Writer goes undercover to learn secrets of perfect bra fit

When Susan Nethero founded Intimacy at Phipps Plaza in 1992, her goal was to bring European lingerie to Atlanta. After a lifelong struggle to find the perfect bras to fit her own body, Nethero discovered that European cuts and sizes were the answer. Her inventory remains 80 percent European, thus offering her customers designer brands rarely sold in lingerie or department stores in the United States.

But the bra can’t do all the work. And that's where Nethero's expertise comes in. Her reputation for changing women’s lives one brassiere at a time gained her national exposure. She’s made numerous appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and was the official bra fit expert on Lifetime’s “How to Look Good Naked with Carson Kressley.” She’s such a lingerie expert, she even wrote the book on it. Literally. Her how-to book, “Bra Talk” (BelleBooks), was published in 2005.

All of these credentials, coupled with the fact that I was a bra-fitting novice, made me nervous about our initial meeting, but right away Nethero made me feel comfortable -- and good about myself.

“What size bra do you think you wear?” she asked.

“I’m a 36C,” I said, knowing that was the size of the bra I was currently wearing.

“I can tell you that’s not the case,” she said.

“I know, I should probably go up to a 38,” I replied begrudgingly.

“More like a 32,” she said.

A 32? I liked this woman already!

Once we were in the fitting room, we spent a few minutes discussing bras I'd worn in the past and the styles that would be best for my needs. She offered me a tank top, which allowed me to keep my modesty in check (and later test the texture of the bras) and headed out to the sales floor to find my best bras.

She returned with a stack of bras. From decorative lace to sheer, from stripes to solids, it was simply a plethora of undergarments.

Many women (myself included) hate bra shopping. Walking into any lingerie store is intimidating. We assume we won’t be able to find a bra that fits us, and that fit problems are problems with our own bodies rather than an issue with the bras we're wearing. According to Nethero's research, 65 percent of women have never been professionally fit for a bra, 85 percent of women are wearing the wrong size bra, and 67 percent of women wear fewer than four of the bras they own. For the record, I fall into all of those categories.

Without a proper fitting, women have no way of knowing what size they are or what style they need. In fact, I learned that a woman’s size, shape and distribution will change at least six times in her life, meaning that if you wore a 36C in college, you probably won’t nearly 10 years later. (Hence my arriving in a bra that was completely wrong for me.) Bra size also is likely to change after the birth of a child or an extreme weight loss or gain.

Admittedly, I expected to leave the fitting room session feeling confused, forced into a purchase and quite possibly a little violated. In reality, I was comfortable with the entire process. And I walked away with a newfound confidence, a feisty-but-functional new bra, and the knowledge that I am not a 36C. What am I, really? That’s between "The Bra Whisperer" and me.

The proper way to put on a bra

According to Nethero, there is a right way and a wrong way to put on a bra, and the ol’ clasp-it-in-the-back, pull-the-straps-and-go technique isn’t cutting it. Try these simple steps for correct cleavage.

Step 1: Clasp the bra in front. (Hint: Be sure to purchase a bra that is firm in the loosest position. That way if the bra stretches, you have the ability to tighten it back up.) Then turn the bra around with clasp in back.

Step 2: Bend all the way over to allow your breasts to fall fully into the cups.

Step 3: Slide the bra up your body and secure the straps at your shoulders. This action not only centers the breast tissue inside the cup of the bra, but also keeps the underwire from digging into the tissue.

Step 4: Stand up. When you do so, the breast tissue will be at the top of the cup. Take your index fingers and do what Nethero calls “the windshield wiper”: run them along the inside edge of the bra to be sure all the tissue is completely inside the cup.

Step 5: Be sure that the bra is level or lower in the back. Don’t pull the bra strap too far up. This will ensure that the bra remains in place all day and your bust will be lifted properly.

Intimacy is located at Phipps Plaza, 3500 Peachtree Road N.E. www.myintimacy.com.

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