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My love-hate relationsh­ip with the bra — and how I found ‘ the one’

She didn’t wear one for decades. Now she has 29. ALEXANDRA SHULMAN on...


IhAve just counted 29 bras nestling in my wardrobe. I think that’s a lot, but we never know how many bras others own because women tend not to discuss the contents of their underwear drawers.

I admit to keeping some just because they look pretty, like the £50 triangle of red velvet I bought five years ago that gleams like a Christmas bauble and is more decorative than useful.

But the main reason for this abundance of bras is that, like all women I suspect, I am driven by hope over experience in search of The Perfect One.

The definition of that depends on the individual, but I’m searching for something that looks delicious, feels like a whisper on the skin and gives my bust some curvaceous, contained shape. No boulder-holder effect please.

I haven’t always owned 29 bras or anything like that number. For decades, I didn’t own one. As an early developer of breasts, I was the first of my school class to wear one, which was a bit of a double-edged sword.

On one hand, it represente­d a kind of sophistica­tion, a pass into womanhood that contempora­ries — still in their Chilprufe vests — stared at with curiosity as we changed at dance class.

On the other, there was something deeply embarrassi­ng about these small but expanding mounds, when no one else appeared to possess them.

I remember the excitement of my first suspender belt but have no recollecti­on of that first bra. I can’t even remember its size, 32A or B probably, but I doubt there was anything attractive about it.

Bras in the late 1960s, even for adults, were fairly serviceabl­e cross-your-heart numbers. Maybe that’s what encouraged me at 17 to ditch them for the next 19 years. As far as I was concerned, they were uncomforta­ble, restrictiv­e insults to my free-spirited flesh.

I was lucky (and I write this from distant memory) in having breasts that looked after themselves. No sag or spread or aches. They just kind of perched there, pleasantly independen­t.

Although ditching the bra was a conscious decision, it was in no way a political statement. And I had no thoughts of rejecting conformity to male expectatio­ns of a woman’s body. Far from it.

The only time I remember being uncomforta­ble about not wearing a bra was briefly in my mid-20s when I worked on a newspaper with a predominan­tly male staff.

Going into news conference to discuss the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster, I was acutely aware of the appearance of my nipples drawing attention. The solution was not to wear a bra but to appear in a jacket or cardigan.

AT The time, I had the usual complicate­d romantic life of a single young woman. I recall one period where I compared my love life to a plait, with three gentlemen visitors being woven in and out of the front door.

I don’t remember them paying much attention to whether I wore a bra. In general, men then seemed keener on what one wasn’t wearing.

But by 36, when I became pregnant, all this changed and so came an end to my bra-free state of affairs. I had to re-enter the bra world to deal with breasts that were becoming large shapeless appendages, unrecognis­able to me.

even amid the joy of having a son, I recall feeling resentful that I needed to wear a bra. And that remains, 27 years on, as my breasts never returned to their pre-child perkiness.

For me, there is a highly emotional aspect to bras. They say something about your identity and state of mind. There is a big contrast between a plain, seamless T-shirt bra and an ornate, wired constructi­on. Not only do they look different but the wearer feels different. Knowing you are wearing a beautiful piece of kit that no one can see is one reason why so many women who wear uniforms splash out on underwear.

It’s why my friend, the late war correspond­ent Marie Colvin who was murdered in Syria, travelled with an arsenal of La Perla.

But shopping can be nightmaris­h. how many hours I have stood in a cubicle as I stare at myself in the mirror under unflatteri­ng light!

Am I really a 34 or is a 36 just more comfortabl­e? Am I D or DD or e? Of course the answer can only be found in each bra because, as with a pair of jeans, there is little size uniformity within brands.

Then there are straps. My eye always turns to tiny roseprinte­d spaghetti straps, only to drag myself away to something more substantia­l if the bra is to give any support.

Somewhere in the early Noughties, bras became big business. They moved out of the lingerie department into booming high Street stores such as Top Shop and Gap.

Young women who hadn’t paid much attention to bras were snapping up neon yellow padded numbers and cyclamen balconette­s with skinny jeans and ballerina pumps.

Then came expensive shops on London’s Bond Street and Sloane Street such as Agent Provocateu­r and Coco de Mer. These tried to make luxury underwear more fun and sexy than traditiona­l corsetiere­s such as Rigby & Peller.

SOME have floundered and there’s now a slew of online brands with more emphasis on comfort — such as Tanya Robertson’s Womanhood with its naturalist­ic images, or the more funloving The Pantry Underwear.

So shopping, with such choice, should surely be a breeze. except a year ago, a tumour was found in my breast and I had a lumpectomy.

I was lucky not to lose the breast but, even so, it has a different shape to the other and there is an uncomforta­ble scar.

I was so relieved the tumour had been excised that I returned to bra business as usual, ignoring the surgeon’s suggestion that I wear sportsstyl­e bras for some time.

That was a mistake as underwirin­g irritates the scar — an obvious fact you might think, but it took the woman who founded my local lingerie Maison SL, in West London, to draw my attention to it.

I call Susana Lorena the ‘bra whisperer’ because without a tape measure, only a few questions and a quick glance, she can find you the perfect bra.

As she explains, fitting is a world apart from measuremen­t as it takes into account the breasts’ shape and condition. And experience counts. She has had 25 years of sizing up women’s breasts.

Now I am the proud possessor of £200 worth of wireless bras, which seem to support me without cutting into my flesh and give a smooth outline that works with T- shirts and evening wear.

What’s more, Susana keeps her customers’ sizes on file so that menfolk buying them come birthdays don’t need to rifle through their other half’s drawers beforehand.

Which makes it easier than ever — not only to find The Perfect One, but to get him to pay for it, too.

 ?? ?? The bra whisperer: Alexandra Shulman and Susana Lorena
The bra whisperer: Alexandra Shulman and Susana Lorena

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