I went to the mall.
April 18, 2009
What follows is a shopping story.
If you don’t care to hear about women’s undies and related topics, scoot.
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I don’t go to the mall, really, since I get practically all of my clothing from secondhand shops, much cheaper and easier than trying to find socially responsible merchants online, but some things you just don’t buy used. Like underwear.
Bra shopping. It’s a beast of a task, even setting aside concerns about fair labor. I don’t like setting aside those concerns, but at a certain point it becomes… necessary. It was as a last resort (the bras I’ve had since college falling apart, a scarcity of socially responsible options – know any?) that I took the bus up to the mall and combed through every store that sold women’s underthings.
I recently recalculated my bra size, which is an adventure in itself. Don’t know how? Wikihow! Seriously, if you haven’t been to Wikihow, check it out. It’s the site that taught me how to cut my own hair, and it has great bra-fitting instructions. Here’s something I didn’t know:
Many bra fitting guides and calculators will tell you to add four or five inches to your underbust measurement, but this is not correct. The old method was devised by Warners in the 1930s when bra design was in its infancy and does not work with modern, elasticated bras.
This would explain why, when I tried to find my size with Lands’ End’s sizing chart, it had me wearing a 36A. It explains why once in college, while shopping with some friends, I asked for a fitting at JC Penney only to have the sales clerk measure me as an A. I’ve been wearing a 36C since freshman year and as it turns out, that isn’t right either.
That’s how I discovered that if you have a band size of less than 36 with a cup size of more than a C, as far as most retailers are concerned, you don’t exist. I pored over the racks at Sears (which now carries Lands’ End merch, woo, but not in the lingerie department), JC Penney, TJ Maxx (way too disorganized to be worth the trouble), Victoria’s Secret, even (shudder) Target. Rarely did I find a D cup in a 34, and never in a 32 (I don’t need a 32, but I’m just saying).
Furthermore, if you wear more than a C, everyone thinks you should be wearing underwire, even if, like me, you think it’s the work of the devil. And if you shun the wire, you can kiss all those cute prints and pretty patterns goodbye, because apparently women who don’t like to be jabbed in the ribs every time they bend forward don’t get to wear any colors besides black, white, “natural,” hideous teal, and if we’re lucky a nice mellow baby pink.
Personally, I don’t feel that my proportions are that extreme. I certainly can’t lay claim to a Rack of Doom (the link is to Kate Harding, and do read the post; it’s excellent), and I can only imagine the annoyance women of more generous proportions must feel in their quest for a bra that fits.
For my own purposes, I found two exceptions to this giant Fuck You from the purveyors of women’s intimates. The first is Victoria’s Secret, who actually carries a few wireless bras in a wide variety of sizes and all sorts of pretty colors – and the sales staff at Victoria’s are very helpful. Unfortunately, even their wireless models are too stiff and padded and push-up for my taste. I’m already wearing a D cup, and I really don’t need any extra bulk on my chest, thanks. One Victoria’s wireless I tried on was so rigid that there might as well have been wire in it. I’m thrilled that designers are finding ways to make a structured bra without wire, but… damn, that thing was uncomfortable. In my mind, a bra is like a tampon: if I’m aware of it when I’m wearing it, ur doin it wrong.
Instead, I went with a more flexible model from JC Penney’s Ambrielle brand. JC Penney has come through for me in the bra department before, and I have to hand it to them for their selection. They still didn’t have a ton of wireless bras in my size – but they had enough for me to find one I liked, an Ambrielle Smooth Revolution Wireless. In black, white, and “natural.” Hey, you can’t have everything. They still take some getting used to after the structureless stretch-cotton things I’ve been wearing since college, but they are comfortable and they work. These days, I could use some more structure in my life.
After that I went back at Sears (which had been my first stop) to pick up a comfortable-yet-supportive stretch cotton wireless bra by Bali, which fit me perfectly. In a 36C. Thereby demonstrating that bra sizing is only somewhat more consistent than women’s sizing in general. (I have pants and skirts in my closet ranging from 5 to 12. I have two dress patterns at my sewing desk for which my measurements put me at a size 18. Last year I bought a college t-shirt in a large, it shrank in the wash, and now I’m giving it away because it’s too tight.)
But that’s another rant for another day.
Dear Lands’ End: If you had carried this in a 34D, none of this would have happened. And the truth is, I’m not quite sorry. You are responsible for this, Lands’ End! You drove me back into the arms of JC Penney. To the MALL!