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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.