I participate in a few private Facebook groups for lingerie professionals and enthusiasts, and by and large I’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences. I get to see so many different sides to the industry: other bloggers participate, yes, but I also hear from journalists, educators, retailers, designers, and marketing representatives. It’s so valuable to learn not only how bras and other lingerie pieces are created, made, and sold, but also to get a glimpse of all of the challenges and opportunities that arise along the way for everyone involved in the industry.
Recently I read a conversation that really took me aback (I’m paraphrasing from memory, and I’m also deliberately fudging details to hide identities): a retailer tagged a fellow retailer in a post linking to an informal peer survey about the “worst/most difficult” customers to have in a bra fitting, and several other group members joined the thread, laughing in agreement. So who’s the worst customer in a lingerie boutique? A bra blogger.
I won’t lie, it kind of sucked to read that. My neuroses already do a good job of reminding me that I’m a problem customer, thanks. Between my height and my big feet and hands and my broad shoulders and thick waist and big boobs, yeah, don’t worry, I already know I’m a difficult fit in most stores, let alone in lingerie boutiques. Good to know my industry peers think I’m obnoxious, too, right?
On the other hand, if I’m really honest with myself, yeah, I’m kind of a defensive know-it-all when I go to a lingerie boutique. I’ve wearied of being offered a REAL, PROFESSIONAL!!! bra fitting, or being condescendingly asked if I’m aware that 80% of women wear the wrong size, over and over and OVER again. I’m tired of hearing “We carry all sizes!” only to learn that cup sizes stop at an F, or band sizes stop at a 40. It’s frustrating when I tell someone my size and specify the country of manufacture (UK vs. US vs. Europe), only to receive a handful of bras that are not the correct size (and are usually far too small). It makes me want to shop entirely online and deal with shipping/return hassles, or else grit my teeth and clench my shoulders in preparation for a shopping trip filled with disappointment and misunderstandings.
All that is kind of a terrible lead up to an absolutely WONDERFUL boutique shopping experience I had recently.
I received an invitation this Spring to try the Atelier at Journelle. Journelle is one of my favorite lingerie boutiques in New York City, and the Atelier offers a luxurious private shopping experience, with one-on-one attention from a fitter, mimosas, tea, sweet treats, and a fitting room generously stocked with a personalized selection of lingerie (plus a snuggly robe to wear between try-ons).
I made my appointment enthusiastically and sent along my sizes, but as the day approached, I grew increasingly nervous and apprehensive. I’d never once seen my size, or one of my “go-to” brands, in stock at Journelle. Journelle carries beautiful (largely European, although there are other international and US brands) lingerie and loungewear at prices that fall firmly into the “luxury” category of my budget. While there are some great mid-range offerings (like a lovely selection of Claudette, Evollove, and Gossard bras), these brands don’t make my size. I once came close to special-ordering a Miss Mandalay bra, but unfortunately my budget just didn’t allow it. Based on what I remembered from visits to Journelle with fit clients, I was afraid that my “too-big” body was, “as usual”, going to be a problem (note: I put the scare quotes in deliberately; my body is my body, and it is just fine the way it is, but sometimes my brain tells me otherwise).
The Atelier is based in Journelle’s corporate headquarters in Chelsea, and, as Miss Underpinnings said upon our arrival, “I feel like I got more feminine just by walking in here.” The air smells of delicate linden blossoms (Journelle’s signature scent), and the walls are hung with gorgeous examples of some of the pieces Journelle has to offer, from everyday classics like Cosabella and Hanky Panky to more sophisticated styles from Chantal Thomass and Maison Lejaby all the way through to the truly luxurious and indulgent like Bordelle and I.D. Sarrieri. One wall featured cheerful Spring styles, while another featured a collection of delicate white lingerie that would make a gorgeous bridal trousseau. After giving us a while to check out all the offerings on display, we were each guided to a fitting room.
