Investment handbags? How about investment lingerie? When is the last time you purchased beautiful, properly fitting bras? Have you forgotten how gorgeous underthings make you feel — like you have a divine little secret?
Pretty underthings are not just for seduction. Nor are they solely for twenty- and thirty-somethings, or those who wear small sizes. Lingerie is — or should be — for the woman who is wearing it, whatever her age or size. Naturally, this isn’t to say that we don’t appreciate when we are appreciated in it…
Another key point?
Most of us sport our underwear daily, don’t we? Whether we’re in shorts digging in the garden, in business casual at the office, or in a Chanel suit headed out for a special dinner — possibly with the latest Tory Burch, Kate Spade or Longchamp over the shoulder — we’ve donned some sort of bottom at least, and likely a “lift” on top.
And speaking of those handbags, how much would you consider spending for one? $275? $450? $900? In the thousands? How many delicious designer bras could you buy with those bucks?
Why are we so reluctant to consider the fabric and fit of the clothing that is literally the foundation on which everything else is layered? Perhaps it’s time we mention our unmentionables…
Lingerie (Especially Bra) Expertise
When you want expert advice, it pays to go to those in the know, and I did just that. Intimacy is a US chain that specializes in fitting bras properly, and is known for its luxury merchandise, much of which comes from Europe and not just for the usual small selection of sizes. I was able to speak with Molly Hauge, Store Manager of Intimacy in Atlanta, who is a wonderful source of information.
Molly offers an important perspective on lingerie — in particular, wearing bras that fit properly. She says: “Women’s bodies change six times on average during their lives… Really, our bodies are changing constantly.”
As I think about it, she couldn’t be more right. After all, we go through monthly cycles, pregnancy, weight gain and loss with each child. Medications, surgeries and lifestyle changes impact our size and shape. We diet of course, and as we age, weight gain is commonplace and breast tissue begins to change. Certainly, some of us are more prone to fluctuate as moods or holidays or vacations have us putting on (or taking off) weight from time to time.
Shouldn’t we reconsider the fit of our lingerie at these key stages and moments in our lives? Wouldn’t it help to have an expert on hand, especially if we’re hard to fit?
If you can’t get to a store that will work with you, how exactly do you properly fit a bra?
How to Measure for Bra Size
Do you know how to measure yourself as a starting point for a properly fitted bra? And did you know that fitting a bra is not simply a matter of getting the band size needed for your bust, and then the cup size?
The prevailing wisdom on getting your measurements for fitting a bra is as follows:
- First measurement: Use a tape measure and go around the top of the rib cage (just wear breast tissue ends, or where the bottom of your bra usually hits). If the number is odd, add one inch to arrive at an even number. For example, 37″ you should round up to 38. This is your band size.
- Second measurement: Go around the fullest part of the breast while wearing the best bra you have (and no, not a minimizer!). For example, you may measure 39″ or 42″ or 46″ and so on.
- Subtract Measurement 1 from Measurement 2. Let’s say that’s 42″ – 38″ and your result is 4. You use this number to arrive at your cup size, and a 4 would take you to a D as you proceed through cup sizes A, B, C, D, DD, and then prepare to be confused… cup sizes change by country.
US manufacturers follow DD with DDD or F, whereas European brands go from DD to E and so on.
This chart may be of some assistance.
Forget Size, Remember Comfort
When I’ve gone lingerie shopping in France, I’ve been everything from an 85C to a 95F over the years, with variations in cup size depending on the brand and style. This is precisely why you should use measurements to get in the ballpark, but don’t obsess over them. If at all possible, have someone who is trained in fitting bras who can work with you to deliver a good fit, and don’t forget about comfort.
Key factors to take into account:
- the structure of panels in the bra’s design (they truly do sculpt the breast)
- the further sculpting qualities of the fabric used
- where the boning of the underwire hits (if it hits in the wrong place, it’s painful after a short amount of time as it digs into breast tissue or presses too hard against the rib cage)
- the style of cup (demi, full)
- additional style options that will push your breasts up, out, together and so on, affecting the appearance of cleavage
- the extent of side coverage
And for the full-breasted or full-figured among us, the width of the banding in back as well as the straps (and strap style) will make a huge difference — not only in the longevity of your bra, but in its comfort as the day wears on.
Last, and certainly not least is the beauty of the lingerie — your preference for solids, lace, transparency, colors, bows, trims and other details. Let’s not forget how delicious a little hint of lace can be when peeking out from a blouse — not for the office, please — but in casual or socializing environments, why not?
We All Deserve Beautiful Lingerie
Having gone back and forth to France for so many years, I have ample experience with Aubade, Simone Pérèle, Chantelle, Prima Donna and several lesser known French brands. Yes, these are pricey, and I’m the first to say that I’ve lived on a very tight budget for a very long time, and that hasn’t changed. But especially as our “assets” hint at heading South, beautiful and functional undergarments are essential, and for me, much more so than an investment handbag. Besides… you can buy three stunning, properly fitting bras for less than you would one of those designer bags!
Something else we forget about too easily?
A poorly fitting bra can ruin the lines of a pretty blouse, sweater or jacket. So often we turn to shapewear to try to smooth things over when we don’t consider the need to invest in a good bra. On my trip to France a few months back, I did exactly that… invest. I invested in a gorgeous Prima Donna bra with a superb fit and a modern art pattern of dots and lines, very Damian Hurst meets Mondrian, and impeccably “engineered” to defy gravity!
