BORN AND BRED in Washington, Shirlee Blanken, a former schoolteacher, says she can spot your bra size just by looking at you. How? “Experience.” She jokes, “It’s a gift.” Although Blanken says she got tired of just selling lingerie and now also carries sweaters, T-shirts, jeans and other sportswear, her customers flock to Underwraps for her bra-fitting expertise.
“A bra should hit you mid-back, and the straps should be tight enough for support but not too tight that they dig into you. Try it on with a fitted T-shirt and make sure you get a seamless look.” The big thing in bras right now is the constructed look — a light pad that covers the nipples, while adding support and structure, not size. It’s a far cry from the old padded bra. Among the brands she stocks are Spanx, Natori, Wacoal, Maidenform, Blush, Va Bien and Le Mystere. Prices range from $20 to $70.
Stump Blanken? Not easily. Not long ago, a customer came in in a panic saying she had to buy a bra for a friend she was visiting who lived in Ghana. She was leaving the following day and, by the way, her friend wore a 36GG. Within 10 minutes, Blanken found the size but told her that she couldn’t guarantee a perfect fit.
“Every bra is a little bit different — even ones that are the same size. You have to try them on. No one’s a perfect 34B in every style.” Changes in life such as pregnancy, weight gain and loss all affect bra size. You also need to go to a specialty store; in a department store, the salespeople could be selling shoes one day and bras the next.
For large-breasted women, minimizer bras can take you down a size. Blanken says they flatten you out by shifting breast tissue to the side instead of out front. She recommends Wacoal’s full-busted styles, which range in price from $48 to $65.
The keyword for bras is lift; for lingerie’s other hot-selling items, body shapers, it’s compression. To fit into fitted fashions, such as tailored cocktail dresses and skinny pants, without liposuction, a tummy tuck or thousands of crunches, labels to know are Spanx, Bodywrap and Yummie Tummie. Bodywrap’s Slip-Tastic ($60) flattens the stomach, lifts the derriere and slims thighs; Spanx’s Trust Your Thinstincts ($72-$76) starts slimming just below the bra line and smoothes your middle, hips, thighs and rear.
For a really tight squeeze, try Lipo in a Box‘s body suit ($82).
And, a more general question we wanted to ask Blanken:
Do you have a beauty secret?
The best way to look good is to relax. I don’t have time for facials but I get a manicure every week. It feels as if I’m treating myself.
4928 Hampden Lane
Bethesda, MD 20817