Can you remember your first bra? I think a lot of women can. I remember Julia Lambert and I were about ten years old, and I think we were having a birthday party of some sort in the backyard, and our neighbor’s gift to each of us was a white “training bra” that looked a lot like a cropped camisole (why the hell are they called “training bras”? What a ludicrously unattractive term. It’s like we’re strapping our children into pieces of equipment). Everyone squealed and shrieked, and I was delighted, slightly confused, and largely embarrassed. I think this was the first time I realized other people observed my breasts. Now, in this neighbor’s defense, I’m sure she wasn’t looking at me as a ten-year-old and thinking “kid needs a bra, stat.” I think the gift came from a place of love and a sense of fun: “all girls have to go through this rite of passage (among many), so I’ll take the pressure off them and their mother and help out.”
So we had those for a while, and it felt strange to wear something under my clothes all the time. I remember thinking “oh man, welcome to the rest of my life. I will wear a bra every day for all eternity. Farewell, my freedom.” Eventually all our girlfriends had training bras, to the endless fascination and delight of the boys in our classes.
The next round of bras were pink and blue thin cotton bras with triangle-shaped cups and the first proper band numbers and cup sizes, although we had no clue, none at all, what the numbers and letters meant. Thus began the next dozen years of “I guess it fits.”
So how can you help a young woman in your life who might be ready for a bra? How can you help make sure her experience is one of empowerment, understanding, and positivity? Whether you’re her mother or father, older sister or aunt, godmother, confidante, what-have-you, you may feel some uncertainty about how to approach the topic, one of many confusing changes that are going on in this young woman’s life.
Since my own early-and-well-into-adulthood bra shopping experiences were mostly filled with tears and anxiety, I reached out to the lovely Erica, owner of A Sophisticated Pair, to ask her what her experience had been like working with her younger customers. She offered me some general going-bra-shopping-advice and shared her approach to fitting a new bra-wearer.
For teenagers and young women, I think it is incredibly important to find a boutique with fitters that you can not only trust but who will make you feel comfortable in your own skin. I always try to be very positive with my younger customers because I know they are going through puberty and have a lot of feelings about how they look or want to look. Furthermore, I think it’s good to bring a family member with you that is going to be supportive through the process and who you feel comfortable seeing in your bra or without so that you can make sure there’s someone supervising the fitter (i.e., making sure the fitter isn’t trying to make a sale rather than fit the girl properly).
Her point about making sure the fitter is actually, you know, FITTING the young customer instead of selling selling selling is vitally important. A new bra wearer won’t know about fit. Bras are weird! Even if you get the right size, if you’re not used to the right size, they’ll still feel weird. A new bra wearer won’t necessarily know how bra sizes work and what the letters and numbers mean. If she goes to Victoria’s Secret, she’ll never know (I also think a very young customer might find herself overwhelmed with the SEX SEX SEXY FOR THE MEN messages inherent in VS advertising and promotion materials). If you, her parent/trusted loved one, don’t know how bra sizes work either, then make sure you ask. If the fitter gets flustered or waffles in her response and you don’t get a good answer, don’t hesitate to say “Thanks for your help today, I think we’re going to keep looking” and get out of there.
I think one of the worst ways to approach helping someone get her first bra would be to rush, dismiss, or gloss over the experience. If it’s possible, make a day of it! Is there a movie she’s been wanting to see or a park she’s wanted to visit? Are there some other fun shopping errands to run? Would she like to get a haircut or a manicure? Would she like to go see a basketball game or concert? Would she like to go out to a nice dinner afterwards (take it easy on big meals before your fitting, because salty food = bloating, and those mirrors are right there, you know?) Even if it’s as simple as going out for ice cream or hitting up a bookstore afterwards, make this an opportunity to celebrate the young woman as much as possible, while at the same time respecting any insecurities or desire for privacy she may be feeling.
Erica also recommends in this excellent post doing some planning ahead for ANY lingerie shopping expedition, whether for yourself or for a friend:
Plan on getting fitted when you are relaxed, in a good mood, and have plenty of time. Depending on how crowded the store is, you could be there thirty minutes to an hour, and if you are rushed to get home or stressed about work, you’ll be less inclined to try on multiple bras and more critical of what you do try. Feeling upset or rushed is a surefire way to leave frustrated.
Do leave behind anyone who isn’t interested in being there with you while you’re fitted. Your good mood counts for nothing if the person you brought with you is bored, uninterested, or impatient. If possible, do leave young kids at home, and only bring your spouse if he/she feels comfortable sitting in the lingerie department and giving opinions.
Ali Cudby, author of Busted!, points out that many girls today are ready for their first bras long before their bodies begin going through the other physical and mental changes associated with puberty. While it’s true that some parents like to use a first bra shopping trip as a chance to initiate discussions of puberty and sexual maturity, Ali recommends using some discretion, especially with such very young customers. Our first bra shopping trips can be very loaded, emotionally, and “in order to make that first shopping trip a pleasant experience, the adult must send a positive message that wearing a bra is all about health and feeling good about oneself.” Along those lines, I wouldn’t spring a bra-shopping trip on a young woman as a surprise. Talk about it ahead of time, and ask her if she knows what she’d like to wear every day. Would she like something in certain colors? Something lacy? Something with a cute pattern? Encourage her to think of this as a new way to express her tastes and individuality, a new way that can be hers and hers alone, and a new sign of her maturity, rather than something she HAS to wear because now she has BOOBS, ick. It took me until I was in my 20s to love my boobs and my bras, and I’d love for other young women to feel good right from the start.