A few years ago, I came across the ABraThatFits subreddit, where people share their struggle to find a support and transmit what they have learned. While I was moving around the forum, I often found a specific advice: go to Polish.
The Redditors mentioned some particular brands, Ewa Michalak and Comexim, but there are 47 companies listed in their "Polish guide,quot;. As a result, lingerie experts and enthusiasts have a special reverence for bras made in Poland, and a growing number of boutiques in the United States wear them.
Laura Henny, owner of Rack Shack, a boutique on Central Avenue in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, receives calls every week about whether she has Ewa Michalak bras.
She wears Ewa Michalak bras most of the time. "They are extremely comfortable, and I really like the way they give," Henny said.
Tina Omer, owner of the Aphrodite Wardrobe in San Antonio, said she uses mainly Nessa, another Polish brand, and stores Nessa and Ewa Michalak in her store.
Both owners praise the materials and construction of these brands. Most Polish bras, even those manufactured by larger manufacturers, are still designed and manufactured in Poland by hand, with fabrics and cords from Italy and Spain.
And unlike the United States, where confusion and misinformation about the bands and cups abounds, care must be taken with size. Many Polish designers follow the principles of "brafitting,quot; (in Poland, a word), which begins with the idea that, regardless of whether your breasts are small or large, simply measuring through and under the bust will not produce a bra that will adjustment.
Degree of inflation
To understand Polish bras, you must first understand brafitting. The practice originated in Britain, and is hotly promoted and discussed by an online community of frustrated bras, fitters and manufacturers around the world.
The fundamental principle of the cuff adjustment is that the band of a bra, the number in the size of someone's bra, provides most of the support, and in many cases should be smaller than what standard size methods spit.
There is a lot of technical terminology (my breasts are not "sagging,quot; but "hanging,quot;). And, of course, community battles ("Strapgate,quot;) arise.
A basic agreement between brafitters? American bras, for the most part, don't fit.
"When I see underwear in the United States, even in movies, it's a disaster for me," said Agnieszka Jablonska, a British-trained brafitter who works in sales for the Polish brand Samanta.
For a long time I thought it was a 36C because that's what they told me in Victoria & # 39; s Secret. When I entered five (!) Measurements on a calculator that approximates the principles of brafitting, created by the people of Reddit, it said it was a 32F.
Producing a wide range of sizes is complicated and expensive, so companies that produce bras for large chains avoid it. Many American brands, with notable exceptions, such as Rihanna's Savage x Fenty line, only go up to D, DD or DDD cups.
But brafitters say that D cups, when adjusted properly, are for the breasts generally perceived as small, and that many women who wear them may prefer the adjustment of cups E, F, G or H (and more). If someone in a chain of stores measures you and says that you are a DD cup, it does not necessarily mean that you have huge breasts, they say, it could be that DD is the largest size the store has, and they want to sell it to you The brafitting community distrust Big Bra. The cultural notion that D cups are large is really just a peculiarity of industrial production, and the decisions of individual companies to increase margins whenever possible.
In 2008, Julia Krysztofiak-Szopa started a Polish online discussion forum "community of bras,quot; called Balkonetka. Thousands of women published detailed reviews and photos of their bras.
A few years later, he moved from Warsaw to Palo Alto, California. When he looked for bras of his size, 34HH, in Macy & # 39; s and Nordstrom, he discovered that almost everyone stopped at D.
Then Mrs. Krysztofiak-Szopa began ordering her bras from Poland. For several years, she and her sister sold Comexim-made bras to American women, through a company they started calling Wellfitting.
"I thought, This is really strange: supposedly the largest economy in the world, with a mass consumer market, massive shopping centers and no strange bras, "he said." And Americans don't have a small frame at the end of the day. So I was very surprised to see that there is something strange about how American brands treat their consumers, trying to enclose them in only four sizes and trying to tell women that if they don't fit, there is something strange about them. "
On a recent trip to Poland, I decided to see if I could find the perfect bra and find out for myself why the ones made there are so special.
I started my search in Kazimierz, the Jewish district of Krakow that is now in fashion, in a small boutique called Brafitteria. I noticed some certifications of brafitting on the wall, including some of the courses of the British lingerie company Panache.
British lingerie companies were the first to produce wider size ranges. In the mid-2000s, after Poland joined the European Union, bras made by these brands returned to Poland.
Local manufacturers began expanding their own size ranges about 10 years ago after pressure from online communities like Balkonekta.
