Bra Reviews: The Process & An Evolution

Hello Everyone,

In the last five years, I have reviewed over one hundred products on the blog, including bras, undies, dresses, tops, accessories, and even a salad spinner.  With our anniversary a few months away, I have become increasingly introspective on the experiences of small business ownership, retail management, and blogging.  When I first entertained the idea of writing product reviews on our blog, my intention was to describe the fit and shape of the products we stocked using professional but approachable language.  Basically, I thought it would be an inexpensive marketing tool for a cash strapped business desperately trying to keep the doors open.  During the summer and fall of 2011 when I began writing, “bra blogging” was taking off in a big way.  Cora Harrington had already become a leading expert through her blog The Lingerie Addict, and Georgina Horne of Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, Cheryl of Invest in Your Chest, and Becky of Busts for Justice were not only posting fabulous bra reviews while modelling the products but also wrote insightful commentary on the fuller-bust market and bra fitting in general.  Their courage inspired me to begin writing my own reviews and articles.  As with any endeavor, I have received both criticism and praise for the blog, and while being somewhat prolific in writing reviews, I realized that I never discussed the process itself, how my motivations have changed over time, and what I hope our readers get out of reading them.

My Review Process from Slow Start to Painstaking Finish

Most product reviews begin with either suggestions from readers, recommendations from sales reps, or my earnest desire to try new products for the store.  Nearly all of them are paid for either by me personally or by the store in the form of inventory, and since I am the one writing reviews, they typically have to be available in my size range.  On average, the entire process takes at least three hours to complete, with more in-depth reviews or those using more stylized photos taking longer.  Often the videos and pictures are a bigger hold-up than the actual writing because I need to set aside a quiet time to complete them on a day when I am in a good mood and feel confident.

One of my earliest blog reviews in the Fantasie Vivienne
One of my earliest blog reviews in the Fantasie Vivienne

As someone who is not a selfie addict (no judgment if you are), having my picture taken isn’t something I particularly enjoy.  The general awkwardness around a camera is further exacerbated when I am experiencing body image issues.  It’s damn hard to stand in front of a camera at all when you feel uncomfortable with your appearance or your weight.  It’s even worse to do it in a bra with all of your rolls and stretchmarks and squishy bits exposed to the world.  Some days, I do not have the mental or emotional fortitude to persevere.  Since my brother’s incident, my weight has been higher than normal and never steady, and while weight fluctuations are hard to accept psychologically, they also present certain physical problems too.  I have a few bras which I bought a while go that I cannot review yet because they no longer fit.  As a result, I sometimes need to adjust my review schedule to ensure what I post is going to work for the weight I am now rather than the weight I was when I ordered.

Videos add another layer of complexity to the review process.  Because some people prefer reading or listening over the other, my goal is to always have the review available in both formats.  My aim is to say everything I need/want to say about a bra in a cogent, detailed, unscripted, single take.  Let’s just say I do have a blooper real, but my frustration level is directly related to the rate at which I swear.  Some days a perfect take is ruined by the telephone, large delivery trucks driving and parking near the store, or—as is the case more and more lately—my exceptionally noisy neighbors playing music so loud people have to shout to be heard, which my camera picks up in all its glory.  I have had to fix or re-shoot several videos because of situations like “And I’m wearing my normal size of WOO HOO!  I LOVE THIS SONG! TURN IT UP!”

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Beyond the media elements, the writing is the most important aspect of the review for me.  Whenever I am researching a new product or brand, I obsessively, meticulously, agonizingly scour through every online review I can find.  However, consumer reviews only provide so much insight as I have seen a person leave negative comments because of something that sounds like a sizing issue or a vague comment about fit or quality.  The lack of explanation muddies the research waters and forces me to carefully sift through the information relevant to me as a retailer, a buyer, and a consumer to determine if the product is worth pursuing.

