From the Desk of Jenette

A little over a year ago I got an email from one of the rash of online-bra startups. They were in Los Angeles to do a pop-up at a women’s expo, and were looking to borrow a couple of bra-fitters. They had one fitter in-house, they said, and added, in the excitable way of these companies, “we call her our Fit Therapist™ because she makes the experience so special!” In an appended paragraph about the company she informed me (me!) that, thanks to their nascent on-line operation, “For the first time in history, women don’t have to compromise between style and support.”

I’ve been viewing with amazement the proliferation of these companies—venture capital backed tech start-ups diving headlong into the manufacturing space of the most engineered, labor intensive, handcrafted garment there is. “There’s gold in them thar hills!” must be their rallying cry. They promise the world and free returns at a low/medium price point: style, fit, quality, comfort, support, anti-racism, save the planet, all the sizes–heck, brand new sizes, never seen before!

What they actually deliver can be learned from the comment threads under their innumerable paid Social Media posts: “bad, itchy, and cheap” “the seams started coming unglued after a couple weeks” “no support to be found in this bra.” That last issue, support, is especially pertinent when your alphabet starts at D.

The hip, male co-founder of one of these companies gave interviews in the business press about his discovery of the “awful shopping experience” of going to a bra fitter, and their plans to disrupt our sad little industry with big data. Another online bra company founder made her bad bra-fitting experience at Victoria’s Secret the foundation story of her business. Online journalists—I use the term loosely—doing puff pieces on these companies have piled on with their own bra-fitting horror stories.

The core message being pushed by all these “feminist” companies and their cheerleaders in Forbes, Fast Company, Inc. etc. is that real bra-fitting is a traumatic, nightmare experience and the only safe space for women is alone with your laptop. You are a trembling bundle of body insecurity and the threat is another woman—the knowledgeable bra-fitter in the room with you. She will judge you, shame you, even molest you! Why risk it?

This week featured a tiny milestone in the unremitting PR press of the online bra start-ups: they got (digital) ink at the venerable New Yorker mag (online only, but still). The article, Bramancing the Braless: Notes on Nine Lingerie Startups, by Patricia Marx, takes an appropriately skeptical tone with respect to the corporate feminism and disruptor claims of these companies, but under the hipster snark I discern a victory for the forces of algorithmic “bra-fitting”. Their key message, that real bra-fitting is an inevitably traumatic experience, goes unchallenged in the article, a survey in which the author recruits a string of articulate professional women to try out various different start-up bras. I don’t know if it is the particular social milieu of the author or the abject literary style of the moment, but these women present a perfect illustration of how to be vulnerable to these Emperor’s-New-Bra hucksters. They are ashamed of their bodies, unwilling to grow up, and embarrassingly
ready to settle. Collectively they produce a gleeful litany of complaint:

“Try on a bunch of sizes and styles, hate them all, and then consult with a saleswoman for reassuring lies about how you look” “the saleswoman came into the room with me while my mother waited outside. She saw them. It was traumatic” “You’d have to get undressed and be touched by a woman in a tiny dressing room with a shower curtain for a door” ”she stared in a way that was humiliating and chilling.” “intimidating…disapproving salespeople…yanked into my underwear.”

One former film executive finds it unfair that good bras cost money AND you can’t throw them in the dryer. Another slanders her own (perfectly average) 34DD chest as “even bigger stripper boobs than I’d thought,” while another refers to her “big, weirdo breasts, in a weirdo size.” Yet another is disappointed by the bra she tries, but says she will nevertheless buy it again (?) because she likes the strap decoration.

What all these women need is the very thing they are working so hard to avoid: a proper fitting from an honest professional who can reassure them there’s nothing wrong with their boobs, quality costs, you have to put in the time, and you have to take care of nice things or they won’t be around anymore.

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