Why I hate shopping for clothes

by Suw on June 7, 2006

If you've met me more than once, you've probably seen my entire wardrobe. I'm not good at shopping for clothes – usually I have to be frog-marched round at gunpoint by my friend Kate. But I think I've figured out why. Well, an additional why to the why I already knew about.
The fundamental issue is that most clothes sold on the high street are not designed for women with a figure that's more akin to eight than one. If you're a stick insect size 8 with a bosom like split peas on an ironing board, then you're sorted. Everyone designs for you. You could wear a sack and probably still look good.
If, however, you're actually normal woman shaped, y'know, with, like, curves, then tough. You're out of luck. All those nice clothes that look spiffy on a mannequin will look shite on you. I've known this for years. This is not the revelation.
The revelation was this: Mannequins never wear bras.
Ok… So I'm in a shop, looking for summer tops. Something light and, well, summery. I see some nice clothes on the various mannequins dotted about the shop, and I select the correct size – I hope – from the rail, and go to try them on. So far so good.
The problem is… how can I put this delicately. I am not your normal size, and the bras I wear are more like scaffolding than underwear. Those pretty, dainty bras with thin little straps and delicate stitching? Those are not the ones I wear. The ones I wear are more like some sort of medieval torture implement, complete with enough whalebone to put whales on the wrong side of 'endangered'. They'd probably be more effective if they had flying buttresses.
Let me make this clear. The bras I wear are not corsetry, but a feat of engineering that Brunel himself would be impressed by.
So as soon as I try on the nice, fluttery, summery tops that look so delightful on the lumps of plastic on the shop floor, I am confronted by a vision in whalebone. And not a pretty one. The tops gape in places they shouldn't and reveal bits of underwear that they shouldn't – not in that sexy 'oh you can see a bit of my bra' way, but in that 'oh god, does it take three people to strap you into that contraption?' way.
As I made my way out of the shop, I realised that the mannequins never have to deal with this. Not only are they more modestly proportioned, but the clothes they are dressed in are cunningly pinned so as to look as if they fit just right. And to top it off, they never wear bras. You never see a mannequin with acres of black* elastic on show, or with bra straps wide enough to be mistaken for a cable on the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Oh no. They go commandette**.
* The kinds of bras I wear do not come in pretty colours. Black. White. Flesh. That's usually all the choice you get.
** That's like going commando, but for girls.

Anonymous June 7, 2006 at 11:03 pm

Regarding summer clothes:
Do you get the underarm gap, too? I always have to buy sleeveless shirts a size smaller than normal and deal with them binding under the arms, because if the armhole is big enough to be comfy, my boobs pull it forward so you can see a large portion of bra.
Regarding bras:
A few years ago, I discovered the joys of padded-strap (and non-padded cup) bras. There's usually only one or two models being manufactured at a time, and it's hard to find anything other than white, but I'm sure anyone who's had to deal with her bra straps cutting into her shoulders will appreciate whatever's out there.
There used to be a nice black cotton one available from Bali, but they discontinued it. now I settle for Bali 3353 and Champion 1560. Playtex 4421 is also good, but only if you like lace. The Champion runs big in the cup and the Playtex either runs small in the band or shrank in my washer. Also, if you're truly large chested, try Goddess 3910 – the smallest cup size is a 38C, the smallest band size is a 36DD.
I'm not being a corporate shill or anything, I've just had enough frothing-at-the-mouth bra shopping experiences that I like to pass on anything good I find.

Anonymous June 7, 2006 at 11:21 pm

Sweetie, I could have written everything _just_ like you did, except that I'm way curvier still, and have on occasion left clothes shops in tears, outraged or in the throes of a panic attack. And I carried my entire wardrobe over from Paris recently. And even I managed to find _something_ half-way wearable in this fair city.
I happen to have a number of ¬£5 vouchers from, er, a major high-street clothes retailer who just happens to have some “2 for ¬£15” deals for reasonable cotton summer tops. Want to go and suffershop in my company?

Anonymous June 8, 2006 at 7:16 am

Thanks Suw, you've just made me spit my morning coffee all over my monitor laughing at the mental image of your good self with flying buttresses protruding from your boosom!

Anonymous June 8, 2006 at 7:54 am

Sweetheart, I think you and I need to take our flying buttress bosoms out for another joint shopping trip 🙂 I've found some relatively bearable clothes this summer, though I desperately need more. I shall head up to London once I get back from hols next week & drag you kicking & screaming round the shops again 😀 Don't worry… there'll be chocolate to make it all ok at the end…

Anonymous June 8, 2006 at 9:47 am

Well… y'see… my back is really narrow, and my bosom full. So I'm a 32 or 34 … and pick a letter around a third of the way into the alphabet, and you're there. So finding bras that fit is difficult, so it's not about *big* per se, it's about *unusual*.
And yeah, that underarm gap is horrible. I hate it. If you show a bit of strap over the shoulder, or even at the back, that's ok. That's kinda sexy somehow, even. But showing a huge swath of elasticated material under the arm is just ugly.
I guess I will go shopping at some point. Or maybe I'll just do another year with my existing motheaten wardrobe.

Anonymous June 8, 2006 at 2:34 pm

Suw, as you know, I empathize completely.
The only brand in which I am able to find pretty colors is of course the most expensive – Wacoal. And I haven't seen them in Canada yet, so I think bra shopping is going to be a frequent portion of my visits home to Boston. I actually own a red bra that fits! It seemed like a miracle. I have to justify the cost of such things as preventive medicine – less back surgery and therapy later. I am less narrow than you are, but I think Wacoal makes a good range of sizes – finding a store that carries them is the real trick.

Anonymous June 9, 2006 at 10:00 am

you need to look at bravissimo.com asap – they will revolutionise your bra's and tops…. I'm a 34GG and I now have several lovely tops which my boyfriend appreciates!!

Anonymous June 9, 2006 at 12:01 pm

Have you ever tried bravissimo, I think if you google it you come up with their website. They do mail order and have a couple of shops (manchester and London I think). Some of my larger bossomed (?sp) friends use them all the time and they do such pretty colours and styles. They even do halter neck tops with inbuilt bras that actually do work – allegedly!
Enough of the advertising – I came here via Random Acts and I love the blog!

Anonymous June 9, 2006 at 12:15 pm

Sorry completely of topic but
I think BT needs your skills you should approach them for the journey they are embarking on:
see – http://news.com.com/2100-1034_3-6081472.html
Hope you sought your wardrobe problems

Anonymous June 9, 2006 at 6:15 pm

Finally someone else who thinks like me about these mannikins!

Anonymous August 6, 2006 at 6:06 pm

I got a real laugh out of that, thank you. I have the same problem, along with some exquisite stretch marks just at the back of my underarm. I find myself staggering dazedly amongst the racks of store after store mutttering “a sleeve … please … just one … little … sleeve”.

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