In planning my schedule for last weekend, I decided to kick off the trade show portion by attending Eveden’s fit event, a seminar on the basics of bra fitting followed by a workshop. I’m at the point where I feel more and more confident about my ability to fit myself and find shapes I like (and if you have trouble with this, don’t fret: it’s taken me YEARS to fine-tune), but I knew that I wanted to get a bit better about fitting other people. I used to pounce on my friends and family members with a hearty “YOU’RE WEARING THE WRONG SIIIIIZE!” Now that I know that that’s kind of, well, a dick move, I wanted to learn some tips from the pros about how to make sure the person you’re helping to fit feels as safe and unselfconscious as possible.
Eveden hosts the fit workshops in a private booth with a door and curtained-off changing area, to ensure the privacy of the participants. There are bras on hand from each of their brands, some new fashion styles to show off different cuts, and a select style from each brand in almost every size available (in some cases that’s over 70 sizes!). I joined about ten other women for the morning’s seminar portion. I loved hearing everyone’s stories: most women there were retailers or store employees. Many wanted to brush-up on their skills, some had mastered the fit basics and wanted to get a better idea of how to recognize and recommend different bra shapes to different customers, and one participant had traveled all the way from the Caribbean to prepare to open her own store, first by getting fit certified, and then by placing her first store orders. Some participants had decades of experience, some had a few weeks. It was wonderful to see how many participants were there not only to learn to fit themselves better, but to help other women.
Eveden is the parent company for many of the full-bust world’s most treasured brands: Freya, Fauve, and Fantasie (full-bust), Elomi (full-bust/full-figure), Goddess (full-figure), and newly acquired Huit, for smaller-to-average busts. Each brand offers a huge range of styles and sizes to suit slightly different client bases. Fredericka Zappe (“Freddy”) is Eveden’s US national fit specialist, and she knows every single style in every single brand. She has a cheerful, welcoming presence, and after asking us to introduce ourselves, jumped right into some Bra 101 details. She briefly discussed how bra sizes work, what the letters and numbers mean, and how sister sizes related to one another, before moving into an abbreviated history of the bra. Much of the bra history was familiar to me, from having worked in a theatrical costume shop as my part-time job in college, blog research, and generally being an overall priss and loving period clothes, but I hadn’t ever thought about the relationship between corsets and one of the number 1 rules of good bra fit: a firm band.
Freddy pointed out that for much of modern clothing history, undergarments supported a woman’s figure from below the bust. Corsets have come and gone, they’ve changed style and shape, the fashionable silhouette has evolved, but in general the foundation of a woman’s, well, foundations was determined by the shape and materials of her corset. From steel plates to whalebones to stays to flexible steel bones, different kinds of corsets over the years worked on the figure by supporting below the bust, rather than compressing the bust itself against the chest wall and leaving the waist to its own devices (as a modern “minimizer bra” does. boo hiss. Although the 1920s threw this rule for a loop.). Now, granted, we don’t all want to wear corsets every day now; some of those suckers compressed so much that if you, you know, dropped your handkerchief or your love letter or, um, a fork or something, you couldn’t gracefully bend over and pick it up yourself. As dandy as it to have your bevy of servants following you about, I’d have to give up pole dancing and the gym and, like, running for the subway, so I’m glad that time has passed. Nevertheless, it’s a cool way to think about approaching bra fitting. Your band must be nice and firm against your body, otherwise it won’t be able to support and lift your bust.
Freddy next touched on some bra market lingo, namely the difference between full-figure and full-bust. Something that came up over and over again as I was talking with designers and brand reps was a lack of consistency of terminology. Take “petite”. In the larger clothing world, “petite” refers to customers under 5’4″. In the lingerie world, “petite” refers to a smaller cup size, generally a B or below, regardless of height. Even if a brand is consistent, a store might use their own terminology. Some department stores use “plus size” or “full figure” as a catch-all for any cup size over a D-cup (even a 28 band) or any band size over a 36, and it can confuse shoppers who are searching for bras by category. As a good rule of thumb, “full-bust” refers to any cup size over a D or a DD, and it generally refers to average band sizes in the 28-38 range. Full-figured bras, as Freddy explains it, tend to be constructed slightly differently to support a fuller frame. The bands tend to be deeper and wider, straps are placed differently, and there may be adjustments to seam patterns, cup depth, and other components. She sort of sized up the room and used the participants as illustrations. I had already mentioned my bra size during an earlier discussion, and when she got to me, she said, “In fact, since Sweets actually overlaps the full-bust and full-figure markets, let’s start our fittings with her. I suspect she’s going to be more of a full-bust customer, on account of her age and frame, but it will be a good way to point out the differences.”
And that was the time I whipped my shirt off in front of a dozen strangers.
