There it was, sitting on my bed when I got home from school one day (I was 12): A tiny box containing a soft pink racer-back bra. I put it on. It fit. In the weeks to follow, others appeared, all just as mysteriously, all courtesy of my mom, who eschewed embarrassing conversations.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have a daughter. And one day, she’s going to need a bra. Should you take my mom’s patented approach to first bras? While it worked for us, most would agree that a trip to the bra boutique — together — is in order.
How do you know it’s time? Your daughter just might ask for one but “if she’s wearing layer after layer of clothes, she’s got a cami, a T-shirt, a sweater overtop that, and is totally covered up — yet it’s warm out — it means she doesn’t want to show her body,” says Diane Thomson, owner of Vancouver specialty shop Dianes Lingerie. Thomson, who has 25 years of fitting experience, says this is often indicative of embarrassment around growing breasts.
For your part, casually let your daughter know that if her undershirt or tee feels uncomfortable against her nipples, or her breasts are sore, it’s time for a bra.
As with sex ed, the age you think is about right may in fact be too old. Back in our day, first bras were junior-high/middle school territory. Today, some girls barely out of junior primary grades need them. “Nowadays they’re usually between nine and 11 when they come in for their first fitting, but 20 years ago they started at 12 or 13,” says Thomson.
And, don’t be surprised if you experience a pang of sadness as your daughter matures. “One minute she was your little girl, and then one day, she says, “Mom, I don’t want you to be in the room when I get dressed,” says Thomson. It’s something you may expect from a teen, but from a fifth-grader, it stings. Don’t take it personally — she just needs her privacy.
Privacy is one key reason to go to a specialty bra boutique. Professional fitters are experts at gaining the trust of jittery teens and tweens. Call a specialty store and arrange to meet a senior fitter. Once there, let your daughter know you’re nearby browsing, but don’t hover unless she invites you. The fitter will bring her some suitable options, most likely soft-cup bras offering snug support (and padding to reduce that “high-beam” effect she’s probably hating).
Once she’s got her first stash of three to five bras, she’ll need refitting at least once a year, says Thomson. If you’ve established a relationship with a particular boutique, consider leaving your credit card number, if your daughter’s old enough to shop on her own or with girlfriends. No reputable specialty bra store will sell your kid exorbitantly priced or “sexy” lingerie. That reassurance isn’t something you’ll get if you let your daughter loose at the mall.
For single fathers, first-bra shopping can be one of those just-shoot-me experiences, though less awkward if you have a close relationship to begin with. “My daughter (now an adult) simply told me she needed a bra when she was 13,” says Stuart Fergusson of Ottawa. The divorced dad took her to a department store, scouting around for a “motherly looking” sales clerk to help. For dads finding themselves in a similar position today, he suggests going the boutique rather than department store route. “Your daughter won’t have to worry about 1,500 people walking past, or being embarrassed that someone might see her there with her father,” he says. Many specialty boutiques have a separate waiting area for men. Alternatively, just ask the staff what time you should return from Starbucks or The Sony Store.
Yuki Hayashi plans to book her own fitting (“80 percent of women wear the wrong size!”) concurrently with her daughter’s in six years.
Diane Thomson suggests girls start out with a soft-cup bra for comfort and to accommodate growth. The back strap should also fit to the tightest hook when tried on, so she has plenty of room to grow into it.