Lori Kaplan knows underwear—whether it’s worn by a Broadway star or a new mom. Her 22-year-old company Bra Tenders professionally outfits undergarments—including everything from briefs to girdles—for celebrities like Bette Midler and Brook Shields, and the casts of Gypsy, Hadestown and Mean Girls. From her midtown showroom, she also helps regular women in need of some shaping and uplifting—in both body and soul.
“It’s my job to help folks maximize their assets, and hide or minimize any flaws, whether real or self-perceived. Ninety percent of the women who walk through our doors are wearing the wrong size. With a little coaxing, and the right bra, women can be persuaded to look at the whole package and stop obsessing over their slightly larger left breast,” Kaplan says.
This is especially true for new moms whose bodies often change after having kids—sometimes dramatically. Many women end up with a softer belly which may or may not firm up depending on genetics and how much the skin and tissue stretched during pregnancy. Also, dropping estrogen and progesterone levels, plus the hormone prolactin, initially make breasts even bigger than they were during pregnancy. And they could stay this way—or not. They may also get smaller than they were before pregnancy and they will most likely sag a bit as well. Good news, right?
Even after the postpartum swelling and breast changes subside, many moms find that their bodies are never quite the same as they were pre-baby. That’s why they should definitely be refitted for bras and underwear, Kaplan says, noting that Bra Tenders carries 81 sizes in bras—which should cover the subtle differences in just about everyone.
Plus the bra-whisperer is pretty sure you don’t even know your proper size. “Your own mother probably never learned her size either,” she says. She is constantly amazed that women know their social security number but not their bra size.
“There is no one to teach girls how a bra should fit, and left to their own devices at Victoria’s Secret, they buy what’s cute, rather than what fits.” Kaplan says.
Kaplan started her company after years working in retail and developing a reputation for finding the right fit—especially for Broadway actresses, such as Patti LuPone in Gypsy. She provided hosiery and corsets—including thigh-high fishnets and matte Lycra hose for Rock of Ages—earning herself the reputation as “the Sherlock Holmes of underwear, sourcing the ‘I can’t find it anywhere’ items theater folks clambered for,” she says.
While she still provides the undergarments for many Broadway productions, her current 2000-square-foot showroom hosts private clients by appointment. She also sees clients online and even consults with young girls who are getting their first bra-fitting.
An average bra-fitting takes about 30 minutes, if a woman is purchasing a new bra wardrobe. On the other hand, Kaplan says that “brides can take forever just to buy one item. It depends on whether the woman is a difficult fit, open to wearing the proper size (some of them won’t). All women are shocked by their actual sizes, finding out they are not 36C, but 32F!”
In addition to bras, Bra Tenders sells shapewear and other accessories. “A proper fitting bra, sometimes coupled with a piece of shapewear, can make you look smooth, lean, long, and confident to wear clothes you have shied away from,” Kaplan explains
In fact, making women feel beautiful and empowered is her primary mission. “I want them to embrace their bodies and love themselves and accept the muffin tops and belly bulges as parts of a beautiful and unique whole,” she says. “My favorite part of the job is watching women transform from miserable and unhappy to uplifted and feeling good about themselves.”
Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMetroParents. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York Magazine, Salon, and Travel & Leisure,—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.