Penguin wearing a red bra with the text pretty and preening

Bras Around the World: Antarctica

I have been lucky to get to travel and as I go, I have been checking on lingerie habits in each location. I learned some unexpected things about Cuba and Norway, but I think that no one was more surprised than me to find an interesting bra culture in Antarctica. For this edition of Bras around the World, we are going to focus on everyone’s favorite Antarctica residents – penguins. (We can neither confirm nor deny whether the other wildlife wear pretty underthings, they mostly swam away when we tried to talk to them.)

I was able to catch up with a Gentoo colony while on Barrientos Island. Most of the females were hunting for food while the males tended to the chicks, but a few took time out of their busy schedule to chat. When it comes to bras, the Gentoo seemed to be very particular about fit and size, as well as fashion. They spend most of their days regurgitating food into their baby’s mouth and tripping into piles of guano (read: penguin poop), so they want to feel as pretty as possible.

Gentoo penguins rarely have issues with strap size, but constantly worry about band size. Every year, a penguin must molt after the mating season, before they migrate north. The adults wait until their young can fend for themselves and eat as much as possible. While they molt, they must stay still and focus their energy on replacing every single feather. This can take a few weeks! Penguins tend to put on a lot of weight at this time. Sometimes that last hook is not enough. According to a few that I spoke to, a bra band extender can be invaluable. I found a few with Strap Savers, but most Gentoo found them unnecessary.

As I further explored the island, I was happy to come across a colony of Chinstrap penguins as well. Although close relative of the Gentoo, it turns out that they have no use for underwear or coverings of any kind! I found myself in the middle of a community of 2.5ft nudists, eager to strut their stuff.

Although Chinstrap penguins are mostly monogamous, they are also vain. These adorable little guys love to run around and show off everything they’ve got, but they want to look their best. After chatting with their neighbors, the Gentoo, they learned about The Strap Saver and found an unforeseen use – chin-strap saving!  Nothing brings a penguin down more than a drooping face. It is a custom, non-surgical face lift. It also shows a sign of wealth, since Chinstrap penguins do not have adjusters and require the Double Strap Saver Solution to look their best.

More power to the penguins for doing what makes them happy!

While the idea of penguins in bras sounds funny, they are losing their habitat and it is not a laughing matter. Pollution, over fishing and rising ocean temperatures are threatening their homes and their future. To help save the penguins, learn more about them and what you can do to help.   Also, if you can’t get enough of their cuteness (and we can’t!), you can help scientists and grab an eyeful by counting penguins in images on Penguin Watch.

a storefront of la belle, in Alesund, Norway

Bras Around The World: Norway

In June, I had the opportunity to visit one of the few places in the world that experience the midnight sun, Norway. It is an amazing country, known as the land of the fjords, the Vikings and the trolls. (If you’re looking for Frozen reference, you might as well stop reading right now1).  The trolls didn’t impress me, but the fjords and the descendants of the Vikings definitely did. Many Norwegians are quite tall. And blonde. And beautiful.

Alesund, Norway

I can’t travel somewhere without taking a peek inside of a lingerie store. We stumbled upon La Belle, a pretty shop on one of the main streets of Ålesund. Once inside, it was quite large and looked like any lingerie boutique that I might find in the United States. It was pretty, feminine and welcoming. They had many of the same brands that we find in our small boutiques: Marie Jo, Freya, Fantasie, Wacoal. There was one German brand that I didn’t recognize but I didn’t take a photo or write down the name. I really wish I had, it was beautiful. (I’m also wary of the staff thinking I’ll see it here and then buy it online!)

The woman behind the counter was very friendly although her English was limited, as is my Norwegian. (I know important words, like iskrem! – ice cream) We managed to communicate and I told her a little about the Strap Saver. I can’t tell if she wasn’t impressed or didn’t understand. (you have your answer to that, I have mine) We were able talk about the bra culture in Norway.

Sightseeing in Geirangerfjord, an hour from Alesund. It was a long day!

She said that fancy bras were popular but that she found that many Norwegian women often wore a size too small. She wasn’t sure why. The saleswoman also said that the customers who came in from other parts of Europe, especially Eastern Europe, understood their size and were able to find what they needed quickly.

When asked the hand-wash vs. washing machine question, she emphatically said hand-wash. I wonder if putting bras the in the washing machine is something only Americans do. Maybe European machines don’t have the “delicate” cycle that we claim works just as well as hand washing (but, doesn’t). Is having a washing machine with enough buttons to launch the space shuttle is also only for Americans? Europeans don’t tend to be as concerned with bells and whistles – and space is at a premium.

