I went to London you guys!
Oh man, it was so great. I seriously loved it. I’d been looking forward to this trip for a long, long time. My last big vacation was 5 years go, I’d never traveled alone, I was turning 30, and London was at the top of my list of travel destinations. While there are lots of reasons, both cultural and personal, that I wanted to visit, let’s be real: I couldn’t wait to check out some of the amazing lingerie in the city. From my beloved Bravissimo to the Agent Provocateur flagship store, I was so excited to go exploring.
Did I take lots of pictures of what I saw? Reader, I did not. I was The Worst at taking pictures. Maybe if I’d been traveling with other people I would have been better about it, but there it is. I’ll share what I have, and then I’ll use my awe-inspiring words to try to paint a picture. I split most of my shopping over two days, with lots of sight-seeing in between, so here’s a rundown of what I saw in parts:
Part I: I thought it would be really smart to go shopping the same day I landed in London after an overnight flight. It…wasn’t.
Harrods– Like most of Harrods, the lingerie selection is very, very luxe. There’s an in-store Agent Provocateur boutique, and I also spotted some beautiful styles from Myla, Princesse Tam-Tam, and the achingly gorgeous Jenny Packham. In the more moderately-priced section I saw some lovely styles from department store favorites like Chantelle, Fantasie, and Fauve (RIP), as well as a nice selection of styles from Maison Lejaby’s Elixir and Couture ranges (though most styles stopped at an E or F cup).
Selfridges– Hey look, Sweets remembered to take a picture!
While Selfridges stocks its fair share of fancy-pants, er, underpants, like Lejaby, Chantelle, Mimi Holliday, and Princesse Tam-Tam, I also saw a good selection of some of the more popular full-bust brands like Claudette, Freya, and Fantasie. Just for kicks I tried on some familiar styles like the strapless Freya Deco, the Mimi Holliday Bisou Bisou, and Claudette Dessous. The staff was helpful without being aggressive, and the fitting rooms were spacious and flatteringly lit. A very pleasant experience!
Debenhams– With much more accessible pricing than most of the other shops I visited and a large selection of D+ styles, I spent way more time in Debenhams than I’d anticipated. I was able to try on styles from Freya, Fantasie, Curvy Kate, Panache, and Cleo, and lovely as they were, I was most interested in trying on Debenhams’ in-house D+ brand, Gorgeous. Most styles are available up to a G-cup with an increasing number up to an H-cup or J-cup, and I saw a huge range of styles: from cotton t-shirt bras to elegant bridal sets to classic three-part seamed bras to sports bras and maternity bras. I even tried on a padded plunge bra that I actually liked! I almost bought a set, but I wasn’t crazy about the fabric used for the briefs– the lower price point is partially thanks to some lower-quality materials, and I eventually decided I’d rather save money in case something a little more special caught my eye. My only disappointment was the discovery that the sizing and fit were all over the map, varying from style to style and color to color, which will probably keep me from ordering online in the future. Nevertheless, if you’re in the UK, check it out! We definitely don’t have a department store in the States doing anything like this.
Bravissimo– “So Sweets, discovering Bravissimo literally changed your life. This blog would not exist if you had not stumbled across Bravissimo during some Google searches back in 2008. You wear their bras, you sing their praises. Did the shopping experience measure up?”
Look, y’all, I probably should not have gone in during my first day in London after 8 hours on an airplane and a series of arguments with multiple cash machines at the end of a long day of walking and walking and more walking. I had marked all of the lingerie shops I wanted to visit on various maps, but it wasn’t until I was on my way to Debenhams that I realized how close I was to Bravissimo’s Oxford Circus store. So I decided to dash in for a quick fitting before a dinner meeting.
Unfortunately the store is currently undergoing renovation, so I felt a little self-conscious about browsing all the styles from Pepperberry on display in the midst of the construction materials (which I’m now kicking myself for– I wish I’d tried on some of the shirts and blazers and coats). Instead I headed downstairs to the waiting area, passing some beautiful new Bravissimo styles on display, to make an appointment for a fitting. I never know quite how to explain how much I know about bra fitting, as it’s awkward to stand there and feign ignorance while a helpful fitter explains to me that the band is the most important part, it should be nice and firm, etc. etc., but in this case I decided to feign ignorance and get the full Bravissimo experience. The fitter (who was very lovely) asked me how old my bra was, and when she learned it was three weeks old, proceeded to tell me that the fit was all wrong. She then brought me bras one band size smaller than I was wearing and three full cup sizes bigger.
