A few years ago, having some spare hours in Paris I decided it was finally time to buy myself the sexy French bra and knickers combo that is almost a rite of passage for anyone in Paris. In the film Le Divorce, Kate Hudson strolls into a chic underwear boutique in Paris and quite quickly buys several sets of stunning “strings” and bras. She has boobs like fairy-cakes and a bottom to match and she was having an affair with Thierry L’Hermitte too which sadly I wasn’t. So I was looking for something more substantial and practical.
sort of WASH N WEAR SEXY…..
Avoiding the chic little Parisian lingerie boutiques and supercilious French shop assistants I made my way instead to Galeries Lafayette lingerie department where at least I could slink around unnoticed while I did my reconnaissance.
Not armed with a great knowledge of underwear lingo, I was nervous and hesitant – not to mention I didn’t even know what the sizing etiquette was in Paris – so I examined a few specimens and determined that I might be a possible 85 C.
I collected my samples wondering how one asks for “a bit of padding but not too much”, and what the words for back-fat and droopy were whilst turning my face into an expectant query and looked around for an assistant. It is my experience that French shop assistants don’t often “assist” you until you accost them first.
So I accosted a woman: “Bonjour, je cherche un soutien gorge pratique mais esthétique et je crois que j’ai besoin d’assistance” I said feeling apologetic and tense. (Why ?) We all know that feeling of inadequacy when it’s not our mother tongue and we fear rejection and being made to look foolish. If I had known what was coming next I would have strode up to her much more confidently and demanded her attention toute de suite.
The assistant looked at my selection of bras and asked me if I knew my size. “Oui, quatre-vingt cinq C?” I said timidly. I noticed her accent was not French – it sounded Baltic, Czech or Russian maybe with a bedside manner to match.
I was hustled into a cabine d’essayage (literally a cabin for trying things) and she watched from three centimeters away whilst I undressed and nervously saddled-up the first bra.
Madame Baltic immediately started Christmas turkey-stuffing me. Big hands pushed and shoved my boobs this way and that in a vain attempt to make the bra fit me.
I was no 85C.
It was whisked off with a frown and another bra thrust at me. And then another. More stuffing and snapping of elastic. Standing starkers from the waist up I tried to make light conversation:
“Vous êtes née en France?” Born in France? I asked
“Non” Encouraging reply.
“La Russie”. She was Russian. I was losing the will to try further. She seemed angry and I was sweating like a steeplechaser and so nervous with all my floppy yucky bits on display.
“Les Australiennes sont plus grande que les Francaises” I stated banally no longer caring if she agreed that I was fatter than most French women, anything to get her critical stare off my body and the exercise over with.
“Non, pas spécialement. Mais les Françaises sont plus pudiques. » she informed me. What ? French women are more shy and modest ? So what the hell was I being subjected to and why ?
I was onto my fourth bra stuffing and I was having trouble fitting them on my body as they were sticking to my sweaty flesh. These cabins don’t have air-con and it’s hot work for two women stuffing, bending, unhooking and being nervous so close together.
I was also losing my grip on the French language. “Est ce que vous avez des soutiens-gorge avec umm…..” I said drawing half moons in the air to represent underwires. In French this is called « armature » ( which always makes me think of a knight in armour)
Madame Baltic said something threatening and a bit incomprehensible about not needing armature and it spoiling the ligne and then stood silent and inscrutable. I decided it was time for me to exit stage left without buying any bra and not incurring anymore wrath.
I COULD HAVE BEEN IN A CAFE READING A BOOK FOR GODSSAKE!
“Je suis désolée mais je n’ai pas trouvé un bon soutien-gorge pour moi malheureusement. J’ai un rendez-vous en dix minutes mais je vous remercie pour votre assistance. » I said nicely. I know if I was a bra shop assistant I would have been happy with that exit strategy .
Polite, self-effacing, appreciative. I dragged my bra on over my sweaty tits, wrenched my shirt only half on exposing my stomach and whirled out of the curtained cabin sheepishly handing her ten tangled bras and smiling like a chimpanzee as she looked like she’d just lost a court battle.
“Et des culottes ?” she demanded. Did I want to look at knickers instead ? Good grief, did she really think I’d be interested in doing the bottom–half now with her?
“Er….le rendez-vous. Je vais réfléchir….” I said pathetically. She flicked me away with her fingers not even attempting to hide her contempt at this useless foreigner but I refused to think about anything other than the exit and a shower.
So, for a much more enjoyable exchange and experience buying lingerie this is what I suggest you do:
Go to a boutique lingerie shop like: Magasin de lingerie Murienne at 52 avenue des Champs Elysées and they are open Sundays and they speak English
Laure Sokol (they specialise in bigger lingerie sizes which is anything over a Kate Hudson size I find) They’re at 137, rue de Sèvres 75006 Paris in the St Germain district or on rue de Courcelles 75017 Paris, in the Eiffel Tower district
or try the one on rue François Miron 75004 Paris in the Marais district
If you would like to try the French lingo out then here are some handy phrases bearing in mind that if you have a physique like Kate Hudson then it is a much easier affair buying a bra anywhere.
- The French call a bra a “soutien-gorge” which is literally a “throat support”
The “cup” of a bra in French is called a bonnet (pronounced un bonnay) and a sexy bra is “provocative”, a flimsy bra is “supple” and a support bra “maintains” you.
- I am looking for a bra that is practical but pretty
- : Bonjour, je cherche un soutien gorge pratique mais esthétique.
- I want an elegant bra but not too sexy: Je veux un soutien gorge élégant qui ne soit pas provoquant.
- I am a size… Je fais du (and then the number as per the chart)
- I want a bra with underwire support: Je cherche un soutien gorge avec armature
- I want a bra that will not show through a T-shirt: Je cherche un soutien gorge qui ne se voit pas sous un tee shirt.
- I don’t want a bra that is too sheer and flimsy. I want a bra that will give me support: Je ne veux pas un soutien gorge trop souple. Je cherche quelque chose qui maintienne.
- Do you have the same bra in a larger cup size ? Est ce que vous avez le même modèle avec un bonnet supérieur ?”
- Do you have matching knickers ? G-string? Est ce que vous avez des culottes qui vont avec ça ? Est ce que vous avez le string qui va avec ça ?
For your information a table of conversion rates was what I was firstly missing:
Taille/Size (France) 85A 85B 85C 85D 90A 90B 90C 90D 95B 95C 95D and keep adding 5’s
Taille/Size (Us) 32A 32B 32C 32D 34A 34B 34C 34D 36B 36C 36D
My apologies to Galeries Lafayette as they may have 50 other assistants who are charming and receptive. It just was not my experience that day. They are not bra experts and so you are on your own a bit there. Or in my case not on my own anywhere near enough!