Shopping for underwear sounds either mundane or glamorous, depending on your point of view — but it can also be daunting.
"People have no idea what they're doing," said Bonnie Kaufman, "because it's like buying a mattress. What do you really know about mattresses?"
Kaufman, the president and founder of the Creative Woman: The Wizard of Bras boutique in Monrovia — which stocks 49 brands of brassieres — is talking about women and bra shopping. More specifically, she's calling out the sorry state of sagginess that exists in the average American woman's bra wardrobe.
FOR THE RECORD:
Bra shops: In the July 17 Image section, an article about stores that specialize in bras gave an out-of-date address and phone number for the Miss Stevens shop, which has moved. The new address is 2235 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, and the phone number is (424) 208-6590. —
Of the handful of skilled bra-fitters in the L.A. area, Kaufman, who launched her store 36 years ago, is arguably the most veteran.
But ask any local fitter what the primary issues are with most women's bras and you'll hear the same thing: We buy bras with cups that are too small and bands (the part that hooks around the ribcage) that are too loose.
The result? Bras that don't support the breasts properly, and lead to poor posture, shoulder indentations, back fat, back aches and "the tug" — a band that creeps up the back, necessitating constant readjustment.
And let's not forget that an ill-fitting bra on a larger chest gives the appearance of extra pounds, since the bosoms encroach on the waist region. Not a good look.
Ready to raise your profile? Here's where to go to get a topnotch fit.
Creative Woman: The Wizard of Bras
If you can't find your perfect fit among the 18,000 bra styles at Wizard of Bras (as it's commonly known), you might not be destined to wear a brassiere at all. The boutique, which Kaufman founded when she was a single mother of three in 1975, features a staff of experienced bra fitters ("it takes about six months to train someone," Kaufman said) who measure busts with Rolex-style precision — under the armpits and across the top of the breasts. Customers' selections and measurements are logged into the store's computer to make future shopping a breeze. Band sizes range from teeny-tiny 28 to extra-large 58; cups range from AA to N.
The store also does on-site alterations, including lining bras with comfy material. And staffers consider it a huge part of their job to educate women on figure facts such as "every woman has one breast fuller than the other, and a slightly higher shoulder," and "there is no standard cup size beyond a D," said Kaufman, adding, "At that point, it's about the brand." Hence the enormous selection.
Prices range from $20 to $120.
1530 S. Myrtle Ave., Monrovia. (888) 564-9754. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
Founded by Susan Nethero, a.k.a. "The Bra Whisperer," who trained under the Queen of England's longtime bra fitter June Kenton, Intimacy boutiques carry mostly European brands — including Lise Charmel, Aubade, La Perla and Prima Donna — which tend to be more structured and indestructible, in that old-school "Mad Men" way. Sizes at the boutique chain range from 32A to 46H (with K cups available up to a 42.)
Fitters are required to attend the company's weeklong Bra Fit Bootcamp, which Nethero usually oversees. And while the light-and-airy boutiques offer a serious selection of bras, they also take into consideration that 21-year-olds may not want to look like their moms under their T-shirts. Pretty, youthful-looking styles abound. "Lingerie styling is just as important as clothing styling," said Domenique Washington, assistant manager at the South Coast Plaza store in Costa Mesa.
Fittings begin with filling out a Needs Assessment Card (where you can jot down your bra "issues"), then proceed with a tour of the store before moving into the dressing room, where — instead of pulling out a tape measure — your fitter will use "a holistic method of fit that keeps in mind the entire body," said Washington, who added, "Measuring tapes can give inaccurate result."
Instead of relying on a tape, the fitter visually assesses what the customer has on, talks about likes and dislikes, and then, "we bring styles that complement your body, your figure and your wardrobe." The stores also offer free alterations, including tightening up loosening bands as they age — a great little money-saver.
Core prices range from $70 to $100.
3333 Bristol St., in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. (657) 622-0595. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
10250 Santa Monica Blvd., in the Westfield Century City Mall, Los Angeles. (310) 734-8598. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
One of the newest bra fitting spots in town, Jenette Bras is also one of the most specialized — offering fashion-forward looks exclusively for full-cup gals (women with a small-to-average band size, but D-plus cups.)
Owner Jenette Goldstein opened the charming, atelier-style shop two years ago because "I knew I'd drive anywhere and pay anything once I found a well-fitting bra," she said. A size 32G herself, Goldstein cheekily calls her demographic "overdeveloped and underserved."
Band sizes at Jenette's range from 30 to 44, while cup sizes range from D to K. The roughly 15 brands carried in the store are mostly European, and include Fantasie, Freya, Prima Donna, Twist and Mimi Holliday. Tailored, three-part cups outnumber molded cups because "seams help center breasts," Goldstein said. "Bring [the breast] center, and your silhouette is slimmed."
Despite its busty clientele, the boutique doesn't stock minimizer styles because "if you're wearing the correct size bra, you will appear minimized," Goldstein said.
When fitting a client, Goldstein and her small staff rely on their eagle eyes, not measuring tapes. "You can tell just by knowing proportions generally what the band size is going to be," Goldstein said. "Then you look at the fullness of the breast and you can also guess the cup."
Core prices range from $68 to $118.
Jenette Bras, 4308 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-7490. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
If you prefer the slick, roomy atmosphere of a department store to independent boutiques, Nordstrom has been offering proper bra fittings in every store since launching. Here in the L.A. area, the Glendale store boasts a particularly skilled, savvy staff, armed with a surprisingly wide selection of underwire, soft-cup and specialty bras — though "all lingerie people in every store are trained to be certified fitters," explained Lauren Harp, national fit coordinator for the company.
During a fitting, a staffer will initially measure your rib cage and cup size, then start pulling styles — from basic daily bras to strapless and fashion-forward options. "Nordstrom is, above all, a fashion retailer, so we have a great selection of fashion bras," Harp said.
Stores typically feature 15 to 20 styles — including mastectomy bras — in sizes ranging from 30B to 44HH. And alterations take place on-site, so you can customize everything from strap length to band size with very little fuss.
Prices range from $36 to $105.
Nordstrom at Glendale Galleria, 200 W. Broadway, Glendale. (818) 502-9922. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
"You can wear the most expensive clothes in the world, but if you're not going to wear the right foundation garments, it's not going to look right," said Leslie Vaughn, current owner of Miss Stevens, a lingerie and swimwear store that's been fitting Beverly Hills bosoms since her mother and aunt Sylvia Stevens — for whom the business was named — founded it in 1970.
The shop caters to women of all sizes, but specifically to those who've undergone breast surgery — a reduction, enlargement or mastectomy (the store stocks a wide selection of mastectomy bras).
Sizes range from 28 to 54 in bands, and AA to N in cups, spanning brands including Calvin Klein, Dominique, Wacoal, La Mystere and Parfait.
Fittings at Miss Stevens start in the dressing room, where a fitter will ask what you love and hate about your current bras. Measurements "don't always determine your proper size," Vaughn said, and "different styles, even from the same manufacturer, are going to fit differently." So her staff eyeballs rib cages and cup fullness, pulling a few styles to try on as a starting point.
Vaughn blames ill-fitting bras, at least in part, on the microfiber fabrics from which modern bras are made "that have so much give and stretch to them, women think they're in the right size," she said, "but really they're just stretching the bra over their bodies."
Prices range from around $25 to $140.
Miss Stevens, 9230 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-7987. 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun