When I got the idea to open a lingerie boutique, I knew I still had a lot to learn about the business. I thought I had a good foundation. As a femme-presenting queer woman, I'd already spent a lot of time sharing my knowledge about lingerie with friends and partners who didn’t feel comfortable stepping foot inside a lingerie boutique.
But opening Bluestockings, my LGBTQ+ inclusive store, taught me one thing: Everything I thought I knew about lingerie was wrong. Here are the three biggest myths about lingerie.
Myth #1: 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size
This statistic shows up everywhere: Wikipedia, lingerie advertisements, and lingerie boutiques, where fitters will tell you the statistic to assure you that you’re not alone. You can’t even browse Facebook without being asked about your bra size:
The problem is, this statistic is wrong. The 80 percent figure is based on a small study that didn't include enough people to be statistically significant nor was it peer-reviewed, the two things a study has to be in order to hold any weight in the scientific community. (Also, only 45 women participated in the study—forty-five.)
Everyone in the lingerie industry knows this statistic is crap, too. So why, then, have lingerie brands invest so much money in fear-based advertising and marketing campaigns built around the idea that the majority of women are wearing the wrong bra size?
It’s simple: fear sells bras.
When lingerie companies mention anything about the “wrong bra size,” it implies that there is a “right bra size" that can be found, for a cost. The truth? There are many “right” sizes. One thing lingerie ads forget to mention, when telling you that you’re wearing the “wrong” bra size, is that literally every brand sizes their lingerie differently. Even among U.S./U.K./EU cup size variations, there’s no standardization. That's why it’s perfectly normal to have up to a dozen sizes or more in your lingerie drawer. This is doubly true if you have recently gained or lost weight, gone through menopause, or had a pregnancy.
As one of my favorite lingerie bloggers, SweetNothings, once wrote: "You wear a size. You are not a size."
Myth #2: Bras are too complicated for consumers to understand and are best left to the professionals
The message that women are wearing the wrong bra size (even if they aren’t) is a damaging one, in that it does one thing: It tells women that an industry knows their body better than the women themselves do. Of course, the message that women don’t know or understand their own bodies is not uncommon. Fashion as a whole sends this message on the regular; so does our government when it comes to women's health care—as do some medical professionals.
But the fact that every brand sizes their lingerie differently feeds into the myth that bras are complicated and that they're too hard to figure out. The lingerie industry has created a world in which customers know exceptionally little about how to fit themselves for a bra and, what’s more, are convinced they can’t know. All of the knowledge resides with the bra fitter, who works for the store and whose job is to ultimately to sell.
Bra fitters provide a valuable service, in that they are in a unique position to educate and empower people who come in for fittings. In a best case scenario, a customer doesn’t just leave with a bra that fits; they leave with a new confidence in how to approach fitting in the future. But too often, customers are kept powerless in the process as they try on bra after bra with little understanding of its various components and how one brand compares against another.
Here’s the secret: If you can learn how to fit yourself into one bra, you can start to understand what fits (or doesn’t fit) about another bra, even if the size on the tag is different. Bras, like most things, are tricky until you take the time to understand them. But you’re a smart person, and you’ve got this. If you can shop for jeans, you can shop for bras. (Here’s a quick rundown of bra fit basics.)
Bodies are variable and people are individuals, and you are the ultimate expert, the authority, on what is comfortable for you, on what is loose or tight to you, on what fits for you.
Myth #3: Inclusivity is difficult
Representation is not an idea, it’s a practice. When I launched, I knew I wanted to stock nude bras for women of color as well as underthings that would be gender-affirming for the LGBTQIA+ community. Initially, I was concerned about being able to achieve all of these goals. Virtually no boutiques I was familiar with stocked these items, and I was on a shoestring-of-a-shoestring budget. I figured these items must be horrifically expensive or hard to find—or both.
Turns out, they were easy to find and not that expensive.
This proved one thing to me: The exclusion of nudes for women of color and the refusal to stock packing briefs and binders and trans-friendly fitting expertise was purposeful.
I say "purposeful" because exclusivity is a choice; it is always a choice. Silence is a choice. Doing nothing is a choice. It’s 2017, and even if it was 1952, excluding inclusive options for LGBTQIA+ folks and women of color would still be a choice.
It is not difficult to find black models, trans models, non-binary models for a marketing campaign. On the retail side of things, it is not hard to find gender-affirming items like binders. Intentionally hiring sales staff who are savvy about working with LGBTQIA+ customers, and trans folks especially, is something that shop owners should be thinking about.
Even though it can take a lingerie brand a few years to get an item into production, Nubian Skin’s meteoric success has prompted brands like Third Love and stores like Target to quickly roll out their own dark nude lines, showing just how quickly such merchandise could be made available.
Inclusivity wasn’t difficult. It just wasn’t wanted, until someone came along and showed everyone how profitable it could be.
It’s important to remember that customers are the first line of defense. Brands won’t change unless they think they can profit off of the change. If customers come into the store, write to the store, tweet at the store, requesting new styles and options, that is what gets change.
Ultimately, I believe that you are the final authority on your own body. My job as a member of this industry is to help you make better-informed decisions so that you can be your most badass self. Shopping for lingerie can be a vulnerable experience, and the more information you have, the more comfortable and confident you can be.