Bra shopping should be one of the circles of hell. After approximately a decade of practice, I’m still no closer to besting this corrupt practice.

It’s like going to the dentist or spending your entire paycheck at Forever 21: as a woman, it’s just one of those things you have to do. If bra shopping online was an option, I would have every blessed brassiere FedEx’d to my door with no social interaction whatsoever. Sadly, with all the wires, padding, amount of lift, material, and patterns to take into account, shopping online is a gamble, and like so many casinos in Las Vegas, the dealer usually wins. You may not be aware of this, but just to return a simple online order from Victoria’s Secret, you need to provide a blood sample, your birth certificate, a character reference, and a sworn affidavit that said heretofore aforementioned bra was never worn. It’s always with a heavy heart I find myself swallowing my pride and heading to the mall to peruse the over the shoulder boulder holder offerings.

Smart marketing, Maidenform circa 1960s: That woman is on trial for murdering an Intimate Apparel associate.Image source: Northlawpublishers, Inc.
Smart marketing, Maidenform circa 1960s: That woman is on trial for murdering an Intimate Apparel associate.
Image source: Northlawpublishers, Inc.

When you’re in a store and you get within ten feet of the “Intimate Apparel” department, an associate will be up your ass immediately and literally. You haven’t even explicitly declared your intent to bra shop, but these employees can smell it–the scent of fear and resignation you’re emitting from your pores… If you’re about to get all defensive about customer service, niceness, and loss prevention, you clearly have never experienced the true harassment that is bra shopping.

You’ll shake off that first renegade employee and make your way into the racks of bras. Big cups, small cups, those lightly lined and those that will make you look like you’re packing a Nerf football under your shirt.

In between taking in all the sights like a foreign visitor to planet Juptiter, you’ll pause a moment to look on in horror at the beige, thick-strapped granny bras. Who needs this much coverage? you’ll be wondering to yourself, when from behind a bra display, a woman your grandmother’s age will pop out holding an arm full of bras and wearing a tape measure for a necklace.

“Do you need any help dear? Do you need to be fitted? C’mere let me just fit you sweetheart.”

She’ll take out her tape measure, and start walking towards you, keenly and geriatrically advancing to your chest. You’ll shrink back in horror, guarding your sweater puppies with your purse. “No, thank you! I’m just looking!”

But she’ll keep advancing at .00034 MPH, making her tape measure taut. “You know, deary, I think you’d like my son. He lives in my basement and he makes furniture out of human flesh. He’s a good boy. I think you two would have beautiful children. You look like a nice girl.”

You’ll back into the shelves with the homogenous boxed bras, knock over a full display of full-coverage Nearly Cs, fall down to the floor, and start crawling out of sight, yelling anxious, “No thank yous!” over your shoulder while the goodly old lady associate follows you. You’ll sneak into the fitting room, curled up in the fetal position and holding your breath until another hapless victim shopper catches the attention of ol’ lady bra fitter. Whew. That was a close one.

From your hiding place, you’ll make haste to the sanctuary that is the cute bra section, temporarily seeking solace in the fact you made it away from Employee of the Month, May 1934 both unwed and unfit.

Hell.Image source: shopacoholic
Image source: shopacoholic

You’ll start perusing the pink leopard print offerings, sifting through bras so tiny they’d be lucky to cover half of a nipple and 7.5% of your boob. You’ll be looking in vain for something with just a little more coverage in your size, when out of the fitting room comes your next adversary. You’ll be faced with the disgruntled teen employee–midriff exposed, nose pierced, and angst-ridden. “Do you need help. If you need help, I’ll get someone.” She won’t see a need to make eye contact with you because she’s texting her boyfriend “Hew” (whose lame parents insist on calling him Matthew).

“Oh, no thank y–”

“Look, do you need someone or not. I need to get back to pretending to work. Do you need help? Hang on… Hey Hew. What, an electro jazz concert? That sounds great, oh hang on there’s a customer.”

“What? No, no. No thank you, I’m just looking.”

She’ll flip her hair, roll her eyes, and walk away calling you a bitch under her breath, resuming her philosophical discourse with Hew. Before she changes her mind again and returns, you fly over to the speciality bra area: maternity bras, sports bras, and strapless bras as far as the eye can see.

