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Inner Beauty, Personal Style, Power Figures

Freddy Zappe, Bra Fit Specialist, on the Art of Bra Fitting

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Seventeen years ago, when Freddy Zappe started answering the phones at the bra company that would become Eveden—renowed for its full-bust brands including Elomi, Fantasie, Freya and Goddess—she hadn’t the slightest idea what she was doing. Today, she’s among the most revered bra fit experts in the world.

A model-dancer-actress accustomed to traveling the world, Freddy had zero sales or lingerie experience, but when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Freddy returned to New York to be with her. “I had to work for my own sanity. You can’t sit by someone’s bedside constantly; they don’t like it. I thought I’d do it for a few months and see what happened.”

What happened is this: Freddy became a Power Figure. She’s still traveling the world, this time as Eveden’s national fit specialist. Every day, she asks of herself, her industry and the women she meets the same question: How can I fix this? 

“It’s endlessly fascinating,” Freddy says. “Women come in all shapes and sizes, and because we have the tools to fit full bust and full figure—we now go from A to K cup, from a 28 band to a 56 band—we can fit virtually everyone.” Here’s how….

Freddy Zappe, national fit specialist for Eveden

Tell us how you basically invented this job.

At first, I was sent to Saks, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman to look after the product—make it look pretty, maybe sell something. It was a mystery what was happening in the fitting rooms. The sales associates invited me in, and when I started working with customers, I fell in love with it. I was coming from this genuine place of, “Isn’t it amazing what we can do for people?” I finally understood what “the perfect fit” meant. It was exciting, heavenly. I felt like a little piggy in clover; I couldn’t wait to get to work. Then, as now, it was all about the customer. I didn’t even realize that by learning about the competition, you could help more people and become an expert in a field.

We weren’t in all the stores we’re in now; we were a specialty business. I was the only fit stylist then. Now there are 10 of us. I made it up as I went; there was no template. We are all endlessly fascinated with what we do. We meet people, travel to different stores, work with sales associates and train them. We run to challenges. Sometimes, I’ll go into a store and hear my own words being repeated back to me, like a game of telephone. If you ignite the spark in one person, you’ve done your job, because they’ll carry it forward.

How did you reach the top of your field?

When you’re passionate about something, people listen. I was lucky enough to have stumbled into this company with these incredible cup sizes. Before I knew it, we were doing up to a J. Our designers are always pushing the boundaries. Proper fit is still a problem—without a big enough range of cup sizes, going up in the band is about all you can do, and it’s the biggest mistake women make: 99 out of 100 are in a band that’s too big and a cup that’s too small. It’s that simple. Yet there’s so much to be done. It’s endless.

How do you stay you motivated?

By getting it right. More often than not, the women I work with walk away falling newly in love with themselves. Their attitude changes: “I look so good, I feel so good, get out of my way because I’m coming through right now!” That’s what it’s all about for me. It’s giving these ladies body confidence no matter the size. We have the right tools. You can change someone’s life with that alone. I can work wonders. If you know what you’re doing, you feel powerful. Women need to feel that in particular, that we’re doing something useful. In our small way, we really are, because if we can change how someone feels about herself, we have created a force for good in the world.

What does a typical day look like?

We give each store a day of us. There are always new associates to train. You spend a lot of time explaining the products. We fit the sales associates to give them the experience firsthand and we help with customers.

We also work closely with Bare Necessities. I feel that you have the most amazing customer service team; you do fantastic virtual fittings. Sometimes we all work together to help someone. There was one woman who was very, very difficult fit without having her in front of the amBRAssadors™. I hooked her up with a fit specialist near her home in Ohio. We can do that. No one is hopeless. You may think your fit issues are insurmountable, but we see them all the time. It may not always be perfect but, my goodness, it’s going to be 95 percent better than it was.

Why is it important to get women into the right bras?

Because it’s freeing. We did a fit event for teenagers not long ago because it’s never too soon to start educating. There was a girl who had never worn anything but sports bras because she thought nothing could fit her. You should have seen her smile. It was worth it just for that.

Why do you think women still get bra size wrong?

Nobody ever told us. It’s not talked about or marketed—we rely on marketing to know anything these days—so you’re not going to know unless your mom or friend gives you the right information. I had no clue myself. On a good day, I’m a 30C or a 32B, and it was just as painful and irritating and uncomfortable for me not knowing how to fix myself. Now I do, but that experience helped me understand what was needed. Once you know the basics, it’s actually very easy.

