Being in the lingerie business, it’s almost impossible for me to walk by a lingerie store or department without stopping in and looking around. And, as one would suspect, I get approached by their employees. What I’ve noticed over the last couple of years is how aggressive and emboldened the employees have become. No longer are you left to just browse. There is now a full court press to get you in a dressing room and disrobed for a “bra fitting.” I noticed this change shortly after Oprah did her Bra Revolution Show. So, what’s going on?
The answer is a whole new approach to marketing lingerie. Let me begin with my recent visit to Nordstrom. Now, I know my bra size. I mean, I really know my bra size. So, while shopping around in Nordstrom, a saleswoman … no wait, all lingerie saleswomen at Nordstrom are now called “Certified Bra Fitters” … approached me. She asked me if I would like a bra fitting. “No thank you,” I said. “I already know my size.” “Do you really?” she said. Taken a little aback, I responded, “Yes. I do know my size.” She then said, “Are you sure?” Again, I responded with certainty that I did. As she walked away, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for all the women walking into this department who are not as confident about their bra size as I. I was also angry. I was standing before her in a form-fitting turtleneck with a great fitting t-shirt bra that put my girls right where they needed to be. Chest-wise, I looked fabulous. How dare she imply I didn’t look right? But, that feeling of size uncertainty is their goal.
Here’s the new lingerie sales tactic. The industry willingly recites the mantra that 80 percent of women are walking around in the wrong bra size. They also encourage women to go get their bra size checked every six months, and add that most women go through twelve bra sizes in their lifetime. I’ve also seen training tapes by some lingerie brands showing lingerie employees how to get a woman into a dressing room, and then continue to bring other bras in of different types to increase the sale. This staff also starts with the most expensive styles.
Many times the bra fitter is not an employee of the store. Most lingerie brands now have a team of “bra fit specialists” that do the fittings. I liken this to going to buy dog food. Every time I have walked into a Petco, there is someone in the dog food aisle trying to help me pick the food. They’re not Petco employees, but rather manufacturer representatives who are placed in that aisle to steer you to the brand they work for. A friend and her mother went to Neiman Marcus. Their “bra fitter” was actually an employee for Chantelle. Her mother was told that Chantelle is really the best brand for her and thus only brought Chantelle bras for her to view.
Listen, we are all in the business to sell lingerie. But, what bothers me is that the customer can be strong-armed into buying things when there could be a better or less expensive option. Many great brands simply don’t have the financial ability to plant employees in lingerie stores and departments. Many of the bra fitters out there are not really that knowledgeable or educated to be dispensing advice on your bra size. I’m a perfect example. I have been fitted several times. More than half have mis-sized me as a 34D or a 36B. I know I am absolutely a 36C. There are also other issues.
- Convincing a woman she is a different bra size pretty much guarantees a big sale—she now feels all her current bras are obsolete and need replacing.
- A customer can feel obligated to buy something because the fitter has spent so much time measuring and bringing in different bra options.
- Once in the dressing room, stripped down, the fitter many times will suggest you also try some shapewear. How can you refuse? A perfect stranger is telling you you aren’t in good enough shape.
- Finally, you agree to buy a bunch of stuff just so she’ll let you get dressed and exit the dressing room.
So who wins in all of this? In some cases, it’s the customer. Being in the business, I know that if I can get a woman to upgrade to a better-fitting and higher quality bra, she will be thrilled. She walks out with confidence and is happy and satisfied. We women deserve to feel good. Beautiful correctly fitting lingerie is one of the little joys in life. The stores win with a big sale. And the manufacturers with big “bra fitter” budgets also win. But later down the road, that woman who was convinced she needed a different bra size is finding her new bra size uncomfortable. Or she discovers a brand she likes better but was never shown because of being stuck in the dressing room with a fitter who has a strong brand bias.
Of course, I think women can figure out their best bra size for themselves. All you have to do is simply look at yourself in your best fitting bra, determine what symptoms you don’t like, and make a size adjustment based on your symptoms. But, if you feel you need someone else’s opinion, than at least you should know who is giving you advice. Ask them:
- How long have you been a bra fitter?
- How were you trained?
- Who are you employed by?
- How many women have you fitted?
- How many of those women were in the wrong bra size?
Then, you should be very clear with them that you want to see a variety of brands—not just the ones they think you should see. If they want to change your size, you should ask them to bring you the same bra in your current size as well as the proposed new size and compare the fit. Finally, if you are put in a new size, take it home and wear it for a while before buying a whole new bra wardrobe. Make sure this new size is right for you.