NEW YORK--Give a woman a comfortable bra with the right fit, and you may well have a lifelong customer. That was the message sent loud and clear to both vendors and retailers from a consumer roundtable held last week at WWD's offices. Eight women from different walks of life gathered for lunch and a surprisingly frank discussion about a very intimate subject: bras. The women, whose ages ranged from 25 to 55, ranked fit and comfort as their top concern when buying bras. Each of the women--whose bra sizes ranged from 32A to 36C--also had the same complaint: It takes a lot of effort to find a bra that provides both a proper-fitting cup size and band, especially in full-figure bra styles, and it makes shopping for bras a headache. Frequently, the size problem stems from limited ranges at the store; sometimes it's because of the styling of the bra itself. They said that sometimes they settle for a bra they feel isn't quite right or they have the band of the bra taken in. Some of the specific complaints centered on a limited or nonexistent assortment of A cup sizes under 34, and C and D cup sizes above 34, particularly in specialty items such as bras with convertible straps and deep-plunge backs. Furthermore, several complained that once they found a bra they liked, the styling would be updated and changed, thus eliminating the reason they bought it in the first place--the fit. Despite the problems, almost all acknowledged that a wardrobe of bras was an important element of their apparel wardrobes, and they recognized the need for different bra styles for various lifestyle needs. The women--again in a nearly unanimous vote--named underwire bras as their number one choice, no matter which classification--cleavage-enhancing, full-figure, seamless or cotton knit. They also understood the function of sports bras, and generally said they liked to wear sports bras for comfort as well as support while exercising. After fit and comfort, the women ranked top concerns as styling and quality. Price, most claimed, was not a top issue. However, the women noted they tend to take advantage of bra promotions--such as buy-two get-one free deals--so they can get several of their favorite bra styles during one store visit. Only one out of the eight consumers said she had experienced a bra fitting by a professional fitter. Nevertheless, each woman was convinced she knew her correct bra size. Here's what they had to say individually:Kelle Ruden, 29, community relations director for Barnes & Noble, New York. Bra size: 34A. Ruden prefers cleavage-enhancing underwire bras. Her favorite brand is Wonderbra by Sara Lee Foundations. Her favorite colors are black, white and ecru. Ruden said she buys several of the same bra style, usually during one shopping trip, which averages about every six to nine months. Her last buys were at Bloomingdale's and Etoile, a specialty lingerie shop in Westport, Conn. "It's a real problem finding my size. I exclusively wear padded, push-up bras. They make my clothes look nicer and give me a little more dimension. I'm actually wearing a Wonderbra--it's very helpful, it's brilliant. Now, I prefer the new satin Wonderbra to the lace styles, because it shows no lines under knits. "I used to wear Sweet Nothings by Maidenform. For a little while it was OK, but it showed lines when I wore knits." Getting salespeople at department stores to "check for my bra size is like pulling teeth," continued Ruden. "I like shopping at Etoile in Westport. They charge top dollar, but the service is good. They haven't fit me, but when one Wonderbra was defective, a bra strap, they were more than pleased to replace it."
Jennifer Kane, 24, a media planner for Lowe & Partners, an advertising agency in Manhattan. Bra size: 34B. Favorite brand: Maidenform. Favorite colors: white and off-white. Kane said she likes to buy fiberfill underwire bras and coordinating panties, always in cotton. She shops off-price sales at department stores, and buys bras and panties about four or five times a year. "Specialty bra stores are a lot more expensive, and I mostly shop at department stores because that's where you get the best price. For core items I look at price. "I love Maidenform because the fit is rounder and it fits me better, even though I'm a 34B. I find that Warner's cup size is a little too large for me. I prefer white and off-white, because it's easier when you get dressed in the morning. Colors are for special occasions." Kane noted that the key time she shops at department stores is after 5 p.m. "It's not a busy time at stores in New York City, and they'll help you then," she said. But while the topic was bras, Kane was quick to say that her main gripe was panties. "Lots of times the bras are very pretty, but either the coordinating panties are very large and ill-fitting, or too small like a thong." Her favorite style of coordinating panties: high-cut French cotton briefs.Yvonne Fitzner, 52, a freelance graphic artist in New York City. Bra size: 36C. Favorite brands: Not So Innocent Nudes by Warner's and Glossies by Lily of France. Favorite colors: black, white and nude. Fitzner said she buys bras twice a year at Bloomingdale's and Macy's. She said she wears lots of sweaters, and seamless underwire bras are her favorite style. "It's not always easy to find my size. I buy a bra because it's a necessity. I like a very natural, soft, rounded look. It's nice to see something new like a bustier, but I buy bras for support and protection. "I find shopping for bras very frustrating. Bras don't always look the way they actually fit, and you just can't tell by seeing them displayed at stores," she said. "There's always the frustration of taking four to six bras to a dressing room, taking off your clothes, and trying to find a bra that fits. "Bras are like a lipstick--once you find your favorite bra or lipstick, they stop making it two years down the road. I used to buy Olga, but the Olga bras just don't fit me any more." As for color in bras, she noted, "I like the skin tone colors, but I don't like the sheen."
