Are y'all ready to talk about representation in lingerie, body positivity, and the politics of bra fitting? Awesome! SweetNothingsNYC is a lingerie blogger and bra fitter based out of New York City. Her work is geared to the full bust crowd, but her lingerie expertise (and fabulous baking recipes) make her blog well worth a visit. Plus, she's written some of the most compelling articles on body positivity and lingerie that I've ever read.
Y'all, this is a long interview. I tried to cut it down. Honest. But part of why I love Sweets’ blog—and part of why I asked her to interview for Bluestockings!—is because of her incredible writing voice: her passion for body image, for diversity in lingerie, for just being so goddamn real and telling it like it is. This woman might seem sweet as sugar (and she totally is), but she holds nothing back.
Courtesy of SweetNothingsNYC. Photo by Caryn Leigh Photography.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got into lingerie.
Hi! I’m Sweets, a 30-year old New York City resident, originally from Virginia. I like lingerie, ballet, theatre, cooking and baking, reading, and my cats. I work in a traditional corporate environment, so I use a nom de plume.
I developed large breasts fairly young, and I was tall at an early age, so I felt intensely self-conscious about my body for a very long time (the ballet classes didn’t really help in this regard). It wasn’t until after my college graduation that I had my first bra fitting with a sympathetic and knowledgeable fitter, and I started to realize that if I wore a size and style that worked for me, bras actually did what they were supposed to do.
This was around late 2007, and the online lingerie landscape was SO different, and it took several weeks of surreptitious Googling at work before I finally stumbled across Bravissimo. I started seeking out the big UK brands like Panache and Freya and never looked back.
What is your lingerie philosophy?
My lingerie philosophy is that anyone who likes lingerie should wear whatever the hell kind of lingerie they want, regardless of "perfect fit/support" or whatever. If they are having fit issues and want advice, I want to help if I can.
While my personal experience is that my sense of my body (and my happiness with my body) changed drastically once I understood bra fitting, I'm still really wary of a lot of the language some people in the industry use when they talk about fit (you'll be happier! you'll look thinner! confidence! higher standard of living! etc.). I think it's reductive and insensitive at best, and insidiously patriarchy-affirming at worst.
I won’t deny that a good bra fitting can change some people’s lives. Personally, I feel more confident, I look on my body with more kindness, I can run and do yoga and exercise with minimal interference. Five years after that first fitting I started a blog that has brought me so much joy—I NEVER could have imagined it! So I’m super thrilled with bra fitting, but I just don’t think it’s fair to say that a bra fitting will change everyone’s lives. Lingerie isn’t a priority for everyone, and nor should it be. Some people have had terrible bra fitting experiences, or they need sizes that simply aren’t manufactured, or they have physical limitations that make bras uncomfortable or unwearable.
Lingerie isn't one size fits all, so while Sweet Nothings started by explaining bra fit (I mostly started the blog to write about all the fun things I'd learned about bras for my friends and family), I'm becoming more and more interested in making sure that people who want help or want more information get it, so that they can then make decisions that suit their styles and tastes.
What are some of the most common issues lingerie-wearing folks come to you with? How do you address those concerns?
Because I write about full-bust and full-figure lingerie the most, I tend to get questions from people who fit or who think they might fit into those categories.
I really like it when people come to me and say “I really like x or y about my bras, but I feel like I’m missing a or b.” It feels more collaborative that way, and it helps me understand not just what might fit a client, but what that client might really like to wear. I’ve found some of the most challenging fit issues arise when fitting people with petite busts—wire shape and placement make a really big difference, and I usually spend more time with those clients, because every small adjustment can make a big difference in terms of comfort and shape.
Courtesy of SweetNothingsNYC, wearing Angela Friedman. Photo by Lydia Hudgens.
You blog a lot about body image (one of my all-time favorite blog posts on any website, ever, is “You Are Not a Cup Size”). How has blogging about lingerie developed your views on body image?