What’s the proper way to find your bra size?

First, get away from the measuring tape, which casts a very long, dark shadow: “OMG, I’m this amount?!” Everybody used to be a 36C because in the past, we didn’t have anything bigger. That’s no longer the case. Don’t worry about the number or letter.

The simplest way to fix things is to analyze what you’re already wearing. There are three main points of fit. If you’re aware of them and those three things aren’t happening, it’s a sure sign to run like the wind in the other direction. And don’t let anyone ever measure you over your clothing.

Freddy’s Fit Test

  1. The center gore of the bra has to touch your chest.
  2. The underwires should rest on the rib cage behind all breast tissue.
  3. The band needs to be snug enough to stay down parallel to floor.

If your bra isn’t tacking, that’s a sure sign the cup is too small. If the underwire is sitting on breast tissue, it’s also too small. You have to move the breast tissue forward—bring it from the back to the front, not from down to up. If you don’t adjust the breast tissue, you’re not going to get a really good fit.

Here’s the fly in the ointment: That’s your size in a particular bra, but it won’t always be, even from the same brand. All you can do is keep running this test.

What’s the best piece of advice you give women about bras?

There is no formula to crack the code, no magic bullet. People come up with very sophisticated algorithms to figure out bra size. At the end of the day, you’ve got to know what fits. There will be trial and error involved. You have to go through the process of experiencing different bras.

We do a lot of training for online customers. Bare Necessities astonishes me. The amBRAssadors listen. They know what to look for and what has to happen because they’ve seen it time and time again. They encourage and demonstrate and teach customers. Their job is to problem-solve, and they have to do it virtually. There’s a lot of back and forth. You have to work through it. Let me put it this way: When you’re on your own in a store, how long does it take to find the perfect pair of jeans? You have to be willing to put the time in with your bra, too.

When did you know your work was making a difference?

I had fit a very curvy woman into a great bra. She came back months later, and I didn’t even recognize her. She had started working out and lost weight, and her entire body had changed. It all started with our fitting. She bought a sports bra, which started her moving her body. She had never done that before. Taking that first step got her healthy. This sort of thing changes the molecules in your head regarding how you present yourself to the world. You become addicted to feeling good. She quit her high-paying Wall Street job because she hated it and was in the midst of training to be a yoga teacher. She’s a totally a different person, so happy, and I changed the trajectory of her life.

What’s your personal investment in breast health?

Ironically, I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. I was incredibly fortunate that I caught it early. You get put down this treatment plan chute, and I was so lucky to get my surgeon. The whole experience is obviously not pleasant, but it wasn’t awful-dreadful-horrible because of the people I was sent to. I got the best of care from every single one of them. Talk about doing good: These medical professionals are so kind, so passionate. Breast cancer is so prevalent, and I can now speak to it from a place of experience. Everything happens for a reason, and you don’t know it until you look back. Of course you think, “Dammit, if I have to learn one more thing the hard way…!” But I get it now.

What’s the future of the bra business?

When the bra size system was invented, they didn’t have what we have now in terms of product. The industry has really changed. Even we need to keep developing bigger cups. And I love what has happened in the last 5 years, starting with the Dove campaign. Regular women were beautiful instead of manipulated and airbrushed, and we started to look at beauty differently. With the rise of the Ashley Grahams of the world, the plus-size business has grown by leaps and bounds. The zeitgeist has changed. Curvy girls have become aspirational. It’s so positive now. We’re lucky we get to work with the products we have because we’re in the vanguard.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO FREDDY

Style icon: Audrey Hepburn. She imbued whatever she wore with her. She was so graceful and good.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be: A veterinarian.
Greatest extravagance: Facial products and yoga classes.
Hidden talent: I can speak German. I’m a first-generation American.
Little-known fact: I went to boarding school in the UK.
Best vice: I miss my glasses of wine immensely, but it’s not a great idea to drink with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.
Role model: I take bits and pieces from everyone. I need more than one person to follow. If you listen, everybody has a story worth learning from.

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Brooke Glassberg
Brooke is the editor of this here blog. In a previous life, she was an editor at Good Housekeeping and O, The Oprah Magazine. Brooke has written for Glamour, Travel+Leisure, New York Magazine and more. She’s into concerts, calligraphy, travel and her exceptionally adorable toddler and husband.
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