Fifteen years ago, Deborah Winthrop of Deborah Winthrop Lingerie had a dream (literally) that she opened a lingerie store. Without any retail experience but armed with some research and desire, her dream became reality in 1999 with her first store in Middletown. That store moved in 2008 to Clock Tower Square in Portsmouth and in 2012 she opened a second location in Newport. She credits Flora Tougas Doré, who worked for many years in Newport retail, as a major influence teaching Deborah the skill of accurate bra fitting. The Newport native, mother to three and grandmother soon-to-be of seven, Deborah lives in the Fifth Ward with her husband Harry.
What is the most important step in buying a new bra?
You need to be professionally fitted. The customer needs to have someone measure her rib cage and have that number match the band size. Customers think that a B cup is a B cup but it is not. If someone is a 32B and this other person is a 40B, they are very different in size. All cups are not alike! Flora taught me how to eyeball the chest for sizing and I am usually right on.
What are some of the biggest complaints women have?
Back fat! I will have the skinniest girl with the smallest shape come in and I will put her in a bra and she will say, “I can’t wear this bra, it shows my back fat.” Or I will have a large customer who looks great in a well-fitted bra but then they will talk about their back fat. I don’t know where this comes from. Fitting is not just about the breast, it is about the shoulders and the excess under the armpits, which becomes more apparent in the late 40s and 50s. I work with all of this to create illusion. If the bra fits correctly nothing is going to fall out.
What are some misconceptions?
Unfortunately today, young women are influenced by Victoria Secret’s advertising, which shows models wearing bras not properly fitted. They are selling sex. It also has come to be accepted that it looks okay to show your bra straps like showing it as a fashion accessory.
What has been a big trend in lingerie?
We are getting more bras in a wide assortment of colors. The companies I carry are realizing that younger customers do want well-fitted bras but they want color and fun styles. Wacoal Bras has a line called b.tempt’d which is attractive to the younger client. It features a little push up and has pretty color bra and strap combinations.
What is the proper way to care for bras?
Just hand wash in the bathroom sink and line dry in the shower. I use a product we carry called SOAK. But a drop of dish liquid or anything that you would wash your hands in is good for your fine lingerie. You don’t want to use Woolite because it will break down the elastics in the bra. I recommend washing your bra after three to five times of use in the winter as long as you don’t sweat. In the summer it is different with warmer temps, especially if you perspire a great deal. A good rule of thumb is to own three bras, one on, one ready to go, one ready to be washed with two nudes and one black as a minimum.
In the years you have been in business, are there any changes in your clients?
Girls are developing much earlier and I can’t help but think it is because of chemicals or hormones in our food or water supply. It is troubling. When I was in high school everyone had a flat-chest. These days everyone has big chests, and these girls who come in who don’t have one are so upset. Again, the influence of those Victoria Secret models to young women is not good. I am happy we offer something for every female form.
Deborah Winthrop Lingerie 103 Clock Tower Square Portsmouth 401-682-2272.