I will cite something I wrote several years ago. The subject was a playful take on lingerie, but one that relies on my European experience to highlight a key cultural difference that I have observed in how women feel about themselves — and how the market responds to that need.
In France, in my experience (having lived, schooled, worked, traveled there – at various stages – from age 15 up through, um… let’s just say, 40+), women are entitled to feel like women at any age or size. Sexy. Feminine. Are French women generally thinner than Americans? Yes. But not always. Are beautiful clothes or lingerie (or sex for that matter) only for those who are 35 and under? Not.
We could learn a great deal from these women. From this culture that celebrates sensuality and sexuality. It isn’t about the lingerie (though that helps!) – it’s acceptance of one of our greatest human pleasures. And its applicability to every adult.
Establish a Relationship With a Brand…
In my discussion with Molly Hauge, I asked about the advantages of establishing a relationship with a store, a boutique, or brands you know will work for you, and the need to stay open to the suggestions of knowledgeable staff. (I can’t tell you how many times I stubbornly insisted something would look good on me, only to be proven (happily) wrong.)
Of her store and sales associates, Molly says:
Ultimately, we want to be there for our customers through their life changes — from first job out of college to their wedding to having children. And we’re trained to help…
That training is important, whether looking for something to wear everyday at any age or size, for a sports bra to provide the support you need while exercising, a nursing bra for the childbearing years, or for feeling good about yourself in the case of post-surgical changes.
We chatted about styles and cultural differences, and the fact that most of us feel more confident and more upbeat when we’re wearing something we feel good in. Shouldn’t that start with the lingerie?
Molly adds that with all the responsibilities women have:
It’s important to spend that time on yourself, so you feel not only beautiful, but comfortable.
The Bottom Line
Although I’ve been concentrating on the challenges of the top, let’s not forget the bottom. One of the pleasures of the French brands that I’m familiar with is the fact that they recognize a desire for “coverage.” Specifically, that means more styles than a thong, a bikini, or a single brief.
As an example, all the French brands I tend to consider come with three variations in briefs, all with excellent coverage on the derrière as well as pretty placement of lace, which is both strategic and stylistic. These options are realistically designed for women with tummies and hips as well as butts.
This very tempting display wall at Intimacy, showing Simone Pérèle, reflects the broad range of colors and styles available in many sizes. And yes, let’s hear it for beautiful slips that can be pretty worn alone or over a coordinating bra.
Here is another beautiful and colorful Simone Pérèle display at Intimacy.
Other Great Lingerie Options for Women of Any Age
Bras and panties are not our only choices. And for those who love layering or the simplicity of a single underthing, one piece undergarments can offer lift, coverage, and some of course are specifically designed for shaping and smoothing. This Calvin Klein example (below) isn’t a shaper, but note its underwire support and sexy but strategic lace coverage.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that I have an 87-year old French role model who is still chic, and in her lingerie drawer is a bodysuit that fits her perfectly.
Sadly, one of the challenges in the US is finding anything feminine in larger cup sizes. But do peruse The Boudoir on the Bloomingdales site to get ideas, and if you’re hard to fit, pay particular attention to the European makers.
Still on the subject of bodysuits, this Dita Von Teese pictured below (also at Bloomingdales) has a similar look. However, note the panels in the cups and even more visual coverage on the torso. I’m tempted to give this one a shot…
I will mention corsets only briefly; they still seem to get a bad rap in the US and I’ve found many more styles and choices in France. Although they can be expensive, they can be custom made to your measurements, and European boutiques and sites tend to offer quite a variety. For those looking to give their shoulders a break from “carrying the load” and likewise for those with back issues, a pretty corset can be a great friend and provide a little “je ne sais quoi.”
Time and Money
Remember those dollars that you’re willing to drop on a handbag. Even luxury lingerie won’t cost what a handbag will — or in some instances, a wallet! Moreover, I have found that my rather pricey French lingerie will last years if I hand wash. My American bras, even with the same kid glove treatment, simply don’t hold up.
Now some women may think that it’s not worth the time, trouble or investment to buy lovely lingerie, much less really well fitting undergarments. They think of lacy or satiny styles only when in a relationship. An intimate relationship that is.
Personally, I think this is the wrong approach. Shouldnt we consider the intimate relationship we have with ourselves?
One lesson my French experiences taught me is how important it is to feel good about myself. I struggle with this, but when I’m wearing pretty, properly fitted underthings, everything is better. 300% better. I wear beautiful lingerie… for me.
I did manage to indulge in a little lingerie shopping of my own, much enjoyed and very successful thanks to Molly’s skills — all in the name of research for this post, of course. I tried on Prima Donna and Simone Pérèle in purple, deep blue, several combinations in black, and fire engine red. Anyone care to guess what color I settled on?
One final note: I wish I could have found images to show models who are fuller figured as well as representative of a broader range of age. Unfortunately, for all the curvaceous shapes we may see in some segments of pop culture — Kim Kardashian-style — American society continues to present narrow standards of beauty in terms of models and stock photos. And the absence of positive media images is even more true for “women of a certain age.”
My very special thanks to Molly Hauge at Intimacy in Atlanta.
Click Calvin Klein and Dita Von Teese images to access items at Bloomingdales.
Read more in the Makeover Series here.
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