For women only: the Bra Guru
By Margaret M. Toohey and Vicki G. Marshall

History records that Ida Rosenthal, a Russian immigrant, and her husband William went into business as the Maidenform Company in the 1920s as a protest against the notoriously flat-chested flapper girls of the Roaring Twenties. Ida developed bras for every stage of life—from puberty to maturity—and is responsible for the creation of the “cup” measurement system to determine bust sizes.

Now, a latterday Ida is “bringing bra awareness to a higher level.” In fact, those are the opening words of a fascinating website,, dedicated to all things brassiere, starring Bra Guru Elzbieta Ruczkowska. In an unusual diversion from our customary adventures in the culinary world, Margy and Vicki were invited to participate in a special seminar devoted to the proper fitting and selection of this important feminine undergarment. The seminar was held at the new Barton Hill Hotel & Spa in Lewiston. The inn hosted what it called an “uplifting weekend.” The first night featured the Bra Guru herself, who promised to share her bra secrets and offer personal fittings.

An émigré from Poland, Ruczkowska has worked for the last fifteen years in the New York fashion scene in women’s retail with stints as a Victoria’s Secret manager and at beauty houses like Giorgio Armani, Theory, and Estée Lauder. She developed impeccable bra credibility as a bra specialist for Bergdorf Goodman. Ruczkowska travels the country sharing her expertise with women who, for the most part, seem surprisingly unaware of the errors they make with every bra selection. In particular, women fail to account for the grave importance of proper fit. Ruczkowska promises to “educate the individual woman with the fundamentals of proper bra fit and support, as well as coach lingerie boutiques on the specifies of proper bra fitting techniques.” Her goal? By 2017 women in the USA will be as knowledgeable about bras as they are now about Starbucks. A lofty and noble commitment, indeed.

For those women old enough to remember, the lingerie areas of large department stores were the place your mom took you to purchase that first bra, the “training” bra. You were fitted by that kind, professional sales woman who tried desperately not to embarrass you, even if it was one of the most embarrassing moments of your life. From that point forward we mostly just bought whatever size looked like it would fit, or whatever size we thought we must be, and rarely concerned ourselves with anything more than how pretty it was. If we gained weight, we bought a size up; if we lost weight we bought a size down, maybe. According to Ruczkowska, we were doing it all wrong.

So, Margy went to the seminar (Vicki was unavailable) and, as promised, her individual forty-five minute session covered a lot of important information. During her time with Ruezkowska, Margy learned about and discussed the following: her breast size, shape, and condition; her body past and present (Was she losing weight? Was she pregnant or going through menopause? Had her body weight been steady for the past few years?); her lifestyle, career, fashion style, and existing wardrobe; her budget; how often she should replace her bras; and the best bras for the proportions of her torso, waist line, shoulder width, neck length, décolleté, and body shape. It was a very thorough discussion. Who could have guessed so many issues were so critical in the world of lingerie? And, what’s more, who knew one has to have different styles of bra based on the style of our outer garment? Here are Ruczkowska’s “Seven for Seven” rules:

• Two full-coverage bras to provide maximum support (preferably lace because it is much stronger than a microfiber).

• Two plunging bras for all décolleté tops (these will be the pretty bras, probably lace with support foam, light and dark color).

• Two basic microfiber t-shirt bras (nude and black).

• One neutral-shaped, everyday demi bra made of lace.

• If you exercise, add one sports bra for every day you exercise.

The Bra Guru website lists Ruczkowska’s calendar of events and locations where the seminars are held. In addition, there is a wealth of information available on sizes—the average retailer carries twelve to sixteen sizes, but the Bra Guru states there are over 250 different bra sizes to be had. Who knew?

According to the Guru, if you are a woman who cannot wait to take your bra off as soon as you get home, you need to meet with an expert bra fitter—not just anyone, but the best one you can find. In Western New York, Blum’s in the Walker Center (5110 Main Street in Williamsville) offers custom fitting of lingerie and bathing suits and a wide selection of sizes. Open since December 2002, this is a second location to the original Patchogue store. Blum’s service includes the tradition of old-fashioned bra fitting, swimwear all year round, professional fitting for everyday bras, bridal and formal, and post-mastectomy needs. No doubt the Bra Guru would approve.

Vicki G. Marshall is a graphic designer. Margaret M. Toohey is CEO and owner of the Lewiston Insurance Agency.


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