Wednesday, June 6, 2018

No Holds Barred: The Bra Whisperer

by Blair Sabol

It all started with my obsession with Melania Trump. Forget her politics — I think she has done a helluva job merely “showing up” looking conservatively sensational (and remember all those designers who refused to deal with her; in the end it didn’t really matter). She has the cool and aloof attitude to pull it all off and she doesn’t even need a First Lady cause.

But honestly, it’s not just her style that gets to me — specifically it is her full torso! How does she get those breasts to be such perfect “mounds” — not a pair of jet propellers? And you never see a sign of a belly button or butt crack or thong straps. Okay, okay ... you could say all the Trump women have gone to the same plastic surgeon. Even so ... I have seen a lot of fixed “racks” stacked in some badly lopsided cups.  And everyone suffers from “boob spillage” in the back, front, or under the armpits.
First Lady Melania Trump rightly admiring her inaugural gown at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Bras are a complex mystery for every woman I know. Recently, I was discussing my “Melania torso wonderment” at a Phoenix Neiman’s makeup counter when a fashionable woman leaned over and in a “deep state” whisper said, “I think I know where Melania and many other women go to get their foundations.” 

She was like a “bra whisperer” and quietly wrote down: Bra Tenders, 630 9th Ave, Suite 601, (212) 957-7000. It felt bigger than a drug connection. She assured me that “once you go there, you’ll never go anywhere else ever again.”
Notice outside Bra Tenders' office.
Inconspicuous signage at Bra Tenders.
Getting this tip made me think back over my 60-year history with bras (panties are another story). From going to Saks in my 20s for a fitting with a woman named “Gitter the Fitter” who wore space shoes and had two sets of glasses hanging around her neck.  She sold me giant bras called “over the shoulder boulder holders.”

In the '60s, I remember going to Bloomingdale's for my “No Bra-Bra” style that hooked in the front. Even Gloria Steinem wore that.

Later “Sex in the City” arrived sending us flocking to Victoria’s Secret for the lace “plunge.” Victoria’s Secret exploded into padded “Wonder Bras” and their porn-influenced “Pink” line.

Soon after, Madonna inspired everyone to wear bustiers and black push-up bras on the outside of their shirts. And now we have the “uniboob” look of all the athletic bras.

The sports style has drastically flattened Victoria’s Secret sales.  Today, frilly and sexy is not what most women want.  They want their real size in a real comfort bra! Whereas Victoria’s Secret used to own the lingerie business, their power has plummeted, and in a last ditch attempt, they are going for sports and lounge wear.

Overtly sexy underwear with bling on the straps and suggestive words on the ass are now a turn off.  Shades of what happened to Abercrombie and Fitch’s recent wipeout due to porn overdrive.
Rita Wilson’t autographed tank top at Bra Tenders.
More celebrity autographed tanks.
Nowadays some online bra outfitters like BraSmyth and Soma are making it big. is offering “real women, realistic measurements ... not airbrushed super models.”  However, online sizing is still not an up close and personal fitting experience. Then again, you have 22-year-old Kendall Jenner who admits to hardly ever wearing a bra and recently showed up at a Tiffany store event fully exposed beneath her transparent top, No Problem!!!
Kendall Jenner braless at Tiffany Paper Flowers launch event. Matteo Prandoni/
The truth is, bra history was made on May 20th, 2005 when Oprah devoted an entire show to her now infamous “bra intervention.” Leave it to Oprah to make bra fitting a consciousness-raising issue.  At that time, she told her audience “the right bra will make you feel great, rejuvenate, and give you self esteem.”

Her show made headlines. Oprah’s mantra became “Change your bra, change your life.” The economic impact of the show was amazing. The US bra industry grew $700 million in the following 12 months after her first bra revolution show. She went on to doing “Oprah’s Bra Boutique” shows on a regular basis. Brands like Wacoal, Chantelle, and Prima Donna exploded and Le Mystere’s “Tisha” style became Oprah’s “go-to” T-shirt bra and it was sold out for months.

Oprah's now infamous "bra intervention."
Intimacy founder Susan Nethero appeared on 5 Oprah episodes to discuss bra fitting.
Meanwhile, it was Oprah who highlighted the fact that the bra fitting profession was in decline since most stores felt it was an expensive and outdated service while fast fashion and online was riding high.  Only specialty lingerie stores offer it and in most cases not very well.  Victoria’s Secret has 22-year-old sales girls with pink tape measures around their necks follow you into the dressing room and “fake” a fitting.  For the most part, they leave you stranded with four molded Wonderbras hanging on the door hook.

Apparently Nordstrom picked up the slack for many women since they had the inventory and some professional bra fitters to ride Oprah’s “must be fitted” theme.  But they began to disappear as the retail store slump hit hard.

Not to mention… breast shapes have really changed in the last ten years.  Experts say it is due to increased hormone therapy and plastic surgery — even the transgender market is making an impact!

Oprah revealed that “85% of women are wearing the wrong bra. 55% of women don’t know what bras complement their body.  58% of women never had a professional fitting.  And finally, most women were concerned with lack of comfort and felt miserable about their ‘”back fat.'”

Ironically, Oprah herself moved on from her own “back fat” distress, losing her Weight Watchers pounds and recently showed up at the Henry and Meaghan wedding in a pink clinging Stella McCartney knit dress prominently displaying her own set of “mounds” in what looked like a giant Spanx uplift. 
By the way ... Spanx arrived on the end of the “Bra Revolution” as a way to compress yourself into that Melania smoothing torso.  But I found “Compression Foundation” (where your knees are lifted all the way up to your cleavage and out your neck) to be dangerous. 

Years ago I wore a Spanx “bralette” to dinner one night and had to race to the ladies room to rip it off and call 911 to report that my circulation had ceased.