Over time, I found my original intention shifting less from being a subtle marketing element to becoming an opportunity to share with people across the world detailed, honest, and thoughtful opinions on bra fitting, construction, and quality.  To accomplish this, my perfectionist nature kicks into high gear, and I follow a pattern which has served me well since college.  I write my general thoughts as quickly as possible, not worrying about grammar or word usage, and then heavily refine and edit on my second inspection.  Finally, I put the finishing touches in third and fourth examinations.  The process is time-consuming, but the results live up to my standards.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever managed to write a review in under forty-five minutes.

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In addition to my own experiences with the product, I also draw on the experiences of my customers.  Particularly with bras, I often have the ability to observe the fit and longevity of products over time and across multiple sizes and breast types.  Even if I have not had the benefit of trying an item on customers, I have learned over the last several years to follow my gut instinct on who I think a piece will work for and who it won’t.  These observations and experience lend a more credible, detail-oriented component to my opinions on the product, and I think the added effort shines through enough to keep our readers coming back.

The Limitations of My Reviews

Despite engaging in perfectionist type behavior, I have also come to realize that real perfection is not an attainable goal, and this extends to my bra reviews.  Despite my best efforts there are limitations to what I post, and I can sometimes inadvertently mislead people.  First, my size places firmly in a niche market known as the “small band big cup.”  As such, there are a limited number of brands who even design bras in my size, and I am often forced to stick within their lingerie collections for reviews.  I can occasionally use sister sizing to expand my portfolio, but I need to be careful as some people find it unhelpful for me to review a product which does not actually fit or come in my size.  As a result, there is a wonderful world of brands and bras which never make it to my product reviews that consumers may be missing out on simply because I can’t accurately represent them here.  Likewise, I tend to only review products which I can conceivably carry in the shop, meaning some of the higher end brands also never grace our pages.  I could certainly purchase them with my own money, but my finances have been tight ever since I opened the store. I can’t tell you how many requests I have fielded to do a luxury label review, but I simply can’t afford that right now.

Not even remotely my financial situation at the moment.
Not even remotely my financial situation at the moment.

Likewise, my general shape is more specific.  My boobs are close set, narrow rooted, balanced in fullness and tissue density, and with an average vertical root.  If that does not describe you, there’s a chance my unabated love or hatred for a bra simply will not apply.  It also means that if a bra looks fantastic on me, the style may fail horribly on someone else.  As I mentioned above, I always try to draw on my fitting experience to describe who I feel the bra will work for and in what size ranges, but the reviews are still just an opinion.  If the Internet has taught us anything, it is that opinions (or even facts at this point) always invite debate.  There have been instances were anonymous commenters said my band was too tight or that something I remarked on with fit was wrong or that there was added space where I said there wasn’t, and so on.  Pictures and videos do not always tell the whole story.

I am also less exacting on fit in certain instances, which may seem at odds with my profession.  For our anniversary month, I have several posts brewing, one of which centers on what I have learned about bra fitting as well as what I have unlearned.  I plan to discuss this more, but I have realized professionally and personally that compromise is sometimes necessary in the world of bra fitting.  For me, I often use the term “fit quibbles” to indicate an element which violates the textbook definition of a perfect fit but does not impugn the comfort, support, or aesthetic of the bra.  Some readers are adamantly against purchasing or keeping bras with less than a perfect fit and as such may not enjoy my reviews or agree with my posts.

Click to enlarge for easier reading
Click to enlarge for easier reading

Furthermore, I do not always test products long term.  If I do not like a bra, I am not going to keep wearing it, which does mean I can miss a potential quality or longevity problem in the initial review.  There have also been instances with bras I purchased and enjoyed initially but that grew painful or unwearable later.  A good example is the Parfait Charlotte (which has been slightly retooled lately) in expanded cup sizes.  Initially, I loved the lift and fit, even with a few quibbles, but after a month or two of wear, the band needed to be moved to the middle hooks which pulled the side of the cup into my arm in such a way as to leave a welt on the skin.  As with most humans, I also operate under a certain level of bias, which I try to keep to a minimum if I can.  Polish bras really work for me, and as such, I often do not keep anything else to test over time.  This Polish obsession does not detract from my love or appreciation for other brands or styles, especially as components of our inventory mix, but it can mean I may not like one bra as a much as another, even though the product I prefer does not fit universally well.

