Fit to bust

No longer the domain of stern salesladies scolding their chastened customers for their ill-fitting lingerie, bra-measuring is undergoing a renaissance, thanks to some serious innovation from lingerie companies and bra-entrepreneurs.

Via helpful websites, smart campaigns and training programs for store employees, the perfect fit can be a reality for shoppers who were long resigned to digging wires, riding bands and dimpled cups – and that could help bring customers into stores. There’s still plenty of work to be done though, as misconceptions about fit run rampant in and out of the industry.

Over the years, Rigby & Peller’s fitters have become the unofficial spokespeople for bra-fitting issues, with credentials that see them quoted in magazines and on television every time the subject comes up. That’s quite a boon for a boutique: to be so synonymous with quality and fit that the world’s media is at your door, and something that independent boutiques might aspire to.

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Yet in spite of all the publicity of the last few years, an estimated 75 to 80 percent of women are still wearing the wrong size bra, according to Ali Cudby of Fab Foundations, which provides fitting courses for storeowners and retail employees. Explaining that no one wears a single, unchanging size, Cudby, who refers to her early bra shopping experiences as “acts of masochism”, emphasises that fit varies between brands and styles. Finding the right bra requires patience, as does turning salespeople into skilled fitters, but both have long-term rewards.

“Fitting is something that is fundamental to a company’s business, but training takes so much time,” she explains, adding that finding the right bra is can be a genuinely “transformational moment” for many women.

“Often, fitting ends up being something that happens haphazardly,” she explains, “and the goal of the Fab Foundations Academy is to take something we all know needs to be done, standardise it, and make it efficient and consistent so stores and brands have a jumping-off point.”

Cudby’s take on fitting mirrors a new industry-wide approach to helping women find a bra that works for them. Boob School, a consumer-facing campaign from the retailer Bravissimo debuting in March 2013, aims to prevent the “most common mistakes women make in the way their bras fit”, according to senior marketing manager Nicola Yates.

By focusing on the “seven common bra faux pas”, including side and top spillage from wrong-sized cups, the campaign is centred on “developing a creative way to speak about fit that’s lighthearted and conversational.”

Like Fab Foundations, Boob School teaches customers to avoid the mindset that a woman will wear the same size in every brand and style of bra. Proper fit, according to Yates, “isn’t about measurements or calculations; it’s about coming to our stores and trying on different styles and shapes to understand what you’ll like to wear to feel comfortable and confident.”

Yates adds that Bravissimo’s approach is a personal one, and that “we’re not here to tell women what to wear and how to wear it, but we help them to try different styles and shapes to understand what they’ll like.”

That level of comfort and personal treatment is essential: a cramped fitting room, poor mirrors and a lack of discretion can all be off-putting. Rigby & Peller has made its fitting sessions a Champagne-fuelled treat, which certainly takes the work out of being fitted. Eveden, meanwhile, the company behind such brands as Wacoal and Goddess, is also working to change the way women shop for bras: at the company’s fitting school, students learn to determine bra size visually, according to Suzanne Pentland, Eveden’s retail sales and fit specialist manager.

“Our school is designed to get the lingerie industry to fit bras correctly, but it’s not a measuring school,” she explains. “Measuring isn’t really accurate and doesn’t tell you how something will fit. We wouldn’t measure for a pair of jeans, so we don’t measure for a bra.”

Models of varying body types and bust size are hired for classes, allowing students to work with women representative of those they’re likely to encounter on the job. “We sort of go back to dress sizes,” continues Pentland. “We know what a size 10 or 12 looks like, so we start with that and then move to the back and cup size.”

Lindsey Brown, who developed the Bra Fitting Course to train retail employees, also takes a vision-centred approach to fit. Brown explains that it’s “impossible to measure volume with a tape measure, because the body is elastic and the tape is static so the two don’t mix.” As a result, it’s “essential that anyone advising women on wearing the correct bra learns how to assess and fit without a tape measure.” Aside from the technical aspects of fitting, Brown’s courses also focus on etiquette and making sure customers feel comfortable with the process.

Brown, Cudby and Pentland all agree the most common fitting mistake made by women is combining an overly large band with a too-small cup size. The result is little to no support, resulting in neck and back pain. Often, the difference between what women assume their size to be and what actually fits is dramatic, with Pentland adding, “Someone who’s a 34G is probably going to go into the fitting room for the first time wearing a 40B.”

Often, the primary enemy of proper fit is change. Many women mistakenly think their bra size remains the same even when their bodies undergo dramatic transformations.

“Women’s boobs change for all manner of reasons quite regularly,” explains Yates. “I’d be surprised if most women’s size hasn’t changed over the years because of pregnancy, weight gain or loss and hormones. Both temporary changes and long term, permanent changes alter the size and shape of your boobs.”

For these reasons, it’s important to encourage women to be fitted for bras regularly, particularly after a major event, like childbirth, which can seriously affect the breasts.

“A lot of women are wearing the same size they’ve worn for years,” says Yates. “They think that’s their size, not thinking about how their bodies have changed. They might lose weight and change clothing sizes, but not get refitted for a new bra. Different styles and shapes fit you at different times.”

Turning employees into skilled fitters, and training new storeowners to take on the task themselves, could be a boon in developing a loyal customer base. Learning how to fit customers properly “gives people an opportunity to grow their businesses and not get mired in something they have to do over and over again,” Cudby explains, adding that skilled staff are a “signal to consumers that the store invests in its people, who are capable of giving you a good fit.”

In fact, it was a fitting by talented Bravissimo staff on a visit to England from the US that inspired Cudby to make bras her business. Discovering something that fit after years of discomfort and awkward dressing-room experiences, Cudby began to accept fully her curvaceous figure.

“I turned around and looked in the mirror and saw my body looking different than it ever had before,” she says. “Wearing something that was pretty and that fit right changed how I felt about myself in an instant.”

That epiphany, and a rush of newfound confidence inspired by well-supported breasts, is the same one other companies should seek to replicate, one bust at a time.

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