Thursday, June 06, 2013


No one can ever accuse me of not conceding out of pride when my commenters are right. You convinced me about the whole bra thing. I had some time to kill in the city today, ended up near the fabulous Journelle, and lo and behold, that thing you all said was out there - flattering and comfortable - exists. Why had I not found it before? Because it costs $89, that's why. But I had no other - to borrow Kei's ever-applicable term - wanties (had tried on and nixed the idea of $90 workout pants - perhaps a better choice for those whose workout isn't jogging through mud, and Sephora, the usual contender, meh) at the moment, and was emerging from a work-hermit period of non-spending, so. No more information - brand, perhaps, but not letter or number - lest this veer off into full-on overshare territory, or attract altogether the wrong audience. My point is simply: You're right, WWPD readers, you're right!

I should say, though, that was a funny bloggy interlude. On this specific topic, I've generally taken the your-gamine-privilege-is-showing stance. As in, chic, boyishly-built women will sniff at the more substantial bras, suggesting flimsy wireless options, which do indeed look more now, but it's like, the only way you can wear those and still look good is if you're built like one of those Birkin offspring. But it is possible - for some! not all! - to wear them and not look good. There's clearly some subset of not-at-all-gamine women for whom those undergarments are unflattering but comfortable. Or so I've heard.

Anyway, during my urban wanderings, I reflected a bit on this question more broadly. Why did I come to my initial conclusion? I figure it was, in part, a questioning-received-wisdom thing. Specifically the kind of received wisdom that pertains to these sort of questions. As in: do you really need to "invest" in accessories? If your skin isn't dry, do you need moisturizer? If your hair isn't greasy, must you wash it every day? If your eyelashes are dark, do you actually benefit from mascara? (False lashes are something else - I've never worn them but they can look fantastic.)

This is partly a cheapness thing (I don't believe in buying things one simply feels one must, without questioning it), but also partly a quasi-feminist one. The amount of grooming-and-spending women are told we need vastly exceeds that which any individual one of us requires to look our best, and indeed, some such interventions (see: skin problems caused by skin products) make us look worse. This notion that femininity means all these rituals that may or may not do anything for you... appeals to some, but not to me. I think it's fine to do whichever things do make a difference - for me, that means throwing $$$ at Japanese hair products; for you it might well mean fancy moisturizer - but I think there's something to be said for being cynical about such things, whenever there's an entire industry asking that you do X.


Autumn Whitefield-Madrano said...

Congratulations! The flattering-yet-comfortable is a spot worth finding. Not all my brassieres (brasseires? I've been drinking) meet that criterion, but enough do. In any case, glad you found it. And as a Lululemon convert, I'm happy to make my case for them as well whenever you've properly recoiled from Journelle shock. (For now: odor-proof! And I work out hard! But more, later, later!)

Absolutely with you on spending in the right places. I don't care enough about my hair to spend tons on it; when my hair was short it was worth it to have an amazing cut, but now that it's long honestly I work the whole bedhead thing to the point of ridiculousness, and spend nothing. And coconut oil is the only moisturizer I need. But expensive primer! Expensive BB cream! I am sold and you cannot convince me otherwise, even though I'm generally with you on the cheap-color-cosmetics front.

caryatis said...

"The amount of grooming-and-spending women are told we need vastly exceeds that which any individual one of us requires to look our best..."

Yes, but it does not necessarily follow that any individual woman's grooming is unnecessary...true, according to what you've said, for some women who straighten their hair every day, and also true, from personal experience, for those of us who can't fathom not wearing a bra. It's really all very subjective and difficult to judge...there really are women who feel naked without false eyelashes...

Britta said...

If it makes you feel better, if you take really good care of your expensive bra, it will last you much longer than a cheap bra. I have a 9 year old bra that still fits (and one that fits well enough I still wear it, though not as well as it used to), because I always hand wash it in cold water with that special bra washing powder. I had a matching bra to the first one that got stretched out because I washed it with regular detergent, so the special bra stuff really does make a difference. My to-go-to workhorse bras are three years old, and I still wear one on the outer hook, just now switching to the middle. The other one is getting too loose, but I love it so I might sew in a fourth hook, since the cups have kept their molding well. Conversely, bras I bought for $30/each at a Macy's sale, and almost all the bras I've gotten from Nordstrom's Rack or Ross have stretched out after about 2 years of usage, or sooner if I've fudged on how well they fit in the first place.

I've become somewhat of an expensive bra convert now, at least enough to be annoyed by all the women on the internet who want a quality, supportive, well-fitting bra that they can machine launder in warm water and costs less than $40. Psychologically, I've moved bras from underwear/t-shirt category (where I am pretty cheap) to the shoes/coat category, where I more easily recognize that being too cheap is actually a waste of money and daily comfort.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


My Lululemon resistance in the end came down to two things. First was, I finally tried some on, and none of the current styles were the leggings, if that makes sense. There was one pair that came close, but then the reviews of those online were largely about how some previous incarnation was great, but the new version is junk.


"it does not necessarily follow that any individual woman's grooming is unnecessary" and "It's really all very subjective and difficult to judge"

Agreed - so much so that this sentiment was right there in the post, if clumsily-expressed. This is what I meant when I was saying that while I spend up on hair-goo, others do the same on moisturizer.