I think (hope) that I approach both my body and my clients’/readers’ bodies with ever-deeper levels of nuance and understanding. This isn’t news, but there is so. much. shit. constantly blasting out of various media outlets about women’s bodies, and some of it is so scarily subtle we don’t even realize it. Writing the blog, reading my amazing readers’ responses and comments, and reading other people’s blogs has helped me turn down the volume on some of the shit, so that when I do hear it, it catches me off guard. I think it’s a good sign—I’m better able to recognize bullshit when I hear it or see it, and to dismiss it for what it is.
I’ve had to reexamine my views on body image this year, because around two years ago I gained a little more weight than I wanted, and last February I started working to lose it. It’s been hard, and I’ve slipped up (there was a cookie tray in the break room today, and yeah, I hit that). Basically, the part of my brain that’s like “NO ONE should dictate what you do with your body—you are beautiful at any size!” is fighting with the part of my brain that’s like “Yeah, I am not super thrilled about me personally being this size, and it’s actually complicating some things and maybe I should take some steps to uncomplicate them?” And I feel conflicted about feeling different, like maybe I’m letting down All the Women if I feel better about my body when it’s smaller. It’s also easy to set “sizes” as milestones, especially because for me, as a bra lover, because a smaller cup size means there are more bras I can wear! I should actually go re-read “You are not a cup size” because I need to hear it right now!
Body image probably isn’t something that will ever be “cured” for everyone, because the messages are both loud and insidious. But I will always come down on the side that says that no one should be shamed, or hated, or judged for their body.
Courtesy of SweetNothingsNYC. Photo by Lydia Hudgens.
Ballet has played a big part in your blog (e.g. the gorgeous Christmas photo shoot!). How does your “real life” intersect with your blog life? More generally, do you have tips for people looking for ways to synthesize their hobbies/interests with their style?
As much as I try to keep my name and my job and my family off the blog, there’s a lot of real-life me there! The baking, the love of all things pretty and frilly, my catering to my cats’ every whims—that’s me in all my glory. I loved playing dress-up and imagining these lavish storybook outfits as a kid, so the ballet shoots definitely grew out of that love of fantasy and storytelling. I don’t perform any more, and any ballet skills I once had are long gone, so it was like “Okay, how can I still fulfill this creative need? I know! Underwear!”
I would love to see more people show off how their lingerie style reflects their interests. I mean, my interest in this case (ballet) has a lot of overlap with mainstream lingerie imagery anyway—pretty pretty girly girly sparkly sparkly. It would be so fun to see how someone styles, say, their archery skills, or their interest in architecture, or their love of Doctor Who. It’s an opportunity to find a way to express something we’re passionate about in a way our everyday clothes might not let us. Maybe think about what story you would tell if you could tell any story at all through your underwear. What story would bring you the most happiness to see brought to life?
What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the lingerie industry?
Diversity is a big one, language is another, and they go hand in hand. From copy that chirps “This bra fits everyone!” to brands that share “Real women have curves” memes to prints described as “oriental” or “aztec” or “ethnic” to the color beige being called “nude” or “natural” to the omnipresent male gaze, we still have a long, long way to go.
I do see improvements: during October’s Lingerie Fashion Week, only one designer presented with an all-white cast. There were fantastic models of all shapes and sizes and ages and styles, and it didn’t feel like tokenism: it felt like a more accurate reflection of New York City. Still, for every step forward, there’s someone else saying “ugh, you’re being too sensitive, lighten up,” which is really just such a dick thing to say.
And look, I haven’t been perfect with my use of ableist or exclusionary language: I’ve used “crazy” and “insane” as casual modifiers in past posts without considering how hurtful that is to people who have mental illnesses, but I’m working hard to cut that out. I’d really like to see the industry take similar steps to improve the language we use when talking about both bras and bodies. Don’t assume all your clients are thin white cisgender heterosexual 20-somethings in monogamous relationships. Name your basics appropriately: if you don’t like the word beige, there are literally dozens of words you can use instead of “nude”. Seek out diverse models, and I don’t just mean models with fuller-figured hourglass shapes. I’d like to see a more accurate representation of the extraordinary range of people who wear underwear: ranges of age, size, skin color, body type, and ability.
