It is the great paradox of women’s undergarments: no matter how much modern technology, precision craftsmanship and just plain artistry goes into designing bras, women still end up wearing the wrong ones.
We’ve all heard the damning statistic that 80% of women wear the wrong-sized bra. They cope with sore backs, aching shoulders and pinching strap lines, and go around feeling self-conscious and sometimes unattractive. For many women, the search for the right bra becomes a lifelong quest.
Wow. You’d think it was still 1913 and women are tying scarves together for support. But no, it’s the 21st Century and bra-making today is a highly sophisticated endeavor that blends advanced engineering and creative talent.
The only thing that hasn’t changed is the underlying frustration that many women feel in the increasingly complex universe of bra shopping. Whatever happened to Oprah’s much-ballyhooed “bra revolution”?
Laurie van Jonsson knows this frustration well. A UK-based lingerie designer and author, Laurie’s been on a quest to find (or create) the perfect bra for much of her working life.
Her new book, The Anatomy of a Bra, is a follow-up to last year’s How To Become A Lingerie Designer, and provides a useful starting point for women who want to understand this fundamental part of their wardrobe better.
TAOAB provides a lot of technical information covering both female anatomy and the components of bra construction — all of which will be useful to design students and people working in the intimates industry.
But there’s a broader message here, one that will resonate with all women and one that we know too well: the bra industry is the fashion world’s version of the Tower of Babel, with innumerable competing design and sizing standards that serve only the manufacturers and which have created a mini-industry of professional bra-fitters.
“When I entered the industry at 18 years old I was wearing a 36C,” Laurie writes. “The more I learned and understood about bra design I realized that, like 80% of women, I was wearing the wrong size. My 36Cs soon transformed to 32DDs.
“Fast forward 15 years and bra confusion still persists [and] different measuring techniques used by professional fitters leave us baffled. Sadly, there is no standardization as a solution to this confusion.”
TAOAB includes unintentionally comic chapters that look at the variance in sizes among leading brands, and the ridiculous muddle that emerges when comparing bra sizes in different countries around the world.
And the situation doesn’t look to improve anytime soon. The emergence of stretchy, durable new fabrics and the upward surge in body shapes among western women have profoundly impacted both bra makers and shoppers, creating a whole new set of challenges for both.
“With body shape and fabrics dramatically changing, some retailers haven’t moved on from an old system that started 70 years ago,” Laurie points out. “It is this inaccurate measuring that allows women to be measured by ‘professional’ fitters and be a multitude of sizes.”
TAOAB includes a look at some alternative theories to conventional bra sizing methodology. But, alas, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here.
“Maybe the best thing a woman can do,” the author writes, is to simply accept the bothersome reality that bra shopping, like shoe shopping, will always be a hit-and-miss affair.
Nothing short of a G8-style summit among international bra makers is likely to result in true standardization in the industry … and no one’s expecting to see that anytime soon. There is a built-in disconnect in the bra industry between consumers and manufacturers and women have little choice but to educate themselves or pay someone to teach them how to get dressed in the morning. Sheesh.
In fact, it’s a sad testament to the state of the industry that most women would benefit from reading a book like this, or any of the other shelf-full of books in recent years that educate women about bra-wearing.
The Anatomy Of A Bra also includes a helpful list of component suppliers and other resources that will be a go-to reference for young designers (although it’s heavily tilted toward UK suppliers).
And, for lingerie aficianados, Laurie offers a final chapter in which she asks leading indie designers to talk about the most challenging aspects of bra design. If you’re a fan of Lascivious, The Lake and Stars, Fred & Ginger, Lola Haze and other fashion-forward industry stars, you’ll want to hear what goes into their creative decision-making.