Friday, June 22, 2012

In-Store U.S. Bra-Fitting Experiences [Guest Post by Maddie]

Today's guest post is from fellow bra aficionado Maddie, who recently went to several big-name US stores that offer bra fittings to see what their fitting advice would be like. You can check out Maddie's Victoria's Secret experience (as well as VS experiences from other bloggers) at Braless in Brasil!

(For reference, I would generally wear a (UK) 32JJ/K, though I would accept being sized as a 34 because my un-snug underbust measurement is exactly 34. Pulled super-taut, the measurement is 32 or thereabouts, and I'm a bit squishy so 32 usually works for me. I wore a 40DDD around all day for the purpose of feigning ignorance. This good-fit picture is a Cleo Francis 32J, which I do need a cup size up in because I'm getting a little four-boob, but it's the best fit I have at the moment)
32J Cleo Francis

Store #1: Nordstrom. The positive here is this was my best fitting of the day, which I believe is owed to the fact that they measure you without your shirt on, something no one else bothered to do. Another positive is that it was explained to me I should start out on the loosest hook and use the tighter ones after the bra has some wear and it starts to feel looser.

The associate measured me at 34" underbust, and brought me a bunch of trial size bras in a 36 band, so apparently it's common practice there to add 2". Started at a DD or DDD and worked up to a GG until she thought the fit was good. The pink bra is the 36GG she used to size me. Nordstrom fitting is more hands-on than elsewhere that I tried, as they will remain in the fitting room with you unless you say otherwise, and do up your bras for you and adjust the straps. After they were done up though, there was no tugging at the band to see if there was too much give, and you can see how far I can stretch the front and back.

The teal is a 36GG Elomi which she determined to be my best fit. Her manager agreed, despite the fact that I expressed a slight reservation that the band might ride up once I started moving around. Also getting slight side boob, but the cups are an ok fit. I actually might consider this bra if it comes in a smaller band/larger cup as it was quite comfy and I like the color.
Final fit: 36GG (UK)

Store #2: JCPenney.
They advertise bra fitting all over their dressing rooms in the lingerie department, but I wandered around there for a few minutes and there was no one to be found. Womp womp.
Final fit: none

Store #3: Macy's. This was abysmal. Measured over my shirt; when I asked how they determined band size I was told they add 3". She said I measured 36, so I could go with a 38 or 40 band. Also measured for cup size and was told G. This store only carries US sizes, so a G is more like a UK F.

I was handed these 3 Wacoal bras as pretty much the entire selection they had in my 'appropriate' size. Lovely eh? Top row is a 38G US, middle is 38H, I can't remember what the bottom of those 2 sizes. All manner of bands riding up and drooping boobs, and no center gores touching. They are not really hands-on there so I had to ask the associate to come in and give me her opinion. She thought the 38H was best, but changed my band to the middle hooks, and had me try to scoop my boobs up higher in the bra in hopes that they wouldn't look so droopy. Obviously that wasn't working.

She also basically made fun of sizes like 32G and L cups. She expressed astonishment that such things even existed. She did, however, offer me the names of a couple boutiques, and mentioned Fantasie as a brand that makes larger cups that I may want to check out (thought she had no idea what it was, a customer had mentioned it to her).
Final Fit: 38H (UK size 38FF)

It's no wonder I've pretty much lost faith in US in-store fittings! Have you been fitted or shopped at any of these stores?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Guide to Getting Your First Well-Fitting Bra

So, you know that your old bras don't fit, and you're tired of it. You've measured yourself or used a good bra calculator to get a fairly accurate estimate of what your current true bra size is. And, you've also discovered that your new size is going to be hard to come by in most stores.

Now what?

First of all, good for you! You've taken the first big step to getting a bra that's perfect for you. That's great!

The prospect of finding a bra outside of the very small "normal" size range sold in most U.S. stores can be a daunting one, though. If you live near a store that sells a fairly good range of bras around what your estimated size is, that's great. The selection may be very limited (as in, the store may only carry one or two options for each size), but take this as an opportunity to try out a few bras in your size range. For example, if you estimate that your size is around a 30G and you live near a Nordstrom, go try on all the 30G's that they carry! If the cups are too small, try some 30GG's, or too big, try 30FF. Back feeling too tight even though the cups seem to fit in a 30G? Go to the sister size of 32FF. And so on.

But if you've already exhausted the limited options of nearby stores, or you just aren't able to find your size anywhere, you'll have to venture into the world of online shopping.

Buying online for the first time

Online shopping can seem scary - trust me, I know! Some people are dead set against buying any article of clothing online. "How will I know if it fits me?" they ask. "I never buy anything unless I try it on first."

These are admirable and understandable sentiments, but unfortunately, in the world of U.S. bra shopping, they're very often just not feasible. A good number of us will have to accept that, for the present, there are either very few or no choices in physical stores. If we don't want to suffer from ill-fitting bras, we're going to have to turn to the wide world of online bra stores, where choices abound (yes, there are lots of choices even in "weird" sounding sizes!).