Who are some of your must-read lingerie bloggers and why?
The Lingerie Addict, of course. From a fitter’s point of view, I like reading Cora’s reviews, because her body type is so different from my own that I get to learn about styles and brands that are inaccessible to me, but she also thinks about lingerie, and how we respond to it, in such a vast and inspiring way. She’s invited designers, buyers, models, and writers of different ages, sizes, and backgrounds to be her columnists. She solicits amazing guest posts. She’s a tireless and passionate voice for progress.
The Lingerie Lesbian. We’ve since become friends, but when I first started reading her blog, I remember thinking, “Yes! I am so glad this blog exists! Also, this is a really good blog!” She’s a designer and artist, so I love seeing what styles and lookbooks catch her eye, because she has wonderful taste. I love her series on The Art of Lingerie, where she pairs lingerie with the works of famous artists. Her voice is also so crucial—SO much mainstream lingerie marketing is “tee hee for the boys!” which obviously doesn’t apply to women who have no interest in said boys, and she’s written some great pieces about what it’s like to be a lesbian in the lingerie industry.
Fuller Figure Fuller Bust: She’s super funny and takes no shit, but she’s also such a cheerleader for body positivity at all sizes. She actively raises her voice in the plus size fashion world by designing collections for some of the UK plus size retailers. Hers was one of the first full-bust bra fit blogs I started to read. Also, she took me out for sushi in London and was a total kick.
The Full-Figured Chest: Holly is such an inspiration when it comes to thinking outside of the full-bust box. I love reading her reviews of her custom orders from indie brands. I’m very timid when it comes to custom-fit stuff, and she picks such wonderful pieces. It makes me want to give it a try!
A Sophisticated Pair: Not only is Erica’s fitting knowledge top-notch, but her perspective as a boutique owner who blogs is so valuable. Her reviews discuss how a bra fits her as well as her customers, and she approaches bras from such a compassionate and caring perspective.
Undiegamer: A wonderful writer who takes great photos and loves underwear, cats, and video games? Who wouldn’t want to read her blog? She also tries out lots of brands that are either new to me or don’t carry my size, so I get a sense of what might be out there for my fit clients.
Courtesy of SweetNothingsNYC, wearing Panache's "Envy" bodysuit. Photo by Lydia Hudgens.
What are some of your must-wear pieces right now? Any new brands you’d recommend to the full bust crowd?
Well, they’re not really new, but I just tried my first Ewa Michalak bras recently, and I liked them! The trick there is that it’s taking me a while to nail down my size with them, and I can see how the exchange process with Poland might be intimidating to US-based customers. My full-bust bras I always recommend are well-known to much of the full-bust crowd: Jasmine and Envy from Panache, Deco from Freya (even though it’s doesn’t suit me—it’s a great bra that’s super-popular for a reason), Jeannie from Parfait, and the Panache sports bra.
For new brands, I’m really excited to try the new Scantilly brand from Curvy Kate that will launch this year. It’s unabashedly sexy boudoir lingerie up to an H-cup, with ouvert knickers and all sorts of goodness, and it looks lovely and grown up and I WANT it.
For a long-term goal I really want to do a feature/editorial or series of posts all about corsets, including a custom one, but that’s a project that will require funds. If my budget had no limit, I’d want to add tons of Maison Lejaby, Harlow & Fox, and pretty much all of my favorite indie designers like LaLilouche, Kiss Me Deadly, and Dottie’s Delights to my lingerie wardrobe. Hell, if my budget were limitless, I’d want an actual wardrobe (or a walk-in closet) for my lingerie.