I have a bra lady.
Her name is Iris, she has an eponymous lingerie shop on Atlantic Avenue, and for the past 10 years she, with her Xray vision and prodigious ability to size up a rack, has been outfitting me with beautiful, flattering undergarments. Prior to Iris, I went to a since-retired older woman in Park Slope, and before that, I would schlep out to Boro Park once or twice a year to visit these two aging sisters with a hole-in-the-wall shop on New Utrecht Avenue. All of them mistresses in the dying art of bra-fitting. Indeed, as a self-identified “busty lady,” I had not purchased a bra without the intervention of an expert since high school. Until 2020, that was.
Home, as we all were, and inundated with influencer campaigns and targeted ads, I decided to take a chance.* To cast off my Gen X ways, and join the throngs of Millennial and Gen-Z women buying their lingerie online, at a fraction of what I was spending with Iris. Lingerie that looked modern and beautiful and sexy in photos. Lingerie that supported women-owned tech start-ups that pledged to rethink the bra- and panty-shopping experience. Companies dedicated to convincing me—and everyone else—that Iris and her ilk were relics of the past. Who, these companies posited in their body-positive ad campaigns, knows your shape better than you?
In my case, it turns out, the answer was Iris. Several experiments, and many, many returns later, I went back to Iris’s storefront with my tail between my legs, desperate for her to fix my situation and return my girls to all their glory. Eager, even, to open my wallet and pay a premium for her no-nonsense expertise. Grateful when she—as every great bra-lady throughout time has done—barged into my dressing room, shaking her head at my slack bosom in my terrible internet brassiere, and handed me what she called “bras that actually work.”
Of course, this situation is very specific to me. Chances are, you’re reading this and have no need for a bra lady. But the experience got me thinking about expertise more generally, and the ways in which it has become devalued in favor of the supposed convenience and allure of online and big-box commerce. Because make no mistake, what Iris and many small brick-and-mortar specialty stores offer to us is expertise.