Lots of pretty bras in "weird" sizes (28-30 G-HH) - almost all gotten online

But where to start? There are quite a lot of great online bra stores that sell almost every size imaginable. You may be hesitant to spend a lot of money on a bra that you don't know for sure fits. Fear not! While many of us have seen those good, well-made, out-of-the-norm-sizing bras sold in stores for upwards of $80-$100, the median price for brand-new bras on most bra sites is really more in the $40-$60 range (and all good bra sites have reasonable exchange/return policies). Still feels too expensive? Still more web stores (like Brastop and Lovebras) sell overstock and discontinued colors and styles for much cheaper prices (in the $20 range). Even cheaper options can be found through ebay (and, online communities/friends, and sites like Amazon. And remember - a well-fitting bra is an investment. It's much better to spend $50 on one great, well-fitting bra than the same amount on two bras that fit you terribly, give you pain, and do nothing for your shape!

So, you have a good idea of what your size might be, and you're ready and willing to try ordering bras online. But wait! Don't go ordering twenty bras in your newly-estimated 34H just yet! Measuring yourself and using a good bra calculator will give you just about as good as an estimate as you're going to be able to give yourself; however, it doesn't mean that the size you come up with will always be your exact starting size in every bra. Breast shape, body type, and personal preference are factors in determining bra size as well. Not to mention that different brands, different bras in the same brand, and even different colors in the same style of bra can fit differently even within the same size! Some styles are more suited to different breast shapes than others, too.

All this information can get overwhelming quickly, but don't despair! Rather than trying to learn everything there is to know about bra brands and styles all at once, just start by looking online and finding a few bras in your estimated size range that you like. It may be preferable to pick one brand (like Freya or Curvy Kate) to start with. Once you've picked a few styles that you like within a brand (if you can), research about these particular few bras a little. Many bra sizes will note how the bra fits - if it runs big, for example, or if the back runs tight. Ask someone who may have tried the bra before, if possible - there are lots of bra bloggers out there who give thorough reviews to bras they try out. Ask questions! Adjust what size you'll probably need to order from your estimated size, if applicable. Rinse and repeat for the starting few bras that you order to try out (I strongly recommend ordering at least 3 different bras at first to try out to get a better sense of what you need - even if you know you're going to return most of them).

Determining fit

Once the bras you've selected and ordered arrive, you might get lucky and discover that they all fit you perfectly. Yay you! You're set for the next little while.

For some of us, though, maybe only one or two of the bras fit - or none of them seem right. That's okay! You've still learned something. Try on each bra and note if there are any obvious signs of a poor fit. Cups too small in all of them? Return them and pick a few more bras in a cup size up! Write down what size, brand, and style of bras you've tried and how they seemed to fit before you return them so you have something to go off of.

Also, remember that new bras often need a little bit of breaking in (just like shoes!). If the bra seems to fit pretty well but feels tighter in the band than you're used to, remember that after a few wears and a first wash, the elastic should relax a little. You can also wear an extender until the bra loosens a bit if it's more comfortable.

Care and upkeep of bras

So, you've settled on a bra size and confirmed it with a few new bras, and you may have spent a pretty penny on them. How should you care for these investments that you've just made?

One of the most important things is to handwash/hand dry only! There's no faster way to create stretch, wear, and weakness in your bras than to just toss them in a load of laundry. Bras may have the amazing power to give support to voluminous bosoms, but they're still delicate underthings. Treat them gently!

Related to this, try not to wear the same bra for two days straight. This is why owning just one bra that fits  isn't going to do your boobs justice, by the way. The elastic in a bra needs some time to relax after you've worn it all day. And, if you have only one good bra, what are you going to do when that bra needs washing? (and don't say you'll just wear an old, ill-fitting one!)

Note that the fewer bras you have, the more strain each bra has to take from daily use/washings/wear. I recommend owning 2-3 bras as a bare starting minimum, hopefully working up to about 5 if you're able. The 5 bras you're cycling through wearing will last longer than the 2 bras you're having to wear all the time! [As an aside - I would still caution against going haywire and ordering twenty bras at this point. You may very well find that your size changes a bit in the months after you start wearing a good, correctly-fitting bra for the first time, due to breast tissue migrating back to where it's supposed to go.]

Do you remember your first foray into the world of correctly-fitting bras and online bra shopping? Any other advice you would add, or questions you have?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Nursing Bras: Things to Consider [Guest Post by April]

Today's post was written by my good friend and first-time-mom April, and it's the first-ever guest post for the blog! April gives a quick guide to bras for nursing moms based off of her own experiences. 

So you’ve made the decision to breastfeed your child. Great! People are always talking about how good that is for babies. What they never mention is how big of a deal this is going to be on your poor breasts. They will increase and decrease in size and weight throughout the whole ordeal (you can forget wearing your pre-baby bras for a while). Getting a good set of nursing bras is an essential investment for the breastfeeding mom. Stretch marks, back pain, clogged ducts, and other issues can be avoided or minimized with the right support. Here’s a few things keep in mind as you search for a comfortable and convenient way to hopefully enjoy the nursing relationship.