This really isn’t what you came for, but you need to let the cute bra department clear out for a minute. You start perusing the offerings when from out of the bra rack itself appears the Trying-Too-Hard-to-Relate chick.

“Hey girl! You treating yourself to a new bra? Good for you! Are you looking for bras with support? I need a lot of support, each of my breasts weighs 10lbs. and don’t get me stated on the state of my areolas, you know what I’m sayin’ girlfriend? But you’re lucky, you have great boobs!”

By now, you’re standing there wondering if this chick is trying to flirt with you or if she’s a hired assassin, and this is the end for you. At this point, you no longer care, as long as it ends swiftly…

“Um. Thanks, I’m really just looking.”

“Oh sure girl! I look at things all the time, what kind of bra are you looking for?”

“Well, I’m just kind of looking in general.”

“OHHHHHHHH! Is it for a special occasion?”

“My own funeral.”

“YOUR FUNERAL! Well then you’re going to want a strapless bra with a lot of lift and padding! You don’t want Kate and Middleton looking like pancakes when people look in on your open casket! Here, this one is perfect, because it’s seamless so no amount of rigor mortis will make the seams show! And you probably don’t need front closure because…”

Now you’re walking away. You’re leaving the department. Trying-Too-Hard-to-Relate chick won’t even notice you’ve left. You’re on your way home to visit the Victoria’s Secret website to order a bra that will not only be ill-fitting but will also seem a lot more flowery and orange-y instead of red in person than it appeared in the picture. Sworn affidavits, ridicule, and shame await you.

…No woman makes it out of bra shopping unscathed.

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43 thoughts on “The Divisiveness of Bra Shopping

  1. Because I’m an awesome husband, I bought the wife a couple of nice bras at VS once. True story…the sales person was an Irish woman, maybe in her 40s and still quite pretty; she sounded like she just got off the boat. When she asked me what size, it dawned on me that I had no clue what I was looking for. She said, “Here Deary, are they bigger than these?” while lifting her sweater and putting my hands on her breasts!! “Feel ’em real good laddy!” They ended up being the best bras the wife ever had. I went back the next week because I thought I’d surprise the wife with some underpants, but the Irish woman didn’t work there anymore…

    1. Ha! Honestly, I think any woman would forgive some near-infidelity if it meant someone else funding the overpriced majesty that is a bra from Victoria’s Secret. It’s $50 you’ll hate yourself for spending on two measly cups and some straps, but they’re worth every last penny.

  2. We are blessed with Miss Johnson in Lincoln. Accompanying my wife to Miss Johnson’s underwear emporium is a treat I would not miss for the world. Her personal service knows no bounds.

      1. I thought she was some bra fitter to the stars or something. Like the television show Double Divas. (I’ve only seen it in passing. I don’t watch it, I swear!)

  3. I can relate…not at all. I do however, think that Hew is an awesome name. I have a newphew that is named Matthew, that will henceforth and from this time forward be named Hew. Thanks for the name inspiration, Sassy!

      1. Instead of Jacob we could call him Cob. I predict that my nephew and my sister will bitter after me shortening his name to Hew. But isn’t that would life is all about? Making others bitter?

      2. Cob! Brilliant! Is there a Bitter Baby Name book in the works?! If there’s an amusement park and a school, you may as well commit.

      3. I can honestly I have never once gotten a suggestion. Which either means people are satisfied with what’s going on here, or they just genuinely don’t care. …Probably the latter.

  4. My new business idea: The Over the Shoulder Boulder Holder Emporium! ’nuff said. (Over the shoulder boulder holder was my nickname in high school cause I would grab ladies breasteses from behind…did I mention I was home schooled? Sorry mom:( I believe I have the same origin story as Buffalo Bill from ‘Silence’)

  5. Want to know what I think the answer is? No? Well I’m going to tell you anyway. Don’t get measured. Honestly, measuring is for schmucks who don’t know how a bra should fit. I spent years as an underwear fit model (no, they didn’t take my picture, just used my boobs to check that the bras fit properly) and I picked up a few tips. My advice – find a brand you like. Try on the bra they think you should be. Then adjust accordingly – you should be able to get two fingers (no more, no less, under the underband. Four boobs instead of two – chances are you need a bigger cup. Underarm boobs – a bigger cup. Enough room in there for your boobs and someone else’s – smaller cup. Take more than one size into the fitting room – much to the exasperation of the assistant – and try them on until you find one that fits and is comfy. Then stick with it – the brand, the style – and pray they never go out of business! Eh voila, the end of horrendous bra shopping. Although maybe this is easier in the UK as trying to find an assistant to fit you in an underwear department is like trying to find gold in a coal mine, but as far as I am concerned, this is no bad thing!

