my Chantelle moment

by Susan Pringle

My lingerie choices for the past two years have been very restricted. Four rounds of surgery, bloating from treatment and lack of exercise, and hey presto, my band size and bra requirements both went up, and my confidence shot down. Like many women moving on from breast cancer treatment, this aspect of life remains a challenge.

I decided to do some bra market research, and see how far I could get past my imposed lingerie restrictions, so off we went to Birmingham, home of the Bull Ring and mecca for fashionistas of the Midlands. First stop, Selfridges.

The lingerie department was discreetly tucked away, good place to start. On close inspection it was tiny; only a few well chosen brands and not much choice. High on my wish list was non-wired, that’s what I’ve been wearing for two years, and like or it not, feel comfortable in. Calvin Klein won the prize for the only bra in this category. Plain, stylish, but very padded, and I do mean knock yourself out padded. Undeterred, I de-robed.

I should probably mention at this point that I was co-shopping with a fashion expert from Nottingham Trent University, also an experienced lingerie designer (very handy). Sue’s role for the day was to evaluate style and fit, and encourage me to try on things I wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole.

CK bra on, I bravely ventured out into the small space outside my rather uninspiring changing room (was I in Sainsbury’s or Selfridges?!). I felt like I’d got someone else bra on, but my cleavage had re-appeared (thought I’d lost that two years ago), and there I was looking down at some serious boost. Now, you might think I’d be mighty pleased about this? Erm, more like uncertain. It didn’t ‘look quite like me’

Regardless, the bra was declared ‘a good fit’ and duly purchased.

Next stop, Debenhams. Now I could bore you with the grim details, but I wouldn’t want to waste either your time or mine. Suffice to say, there were 1000’s of bras, poorly merchandised, and completely underwhelming as a customer proposition (you can take the girl out of retail, but you can’t take retail out of the girl). I tried on two bras, both disastrous, the Triumph was comfortable yes, but gave no shape whatsoever, and a simple Playtex style, though I don’t think that particular design had ever been seen by a lingerie designer, surely? It was awful. Sue found a tee shirt bra for herself at £15 though, so all was not lost.

After refueling, our next stop was House of Fraser. This is a quaint old store, I bought my 21st birthday party dress there decades ago, and it’s not changed much since (an aside). Now, I have to say that my expectations were low; my local HoF lingerie department is pretty poor. Thankfully, I was quite surprised when we entered a large, well-stocked, contemporary looking department, with an array of brands to choose from. My expectation level rose. Could they live up to it?

Sue was in full flight by now, and she hovered up armfuls of fabulous bras in minutes. The first few were tried on with Sue’s careful evaluation, and by this time, I’d lost all fear of standing around in my bra and talking about my breasts. An assistant who’d been discretely lurking then stepped up, and suddenly we entered a whole different shopping zone, guided by a an expert bra fitter, Sam. She knew her stock, her fitting, but most of all, how to engage with her customer; she ‘got’ me.

In all we spent 2.5hrs in said fitting room, countless bras tried and tested, and 4 happy purchases made.

But I must tell you about my ‘moment’. Sam brought in what I can only describe as a lingerie vision; a wispy, flimsy, beautifully crafted piece of Chantelle magic. I frowned, my expression conveying the instant doubt in my mind that said lingerie gem would come anywhere close to meeting my specific needs and wishes. Undeterred I tried it on and looked up into the mirror.

Standing there looking back at me was someone I’ve not seen in a very long time. A feminine, sophisticated, sensational looking woman, in a glorious piece of kit; ‘is that really me?!’ I mused.

That was my Chantelle moment, when for a brief time, all the pain and sadness from what has happened to my left breast disappeared. I stood there taking a slow studied look at myself, as it began to sink in that something inside me had been restored.

Did I buy the bra you ask? Actually no, the band was a little too loose, and tempting though it was, I stuck to the new fitting rules I had learned. It doesn’t really matter, because I had something else to take away with me that day, a newfound confidence to go bravely out into the lingerie world and find solutions to the comfort, style and function wishes I have.

My adventure takes me into wear testing my clutch of new bras and making a really honest evaluation of how comfortable they are. Elle McPherson is test no.1. So far so good, but I’m ready to swap back into something a little more comfortable after a few hours. The Calvin Klein has been returned, too much boost for me and probably a giver of unwanted extra body heat.

If you’d like to join in millie’s quest to develop stylish, comfortable, well fitted lingerie for women after breast cancer treatment, please get in touch.

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