Know Your Size(s)

My biggest problem with finding a good nursing bra is that I didn’t know what size I was in the first place. A fitter probably won’t be able to help you find the right nursing bra. For one thing, your size will fluctuate throughout the day. I found that I changed two cup sizes from day’s beginning to end. Also, your size is going to change over time. Nursing the baby for 6 months? Your size could change rather dramatically after the first month or so of nursing, after supply has been established. Planning to nurse over a year? At 13 months, I’m still fluctuating through two cup sizes (this baby is getting weaned soon, gosh darn it).  I use this method for getting a good measurement [see also these good bra calculators for a quicker calculation].

The general rule for buying the first nursing bra is to do so before the baby arrives. You probably won’t want to go shopping within the first week after delivery (I was way too tired and had more than enough to keep me busy), and if you need to order online it’ll need time to get there. Make sure the bra fits on the loosest setting; you’ll need to be able to accommodate your shrinking ribcage. According to most websites, adding a cup size to your 8-month measurement will give you a good fit when your milk comes in. I’m pretty sure I went up two cup sizes, but one cup size up is a good all-around rule for something that’s hard to predict with perfect accuracy.

After about 6 months and onward, as supply begins to decrease somewhat, it’s time for another set of bras. I would recommend measuring in the morning (before the first feeding, if possible) and in the evening (when you’ll probably be the smallest) to get a feel for the range of sizes you’ll need. Personally, I went a cup size down from my early morning measurement in order to make sure the bra would fit the majority of the day.

Consider Ordering Online

If you are reading this blog regularly, you most likely have the same problem that I do: there isn’t a store nearby that carries your size! I need a 30F, and I live in a small town with very little selection in a 30 band for regular bras. Finding a nursing bra here in that size is even more impossible. Right now I have a pair of Royce nursing bras that I love (a brand which, by the way, runs a tad tight in the band, so consider yourself warned), but they are a British company and I’m in the US. The cool thing about having to order online is that you don’t have to go to the store to try anything on. Okay, so that might not appeal to some of you, but for those who are going to be first time moms and think that their little dear is going to be their best bra shopping buddy, here’s some advice: don’t count on it. Not all small children are very happy about having to wait for you to try on any amount of clothing. Ordering online can solve both lack of selection and lack of child patience issues. 
Royce Nursing bras
Some bra sites that carry a good variety of nursing bras, including in 30 and under bands:

Breakout Bras
Ewa Michalak
Linda's Online

Compensate for Nursing Pads
If you are just starting to breastfeed, make sure there is enough space in the bra for a good nursing pad. Some women leak a lot, others don’t, but milk stains when letdown happens at the wrong moment and noticeable bulges in your bust when a nursing pad doesn’t have enough room both look kind of awkward. This means that an unpadded bra will probably be your best friend at the beginning. Look for a bra with full coverage and a firm band.

Easy Access
One thing that a nursing bra absolutely needs to have is easy nursing access (I hope this one is obvious). This is the big reason that just buying a regular bra won’t work out so well for most breastfeeding moms. As much as I wanted to think that the one-handed access feature for nursing bras was just a gimmick, it’s pretty important. After all, you’ll probably be holding a sleeping infant or wiggly toddler; do you really want to A) accidentally flash the public due to a weird maneuver to get your bra back in place, or B) wake a sleeping infant. Or both, really. Even if the baby isn’t sleeping, it’s not like you can always just put the kid down to re-adjust, especially if you are switching sides. When you try on the bra, make sure each clasp (or pull-aside) is easy to replace with either of your hands.

What About Underwire?
While many experts say that underwire is a bad idea for a nursing bra (possible cause of clogged ducts, etc), this is mostly because many women don’t know how an underwire bra should fit (see also this video for how a correctly-fitting bra should look). Properly adjusted, they are perfectly safe to use and will probably give better support to some. See this post for more info about proper sizing for underwire. My only complaint about underwire nursing bras: getting the darned flap to stay down or in a comfortable position while nursing. Make sure you check to make sure this won’t be an issue before buying.

…Also, the Sleep Bra
I’m a firm advocate of getting a sleep bra. If you are generously endowed, breastfeeding probably won’t be kind to your sleep habits, especially if you are a side sleeper or stomach sleeper. A comfortable, supportive bra for night (when, if you are lucky, your baby might go for many hours without relieving you) is essential. Plus, if you tend to leak at night, you’re going to need something to put those nursing pads in.

This is by no means an exhaustive guide, but hopefully I’ve given you a few tidbits worth using. Nursing a baby is hard, but there’s no reason for your bra to add to the difficulty. A good nursing bra is worth the money.

For veteran nursing moms out there, what is your favorite brand of nursing bra or your biggest complaint about them?