After trying about 10 bras under the gentle guidance of a brafitter named Ludmila, I bought a Prussian blue with pink floral embroidery sprays in the glasses, of the Samanta brand (209 zloty, about $ 55). It looked like they had tattooed me. (A signature of Polish bras are narrow wires and deep cups that conform closely to your body).
"The Polish cable fits perfectly," said Agnieszka Socha, who started the Professional Brafitting Academy, which teaches and offers certification in practice, in 2011. She prepared me on the basics of Polish bras before my trip. “If you just put it in the chest, it fits as if someone did it just for you. It's not too wide, it's perfect. "
Next: the mall. I thought I had to. At Ewa Bien, a shop in Kazimierz Gallery, I tried my favorite design of dozens of bras I tried on my trip: a beige balconette with yellow and green floral embroidery, and a salmon pink trim on the cups. It reminded me of a botanical drawing, and it was on sale for 158 zloty (about $ 40).
In another store near the mall, the brafitter said my breasts were asymmetrical. This would not bother me, but none of the other times they measured me was mentioned. That store made me tired, so I stopped in a pierogi hut before going to bed early.
The next morning, I took a train to Lodz, the third largest city in Poland, three hours north of Krakow. Ewa Michalak and Comexim have their base there, and that weekend a lingerie fair took place. I wanted to see if I could find a perfect bra at the source.
Lodz and the surrounding region could be called the lingerie capital of Poland. During the years of the People's Republic of Poland, a government-run lingerie company in the area was an important employer. In the early 1990s, that factory exploded in hundreds of independent lingerie companies.
"Almost every second house did something in lingerie," said Marzena Pudlowska, co-owner of KrisLine, founded in 1992. KrisLine is one of the few companies that managed to survive beyond that period, in part, Pudlowska thinks, due to her decision to Respond to consumers by expanding their size range.
New designers like Ewa Michalak and Comexim had the perfect ingredients to make bras with a worldwide reputation: manufacturers with decades of experience, access to high quality materials and the willingness to produce bras that fit almost everyone.
There are no fluffy sofas in the Ewa Michalak factory. Once in the tester, you will be asked to remove everything above and bend at an angle of 90 degrees. They will measure you with bare breasts hanging towards the floor.
Around 100 women visit the factory each month for this experience, from as far away as Canada and Australia. The designer is famous for designing some of the bras that best fit in the world, particularly for larger breasts.
Ms. Michalak's cousin, Gosia, who works at the company, put on latex gloves and placed a measuring tape on my back, measuring the circumference around my hanging nipples. I rested my hands on the wall to keep my balance. The precision and discomfort of this method gave me absolute confidence in him.
Ms. Michalak – long blond hair with pink ombré tips, pink high heels, cat eye lenses – watched from the corner, offering notes to her staff in Polish. Not sure what I was saying, but it sounded expert.
Ms. Michalak used to design lingerie in other companies, but she got bored. She began attending meetings of the online fasteners forum Lobby Biusciastych, or "Busty Lobby,quot;.
There, she asked the women to try on bras that she had designed herself. This is how she developed her unique size method.
She explained that if someone has hanging breasts, measuring while standing does not really tell you how much chest the bra should support. Nor measure someone who already wears a bra.
"With larger and, therefore, heavier breasts, different technical solutions for fasteners are needed," he said in Polish, with his staff helping to translate. "In fact, a completely different approach to building bras is in order."
I had never bought a padded bra before, they never looked good, but I left with two that looked great: a tan dive with a drop of pearls in the center (about $ 54); and a black lace with decorative strips (around $ 61).
No one needs to be reminded that there are many more important things to worry about than underwear. (In Poland, as in the United States.) But many women wear bras every day and, like other banal aspects of everyday life, considering them in depth can reveal subtle injustices of the market. The market determines which bodies are normal and, by extension, who deserves clothes that fit well.
I didn't find a perfect bra in Poland, but I left with five new ones that help me to be a little taller. Before I discovered the brafitters, I often saw my reflection in a window as I walked. I would feel a little embarrassed by the excessive movement of my chest and my hunched posture.
But I didn't perceive that the bras didn't fit. I just thought that my breasts had a strange and abnormal shape.
Ms. Socha said that for a while, Polish bra manufacturers sought validation abroad, the way a woman could look at clothes to validate ideas about "normal,quot; bodies.
"Sometimes, we think, as a country, that maybe we are not good enough," he said, "but we are."