The topic of women's undergarments - namely, bras - is one that women aren't terribly eager to discuss.
For example, being fitted for a bra is considered stressful and demoralizing by, in my estimation, about 85 percent of women, and many of these women either refuse it entirely or ignore the advice given to them by fit specialists.
Of course, stocking a bra collection can get pricey, especially considering that it's not going to garner looks of admiration from people on the street like a chic coat or great pair of boots would. But it's worth it, because even the best clothes can't look their best without the right stuff underneath.
Building an everyday collection
Are you ready for me to spout the same wisdom that you hear and ignore every time you buy a women's magazine? Great. Here it is: Most women wear the wrong bra size, so you need to get fitted at a store. Feel free to get fitted at several stores, if you really like to have a lot of opinions on the table. But once you have your response - or the same response three different times - that's your size. End of story.
Nordstrom's intimates department is notorious for their accuracy when it comes to bra fittings. If you're on a budget, that may not seem like the right place to go, but Nordstrom carries brands like DKNY, Calvin Klein and Betsey Johnson that all fall in a reasonable price range. When you tell an attendant you'd like to be fitted, also throw in some brands that you're looking for. She'll naturally bring in one bra that's twice the cost of the others, and another whose price tag makes you wonder if the thing is padded with emeralds. Ignore these two.
Be prepared to hear a size that's different from what you've been wearing comfortably your entire life. Most commonly, your actual size will be one bust measurement smaller and one cup size bigger than what you've been wearing. That means your bras are being held up by the shoulder straps and not the back strap, which can harm your posture and makes you look far less perky than you actually are. Your real size will probably feel tighter around your back, and that doesn't mean it's too small.
You might also be way off, or just incorrect about the cup size. It's rare that women go too small with the bust circumference, as that might cut off circulation, or even worse create the dreaded back fat.
A decent bra runs between about $30 and $50, though specialty undergarments might be a bit steeper. This is also what you'll pay at a retailer like Victoria's Secret, and although I can't vouch for fittings there because I've never experienced one, I will say that Victoria knows her stuff. While it is possible to find great bras on sale, I recommend that if you're starting from scratch, purchase two without worrying about the best deal. Concentrate instead on comfort, quality and how it looks. With each bra you try on, put your shirt on as well, to see if the shape looks natural. You'll mostly be wearing it underneath clothes, after all.
Some experts say you need at least seven bras in rotation. I think that's a bit lofty, and that you can pare down to two flesh-colored bras for daily wear, one fancy, one black, and one strapless.
"What kind of bra do I wear with THAT?"
Ah, a familiar phrase for all of us. That perfect dress is just hanging out on a sale rack, marked down to 70 percent off, and you pass it up because you're pretty sure they haven't invented an undergarment that can go under it.
One of the best new solutions I've found is Victoria's Secret's multi-way bra, which is a normal bra with a detachable extender strap that wraps around your waist, pulling the back of the bra down. It's great for backless dresses, and the shoulder straps can also be adjusted into halter or one-shoulder styles. Best of all, you can attach the extender to any of your regular bras. It's far superior to the backless, strapless contraption I wore to my high school homecoming that attached to my body with adhesive. No joke. This may be necessary in some cases, but should be considered a last resort.
Never pass up a great shirt or dress thinking there won't be a solution. There probably is. For the best results, bring the garment with you.
(E-mail Kristyn Schiavone at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter at @KKSchiavone or write to her c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.)