I’ll be honest, I felt totally bewildered in the moment. Logically, of course, she didn’t do anything wrong. For example, my band WAS a little loose, but A) I’ve been losing weight and B) I prefer a band that isn’t super snug anyway. My underbust currently measures an odd number in inches, and I tend to choose bands one number up rather than one number down (for more information on bra sizes, check out On Sizing). Similarly, my cup WAS a little small, because I’d bought this particular bra to see me through the next 5-10 pounds of weight loss. Furthermore, Bravissimo’s own brand bras tend to run loose in the band and small in the cup, so since she only fitted me in Bravissimo bras, it makes sense that the sizes she brought me were different than those I wear in, say, Panache or Freya.
But I was genuinely rattled to see the cup sizes she was bringing me to try on, and I admit my body image took a bit of hit that afternoon. It’s silly, of course: our bodies are more than the size on a garment tag, and applying a value judgment to one size over another isn’t really healthy or helpful. But I WANTED very much to wear size X, because there are so, so, SO many more options at size X. I’ve lost nearly 30 pounds since February, and I wanted to see that reflected dramatically in my bra sizes. I’ve been working so hard; I wanted to have more options available to me to show for it. In my disappointment I panicked, and instead of asking to try on some of the beautiful sets I’d passed on the way in, I opted for a plain black wire-free sports bra.
The next day, with some sleep under my belt and my internal clock in the right time zone, I was able to think back on my fitting with a little less knee-jerk self-criticism. Did the Bravissimo fitter do a good job? Absolutely! But if I’ve learned anything from my experiences fitting other women, it’s that what makes a good fit is very, very subjective. There are steps a fitter can take to solve issues of discomfort or style preference, but there is no hard-and-fast rule about who should wear what and how. The thing is, I just don’t wear my bras as tightly as my fitter suggested. I’ve tried in the past, and I can’t get comfortable. I’ve since heard that it’s a little bit of a cultural difference– UK fitters tend to fit more firmly, and Bravissimo tends to fit VERY firmly. While I liked the way the Bravissimo bra looked and felt, if I wore my bras that tight every day I’d feel self-conscious in my clothes and uncomfortable sitting at my desk for 8 hours/day. When I got back to New York and tried my bras on with a more critical eye, there were some that I had to admit it was time to say good-bye to, as the bands weren’t doing anything for me, but otherwise I was very happy with my lingerie wardrobe.
I’m really glad I had that experience though, because it was another reminder to me, when I’m fitting a client, that “sticker shock” when it comes to bra sizes can be very alarming or even upsetting for some people. We’re taught in popular culture that “Double-D Boobs” are gigantic or over-inflated, or that big boobs carry “meaning”– that they signify promiscuity or sloth or a lack of intelligence or whatever quality we’ve decided to enlist to shame women about their bodies. So when women hear “F-cup” or “HH-cup” or “K-cup”, and they’ve never encountered it before, it’s no wonder that they might leave a bra fitting feeling rattled or shocked.
Finally, it was also a good reminder to tell your fitter if you have strongly-held preferences, or if there are particular styles you really want to try. I wish, in retrospect, that I’d made it clearer that I preferred a looser band than the ones my fitter brought me, or that I was in the midst of some size changes, or that I really wanted to try some of the pretty lacy styles I passed on my way downstairs instead of basic black and white bras. A bra fitting can be a vulnerable situation for lots of people, so it’s totally okay if you feel self-conscious or uneasy, but let’s all commit to a combination of trying things outside of our comfort zones, while still listening to our feelings.
In which I spent a few days thinking and talking about lingerie without actually shopping for it. I also saw palaces and horses and museums and bridges and a play, and everything was awesome. Oh and the British Library which is THE BEST and I could have spent DAYS in there and y’all should all go see the Gothic Imagination exhibition that’s on right now it’s fantastic.
I had a delicious lunch with Catherine of Kiss Me Deadly and tried on a sample of the new day corset, I saw a ballet at the Royal Opera House and had tea with Leanna of Harlow & Fox, and I met the lovely Cheryl from Invest in Your Chest and Georgina from Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, and we ate sushi that arrived via conveyor belt and it was my most favoritest thing. It was a fun couple of days, basically.
In which I meet up with Leanna, again, and also with Angela Friedman, and we go shopping together!
Rigby & Peller– I knew that Rigby & Peller was “by appointment to her Majesty the Queen” and had been recommended by Caitlin Moran in How To Be A Woman, and for those reasons I had formed an impression of reputable French brands, excellent fit standards, and mid-to-high prices. If I’ll be honest, I anticipated stuffy and boring. Some of my expectations were met: this isn’t where you go to pick up a strappy cage bra or a hot pink babydoll, or where you go to hunt for a bargain, but instead it’s where you go to find Empreinte, Maison Lejaby, Simone Perele, and other classic European lingerie brands. The pieces are beautiful and elegant without being particularly flashy, as is the boutique. We received really helpful service from the store’s fitters, and I picked up this gorgeous Theodora bra from Lejaby in a lovely mermaid-y emerald green.
