At any given time, there are at least six places on my body that feel uncomfortable.
Being a woman means suffering from panty lines or visible bra straps at all times, not to mention the one underwire poking out from a favorite bra. Instead of being safely covered by padding, it's trying to find a home somewhere deep between two ribs.
Given two words to describe their lingerie experience, women around the world would probably choose “not great.” Here, evolution's given you two jiggling breasts and scientists can't even strap them down in a way that doesn't cause pain. We put men on the moon, but keep women in saggy bras that aren't fit to support a water balloon (let alone the heft of a G-cup).
Because I write about the ins and outs of coping with large breasts, I'm frequently the recipient of publicist pitches claiming they represent the bra that'll change my life. My response is usually a snort laugh that greatly annoys the co-workers forced to sit next to me, listening to my boob babble.
One day, however, I opened an email from Rigby & Peller — the same UK lingerie brand whose director of lingerie styling holds the Royal Warrant as corsetiere to Queen Elizabeth II. As anyone who's ever seen a photo of the Queen and her royal assets can attest, that's a serious job. Because Rigby & Peller is making its way over from the UK, the brand offered me a custom fitting with one of its highly-trained stylists.
This was no slapdash, Victoria's Secret, tape-measure-around-the-ribcage affair. My time in the Rigby & Peller store was closer to visiting Claude Monet's country estate with a real watercolor enthusiast, who can tell you why each painting of water lilies is slightly different. No tape measure involved.
My stylist was Morgan, a friendly brunette who'd gone through an eight-week training course before ever hitting the sales floor. I eyed her chest suspiciously and, after confirming she clearly knew a thing or two about breast-y support, picked a few favorite styles off the sales floor as a starting point.
The idea, Morgan explained, is to find a style that suits my particular body. Because every boob is its own unique shape, the same cup size doesn't fit all. For larger busts, a seamed cup (read: cup made from multiple pieces of unlined fabric) is the best pick, whereas a foam cup does fine for smaller breasts.
Most importantly, my task for the day was to throw the preexisting idea of “cup size” out the window. The letters and numbers vary for every size, Morgan helpfully noted, throwing my bullshit ideas out the window in a kindly fashion.
Interestingly, most women wear their bra bands too big — they should barely pull two fingers' width away from the back. If you often have a problem with straps falling down inconveniently in the middle of meetings, that's probably why. When your band can't do its job, neither can your straps or cups.
And, as your band size shrinks, your cup size grows. Not to be all 007 about this, but I saw letters past D that I honestly didn't even realize bras came in. My hyperventilating incident happened early, and Morgan said reassuring things until I came to. Well, that's how I remember it happening.
And so we began my trying on a series of endless bras in a quiet, carpeted changing room with a heavy drape curtain. The soft fabrics created the feeling of sacred space, like we were worshipping at the altar of breasts. If you're squeamish about nudity, Rigby & Peller may be a stretch of your comfort zone. Five minutes into my appointment, Morgan had seen enough of my upper bod to write a very lengthy think piece about it.
Somewhere between touching my body in the least-creepy manner of all time and picking out more styles from the shopping floor, Morgan found time to teach me some of her mammary wisdom. When you're putting on a bra, she explained, situate the underwire first and make sure the gore (where the wires meet in the middle) is flush against the chest.
Then, gently reach into each cup and pull the breast tissue forward from the armpit, settling the underwire firmly behind it. Your boobs actually stretch much further back than you'd think, and placing an underwire smack dab in the middle of the tissue can separate it permanently over time. (Spooky.)
Until your bra sits properly, you'll never be able to tell what fits and what's best left for the smaller-boobed. After more than an hour of conversation and Morgan's skilled eye (seriously, had she fit in my purse I would have stolen her), the pair of us decided on a heat-molded lace Empreinte number that, full disclosure, the brand gifted me as part of a media promotion.
I did, however, add two more styles to a wish list for my next trip back. These fits made my trusty Wacoal bras look like I'd rummaged in the Forever 21 sale bin for them.
My biggest takeaway: There are no words for how large some of those bras looked on the rack, seeming to contain yards of fabric within their underwire frames. But on my body, there was nothing matronly about transparent, form-fitting lace. Think "salsa emoji" more than "floating businessperson."
Fitting appointments are free, so there's no reason not to live your best boob life. Go on, by order of the Queen. (Am I allowed to say that?)