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“A friend is like a good bra: hard to find, comfortable, supportive, always lifts you up, makes you look better, never lets you down or leaves you hanging, and always close to your heart.”
So goes the quote that’s cited on e-cards and Instagram posts across the internet. But I, unfortunately, only identify with half of it — while I’m blessed to have found many good friends, it’s a rare occasion that I find a good bra.
To me, the entire experience of bra shopping is agonizing. Maybe I’m predisposed to feeling this way from the trauma of my first fitting: At age 10, my mom took me to the most prestigious intimates store in my hometown of Monsey, New York for my first bra, and I was measured by a very hands-on Hasidic Jewish woman, who ironically wasn’t keen on privacy. To this day, bra shopping is still an ordeal.
It’s not like I haven’t tried to do my research; it’s just that I’ve yet to find a bra retailer that delivers both a great product and a great — or at least decent — experience. The price is right at Victoria’s Secret, but all the photos of women I’ll never look like hanging inside the store make it impossible for me to shop without feeling terrible about myself. Rigby & Peller, arguably the nicest lingerie boutique around, gives amazing one-on-one attention to shoppers, but the bras are way too pricey. I know some of my friends buy their bras at The Town Shop on the Upper West Side, but man are the good ones granny. Gap Body makes a pretty great T-shirt bra that I love, but good luck buying more than one — in my experience, the quality is so poor that no two bras ever fit the same, regardless of size.
I’ve dabbled in bra shopping online from the usual suspects like Natori and Wacoal at Nordstrom, but because I’m considered an “in-between size” — bouncing between 36C and 34D (see what I did there) — I never know which size is going to fit right, and so I’ve always assumed that I have to go shopping in person to find the best one.
Or so I thought. A few months ago I was on Facebook when an ad for the San Francisco-based intimates company True & Co. popped into my newsfeed. “Makes my breasts look full and perky without [any] push up. So comfortable and I feel feminine wearing it. — Donna,” the ad read with a link to the brand’s digital fit quiz.
“Getting fitted online? Nah,” I thought, adjusting the ill-fitting Marie Jo T-shirt bra I had regretfully just splurged on.
But I clicked through the quiz anyway, and went from being skeptical to admittedly impressed at the scrupulousness of all the questions. It asked for obvious information, like the band and cup size of my current bra, but it was also wildly specific. The quiz didn’t just care that I usually wear a 36 band; it wanted to know how well I fill the cup. It asked which hook I prefer my bra on, whether my bra rides up in the back, and if the center part of my bra presses flat against my rib cage. It even asked if my bras dig into my underarms. How has no bra fitter ever been concerned about my bra digging into my underarms?
After the quiz, I was routed to a page with recommendations of True & Co. bras, most of which sell for around $64. I was intrigued, especially because some of these bras had almost 3,500 reviews from customers. I reached out to the brand’s PR, and they sent me some bras to test-drive.
So how exactly does a digital quiz replace a living human in the onerous challenge of finding a bra that truly fits? True & Co. was started in 2012 by Michelle Lam, a self-declared algorithm nerd who has companies like Microsoft, Bain & Company, and the Boston Consulting Group on her resume.
Lam had an “aha moment” in the dressing room of a lingerie store one year earlier, when she spent two hours trying on 20 different strapless bras without finding any that fit right. So she bought a whole bunch of bras and invited friends over to try them on in her living room. Collecting data from all the feedback, Lam teamed up with Nikki Dekker, a designer from the lingerie brand The Lake & Stars, and started creating bras that “flatter [a woman’s] specific shape best,” as the site puts it.
“I realized that the bra industry was still using the same sizing methodology since the 1930s — band and cup size. We discovered shape was the missing part of the equation,” Lam tells Racked. “The algorithm essentially takes data points from each person that completes the quiz and matches it to products that line up best. [Data] has shown us that there are 6,000 different body types and nuances that make each woman unique.”
The bras still go by the classic cup and band size, but the various answers from True & Co.’s quiz influence which bras will be selected for you. Just because you’re a 34D doesn’t mean every bra in a 34D will actually fit.
The Made of Stars Unlined Ultimate Coverage Bra (the one with 3,465 reviews) is crazy comfortable and surprisingly flattering underneath clothing — and if you don’t believe me, dive into the commentary from the thousands of other women who love it. (The only downside is that it's a bit matronly.) A similarly comfortable and supportive bra by True & Co. that I loved is the Gramercy Balconette, which has just 731 customer reviews (only!) and is really pretty.
My biggest takeaway from test-driving True & Co. is that unlined bras, like the Made of Stars and the Gramercy, are actually pretty great. But because I’m a creature of habit and always lean toward wearing lined bras, my favorite from the brand is the Uniform T-Shirt Demi, which is soft and lifting. The subtle lining gives me a great shape without looking too busty; it comes in a sexy semi-lace version, too.
For all the data it’s collected, True & Co.’s sizing only goes up to a 38 band and a DDD cup, which is shameful, to be honest. If it has, after all, found 6,000 different body types, how can they not serve everyone?
Lam tells Racked that making bigger-sized bras is in the works, but it won’t be immediate. “We’ve been having fit sessions in San Francisco where we invite area women that are BBBs (Big Breasted Babes) to come to our showroom and give us feedback on what works for their bodies,” she says. “We want to sell to real women, so we need to ask real women what they like and dislike about their bras. Once we reach that point where we’re all in agreement that we’re putting the best options out there for a new size range, we’ll do it. Not a moment before!”
The brand has some other customer favorites that I’m curious about — like the lace hipster underwear, the pajama sets, and the sweatpant joggers (“I find myself daydreaming about getting out of work, going home, and slipping back into these pants,” writes one customer... and do I ever identify with this) — but for now, I’ll be continuously trolling the intimates. True & Co.’s clearance section is pretty sweet right now, so I highly recommend browsing if you, too, need a comfortable bra.