I found a generous selection of G and G+ bras in my fitting room, certainly more than I expected to see, including the really stunning-in-person “Lottie” by All Undone. Even though All Undone doesn’t make my size, just getting to try it on, even in a cup size too small, was a real treat (my quick take: this felt extra small, even in the wrong size, as well as quite shallow. I’d recommend sizing up in the cups, especially if you’re between sizes). I started with Lottie, as I’d been itching to try All Undone, and then … I wasn’t sure what to do. I looked at a wall of bras that I was sure were too small for me, and began to get that creeping feeling of self-consciousness and embarrassment that’s been my shopping companion since middle school. There was Miss Underpinnings, trying on Claudette and Mimi Holliday and All Undone and looking completely darling, and there were the two Journelle staff members looking all fabulous and chic and slender, and then there was … me, with my giant self (or so my brain was telling me).
And then Allison, Journelle’s lovely Marketing Director, swanned over in MY NEW FAVORITE ROBE, literally took it off her own back so I could try it on, and said “I really think you should try the Maison Lejaby, as our fitters find that it runs really nice and deep in the cups.”
I feigned enthusiasm, but I felt like I was about to start crying. Once I passed a certain bra size, I pretty much wrote off European brands. A European G-cup is equivalent to a UK F-cup, so this definitely wasn’t going to work, right?
I don’t normally share my bra size, but since it’s relevant to the story, I’ve been wearing a UK 34H pretty consistently over the last year. I’ve lost a little weight in the last two months, so sometimes it’s a 34GG, but with very few exceptions, 34H has been the best size. The Maison Lejaby bra? A 36G. My Europe-UK conversion chart tells me that a Euro 36G “should” be a 36F in UK brands. AND OH, THIS BRA FITS SO BEAUTIFULLY.
By all accounts it shouldn’t! Everything I’ve ever held to be true tells me that a European 36G should be way, WAY too small in the cups– like, four or five cup sizes too small. Truthfully I think I’d probably be happiest in a 34H in Maison Lejaby (which is bananas– a French 34H and a UK 34H are usually NOT the same size), but this particular style stops at a G-cup, so I’m happy to sister size and wear it on the middle hooks instead of the loosest because the bra is black and it’s lace and it’s soft and it’s sexy and it gives a beautifully rounded shape and the straps are beautiful and seriously why aren’t there more good non-padded black lace bras in a UK 34H anywhere? Ahem. The point is, if I hadn’t forced myself to listen to a new fitter and try something out of my comfort zone, I would have missed out on a truly fantastic bra.
All in all, I tried on five bras (Simone Perele, Maison Lejaby, and Miss Mandalay) that were great fits, or were at least close fits. I wanted to take home two full sets (and the Dear Bowie robe, of course), but I eventually decided to get the Maison Lejaby black lace bra (sorry Miss Mandalay, I’m just not a white lingerie girl). It was a definite splurge for me (even with, full disclosure, a press discount), and I tried it on again when I got home, fully expecting that I’d decide to return it as an impulse purchase. Yeah, no, not gonna happen. This is a bra that was worth the splurge: the wires are a perfect fit for my boobs (Panache and Eveden are often too wide), the cups are deep and very rounded, the center gore tacks beautifully, and the lace-edged top of the cup lies smoothly with no digging. I feel totally sexy wearing such a delicate, decidedly French bra, and if my budget allows it in the future (DOUBTFUL, alas), I’d love to invest in the matching knickers. It was also super comfortable on the first day of wear at work, with no digging or slipping.
I think my takeaway from the two experiences, firstly being shamed for being a “problem customer” and secondly taking a chance on a brand/size outside my comfort zone, is to check in with yourself and trust your gut. I don’t think there’s any need to try to force a fitting experience to be a good one, especially if you’re getting bad vibes or you’re made to feel that you’re being difficult or annoying. On the other hand, if you’re getting otherwise great service, why not give something new a try, even if you’re sure it’s not going to work? After the success of the Maison Lejaby, I tried on an Evollove G-cup and a Chantelle G-cup, and yeah, those suckers were too small, as I would have expected. But because I listened to my fitter, now I have this totally awesome black lace bra that I can add to my stash of “Lingerie for when I become a fabulous lady detective in Australia in the 1920s“.
The Atelier at Journelle is open by appointment only. Journelle has several NYC locations, as well as e-commerce. If you see a bra you want and it looks like your size is unavailable, just give Customer Service a call, and they can call up additional sizes from their brick-and-mortar locations, as well as place special orders.