So, back to my pursuit of the “cup cleavage” experience at Bra Tenders. First of all, you have to call and make a fitting appointment (credit card confirmed, no-shows are charged). When I called, they were booked for two weeks due to bride month.

I realized when I arrived I was at a Broadway producers building near the theater district. For 30 years Bra Tenders has worked with all the prominent costume designers, wardrobe professionals and actresses. Bette Midler, Nicole Kidman and Melanie Griffith have all been there, their autographs were on the wall.

Typically, Bra Tenders does not mention names for confidentiality purposes (Melania was not discussed).
Bra Tenders inner sanctum.
The Bra Tenders space is vast with racks of every American and European made bra and panty (and prosthesis) displayed in size AAA to L Establishing a “foundation” is their business.  As soon as I entered the room, I was met by owner/“bra master” Lori Kaplan and custom fitter Crystal Gordon (one for each breast). They ushered me into a large fitting “salon.”

The actual process was nonstop and yet not just fast and furious. I was examined by both “experts.” My left breast is bigger than my right — but it was no problem for them.  I suddenly kept thinking of Joan River’s famous boob joke: “My breasts are so low, I can now have a mammogram and a pedicure at the same time.”

Crystal and Lori have heard all the one-liners thousands of times.

They were concentrated and on a mission to find the best fitting bras for my lifestyle, “We will not let a customer walk out of Bra Tenders without the best fitting bra.  We never have and we never will.” 
Bra Tenders "Fitter Extraordinaire" owner Lori Kaplan and "Bra Architect” Crystal Gordon.
Quite a statement! And they taught me a lot about how to get into a bra (don’t hook in front and swivel ... try to hook from the back — fat chance for me). A bra fit starts way under the armpit and comes forward and up. “Try not to bend over to “get the girls in.”

Instead, they believed in a move called “swoop and scoop.”  Although I did do a downward dog yoga position for them to check on one active sports bra. After each style, they insisted I put on a tight T-shirt so they could see if the bra was too pointy, too much spillage, or too many lumps and bumps.

It was a 90-minute process with 75 or more bras paraded in and out of the room.  Some made it on to me, others were axed the moment I took them off the hangar. Lori would pronounce them — “Don’t even try”; “not for you.”
Bra Tenders shape wear wall.
In the end, I was exhilarated and overwhelmed. I did buy six bras (a new “bra wardrobe”) from yoga to dressy plunge to T-shirt comfort to lace to microfiber.  None were “Gina Lollobrigida” uplift. Most were Melania “mounds.”  As Lori sees it, “Nipples disappeared when plastic surgery became big.  American women don’t want huge pontoons, but the European women still do.” 

According to Lori, “The girls” should sit midway between your shoulders and elbows; your bust should be in your body frame.  Not spreading out East and West.  Bras should never cause you neck and back pain, and bulging back fat is not you — it is the bra’s fault.  She also felt most women change bra sizes seven times in their lifetime ... thus the need for fittings.

Personally, I didn’t care what actual size number and cups they gave me. (Some women are horrified to hear they are not actually a B cup but a D). It was all a very detailed “Goldilocks” experience.  One bra being too tight, but perfect cup, another a great strap but awful back band — Lori and Crystal are seriously “hands on” till the perfect combination is complete.  They are really not just bra fitters, they are expert “bra architects.”  You can’t ‘Skype’ a bra fitting!!
Check in/ Check out at Bra Tenders.
At the end of my session — I dumped my old bra into a box Lori collects for charity and we sat down for a “breather” while she told me her history. 

The early days in the business were in a bra shop in Brooklyn, and then selling to Broadway designers and away she went.  She could and should write a “Mam-moir” on all the people she has “uplifted” and given a new lease on life.  “Nowadays you don’t need plastic surgery — there are so many choices, but you need the right Sherpa to get you through the landscape.  Bra fittings are as important as mammograms.”

Standing at the checkout desk, I felt 4 inches taller and straighter.  This was better than a chiropractic adjustment!  Lori gave me serious bra care tips:

1. Don’t wash your bras so often (every 3-4 days);
2. Keep them in rotation;
3. Wash them in a lingerie bag (gentle, no dryer);
4. Store all of these on hangars — no drawers (ok, so now need a special bra closet?!);
5. Try to get fitted every two years;
6. And remember, keep your bra hooked on the loosest hook – once it starts stretching, it is out of shape!!
The two bras that gave me the “Melania” torso.
On my way out, (by the way, the store walls are all lined with actual T-shirts autographed by all the celebrities who have been “Bra Tender-ized”), Lori showed me the latest panty line-less “modesty piece” (Melania must use this item).  It is a $16 re-useable pad that covers your crotch and ass crack like a sealer.  I’m not ready for that, but leave it to Bra Tenders to supply that touch of theatrics.

I jumped into the cab with my bag of high-end boobage couture.  The bill was hefty — but who’s counting since I never felt so gracefully “handled” and educated with such personal care and concern.  It was better than buying a new car, since its your body that gets the instant Vroooom!!!
Popular camel toe and ass crack concealer.
Panties — a topic for another day.
When I reached my hotel, I was already singing the lyrics from Chorus Line’s “Tits and Ass” ... “Shake your new maracas and you’re fine; tits and ass can change your life; they sure changed mine.”

But that song was about getting your “bingo bongos” pumped with silicone.  Bra Tenders worked with me, myself, and I, so I settled with La Cage aux Folles' “A Little More Mascara” lyrics:

When everything slides down the old tubes again,
And when my self-esteem has begun to drift
I strap up my boobs again
And literally give myself a lift

And for me, it was the best lift in town!
My Bra Tenders wardrobe.