I really, really love the delicacy of the bra, which somehow manages to be sheer and light while still providing a deep, rounded shape. Check out the almost Art Nouveau look of the lace and embroidery– just stunning! The matching knickers weren’t in stock in my size, otherwise I might have caved and bought them too.
Petits Bisous– Petits Bisous is one of Harlow & Fox’s stockists, so naturally we wanted to stop in to see the shop. We were greeted with glasses of champagne and encouraged to browse to our hearts’ content.
Where Rigby & Peller is sedate, Petits Bisous is gloriously decadent. I lost my heart to a few pairs of embellished Bebaroque stockings, and Angela tried on some beautiful sets from Chantal Thomass and Fleur of England. We marveled over Bordelle waspies and Lascivious garter belts and Jane Woolrich dressing gowns. While the stock is lush and gorgeous, of course, we all fell rapturously in love with the dressing rooms. I wanted to live in them forever.
Agent Provocateur– While the boutique staff wasn’t quite as cheerful or welcoming as the assistants in the New York boutiques, it was a real treat to see the brand new A/W 2014 collections in person, both for Agent Provocateur’s main lines as well as the ultra-luxe Soiree collection (The Lingerie Addict has featured this season’s lookbook images). Before I left for my trip I was honestly starting to feel a little blase and burned-out about a lot of lingerie from “big name” brands and designers. It became really easy for me to scroll lazily through my social media feeds, letting every image blur into the next, without taking the time to really look at what was going on.
At the end of the day, pictures can only tell you so much about a garment. Really good lookbook images will tell you a story, or suggest a mood, or conjure a fantasy, but sometimes it can be hard to get a sense of what the piece will look like in real life. Had I seen the AP lookbook images before I saw the collection, I might have shrugged and said “eh, same old same old” and scrolled to the next thing. Instead I got to see the collection in person, and WOW– it made a huge difference. Stretch metallic leather, fine eyelash lace, deeply saturated colors, soft silk– I saw something that made me gasp everywhere I turned. I think we all know this, of course, but it was a good reminder: lingerie really isn’t just about looks. It’s nice when it’s pretty, sure, but part of what I love about it is that it can be a tactile, sensory experience. Seeing so much wonderful lingerie in person during my trip was a kick in the pants to me to get off my computer and go out and actually LOOK at the things I’m writing about. I’m really fortunate to live in a city with lots of shopping opportunities, and I’m looking forward to using some of my upcoming weekends to explore some of the NYC boutiques I’ve never visited before.
Carine Gilson– I featured some of Carine Gilson’s kimonos in the Lingerie For Lady Detectives post, but in case you need a refresher: silk, lace, and luxury. Carine Gilson isn’t often on my radar, in part because of the whole scrolling-to-the-next-shiny-thing-in-my-feed I mentioned above. On the one hand, Carine Gilson makes incredibly simple, classic lingerie: camisoles, chemises, kimonos, bras, and knickers, all in silk with lace applique. And then you walk into the light, airy boutique with its dramatic chandelier, and you look more closely at the lingerie and your brain explodes. (Did I take any pictures? OF COURSE I DIDN’T ARGH what was I thinking?)
Every piece of silk is cut out individually. Each piece of lace is cut out separately by hand and placed on the silk and meticulously stitched in place. The hems are impossibly tiny and look like they were stitched by fairies. Every single point of construction is carefully and flawlessly executed, and the garments look just as immaculate on the inside as they do on the outside. The lovely store manager kindly walked us through all of the collections on display, talked about how some clients like to wear pieces as outerwear, and pointed out design elements we might have overlooked in our open-eyed wonder.
The price tags are hefty: a pair of silk tap pants was £300, a floor-length silk kimono with full lace sleeves is over £1500. Yet when we went to a nearby luxury department store and compared what we’d seen at Carine Gilson with the £300 knickers for sale at the high street store, the contrast was startling. Even a well-known brand like La Perla suddenly looks a little cheaper, its factory origins a little more pronounced. I’ve truly never seen anything like these pieces in my life, and if for some reason I ever become ludicrously wealthy because full-bust lingerie blogging brings me fame and glory, I would purchase Carine Gilson lingerie in a heartbeat.
I am so thankful to Leanna, Catherine, Katie, Ros, Cheryl, and Georgina for being so, so phenomenally lovely, friendly, and welcoming. There are parts of London I already miss, and there are so many sights and people and shops I still have yet to see (Playful Promises and What Katie Did and Tallulah and also, like, the interior of Buckingham Palace and whatnot). I am so, so happy I had the chance to take this trip, and I hope it’s sooner than 5 years before I’m able to come back.