A few years ago, I stumbled upon the subreddit ABraThatFits, where people share their struggle to find a bra and pass along what they have learned. While scrolling through the forum, I often came across a specific piece of advice: go Polish.
The Redditors mentioned a few brands in particular, Ewa Michalak and Comexim, but there are 47 companies listed on their “Polish guide.” As it turns out, lingerie experts and enthusiasts hold a special reverence for bras made in Poland, and a growing number of boutiques in the United States carry them.
And unlike in the United States, where confusion and misinformation abound about bands and cups, care is taken with sizing. Many Polish designers follow the principles of “brafitting” (in Poland, one word), which begins with the idea that regardless of whether your breasts are small or large, simply measuring across and under the bust will not produce a bra that fits.
A guide to brafitting
To understand Polish bras, you first need to understand brafitting. The practice originated in Britain, and it’s touted and heatedly discussed by an online community of frustrated bra shoppers, fitters and manufacturers scattered around the world.
The fundamental tenet of brafitting is that the band of a bra — the number in a bra size — provides most of the support, and in many cases should be smaller than what standard sizing methods spit out.
There is plenty of technical terminology (my breasts are not “saggy” but “pendulous”). And, of course, community spats spring up (“Strapgate”).
One basic agreement among brafitters? American bras, for the most part, don’t fit.
“When I see the underwear in the U.S., even in the movies, it’s a disaster for me,” said Agnieszka Jablonska, a brafitter trained in Britain who works in sales for the Polish brand Samanta.
For a long time I thought I was a 36C because that’s what they told me at Victoria’s Secret. When I entered five (!) measurements into a calculator that approximates brafitting principles, created by the Reddit folks, it said I was a 32F.
Producing a wide size range is complicated and expensive, so companies producing bras for big chains avoid it. Many American brands — with notable exceptions, like Rihanna’s line Savage x Fenty — only go up to D, DD or DDD cups.
But brafitters say that D cups, when properly fit, are for breasts generally perceived to be small, and that many women wearing them might prefer the fit of E, F, G, or H cups (and beyond). If someone at a chain store measures you and says you’re a DD cup, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have large breasts, they say — it might just be that DD is the biggest size the store has, and they want to sell it to you.
The brafitting community is leery of Big Bra. The cultural notion that D cups are big is just a quirk of industrial production and decisions by individual companies to increase margins wherever possible.
In 2008, Julia Krysztofiak-Szopa started an online Polish discussion “bra community” forum, Balkonetka. Thousands of women posted detailed reviews and photos of their bras.
A few years later, she moved from Warsaw to Palo Alto, California. When she looked for bras in her size, 34HH, at Macy’s and Nordstrom, she found that nearly all of them stopped at D.
So Krysztofiak-Szopa started ordering her bras from Poland. For several years, she and her sister sold bras made by Comexim to American women, through a company they started called Wellfitting.
“I thought, this is really weird — supposedly the largest economy in the world, with a massive consumer market, massive shopping malls, and they have no freakin’ D plus bras,” she said. “And Americans don’t have a tiny frame, at the end of the day. So I was very surprised to see there is something off about how American brands treat their consumers, trying to lock them into just four sizes, and trying to tell women that if they do not fit, there’s something off about them.”
Trying the Polish way
On a recent trip to Poland, I decided to see whether I could find the perfect bra, and find out for myself why the ones made there are said to be so special.
I began my quest in Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Krakow that is now trendy, at a tiny boutique called Brafitteria. I noticed a few brafitting certifications on the wall, including some from courses by the British lingerie company Panache.
After trying about 10 bras under the gentle guidance of a brafitter named Ludmila, I bought a sheer Prussian blue one with sprays of pink floral embroidery on the cups, from the brand Samanta (209 zloty, or about $55). It looked as if it had been tattooed onto me. (A signature of Polish bras is narrow wires and deep cups that mold closely to your body.)
“The Polish wire just so perfectly fits,” said Agnieszka Socha, who started the Academy of Professional Brafitting, which teaches and offers certification in the practice, in 2011. She prepped me on the basics of Polish bras before my trip. “If you just put it on the chest, it fits like somebody made it only for you. It’s not too wide — it’s just perfect.”
The next morning, I took a train to Lodz, Poland’s third-largest city, three hours north of Krakow. Ewa Michalak and Comexim are based there, and a lingerie trade show was happening that weekend. I wanted to see if I could find a perfect bra at the source.
One could call Lodz and the surrounding region the lingerie capital of Poland. During the years of the Polish People’s Republic, one government-run lingerie company in the area was a major employer. In the early 1990s, that factory broke out into hundreds of independent lingerie companies.
There are no fluffy couches at the Ewa Michalak factory. Once in the fitting room, you will be asked to take off everything on top, and bend over at a 90 degree angle. You’ll be measured with your bare breasts hanging toward the floor.
About 100 women visit the factory every month for this experience, coming from as far as Canada and Australia. The designer has a reputation for engineering some of the best-fitting bras in the world, particularly for larger breasts.
Michalak’s cousin Gosia, who works at the company, put on latex gloves and draped a tape measure on my back, measuring the circumference around my dangling nipples. I braced my hands on the wall for balance. The precision and awkwardness of this method gave me absolute confidence in it.
Michalak — long blond hair with pink ombré tips, pink high heels, cat’s-eye glasses — observed from the corner, offering notes to her staff in Polish. I’m not sure what she was saying, but it sounded expert.
I had never bought a padded bra before — they never fit right. But I left with two that looked great: a tan plunge with a pearl drop in the center (about $54); and a black lace plunge with decorative straps (about $61).
Of course, there are many more important things to be concerned with than underwear. But many women wear bras every day, and like other banal aspects of daily life, considering them in any depth can reveal subtle injustices of the market. The market determines which bodies are normal, and by extension, who is deserving of clothes that fit.
I didn’t find one perfect bra in Poland, but I left with five new ones that help me stand a bit taller.