in clothes and shoes - anyone got any theories on why?
Some people had found that changing bra size was a revelation - especially if you'd been thinking that your body was wrong, rather than just that the garment didn't work for you or was the wrong size or shape. We pretty much all had terrible bra fit stories, ranging from disinterested salespeople, folks who thought the "correct" fit was more important than your personal preference, pushing products or sizes that just didn't work, or, in my case, a woman who sized me up over the phone having never met me. Apparently, she could tell by my breathing. What makes for a good fit experience? Well, as far as we can tell, it's all about the experience level - knowing the products inside out and being good with people.
Meet Steve, who made the beginner error of telling us his wife liked her comfortable bras but that they weren't the right size. Oh Steve.
We had a few people from overseas; notably, Denocte who writes a dual-language lingerie blog. Happily, we all agreed that bra size conversion is very much a guesstimate! Each countries system is a bit different and they don't necessarily convert in an exact way. Plus, there's a considerable geographical difference in what would make for a good fit. If I was targeting bras for people in Southern China, I'd make much smaller sizes, and focus on cleavage boosting. When we sell into Germany, The Netherlands and some other parts of Europe, we constantly get told that our bra straps aren't long enough; possibly because those countries peoples are typically taller than the relatively short British folks!
If you're selling into the US then be prepared for considerable demand a bra that shows no hint of nipple, creates a round shape, and is heavily padded. Our padded bras are occasionally sent back by US customers complaining that they do not match the description because when we say "padded" they expect an 3 cm of foam and we mean maybe a third of that, max. The rest of the world, and especially Europe, has millions of shapes and styles of bra, so we played with a few. Emma Harris kindly let us look at 3 of her bras in the same size but different shapes and styles, all of which suit different shapes and different looks. We also took a look at bras that have cut away cups, and talked about where exactly your nipples are "supposed" to go. Here's the thing; everyone's nipples are in different places, so although bras are designed with one thing in mind, it doesn't always work out; if your nipples are very low down, they won't show even in a quarter cup, but if they are much higher up, they might peek out of low-but-over-the-nipple-line designs. None of these things mean your body is wrong; they just mean to get the same effect as on the product shots you'll need a different sort of bra.
Quarter cups also mimic ears headbands really well.
People talk about breast pain, or well, pain related to breasts as if we all mean the same thing. But we don't some people get tenderness, some get muscle-aches type pain, some get skin issues or sharp shooting pains . . . myriad are the discomforts! Much as everyone's aches and pains are different, what fixes them is also very individual.
Some people find they have so many issues with having large breasts that no bra solves them; one person had had a reduction. She would like you to know that the thing her doctors didn't tell her is that you can find you just grow again! Similarly, breast surgery, in general, is a bit of a fraught area with at times mixed results, which is why many people who have mastectomies or lumpectomies (to remove breast cancer) don't put themselves through more surgery for reconstruction.
Lumpectomies mean you have some breast tissue missing; and the same as when people are naturally not symmetrical (it's not at all uncommon to be different cup sizes on each breast), then it's tricky to find bras that fit, or that have the pocket for padding in the right place, and the bra strap on the side with the lumpectomy tends to slide off. We'd love to hear from anyone who has suggestions for this as post-cancer bras are definitely not something I know much about!
Never bring your mum to a bra fit conversation because ANY arguments you had in adolescence will get very rapidly re-run! Turns out mums are pretty crucial to how we think about bras and bra fit.
My three favourite bra myths are:
1) underwired bras cause cancer. They pick up radiation/electromagnetic waves through the metal and funnel it into your sensitive breast tissue.
No research has ever been done on this because the basic premise is frikking ridiculous.
2) bras that are too small cause cancer. They compress your lymph nodes so that toxins build up in and around your breasts.
I'm pretty certain you all know well enough that the human body is a marvel of toxin removal and you can chuck this notion in the bin with whatever detox diet you've been offered recently.
3) badly fitting bras cause digestive problems
I don't even know. I got 99 digestive problems and a bra ain't one.
Basically, comment with your peer-reviewed journal evidence for bras doing ANYTHING consistent health wise, really. And not that one from that Japanese physiotherapist that was weighing 8 people's poo. I don't even know how that got published.
Maz won "most visible lingerie", wearing Karolina Laskowska :)