The bra queen who changed my life
And she'll change yours too.
When I posted this picture of Susana Lorena on my Instagram Stories last month, the engagement levels went through the roof. I was with her in the lingerie store she owns and runs -Maison SL , tucked away in Notting Hill’s chic Ledbury Road. Here she is brandishing the choice she would patiently and sensitively go through with my very self-conscious teenage daughter.
But you don’t have to be a teenager to feel bloody awkward about going for a bra fitting. I was nearly 30 when I had a seriously unpleasant experience in a London store that’s widely regarded as *the* gold standard in bra measuring excellence. I found the staff to be rude and dismissive: the woman rolled her eyes and walked off when I explained that I genuinely could not breathe in the bra that she was adamant was right for me. It had taken a lot of courage to walk in, ask to be measured, expose my chest - and the very ‘budget’ bra I’d come wearing. Call me old-fashioned but making the customer feel special, rather than shit, is probably a better approach.
Susana made me feel great in her shop and I wanted that for my daughter’s first professional bra fitting experience. She is warm, friendly, unfazed by any size or confidence issue you're wrestling with. Warning: She will be in that changing room with you, cheerfully assessing your ‘boobies, darling,’ But trust me: I’ve seen how much she cares and how much she knows. I am delighted to treat us all to her bra-fitting wisdom here:
Susana! Thanks for taking the time to chat to my Substackers about all things bras. Tell me, why is a proper bra fitting even important?
Jo, you know that a properly fitting bra can be life-changing! And I say it because this is customers tell me time and again once they find the perfect fit. It changes the way you stand, the way your clothes sit on your body and most importantly it is comfortable.
Is there a common mistake you see women make with their bra fit?
Often women wear it too big in the back and too small in the cup. Now, the first mistake is understandable because it relates to comfort: many women think that wearing a bigger band will be more comfortable. Actually, the opposite happens, because the bra rides up and creates back lumps that wouldn’t be there if the band was the correct size. And then the wires dig in onto the breasts. You need a band that sits without digging in and a cup that surrounds the breasts and supports you. For women that are sensitive we always recommend brands that use exceptional materials that are kind to the skin.
What about when women just feel too self-conscious about their current greying old bras to dare come in and see you?
This is a really interesting question and I come across this a lot at the boutique. So many women who eventually come in say that they never thought we’d have anything for them because everything in the window looks so beautiful. Or they start by apologising for the state of their underwear. saying that they absolutely hate bra shopping because it’s awkward and they get lost with all the offering and don’t know where to start. Well, I just do what I love and I listen. I usually get them laughing at their concerns and show them that, actually, buying underwear can be a lot of fun.
What advice do you offer women who feel self-conscious about their breasts?
We get that here with women of all ages. In this situation, respect, tact and humour go a long way. By giving the client space but showing that we are there to help her we tend to get them to a place where we can really help her find what she needs. Being Portuguese and one of four girls, I’m used to all the different stuff that bothers women… Funnily enough the main complaint we get is about how they hate they tummies, their hips etc
How do you cater to the bra needs of women post-mastectomy?
I have been trained by Anita – the UK manufacturer since 1886 of mastectomy bras and prostheses, to fit both bras and prostheses. But these days most women come to us after reconstruction, so very rarely do we have a request for a protheses fitting. However, we do offer bras and swimsuits with the pockets for it.
After reconstruction, some women only want to wear wireless bras and others will wear a mix of wired and non-wired bras. In some situations, when there are symmetry issues, we will use some foam aids on one side by choosing bras that have pockets.
Is there a reliable method for women to determine at home whether their bra fits correctly?
In general yes but be aware that are shapes that are more suited to you than others.
During Covid we did a lot of Zoom fittings - with success, but it is harder, as basically the fitting has two fundamental steps – measuring and fitting.
Measuring is the easy part. You measure the size of your ribcage right below your breasts and then you measure the around the fullest part of the breasts. So for example if you measure 33 inches around your ribcage and 39 around the fullest part of your breasts you are a 34 (round up) and E cup – 1 inch difference for each cup.
Fitting however is more complicated, as it has to take into account the shape and condition of your breasts as well the wants and needs of the client. So for example, say you finished breast feeding six months ago and lost a lot of the fullness on top of the breast and want to wear a half cup balcony. When you try it you feel that it gaps on top. In a situation like this I would recommend a bra with a higher apex because the fit would be much better.
How often should we be getting a bra fitting? .
Because we offer a free service we tend to fit our customers every time they come in, but the frequency should be linked to changes in your body. So puberty, putting or losing a stone in weight, pregnancy, breastfeeding, post breastfeeding, menopause, breast reduction or augmentation etc. I know women that have been the same size for 20 years and others that change size three time in five years. So always listen to your body and get help when needed.
Is there such thing as breasts being either too big or too small to wear a quality bra?
Yes in particular for bigger breasts. As I mention before, so many women that eventually come in say that they never thought we would have anything for them because everything in the window looks so beautiful. For some reason they don’t associate beautiful bras with big size cups. The truth is that the lingerie for fuller sizes has come a long way and these days brands like Aubade, Maison Lejaby, Empreinte , Prima Donna and Lise Charmel offer a very diverse range for cups up to H and this is from half cups, high apex plunges and full coverage bras. The same goes for swimwear with bikinis going up to G/H cups.
Is a bra's quality is directly related to its price?
There are two main aspects to this answer but yes. Firstly, a bra is one of the most complicated garments to make. A typical design has between 20 and 54 parts, including the band, gore, side panel, cup, apex, neckline, underwire, strap, ring, slider, strap join, and closure. This varies a lot from cup size and in particular from D cup onwards.
And then there’s materials. Typical bra cup fabrics are nylon, polyester, cotton, Spandex and silk. Bra fabrics are usually a tricot, raschel or even jersey knit. Woven fabrics like stretch silk charmeuse (silk with Spandex) are used for luxury lingerie, as is 100% silk. And then we have lace; an exquisite fabric that is made from natural substances such as cotton, silk, viscose, wool, and different types of polyester fabric.
Like most things in life, the price will reflect the quality of the material and design. If you choose a bra with 20 parts in a polyester mass produced polyester lace you should expect to pay between £20 to £70. On the other hand if you choose a bra with 54 parts and made of a luxurious silk lace you should expect to pay between £150 to £250.
Most reputable bra designers will only use the best materials and ensure that the fit is perfect – these tend to be Housed such Aubade, maison lejaby, lise Charmel, marie Jo, Andres Sarda, Empreinte that have been doing it for 70 or 100 years or newcomer such as I’D.Sarrieri and the British Fleur of England that are offering collections for all types of shapes.
Finally, Susana, show me your favourite bras.
Beautiful balcony, great color incredible fitting -sexy but great for everyday – goes up to G cup
Great for smaller cups, fits like a glove. And I can’t say no to a leopard print
Best basic for T-shirts, non wired up to D cup super comfortable, very affordable
Softest lace this season, love the jewellery and it has a fuller shape too
The coolest bralet, supper comfortable, awesome geometric print, affordable.
(I actually bought this one when I was shoppping with my daughter, and I love it)
My Goodness! From Jo Elvin is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.