    1. You guys are lucky over there–we have too many associates!

      And an underwear fit model?! That is so totally random and awesome. Your boobs are the standard to which bras were fit! How power-trippy were you during that time?

      I’ve tried using that formula to determine what size I should be, since “they” say most women are wearing the wrong size, but I always wind up with some ridiculous size like 13F or 30.23C.

      1. It is tricky. Have you tried measuring yourself and then going from there?
        I didn’t think about being power-trippy about the bra fitting thing. Mostly it was slightly annoying as they used to collar me just after I had got into work. I’d just put all my clothes on and now I had to take them off again. Plus there was the slightly undignified moments when the suppliers were in there too, staring at your boobs. At least I was never drawn on with permanent marker like some of the others were! Plus, it’s just occurred to me now, that my boobs may be why so many women find that bras don’t fit them. I’m responsible for their discomfort!!!

      2. I’ve measured myself but like… I always mess up the formula somehow. I’m at an age where I’ve retired from math, so. I just try on and guess. It’s easier now because they shrunk when I lost weight.

        Permanent marker?! This is what goes on?! I’m fascinated!

        And I never thought about it like that… You may have single-handedly ruined many lives of B and C cup hopefuls!

      3. I started trying to write it yesterday. It hasn’t come out as witty or entertaining as I would like! I’ll keep working on it.

  6. No! Not the areolas! The horror!
    I get the too-embarrassed-to-say-the-word-bra girl (you think it’s impossible considering what their job is, but they exist!). She can’t look you in the eye, or at your chest to understand what size you need. I like her.

    1. Love her! I wish there were more of her! I too often get the ones that are wrapping me up with a tape measure before they can even finish welcoming me.

  7. Katie, once again you provide a window into the world of women, and I am always glad that I do not have to deal with any of that crap. As for your writing, it is what makes me admire you so much. You made bra shopping sound like an adventure. Do they really smell your fear as you approach? So much great story telling here. Your description of the ancient helper who is determined to measure you is priceless. 🙂 You are incredible! Please don’t ever stop noticing the world and writing about it!

    1. Thank you!! I will never tire of your flattery. I truly think they can smell the fear. I’m trying to think of a men’s equivalent. Maybe shopping around for a vasectomy doctor?

      That may be a little extreme. But close.

      1. I am not sure that there is an equivalent. No I am sure there isn’t one. Men really are lucky, just give us a comfortable pair of boxers and we are all set.
        I only flatter because it is true Katie. You are an amazingly talented writer. 🙂

  8. Trying to find a tit container is a stressful operation. Because also, if you have anything bigger than a C cup, you’re paying for each bra with a promise of you first born.

  9. Bras! To this day, I cannot walk by an intimate apparel store without feeling an overwhelming sense of dread. The entire process is traumatizing. I do not mind the associates, I just wish they knew what they were doing. I’m a small girl with a large bust. I’ve been to every single store imaginable. I’ve been poked, prodded, twirled, and shoved into bras I cannot even begin to tell you. However, the most terrible part of the entire ordeal is leaving the store with the wrong size. I’ve been told my size does not exist. I’m too tiny and my cup is too large. I have lost hope. Bras will forever haunt me.

    1. Oh gosh! I was never officially “fit” until maybe 3 years ago when I was with a friend and a Victoria’s Secret associate offered to do a makeshift fitting in the middle of the store. I think the VS experience is something else entirely.

      I used to weigh quite a bit more, and the size I wore then was so hard to find, and there were never any cute patterns. They were all white, nude, or black. Come on, now! I want some tasteful zebra print too!

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