Pat Millar was a bit surprised when her daughter, Heather, at 12, asked if she could get a bra. “She had zero breast development at the time.”
Millar didn’t think it would be entirely polite to point this out, so she and Heather went bra shopping. “Heather was distracted by the frilly dresses and sparkly tops in the girls’ wear department, but eventually rather offhandedly picked a plain white training bra.” Millar suggested that she also buy a couple of sports bras, and Heather replied, “Whatever,” but was willing to make some selections.
When they got home, Heather tried on the bras, then came out to tell her brother (age 10) and father about her purchases. “I got a bra,” she said, swinging it around on one finger so they could see. “Then she fetched one of my 38B bras from where it was hanging to dry in the bathroom, and began swinging both of them around, giggling,” says Millar.
Millar says she was surprised by how casual and comfortable Heather was with the whole process, especially when she compared it to her own first bra experience: “I didn’t feel ready to get one and I didn’t want to break out of my tomboy persona to do something so girlish.”
Be sensitive to her emotions
Certainly, not all girls find it as easy as Heather did. Leslie Bauer* says her daughter Mary* “was in no hurry to get a bra, even when she began to find it painful to dance or play sports. She actually cried about it.” Bauer took her to the store and she was so self-conscious and embarrassed that Bauer went down the street to window-shop, leaving Mary with the salesperson. “It was a small specialty store, and they took the time to fit her with a beautiful (but expensive) bra that she felt very happy with. Yes, I spent more, but I figured the service they provided by doing the fitting and dealing with Mary’s emotions was worth the extra money.”
The process of purchasing a first bra depends very much on how the girl is feeling about this step, says Donna McRae, who creates custom-fitted bras for Top Hat Fine Apparel in Dundas, Ont. “You need to know where they are emotionally, and take your cues from them,”
*Names changed by request.
First bra-shopping trip
Here’s McRae’s advice for your daughter’s first bra-shopping trip:
• Training bras (or “first bras” as they are sometimes called) are usually white woven cotton and rather plain-looking. If your daughter wants something a bit more stylish, you could suggest a sports-type bra or camisole, which will give her more options in the colour and design of the fabric — or check out the Mary-Kate and Ashley or Hannah Montana underwear lines, which have some training bra options.
• Peer pressure can be a factor. Your daughter may want a style similar to the ones her friends are wearing, and may want to bring a friend along on the shopping trip. “Just prepare her for the possibility that the style she wants may not be available in her size,” says McRae.
• If she is developed enough to wear an A cup (or larger), she’ll be able to find a wider selection among the regular bras rather than looking only at training bras. Skip the underwires, at least for now. They aren’t needed for support and because her breasts are growing and changing, they could end up causing discomfort.
• Many girls find that one breast develops more quickly than the other, and they can go through stages of being quite lopsided. (In fact, it is not unusual for adult women to have breasts of different sizes.) Reassure her that this is common, and help her find a bra that fits the bigger side. If necessary, the other side can be stuffed with some padding for a more balanced look (ask the salesperson about purchasing pads).
• Be prepared to do lots of trying on — and recognize that your daughter may not want to let you watch. Each manufacturer sizes bras differently, so a 30AA in one brand will fit differently than a 30AA in another.
• How can you tell if the bra fits your daughter properly? Make sure that the bra straps don’t fall off the shoulders or cut into them; there is no breast tissue bulging out of the top or sides of the bra; the back of the bra is horizontal, not pulled up or drooping down; there are no visible wrinkles in the cups.
• Keep in mind what your daughter’s activities are — if she’s playing active sports or dancing, for example, a good supportive bra may be important. “Growing breasts tend to be more tender,” McRae points out. “Suggest that she try jumping up and down with the bra on, to see if it gives her enough support.”
Although that first bra purchase has the potential to be an awkward situation, McRae adds, “if you are comfortable discussing bras with her, it lets your daughter know that she can talk to you about her developing body and the things she’s going through.” Keep your shopping expedition lighthearted so you and your daughter can do a little bonding in the lingerie department and celebrate the beginning of this new stage in her life.