From everything I knew and had heard, I expected bra shopping in Europe to be like going back on the British high street 10-15 years. Fourteen years ago, I was a self-conscious fourteen year old with genetically inexplicable E-cups, being strapped in to badly fitting torso-sized bras out of boxes whilst inadequately trained women clucked on loudly about how ‘unusually enormous’ I was.
Amsterdam at least wasn’t that bad. The women I spoke to (though admittedly in boutiques, not 1996 M&S) were knowledgeable and professional and could recognise a decent fit without clutching a tape measure like a rosary. The shops were beautiful, with a wall of bras displayed behind glass like mounted butterflies, each concealing a size-specific drawer for you to leaf through as if it were from your own wardrobe. And the bras weren’t all enormous boulder-holders either, but a mix of styles and colours from brands I know and wear.
Lingerie shopping in Amsterdam isn’t exactly like going back 15 years on the British high street. But I, shopping in Amsterdam, did. As I slipped the bras on and off – Freya I didn’t recognise, Freya I did recognise, Prima Donna, Prima Donna Twist, Lejaby, Empreinte – I felt my neck prickle. The ones I liked were far too sheer, the ones I loved weren’t in stock in the right size, the ones I was interested in came up too big, and the ones that fit were horrid. With each moment, the twenty-eight year old woman that had walked in to the shop vanished from the mirror. Insecurity by insecurity, the fourteen year old teenager came back. I felt massive and repulsive and, worst, I felt cornered.
I got dressed, grabbed my stuff, and bolted. Calmer outside, I wondered why I’d had such a stressful, visceral reaction against the experience. I felt exactly like I had as a teenager: not having a choice but to buy a bra yet having no choice over what it might be, and hating my body for not conforming to what seemed normal for everyone else. It was a stark reminder of how emotionally charged lingerie can be, and how important it is to get it right. And if I, with my relatively modest 30G/65G bust can find it this difficult, how many more women – the H cups and beyond – are being failed?
Later I found a perfectly fitting purple version of my trusty coral Freya Jolie and bought it. At €83 for a set that usually costs nearly half that in the UK, it was an uneasy purchase made simply because I now have only two day bras to get be through the next month. Usually I believe in shopping locally, but at those prices there really is little choice but to buy abroad. I know that logically the only way to bring the prices of these bras down in Europe is to create more demand for them, and that shopping on UK websites wont help with this. But €80 (and Freya was the cheapest brand I tried) is just unfeasible for such an essential.
Properly fitting bras are empowering and enabling and absolutely integral to confidence and self-esteem. So do use the fitting services, and use the shops for special purchases a couple of times a year if you can afford it. But also use the amazing resources available from the UK. Boost demand instead by joining campaigns for fitting awareness (like the brilliant busenfreundinnen.net) and dragging friends and family to be fitted out of their B-cups. European retailers may not be great with ours yet, but material shifts in supply and demand are figures they will always understand.