Greetings! I'm currently traveling around the UK for work, and of course, being the lingerie addict I am, I made sure to leave time for exploring the lingerie scene here. I'll warn you in advance that all the photos are cell phone quality since I didn't bring my camera out shopping, so please bear with me :).
I was so darn excited to have the opportunity to try on tons of bras in my size in person. I've become so accustomed to online shopping at this point that I essentially have it down to a science (hehe). It goes something like this:
- Spend tons of time online lusting over gorgeous lingerie.
- Check my favorite lingerie retailer websites at least a few times per week.
- Search for reviews, measurements, and best prices before deciding to make a purchase.
- Put multiple items in my cart, admire them, and grab my credit card.
- Feel guilty about spending hundreds on lingerie that probably won't even fit and put the credit card back in my wallet.
- Repeat steps 1-5 a few times.
- Finally order a few sets of lingerie and await them with extreme excitement.
- Tear open the package(s), try everything on, and send back 75-100% of the items.
- Get very disappointed. Repeat all steps above about once every two months.
The problem with this strategy is that I never really try on enough bras to get a feel for what I need and want, since I don't like to drop $500 on lingerie in one go, even if I will be returning most of the products. I have tried to shop in a few brick-and-mortar stores in the US but have not had the best of luck. Aside from the Eveden factory store, I have not been to a single store that carries 28 bands, and I can only really wear a 30 if the band is quite firm, which is mostly a hit-or-miss adventure.
The three lingerie stores I visited in London were Debenhams, Boux Avenue, and of course, Bravissimo. I was basically in bra heaven! Let me tell you a little bit about each store.
Bravissimo carries all of our favorite full-bust British lingerie brands (Freya, Panache, Curvy Kate, etc.) and Pepperberry is the full-bust clothing counterpart. The clothing and lingerie is upstairs and the fitting rooms are downstairs. The store is very basic - no frills, just lingerie. The store isn't very large and neither is the selection. During my visit, the staff encouraged me to let them know if I needed another size from the back room. There were quite a few sets that I loved, but unfortunately, not very much was available in my size, even in the back room.
I ended up purchasing the very lovely Cleo Marcie in size 30F and matching panties in UK size 8. My overall experience at this store was fairly neutral. There were not many things in the store that I haven't seen on Amazon or at Nordstrom, and I was fairly disappointed in the lack of options in my size. I was told that my size is fairly common among women in London, explaining the low stock.
I visited this large department store both in London and in Dundee. In London, almost everything was sold out in size 30F, so I was pleasantly surprised to see another store in Dundee right next to my hotel and thought I'd give it another go.
I was amazed at the sheer size of the lingerie department - one of the biggest I have seen, ever! The store is divided into A-DD and Fuller Bust sections, making it fairly easy to find what you're looking for. The beauty of this store is that in addition to the usual Freyas and Panaches, they carry their own line called Gorgeous by Debenhams.
The A-DD Gorgeous styles are different from the Fuller Bust styles, kind of like Ewa Michalak's S/3D and 3DM/SM divisions. The line is very reasonably priced, coming in at around 15-25 GBP (about 25-45 USD). It also helped that everything was 20% off when I went. The selection is absolutely enormous and there are a ton of very cute bras, sexy, and plain bras. Debenhams has the feel of your average department store lingerie section, but with a ton of variety and a huge size range. I would compare it to a Lord & Taylor or Nordstrom.
I was on the hunt for a strapless bra and also a regular skin-colored moulded t-shirt bra. Unfortunately, almost all of the t-shirt bras were horribly ill-fitting on me. I must have tried on over 50 bras, between the two stores I visited. The 30E's were too small in the cups but had decently fitting wires; the 30F's were a better fit in the cups but with huge, overly wide wires that dug into my armpits. I've learned that most moulded bras look horrible on me now and collapse at the bottom - I think aside from the Freya Deco, I'll have to stick with regular padded and unpadded cups.
However, I found an absolutely amazing strapless bra. It's both sexy and functional and actually has enough projection for my augmented breasts. The bands of almost all of the 30's at Debenhams run pretty firm in my opinion, so the scarcity of 28 bands at the store did not particularly bother me. Overall, I liked this store very much.
I would describe this shop as a mix of Victoria's Secret and Aerie. Compared to Bravissimo and Debenhams, it has a very girly and inviting atmosphere. Of the three stores I visited, Boux Avenue had the most warm and welcoming staff. I didn't have time to take pictures, since I got there less than half an hour before close, so I apologize for that.
The styles of bras are quite similar to VS and Aerie as well, but with a much wider size range (yay!) The primary cuts of bras are varieties of moulded cups, which as mentioned above, are usually horrible on me. However, I absolutely loved the swimsuit collection and ended up purchasing an adorable set. It's the first time I've found a bra-sized swimsuit that doesn't actually look too much like a bra.
If I had to point one key difference between US and UK lingerie shopping, aside from the obvious difference in size range, it would be the general attitude of the salespeople. In the US, whenever I enter a lingerie store, I am immediately flooded with salesgirls that try to measure me and suggest sizes without my solicitation of their services. If I mention my size, they look at me like I have two heads.
Here in the UK, the salesgirls range from neutral to friendly, but they trust that you are capable of shopping on your own and simply let you know that you can ask them if you need another size or a fitting. I can't comment on how well they measure, since I didn't need to be sized, but they did not have the attitude that they know your size better than you do. They did not bat an eyelid when I asked for an F cup in a 30 or 28 band and I never felt ashamed or pressured into buying something that didn't fit.
How I wish that US stores would adopt this attitude! It would make things so much easier. Next on my list is to visit the lingerie mecca that is Poland!
Have you shopped in the UK before? What was your experience like?