Despite my original marketing intention, the reviews have truly morphed into something else for me, especially as I grew in confidence.  They became a chance for me to analyze products, mostly bras, and to explain the details of the construction, the sizing, the fit, and the fabrics to help people across the globe make smarter purchasing decisions, particularly if they did not have a local shop to visit.  While the reviews do generate customers in the store, at some point my desires transitioned from marketing to education.  I know the reviews are not perfect, but I hope that in explaining the process of making them, my goals, and even my limitations that our readers will understand the love and commitment involved in creating them and continue to enjoy or at least appreciate them in the future.

Erica

Bra Reviews: The Process & An Evolution
Erica
Erica is a lover all things lingerie and is passionate about helping people find the bra which fits and flatters. Side passions include reading, writing, hiking, dairy-free food, walking her Jack Russell terrorists, and dying her hair everything from black to red.
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13 thoughts on “Bra Reviews: The Process & An Evolution

  • May 27, 2016 at 1:57 pm
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    Hi Erica,
    What an insightful explanation of the nature of work/thoughts involved in bra/lingerie blogging. My heartfelt appreciation for your hardwork over the years.
    Also I would like to thank you for your efforts against all odds, which has immensely helped countless consumers/lingerie enthusiasts to make wise decisions.
    I wish you all the very best and only success in all your future endeavours.

    Thank you,
    Sowmya.

    Reply
    • Erica
      June 13, 2016 at 9:42 am
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      Thank you, Sowmya! <3 It's something I genuinely enjoy doing most days (said as I am preparing to write two new reviews), but the time and effort can be hard to manage during busy times. Thanks again for the kind words about the reviews, and I am glad they are helping!

      Reply
  • May 27, 2016 at 4:06 pm
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    As always, your posts are illuminating. I have so much respect for you for doing these reviews which help countless people, I’m sure, many of whom may never purchase from your shop. It truly is a public service. And on the topic of body issues – I can’t even take a clothed photo of myself to post on my blog these days – that’s how self-loathing and insecure I am about body changes over the past couple of years (due to hormones and approaching middle age). I know that this is a moment in time, that my shape may well return to the one I know and feel good about, once I’m through with this experience, but man – it’s HARD. So I don’t know how you find the confidence. What I will say is that you are an example to us all and you are gorgeous in all of your shapes. Showing women how they will be able to wear beautiful underthings that fit despite weight fluctuation is a wonderful gift for everyone and I thank you for it. xo

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    • Erica
      June 13, 2016 at 9:46 am
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      <3 <3 Thank you, K-Line! Body image issues and time management have been my two biggest enemies the last few months. It is hard to post photos of yourself when you aren't happy with how you look or your current shape. I know for me I am always criticizing the lack of discipline I have developed, and in the end, the lack of acceptance of my current weight only fuels a lack of positive change in my diet and exercise routines. It's tough. Part of what inspired this discussion in the first place is the constant requests to show my back and sides. Since the weight gain, I've been more subconscious about my back, particularly because when I first started blogging and was much thinner, I received some choice comments about how my back looked in the bras. I realize it's insanely stupid to keep that with me over five years and let it influence how I Feel about myself and what pictures I post, but there it is. Thank you for taking the time comment, and I wish you only the best in your own body image journey. *hugs*

      Reply
  • May 28, 2016 at 10:27 am
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    I agree. I have always found your reviews so helpful and body positive. And even though I am a different shape, I still find your reviews very useful. Sometimes seeing why a bra works so well for you tells me exactly why it wouldn’t work for me. And I really enjoy hearing about what the different brands are like to work with from a small biz owner’s perspective and your experience of their quality and practices. The only reason I began blogging my reviews is to help the folks like me who care more about comfort than perfect fit and don’t have easy access to in-person shopping. I still kind of wince at the whole experience of taking boob pics, but seeing how a bra really fits at my own size is something that helps me a great deal.

