I don’t cry often, but one thing that’s guaranteed to bring me to tears is bra shopping.
I mean, how hard can it be? I’m fairly in proportion and, after a multitude of disasters – not very fussy. But I don’t have much meat on my ribs and so under-wires dig in and non-wired bras ride up and practically fly off into the distance, without any weight of breast to keep them in place.
I tend to throw money at the equation (La Perla, Myla) but even then there’s no guarantee I’ll find anything that works. And the older I get, the harder it becomes.
Lingerie stylist and ‘fit expert’ Monica Harrington has been a life-changer for me. Her credentials are impressive – she’s been in the lingerie business for over 30 years, working for major brands in product development, fitting and training, styling lingerie on shoots for prestigious campaigns and helping breast cancer patients, post surgery. She has private clients too. I wanted to find out what she could do for me.
Let’s just say that this lady has not only transformed my underwear drawer but also my approach to dressing. So I am writing about her. She should not be a secret.
The underwear edit
Monica arrived at my home with a selection of underwear, Irish warmth…and a sense of humour, which helped, given the sad state of my boobs (Monica says it’s common for women to lose the fullness in the top half of the cup after breastfeeding). She guessed my size immediately then declared my bras too big across the back and too flimsy to give any real form.
Getting the perfect shape
I’ve always favoured quite racy bras (what I lack in boob I like to think I make up for in style) but Monica also showed me that t-shirt bras don’t have to be bulky and boring. I’m probably the only woman on the planet who doesn’t own a t-shirt bra. It’s a big moment for me.
The Triumph Amourette spotlight underwire bra she brought along was not only a perfect fit but a snip at £32 and so comfortable I now have to force myself to wear anything else. My boobs are so good in t-shirts that I keep asking my friends to have a feel. I bet everyone who’s been Monica’d does this.
The right underwear for the right outfit
Another predicament is matching the right underwear for each piece of clothing. I quickly realise that Monica has this down to a fine art. First up – my off the shoulder dress by Saloni that I wear without a bra. I didn’t think I minded going bra-less, until I was helped into a Simone Perele plunge bra and saw the dress take on a different shape altogether.
Monica explained that when the boobs are lifted properly it creates more length in the body and thus more definition to the waist. I saw the difference immediately. And I’m not sure how I lived without this bra, which is a secure, seamless fit, with ‘lotion touch’ microfibre and straps that can be worn 8 different ways (or not at all). It is absolutely perfect for the current one-shoulder/off-shoulder trend. Priced at £56.
Some Spanx high waisted shorts (shapewear, as Monica calls it) were 100% invisible under the bottom half of the dress and also rescued my Adam Lippes cream jumpsuit – a beautiful piece of clothing in a notoriously unforgiving colour and the only unworn item in my wardrobe (due to the underwear/knickerline dilemma).
I suspect he designed this jumpsuit for someone with a cleavage, but Monica quickly gave me one, thanks to a Triumph magic boost bra and a bit of hoisting and tweaking. My breasts looked majestic, but not over the top (I’m not sure they ever could). A Triumph indeed.
Shopping for lingerie
We ventured out – to Keturah Brown, a little independent boutique in Primrose Hill. It’s an aladdin’s cave, bursting at the seams with every conceivable lingerie item you could wish for. I wouldn’t have known where to start, but Monica got stuck in and by the time we’d finished I had bought four different sets of beautiful lingerie, with some altered to fit.
Keturah Brown’s owner will literally cut a chunk out of the back of your bra (eek) and re-position the fastening, for a closer fit. It’s reassuring that she’s a lingerie maker by trade but still you’ll be glad it’s over before you can blink or indeed question whether you actually want someone to take scissors to your new expensive bra.
It’s an amazing alteration service. Hashtag shop local. You don’t get that in a department store.
Here’s what I learned
- How to put on a bra. No, you do not fasten it in front of you and then twist it around. (This was the only time I heard Monica get cross). Arms go in first, then bend over and shimmy yourself into the cups before you fasten behind you. It is not something I am going to show you a photo of.
- Every size has a sister size. So my 30B is also the equivalent to a 32C. Me! A C cup!
- The lifespan of a bra is 6 months, if you wear it often. Oops.
- My right boob is my fuller boob – apparently we all have one side bigger than the other. Compensate for this by adjusting one strap slightly looser (on the ‘full boob’ side) than the other.
- Lingerie shopping can be fun.
- Bras can be comfortable.
- Triumph is not an old lady brand.
- The right underwear can transform an outfit.
- I am not a freak.
- Hire an expert.
Visit Monica Harrington’s website for more information or to book a private visit.
All photography by Alex Taibel unless otherwise stated. With thanks.