Favouring the sale over the fit
I've gone into several of the local bra boutiques in the city many times throughout the past year. My pet peeve with those stores is the saleswoman's attempt to sell me a Chantelle bra. It never fails. It's a different fitter every time, but it's the same brand and style of bra that they try to sell, not just to me, but to other women as well. I've had some of my friends test this theory in the name of research. I fail to understand why the saleswomen do that. The stores carry other brands like Freya, Fantasie, and Curvy Kate; they carry those bras in my size too, but I'm always given three or four Chantelle bras every time I enter the store. Chantelle is not a bad brand but I find that their bras do not work for me at all. They are just horrible on me. In my usual size, the cups are all wrinkled and I'm floating in them. When I go down a size (either in band or cup) I do not get the quadraboob effect, but I get a lot of side bubbling and a weird east and west shape that points down. It's just not a brand for me. Also, the selection of Chantelle bras in the store is not good. There are no vibrant colours - they're either black, white or nude and the styles are very grandmotherly. Chantelle bras sold in the local stores cost about $130 plus tax, on average. Compared to Freya and Curvy Kate bras which range from $80 to $95, Chantelle bras are expensive and not nearly as attractive. Furthermore, once you try one Chantelle bra, (that the saleswoman happens to think fits properly), she stops suggesting other models and will not bring in any other brands. Instead, she will focus on trying to sell you that Chantelle bra. It's almost as if you have to know what brand suits your shape first before going into the store and specifically asking to try those brands on, while in the same breath explaining to the salesclerk that you do not like Chantelle. Some of them might even ask why - like somehow it's a problem, or that it's something they can fix.
I'm not a professional bra fitter, and never claim to be. I'm just a person who is interested in the subject and have only recently discovered bras that are made for small women with big breasts. Through extensive online research and conversations with professional bra fitters I've come to learn a lot about bras in general. I am able to tell the difference between a properly fitting bra and an ill-fitting one. I'm quite familiar with many of the big brands and can appreciate the pros and cons of many styles. I understand the target audience for those brands and can determine if certain styles will fit me based on the demographic I fall into. That being said, I still have nowhere near the amount of experience or knowledge that a professional fitter ought to bring to the table. It's pretty bad when even I can spot an ill-fitting bra in the local store whereas the professional fitter thinks it's a good fit. If I can tell that the wire is not wide enough and is digging into the side of the breast, then the professional fitter is either inexperienced or not paying attention. When my friends and I went into the local store last week, something strange happened. Slowly but surely, each one went into the room to try on the bra and after the fitter went in to "help" with the fit, each girl would ask me to come in and see if the fitter did a good job. If the customer has no confidence in the fitter, then she is less likely to buy the right bra and equally less likely to get fitted again. Bra shopping is already a harrowing experience for many women but add to that a fitter who is unable to establish a connection with the customer means no one will benefit in the end, especially the woman who is looking for a proper fitting bra. Sadly, in this instance, for most of my friends I recommended a different size, despite the advice of the fitter. When they tried my suggestions, they were much happier with the fit (the digging was gone, or the tightness in the back stopped, etc.) which is something I think a professional fitter should be able to address.
Selling what the customer wants not what she needs
In the lingerie industry, I think bras fit like a suit in many ways. A man can go into a suit store, choose the style and colour, but the fit is determined by the tailor or the person fitting the customer, because presumably they know better about fit. A good bra fitter knows that the majority of women walking into the store are wearing the wrong size bra. It stands to reason that a woman who's wearing a size 40DD would complain about a 34FF size bra and would even go so far as to say it hurts. That's because she's obviously not used to wearing a properly fitted bra and she came into the store with the common notion that if you feel the bra, then it's too tight. In truth, a good bra fitter knows that "feeling" a bra is actually necessary for proper fit. If the band is not hugging the frame, then it will not support the weight of the breasts and the shoulders end up carrying it. Too many times, I've seen the fitter go up in band size and down in cup to accommodate a customer who's wearing the wrong size but wants her new bra to feel like the old ill-fitting one. When that happens, I don't think the fitter is doing the customer any favours because the customer is still in the wrong size bra and may encounter other fit problems. She may no longer experience pain in her shoulders because the band is tighter, but she may find that the wires now poke her soft breast tissue because the cup is still too small. The end result is the customer still buys an ill-fitting bra and the store makes money. There's something wrong with this picture. I think a good fitter should be able to read the woman she is fitting. Some women are not ready to admit, even to themselves, that they require a larger cup size to accommodate their breasts. Many women get hung up on the numbers and letters without understanding the relationship between the band and cup sizes. In their eyes anything above a DD is massive, when in reality that DD means absolutely nothing without the band size (due to the inverse sizing relationship between band size and cup size). Surely, a good bra fitter would know that. And she would also know that there is no point in trying to fit someone who is not ready to be fitted. Fitting a woman in the wrong size to accommodate the number or letter she feels comfortable with is completely detrimental to a proper fitting (and kinda daft). Breasts and underbust determine fit, not the measuring tape (although that could help immensely) and not the media.
No Returns, Refunds or Exchanges
The hefty price tag that comes with each bra sold in the local stores does not come with a guarantee. Unlike many online vendors, once you set foot outside of the local store, the bra you bought is yours for life whether you're happy with it or not. Local stores do not refund, return or exchange any bras that have been bought and paid for, even if the tag is still on it, the bra has not been worn or washed, and is in resalable condition. That tells me that a) they do not care about fit, because as you may very well know, it takes at least twenty minutes if not a few hours before you can truly tell how comfortable or uncomfortable a new bra is, and b) they do not understand bras very well, because a new bra may initially look good, but as breasts settle in and shift, the bra may not feel comfortable or look good any more, both of which are valid reasons for not wanting to wear it again. I don't know about you but if I'm shelling out $130 on a bra, I expect it to perform in accordance with that price tag (or maybe even wash the dishes every once in a while). I really like to get my money's worth. That means I do not want to worry about wires digging, bands chafing, boobs spilling, or straps slipping or digging. In general, I expect it to fit perfectly. If or when it doesn't, I would like to be able to return it. But to take my hard earned money, improperly fit me, claim to be better than department stores and then refuse to return my money when the bra fails to deliver - well, that sounds like a bad business practice. This is one area where online stores excel and why they remain to be a favourable option for many women. Not only are the prices a lot more affordable (in many cases the same bra costs one quarter of the price than in the local store) but also many of these online stores provide truly hassle free returns and exchanges. Some of them even offer free shipping. Local stores need to wise up before it's too late.
In our small city of Halifax and surrounding areas, I have yet to come across a professional fitter who is actually good at what she does. Some have come close but inevitably they always try to make a sale using one of the above tactics. This is why I have resorted to buying online. I go to the local stores to try the bras and see which ones fit me best. Once I figure that out, I order the bras I like through online vendors. In the past two months, I have helped fit more than a dozen women. I'm starting to wonder if I should get into the business or at least collaborate with some of the good fitters out there. In my opinion, the best bra fitter I've ever come across is Claire Dumican, the owner of Butterfly Collection. She's been spot on with every problem I've encountered with my bras so far. She helped me figure out my correct size and was even kind enough to help me with the fit of other bras that I bought elsewhere. She may not be a veteran of the bra fitting campaigns of the previous century but I think she's better at fitting than many of the seasoned bra fitters at the local stores here. Claire is my "go to" person when I have a bra problem. Her customer service skills are exemplary and she's just downright amazing. Too bad she's based out of Vancouver. We could use her help out here in the east coast!