Now, I’ll admit, I’d made sure to wear one of my best fitting bras to the event (my Boudoir Beau by Bravissimo), and who felt smug when Freddy said “now this is a beautiful bra, and her fit is just about perfect”? That would be me, Sweets McSmugsterson. Who’s totally unhelpful when it comes to a fit workshop? Me, again. Regardless, Freddy used me to demonstrate what happens when a bra band is too large and rides up by yanking the band forcibly up. You know what two words I hate most in the world, after “raisin cookies”? “Back fat.” Women are always moaning about “back fat”, and there are shapewear pieces designed especially to combat This Most Terrible Scourge, but A) oh NO, how terrible that there is SKIN on our BODIES, and B) a well-fitted bra will be much more flattering than what we usually use to combat “back fat”, which is a looser band. You think “oh, a looser band, it won’t dig in as much”, but what actually happens is that as the band rides up your back in response to the weight of your breasts, what Freddy calls “the fluffy bits” (totally stealing this) are squeezed out underneath the band and are pushed up above it, which winds up being much less flattering, in addition to less comfortable. A nice, smooth, firm band, sitting parallel to the underbust or even slightly below will keep the “fluffy bits” from being squeezed around and repositioned around the body, in addition to keeping the breast tissue from slipping out the bottom of the cups.
In a discussion about how to determine styles to best suit different customers, Freddy had brought up the concept of three kinds of fit: Technical, Comfort, and Aesthetic. Ideally, you want to find a bra that will hit all three marks: it meets the technical fit criteria (band, cup, straps, center gore), it’s comfortable to wear, and it suits the customer’s personal style and flatters her. As we live in an imperfect world, it’s quite common to sacrifice one of these fit criteria if the other two are strong, and which ones you prioritize will vary from woman to woman. Freddy started out by fitting me into one of Elomi’s continuity styles: the Caitlyn.
This bra was COMFORTABLE. It was the first Elomi bra I’d ever tried, and hot damn it felt good. The straps pull more from the center of the cup, instead of the sides, the band is deep and lies smoothly, and it fastens with three sets of three hooks and eyes. Side support panels direct the breast tissue forward, and vertical center seams lift and hold it. For a full cup bra the fit was rather staggeringly good, as I often have trouble getting taller center gores to tack between my close-set breasts, without having far too much room in the top of the cups. Technical and Comfort Fit? Check and check.
Aesthetic? Well . . . Freddy may have used the words “grandma bra.” It is not a very youthful, fashion-forward, contemporary shape, cut, or color (although the fashion colors that come out every season are lovely). The shape is nice and rounded, but otherwise it would be best suited for wearing under high-necked shirts or on days when extra sensitivity means all you want is comfort.
We moved on to Freya and Fantasie, in which the band, cups, and center gore are all slightly cut down from the Elomi (styles were basics “Faye” and “Salsa”, respectively). In both of these, while the Aesthetic fit was a little younger, and the bras were fairly comfortable, the Technical fit was lacking. Even by going up in the cup size, we couldn’t get the center gore to tack, and the top of the cup pressed down on breast tissue. Freddy explained that while we were in the neighborhood of the right cup volume, the bras’ construction was fighting my natural shape. She said I was perky, which, I mean, look, everyone should get bra fittings from Freddy, because hellooooooo self-confidence! But the cups didn’t have enough depth coming out of the center gore to curve around the fullness of the breast tissue, so the cups kind of forced my boobs down and out to the sides. Not the best look.
Back in my own bra, I got a chance to compare it to the styles I’d just tried on, and then Freddy asked me to fit another participant. I was nervous, but I practiced the measuring technique we’d been taught (always ask the fittee to lift her breasts up gently with both hands and measure directly under the bust where the breast tissue meets the chest wall) and suggested a starting size. My volunteer has a smaller bust than I do, so she was able to try Huit, my current favorite-brand-I-cannot-wear. Y’all, she had her bra epiphany right there in front of me. We immediately tried two band sizes smaller than the bra she’d come in wearing and a few cup sizes larger. In some bra styles she was able to go down an additional band size. She said she felt amazing: she had no idea her breasts could look and feel like that, and she was delighted to start trying new bra styles in her new size. I was glad to have the opportunity to fit someone else. I know how firm I like to wear my own bands, but when it came time to fasten the band on someone else, I was very worried that I was squeezing and pinching her. I now have a much better sense of how a well-fitting band will feel and look on another person.
If you ever have the opportunity to attend a fitting event with an Eveden Fit Specialist, I highly recommend it. You’ll leave with a nifty certificate, which I’d totally share here except it has my real name on it, so you’ll have to take my word for it. You’ll also leave with some tools of the trade I think are crucial when it comes to fitting not only yourself but especially other people: the ability to troubleshoot size issues, correct fit issues, teach a woman how to put on a bra properly (the swoop and scoop!), and recognize shape incompatibilities, and well as suggestions for non-judgmental, neutral language to use during the fitting. Freddy emphasized over and over again that when a woman comes in for a bra fitting, we’re not just fitting her breasts. We’re fitting the whole woman: her emotional baggage, any insecurities, her sense of herself, and her overall physical and emotional well-being. You never know what sort of negative past fitting experiences have shaped her perception of bras and her breasts, and your job is to take care of her and instill a sense of comfort and well-being, as well as teach her how a bra should fit.
Thanks so much to Freddy and the Eveden team! Have you ever been to an Eveden bra fitting event? What were your favorite takeaways?