I did notice the boutique prices were similar once converted into USD, which surprised me given that the cost of living in Norway is much, much higher. (2 burgers, fries and a soda at a walk-up counter was $25!) I wish I had thought to find a department store or even a discount store, to compare the quality and cost. I was too busy staring at the fjords, eating cheese, and driving on some pretty crazy roads (well, riding and navigating, Marc did the driving). It is hard not to in such an amazing place.  If I’m ever lucky enough to go back, I promise to find more information.

Have you ever been to Norway?  What was your favorite spot?

1Yes, Arendelle is loosely based on Norway but even the 8-year-old girl traveling with us got caught in the beauty and forgot the Disney story – you know, the one where the sister without the magical powers, cool dress, or song is the true hero….

Habana, Cuba

Bras Around The World: Cuba

A beautiful street corner in Habana, Cuba

One of my dreams in life is to set foot on every continent and now that I’m obsessed with bras, I plan on checking out lingerie stores as I go. If I find anything interesting, I’ll report back in our new series “Bras Around the World”. Here’s the first part!

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting Cuba. We took a tour that started in the center of the country in Camagüey and ended up in Habana (and it’s Habana, not Havana – like Rome vs Roma. Who knew? Apparently the Cubans…). Cuba is a beautiful country with wonderful, friendly people. It was amazing to get a view that most Americans have never seen. I could go on and on about it, but this is about the bras (if you want more, comment below and I’ll add more about what we saw).

To start, material things aren’t plentiful in Cuba* due to the US embargo and the collapse of their major trading partner, the Soviet Union, in 1991. Given the potentially limited options, I wanted to understand their bra culture. I was able to check out two different options, a department store in Camagüey, a the third largest city located in the center of the country, and a lingerie store in Habana, the capital.

bras behind a counter in a department store in Cuba

Bras behind the counter in Camagüey

The most surprising thing about the department store in Camagüey was that all of the bras were behind the counter. I wasn’t able to touch them (and I didn’t want to bother anyone since I wasn’t going to buy). The selection was limited in size, color and style compared to what I’m used to seeing, but the store wasn’t that large.

The bras ranged from $4.50CUC-$8CUC – which equals approximately $4.50-8USD. It might not sound like a lot to many of us, but Cuban salaries are low. Although the official average salary is $25/month, a recent survey says that they make $50-$200/month. That means a single bra is .2-.7% of a Cuban’s income in this store.

Lingerie store in Habana, Cuba

Lingerie store in the capital

I was curious if I would find something different in the capital. Giselle, our tour guide, warned me that they don’t really have many “lingerie stores” like they do in the US but one had recently opened in Galerias de Paseo, an upscale shopping center across the street from our hotel.  Giselle was very sweet and offered to translate for me. I also brought samples of The Strap Saver with me. I was curious what they would think of our product.

My first impression of Boutique Diamante was that it looked like a mini-Victoria’s Secret. It was bright, colorful, and full of women eager to find their next bra. The bras were more expensive here than Camagüey, $8-$20, but they were prettier as well. The store also had a much larger selection.

The friendly managers of Boutique Diamante

The friendly managers of Boutique Diamante

The best part of going to the store was what I learned by talking to managers. Yes, as I suspected, bras are not easy to find in Cuba and they are very expensive. Despite the expense, the store still managed to do a brisk business. The inventory in that particular store was imported from Panama. The women were interested in The Strap Saver and thought it was a great idea – once I was able to demonstrate it. (I speak French, not Spanish!)

Giselle, our tour guide

Giselle, our tour guide (yikes, I’m tall)

We started to talk about size and durability and that’s where the conversation was the most interesting. The bras that they have in Cuba don’t seem to be made as well, especially the ones imported from China.

They also do not have the variety of sizes that we do. The store did not carry anything larger than a size D. Wait, WHAT? I explained that the American woman’s average size was a 36C and it’s not uncommon to find bras through a size H. They were very surprised.

I asked what a woman does who is larger than a D (I’m a 32DD!) and they replied that she either makes do with what she has or hopes that she knows someone from the States. Either way, we all agreed that it’s very expensive to be a woman in Cuba. Unlike food, housing and education, bras are not subsidized by the government.

Marc and I overlooking Parque José Marti in Cienfuegos (it was HOT!)

Marc and I overlooking Parque José Marti in Cienfuegos (it was HOT!)

I learned so much about people, life and bras while we were in Cuba. Because they have access to so little, they waste little. Much is repurposed and I admire that, even if it’s done out of necessity. I hope that they do not lose that once the embargo is lifted and they have access to more.  Instead, I hope that we can learn from their ingenuity and creative problem solving skills.

Also – there was one way that I found that the Cuban women are unified in their bra culture that’s “better” that American women are not – I was told that they ALWAYS hand wash. :)

*this is not a comment on either the US or Cuban governments, it’s more about the way that things are.