Bra shopping is rife with first world-problems like shoddy sizing and pushy salesladies. And where there’s a first-world problem, you can bet there’s a tech startup trying to disrupt things.
After hearing about three bra startups in a row, I set out to see if a tech company could actually get a handle on my band width. It may seem strange to leave such an intimate issue in the hands of the tech industry. But keep in mind that tech types are already poking their noses into matters of defecation, baby-making and sexual prowess.
Nothing is too intimate when you’ve got the right algorithm.
This startup wants to determine which models will fit you best, send you hella bras, then let you return the duds and buy the ones you like.
To find the best bras for your breast shape, you must field abstract queries such as:
Note the bummed out expressions on the two shrugging girls whose boobs are “bottom happy” and “taking sides.”
Also, True & Co. points out on another slide, “over 40% of women have different sized breasts!” They then ask, “Are you left‐breasted or right‐breasted?” which conjures the image of a plump breast wrapped around a pencil, practicing its times tables.
After you’ve completed this Myers‐Briggs test of sweater puppies, True & Co. suggests a fleet of bras based on your boob type. They let you pick three, and they pick an additional two. You give them a $45 deposit (around the cost of one bra), which you’ll get back if you don’t find the perfect lacey case for the girls.
The bras you order default to the size of your current favorite bra. This didn’t work well for me. None of the resultant bras fit. But with promises of refunds and free shipping both ways, there’s no reason not to try it‐‐provided you’ve got a pretty good handle on your size beforehand.
True & Co. gets an A+ for their customer service and their beautiful marketing and branding. The bras arrived all lined up like a plate of black, nude and pink cookies, making me coo with consumerist delight as I unwrapped purple and pink tissue paper to unveil them. They were also, without a doubt, the highest‐quality bras of the bunch.
This monthly subscription service is like the Netflix of bras, if all of Netflix’s offerings were C movies with shoestring budgets. Brandishing my tape measure once more, I used Adore Me’s special bra size calculator when picking my bra and undies set. The size they assigned me differed vastly from the size I usually wear, and the sizes that every other online bra calculator assigned me. But I went with it.
Sadly, the bra they sent me was so far off that I could barely close the back and I could have eaten two full servings of beef pho out of the cups. This is yet another service you should only use if you know your size beforehand.
What makes Adore Me different from, say, the Victoria’s Secret website? They’ve got a subscription plan for lingerie addicts.
The payment system is reminiscent of a shady suburban fitness chain. A VIP membership is allegedly free, but if you don’t buy anything or click “Skip the month” by the fifth day of each month, you’re charged a $39.95 store credit that you must use by the end of the year. Your first lingerie set costs only $24.95 (cheap!), and most of the sets are $40 to $50 for a bra and panties, with a respectable discount for VIP members. Plus every sixth set is free and there’s free shipping both ways.
The quality of the bras is dubious, though, and the designs can be cheesy. Still, Adore Me seems great for someone who buys a lot of lingerie and doesn’t want to wear the same thing over and over again. But by the time you’re done reading all the pricing instructions, you could be halfway to Lord & Taylor’s lingerie counter.
This is by far the most ambitious of the three bra startups. ThirdLove has overhauled the 32A‐and‐up sizing system. Instead, they assign sizes like TL138. A higher number doesn’t necessarily equate a larger rack under this system, which is nice because it does away with body image bummers that can accompany cup size fluctuation.
So how does ThirdLove figure out your new size? Through a series of boob selfies. But don’t worry, you can wear a tight tank top while taking the pics, and your face won’t be included. If some perv hacked into ThirdLove’s database, they’d be pretty disappointed.
After downloading ThirdLove’s app, you answer a few questions. Then, there’s a video prompt that tells you exactly how to hold your iPhone camera for the best results. You take pics from the front and sides, then you drag the photo until your size is calibrated.
Here is where I ran into trouble: my phone is a piece of crap. The camera doesn’t really work, so I made sure to have another person’s iPhone handy. It turned out the second iPhone’s speaker was broken. So I found myself in a sort of twisted Gifts of the Magi scenario, holding the phone with the working camera in front of the phone with the working speakers, arms drastically akimbo, listening to the nice robot lady’s instructions while tilting the iPhones forward and back in an attempt to measure my boobs. It was sexy.
I wasn’t surprised when the bra they sent me was too snug. The assured me that the issue was with the blurry quality of my photos and that this rarely happens, especially not to people with normal, decent smartphones. When such technical issues do arise, ThirdLove’s rep assured me, clients are matched up with fit specialists who help them figure out what went wrong.
The bra was very well made, though, and so close to fitting me. I’m probably going to try again. Their bras will run you $45 to $70, pretty standard prices. They also sell a variety of underwear. It’s worth giving ThirdLove a shot if you’re frustrated with typical sizing. Their customer service people are also very helpful.
As noted above, bra shopping in real life sucks. This experiment proved that bra shopping online also sucks in its own way.
But crucially, it doesn’t suck more than its real life counterpart does, if only because I was spared the indignity of looking at myself topless under harsh dressing room lights. I’m going to give True & Co. and ThirdLove another try. It may take a few weeks because of shipping, but it beats getting felt up via tape measure by a stranger in public.