OK, ladies. You know the dread. You know you know the dread.
Perhaps you’ve got a special occasion coming up and you need something that fits properly underneath that sleek, strapless number or Mother-of-the-Bride dress. Or maybe you just need to update your every day undergarments with ones that provide better support and prettiness to boot.
And you put it off. Because for many women, bra shopping is usually an exercise in frustration and self-doubt.
The lighting is harsh. Each line fits differently. Nothing fits like it looks on the displays. Finally, any bra remotely comfortable is given the green light so you can stop testing your sanity and just go home.
It’s time for a different and better experience. Zoë & Co. Professional Bra Fitters in nearby downtown Westerly, Rhode Island, offers professional bra fitting services and some warm advice. The store carries an incredible range of sizes and styles from more than 40 companies, with band sizes ranging from 24 to 56 inches and cups from AA to KK.
In contrast, most lingerie stores carry a much more limited range of sizes, often between a 32- and 40-inch band, in cup sizes A-DD.
“So we all think that we’re supposed to fit into that size range,” says Bomina Belden, a professional fitter. “But in reality, there are more than 200 different sizes of bra, so it’s really about proportion.”
“Say you have a really small rib cage but a bigger breast, it’s harder to find something that works,” she explains. In other words, you may find a cup that covers your breasts, but the band is so loose that the bra is constantly sliding up your back, providing no lift and support. Or you find bras that fit around your ribcage, but the cups are too big. The proportions are off. With over 230 sizes in stock, Zoë & Co. can help you find the size that works for your proportions.
Zoë’ & Co.’s wide selection represents everything from cut-and-sewn bras to contour cups, sports bras, strapless and longline, nursing and maternity bras, pre- and post-surgical bras and forms, as well as products for transgender and gender fluid clients.
Zoë’s has two locations in addition to Westerly – Concord, New Hampshire; and the newest location in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
At the Westerly location, the dressing rooms are large and comfortable, hung with lush curtains. The store is packed with every kind of bra imaginable as well as novelty items and swimwear. Another room offers shapewear — Spanx and the like — and a second includes “fun” items (think boas and intimate special-occasion wear).
The stockroom seems to stretch for miles, which is how the shop can send anyone home with a new bra the same day.
And as impressive as the stock is, the fittings and customer service are the distinguishing elements. Zoë & Co., Professional Bra Fitters received an award for best customer service in the North American sector by The Best of Intima, an international trade publication.
“While many women are thrilled to come in for a fitting, others may feel very vulnerable. They’re nervous, they’re uncertain,” says Fran Prescott, whose family owns the business. “So customer service matters. We emphasize this in the training process.”
The training for fitters is intense and extensive. Staff help everyone from girls coming in for their first fittings to 97-year-old grandmothers in wheelchairs, Prescott explains. No two women are the same.
“You can teach someone the basics of finding a size very quickly, but that’s not what a fitting is,” Prescott said. “Size is a starting point. There are many more factors to consider, which can only be learned through experience. We teach fitters to recognize when someone’s skeletal frame will make certain bra styles better or worse for them, to know which styles work best for different types of breast tissue or breast placement, to consider a client’s day-to-day activities, mobility issues, and much more. It’s about experience and being attuned to a customer’s needs and comfort. When we’re training someone, it will take a few months before we deem them ready to fit independently.”
After working intensively with professional fitters in the fitting room, a trainee who shows aptitude is allowed to do fittings, which are then checked by their supervisor. The trainee has to fit 100 women correctly before they become professional bra fitters. By that time, they’ve worked with customers in a range of sizes and shapes and in all manner of personal situations.
So what does go on during a fitting, anyway?
First things first: you will always have a bra on during the process, so don’t be intimidated. During the fitting, employees only need to measure your band size. They bring in specific bras for you to put on as they work to find your size, teach you how to adjust yourself into the bra properly, and they will show you what a proper fit looks like once they have you in the right size.
The fitter then brings bras in your size to the fitting room, helping to find items appropriate to the client’s physique and to make sure the item is adjusted and worn properly, for maximum style, comfort and support.
All told, you should plan to spend about an hour your first time through. If you make a purchase, Zoë & Co. will keep a file with your size, your purchases, and an item or two you didn’t purchase but want on your “likes list.” This allows them to help their existing customers place phone orders. Anyone wishing to place a phone order must have a file, because fit is so important. But Zoë & Co. regularly ships to their clients throughout the country and around the globe.
“We love what we do,” Prescott says. “It’s great that we’re able to help women be in the right size, because it makes them happy day-to-day. It can make a big difference, even in self-esteem; once everything is where it’s supposed to be, everything looks different on you. And our customers are amazing. They write us and send cards and pictures of their special occasions with the undergarments we helped them find. And, while they are thrilled that we’ve helped them find supportive bras, their happiness and support mean the world to us.”
For more information visit zoeandcompany.com or call the Westerly location at 401-596-8050.