I'm assuming, then, that you expressed this as if we have a disagreement here b/c of the earlier post. As in, that I was trying to tell women who need bras that they don't. As in, that what I was doing was the equivalent of a woman with straight, wash-and-go hair asking black women why the fuss, why the relaxer. When what I was trying to do (again, perhaps clumsily) was to say, look, I too am a woman who by all accounts needs a real bra. My point was that women in that category can *also* question the convention. Now, the answer might be, 'no, I really do need one.' In which case, fair enough.


Bra-washing powder??? What have I gotten myself into? Handwashing in cold water with gentle detergent I can understand. Is there a particular one you recommend?

"all the women on the internet who want a quality, supportive, well-fitting bra that they can machine launder in warm water and costs less than $40."

This is also interesting for a kind of off-topic reason, which is that it gets us back to the whole fast-fashion, 'we' demand $5 tank tops issue. It's tough to know what anything should cost, as in, past which point one is paying for something gratuitously high-end. I think a lot of us have a sense of what a bra should cost that's set at what our budgets were as 14-year-olds. I can remember a time not long ago at all when I felt massive shopping guilt for dropping $30 on this item. I on some level knew that bras could cost hundreds of dollars, but figured that anything over $50 was surely pure decadence.

Britta said...

Hi Phoebe,

I use Forever New in the powdered, which you can buy off of Amazon. I mean, I feel like shoes is a good analogy, in that there really is a difference between cheap and quality shoes, which is often reflected in price, though the sky is the limit on the top end. My personal feeling is a good bra is around running shoe price--$60-$80, but you can usually find a bra that works discounted online for around $40-50, or cheaper if you're really lucky, but it's hard to count on. I buy about 1-2 bras every 2 years, so I'm willing to spend more.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I'm intrigued. And possibly overspending on running sneakers.

More for Caryatis,

What this also gets at - and I've blogged about this before - is this idea that sometimes we may want to skip whichever beauty ritual not because it isn't doing anything for us, but because we're not under some cosmic obligation to look our best at all times. There's something to be said for knowing how to look one's best, but I think a lot of the feminist objections to time-consuming or pain-inducing beauty rituals can be dealt with by basically saying, this doesn't need to be about 24/7/365 maintenance.

Now, this of course doesn't apply to bras for women who are honest-to-goodness uncomfortable not wearing one/not wearing a supportive one. For other women, though, it perfectly well might.

caryatis said...

Phoebe, I didn't really think we were disagreeing. Just a naturally argumentative writing style, I guess. And you make a good point about the gulf between special-occasion and daily discomfort.

In secure facilities like jails, underwire bras are often confiscated--in theory because the wire could be used for self-harm but in practice part of demolishing a person's pre-institutionalization self-image. Perhaps this is why the bras=patriarchal oppression argument never resonated with me, because my personal experience was with being oppressed by lack of an adequate bra.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Agreed in your agreement.

As for the jail angle... I think something like this is true with primping more broadly. As I mentioned once before, a lack of primping in someone who generally primps isn't necessarily some kind of feminist enlightenment - could be, this is a woman who has become depressed.

And... it's complicated. That a woman who's depressed or imprisoned doesn't have the same beautification options doesn't magically negate the feminist critiques of the beauty industry.

Petey said...

"Why had I not found it before? Because it costs $89, that's why."

Of course, it's now inevitable that you will have a dream where the bra cost $330, doesn't fit, and isn't returnable...

caryatis said...

I guess my point was that beauty stuff and Stuff in general is part of how we build up a self, so it can be oppressive to take those identity-producing devices away...however small and unnecessary your lipstick or your underwire might seem.

And a radical change in the self, whether manifested through a change in grooming habits or behavior or choices, can indeed indicate a mental health problem.

Flavia said...


And contra Britta, I've done pretty well at Nordstrom Rack and at sales, once I found bras/brands I liked. I've also bought bras on eBay (new with tags, though their provenance may be a question...).

I admit I'd blanch at spending $89, but I'm okay spending $40-50.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Our agreement only continues.


Thanks! And yes, blanch I did. This is so not my normal kind of spending, and had I then gone and bought anything else, I would have had to head on over to student health to be evaluated for a change in my fundamental personality. (Instead I headed over to Strand, considered buying a book that was $7, looked up whether it was at my local public library, saw that it was, and didn't get it. Now have it from the library. Intellectual-priorities cred lost, but cheapness priorities intact.)

The problem here appears to be that one brand only does the trick - as can happen with mass-produced items that need to fit just so - and it's one I discovered in Paris during the sales, this blip when it was reasonably priced. (Never wise!) Of course, now that I know the one that's right, I will be on the lookout for discounted versions thereof.

Britta said...

Well, I admit I haven't bought running shoes in a while, so maybe that is a low-ball figure, and now that I think about it, it's very likely my last pair of running shoes was more around $90. $89 is not a cheap bra, but (I admit) I have spent more on a bra, something I generally don't own up to in public. My view is the first expensive bra is an investment, and then you can find the same or similar models for cheaper on the internet.

My problem with Nordstrom's rack might be I have a hard time finding my size, so I'm more likely to fudge and get a bra that doesn't quite fit, which inevitably stretches out much faster than one which does, so it might not actually have to do with the quality of the bras themselves there.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


What you describe re: Nordstrom Rack (a store I must have once bought something at, as I'm always bringing that tote bag to the supermarket) is something I've found true of sale shopping more generally. It will often come down to the one full-priced item that you're sure about vs. a bunch of cheaper stuff that adds up to more. Of course, I'm with Flavia - and you - re: the value of finding the thing that works at a lower price once you've already tried the one. That said, the other cheapness danger of sales is that they can introduce you to higher-end brands, thereby developing avoidably expensive tastes.