May. 26, 2017
An Entirely Politically Incorrect Take On Bra Shopping
my experience proved that personnel working in lingerie departments of German-speaking countries have a knack for bra-fitting fine-tuning.
One of my clients, graced with a large bra cup and a relatively narrow back which I estimate as a 34D, once asked me the best place to buy lingerie.
In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, I fired back at her without thinking. This is where one heads when one needs to set up one’s bra bar and wishes to avoid contributing to the proverbial 80% of women who wear the wrong size bra. This is not because Germany is particularly rich in good bras. These days many Western brands have a decent selection and can be found anywhere Wi-Fi reaches. Having an assortment of good lingerie is a prerequisite but the real quest comes in picking the one that fits. This is where my personal experience proved that personnel working in lingerie departments of German-speaking countries have a particular knack for fine-tuning. And fine-tuning is instrumental in finding a good bra. Absolutely no one compares to these women, and I am a bra geek, so sit down and listen up.
I once spent two hours in the fitting room of a Berlin lingerie department with a shop assistant bringing me one bra after another. I do have a tricky 30DD size, which is not even close to what your wild imagination may serve to you. It simply means that every bra shopping trip is a stormy odyssey and can be combined with neither leisure shopping nor site seeing. After two hours (this is not a figure of speech) of trying different bras the German shop assistant concluded that, to her dismay, she must admit that their department simply did not have the right bra for me at the time. Now, this is what I call professionalism. Only in Germany.
Several years later I had another similar experience in Vienna, with a lingerie specialist spending nearly as much time with me, editing out bras that looked okay to me, but did not adhere to her high standards. From that store I emerged with a bag full of bras: I got the entire stock of the style she approved. No other country’s lingerie department staff can compare to the precision and dedication of German women selling bras, and I bra shop uninhibitedly; sometimes in a purely anthropological probe.
A couple of years ago one might recall a sensational scandal involving Oprah trying to buy a purse in a boutique in Switzerland. The shop assistant refused to show an insanely expensive purse to a black customer assuming it was beyond her means. This is how Oprah took it and this is how it was presented in the US media at the time.
Shit continued hitting the fan for about a month- racism sells- and every online publication had its own take on the situation. All of them missed the point completely.
The Swiss storeowner stated in an interview that he was not going to fire his shop assistant. He did not tell us why. But I will.
The Swiss shop assistant who had casually turned down Oprah’s request to show her yet another high end purse was expressing her expert opinion which included style advice. Her profession means giving honest style advice, even if it was a silent editing out. It was unsolicited advice, indeed; Oprah did not ask for it, but this is what many small European store managers assume as their duty. In many small European stores, the shop assistant position is not a revolving door. People tend to work there for decades and actually regard it as a profession, not a temporary way of meeting obnoxious health care costs. In their old school approach they try to make sure you get good value for your money, and Oprah was talking money. It was some good, gently pre-loved Audi Q5 kind of purse.
That shop assistant must have estimated that the hue, style, size, or whatnot was not befitting her customer’s image and was not worth the splurge. Was she paternalizing? For Americans, indeed she was. But in the Old World setting this was the assistant’s code of conduct. A typical American mentality shaped by commission-based Neiman Marcus customer service found this a hard concept to digest.
Many a time, in the stores of Germany and Italy, I have heard shop assistants telling me bluntly with their accents: this is too tight, this color does not work for you, this is not right. Some, fewer and fewer of them, are not there to simply run your card. They are there to take care of you. Unfortunately, Oprah missed the point completely and the scandal contributed to the spread of tourism-geared customer service.
In my personal experience, the lingerie departments of German speaking countries enjoy a particular concentration of this dying breed, perhaps because this is not where tourists typically crowd. So if you are up for the ultimate couture fitting experience or you’re looking for an alternative to your eco-tourism in Tuscany or you are simply ready to set your bra bar higher up, D-cup or not, I suggest that this is where you head for your next culture-intensive prowl.
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