Lisa DeFillipo, 36, homemaker and a one-time fashion merchandiser of sportswear at retail, Monroe, Conn. Bra size: 32D. Favorite brands: Maidenform and Adonna by J.C. Penney. Favorite colors: white, black and nude. DeFillipo prefers seamless, padded, soft-cup bras and coordinating panties of cotton knit, but says she rarely finds "good bras" in her size. "I've been though a range of bra sizes over the years, mainly because of four children and some surgery for lumps. Having a small body with large breasts is impossible, and it's made me buy only at specialty stores like Dorothy Stein in Westchester, which is fantastic. "I can't find bras in 30D sizes, so I buy bras that are 32D. I must have a full-coverage cup. My nickname in high school was 'bouncy.' The bras that actually give me support are Maidenform and the Adonna bras I've ordered from the J.C. Penney catalog, which are very well made and reasonably priced." "When I find a bra that fits me, I buy it in every color." DeFillipo, who also coaches children's soccer, said her favorite brand of sports bra is Jockey For Her. Her main complaint: "I like a thin band. If they're support bras, they all have huge bands and straps that are too wide."Rebecca Meiskin, 28, a freelance video and TV producer and writer in Manhattan. Bra size: 32D. Favorite brands Wonderbra by Sara Lee Foundations, La Perla, and Champion Jogbra sports bras. Favorite colors: black, white, and fashion colors. Meiskin said she likes a variety of foundations, including bustiers, specialty bras such as strapless and halter looks, minimizers and sports bras. She shops at major department and specialty stores. "I have a really strange size to fit, and I always get the bra bands taken in. My dress size is 2 and I get size 4 dresses altered. "I love Wonderbra, especially since there now is a strapless style. I recently bought a bunch of cami bras by Lilyette. They say they're for full-busted women, not full-figure, but I still had to take the bands in. According to Meiskin, what's also lacking at retail in her size are coordinated sets in fashion colors. "I'm surprised the fashion sets just aren't around," said Meiskin.
Catherine Moyse, 40, a seamstress and dressmaker working out of her home in Monroe, Conn. Bra size: 34B. Favorite bra brand: Smoothie by Strouse, Adler. Favorite colors: nude, white, and black. Moyse, originally from France, said she used to buy prettier-looking lace bras in her 20s, but now opts for comfort and support. Even though she visits France, she said she buys bras exclusively at department stores in the U.S. "It's a real headache to shop for bras. First of all, it's difficult to find salespeople who are helpful. Not a lot of them know how a bra is made. "I used to come home with 15 bras styles and try them on under certain garments. All of the bras would almost always go back to the stores. The reason I had such problems was because 34B cup sizes from different vendors are all different." Moyse said she found "happiness" with Smoothie bras. "Smoothie solved all of my problems, especially for halter top dresses and backless looks," she said.
Terry Olivera, 55, an administrative assistant at MetraHealth, a health insurance firm, Manhattan. Bra size: 34D. Favorite bra brands: Olga, Bali, Playtex Secrets. Favorite colors: red, black and purple. Olivera said she goes for "very lacy, sexy" underwire bras that have a front closure. She also "loves coordinating, sexy panties," but says she can't find the appropriate panties at department stores. "I'm wearing an allover lace bra by Olga today--certainly not an old lady's bra. But sometimes the nipples have a tendency to show through. I believe in keeping sensuality alive, and it makes me feel good. "I love lacy underwear, but the problem is you just can't find coordinating panties to go with the lace bras." Olivera noted that she was convinced her bra size was a 34C for many years. "A bra fitter convinced me that I'm really a 34D," said Olivera. "It really depends on the vendor--sometimes a 34C or a 34D fits me."Allison Brisby, 25, an administrative assistant at The Natori Co. Brisby has no favorite bra brand. As a matter of fact, she said, she doesn't like to wear bras, because they "feel itchy." Although she does put one on occasionally, she said she prefers Lycra spandex blend bodysuits and stretch camisole tops as an alternative. "I used to always wear a bra at school, but wearing a bra now is not a priority for me," said Brisby, who said her size varies from a 32A to a 32B, depending on the maker. Brisby, who is originally from England, acknowledged that she owns several "simple bras and some cute Tartan bras," which she purchased on a whim at Miss Selfridge and Marks & Spencer in London. "About half of them don't really fit very well," she said. Would a sports bra please Brisby? "Sports bras are great," she replied, "but sometimes they make me look smaller."
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