    I’m aware some people are looking at them & tutting that I should be in a tighter band, so I have no doubt people are saying the reverse about your pics. It’s a personal preference, much like wearing your hair curly vs straight. I feel comfiest in a +2 band size, and with my hair in its naturally curly state. But I can easily see why someone else feels best in the reverse. My whole deal is that women should not be intimidated into a rigid idea of ‘proper fit’ any more than they were into trying to fit into the bra matrix. That it’s OK to prioritize comfort and compromise on fit, and wear what makes you happy. I think your blog & reviews reflect that same kind of empowerment. I’ve sent links to your reviews to friends in cities, to give them an idea of what a good bra fitting should look & feel like so they won’t put up with anything less.

    Reply
    • Erica
      June 13, 2016 at 9:54 am
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      Thank you, Alicia! I have other people who read my blog for the same reason! If it works for me, it won’t work for them. I think that’s why it is so helpful to have a lot of different perspectives out there for people to read and explore. Your emphasis on comfort and the +2 method is really something I’ve found as being more consistent in the store, and it is also something I plan on discussing further in my anniversary posts.

      One of the things I really dislike in the bra fitting and blogging community is “armchair fitting” where a person beings making assumptions about whether a bra fits or really works for someone based off pictures or reviews. There have been times that, as a fitter, I will notice things about how a bra fits another blogger, but if they love it, then why criticize them for feeling different about a potential fit issue than I do? For me, the most important aspect is seeing the fit and hearing about the sizing and materials. A lot of other boutique owners enjoy these kind of review posts too as it does give us better recommendations sometimes. Thank you for commenting! <3

      Reply
  • June 22, 2016 at 12:00 pm
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    Great article. A year ago, I would have been one of those people who doesn’t want to compromise on any aspect of fit and was working my way through my hundredth or so bra in a quest for the PERFECT one. After gaining weight, I’m happy if I can find something that contains them while not making me look even heavier than I already am–most of my weight gain went to my boobs and I went from a 36FF to a 38G. 🙁 As for the body issues besides that, I’m right there with you. I work in a clothing store that sells beautiful clothes–a good portion of my wardrobe is comprised from our inventory lol–and I refuse to buy any that fit me, right now, because my current wardrobe is mocking me and the fact that they are currently too small. So, I wear the stretchiest, most forgiving pieces and press on. Love your stuff and can’t wait for the EOY statistics. 🙂

    Reply
    • Erica
      June 22, 2016 at 8:06 pm
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      Hi Nichole! Weight gain is tough, especially for finding bras. Sometimes the way the pattern is cut will change drastically from that 36FF to 38G size, and a bra that once worked okay is now a disaster. 🙁 That said, I do think it’s important not to punish yourself either for being heavier than you were. I did this the first time I gained weight and then did again more recently. It just makes you feel more frustrated. I’m not saying go crazy and buy a whole new wardrobe, but a few new, nicer pieces can make you feel a lot happier. I did this myself a couple weeks ago because, much though I love my Bolero dresses, they were the primary thing I could still wear comfortably. Buying a couple new items helped me to feel better about my size and is encouraging me to think more positively. Just a thought! Best of luck on your own weight journey. 🙂

      P.S. Great blog! I added a link to it on our page.

      Reply
  • June 27, 2016 at 8:05 am
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    Haha, love the Lingerie Blogging Skills! Made my day:) You’re doing fantastic job, Erica, it’s so great to see that more and more stores are really committed to selling the best products in the broadest possible size range. You’re leading the bravolution, keeping fingers crossed for you!

    Reply
    • Erica
      June 28, 2016 at 12:50 pm
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      Thanks, Julia! 🙂 I think the wider availability of products helps store owners be more discerning too, particularly with more European brands actually exporting to the US. Even when we opened five years ago, there weren’t as many options, and I think the increased competition is keeping established designers on their toes too. Thanks for commenting, and I love your new campaign showing bloggers with different sizes! Lovely!

      Reply
  • July 10, 2016 at 5:28 am
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    You are the best!

    Reply

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