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Looking Hot, Feeling Cool: The Best Undergarments for Menopause


I recently went to Victoria’s Secret, where a 20-something sales associate named Sydney with a blond ponytail, a perky attitude, and a tape measure asked me if I knew my correct bra size.

“Yes,” I said, because my natural tendency is to eschew help when shopping in malls.

“What is it?” she asked — somewhat aggressively, I thought, for a 20-something with an innocent-looking blond ponytail.

I thought back to the last bra I had purchased: a cute and sexy bra-and-panty set from L’Agent, the more affordable offshoot of Agent Provacateur, founded by Penelope Cruz. I remembered reading that the famous actress, born in 1974 and the mother of two, had wanted the line to be not just for “the very young” or “the very fit.” How long ago had I made that online purchase? Two years? And hadn’t I just guessed at my size even then?

“Umm, 38C?”

She stared at my chest beneath my fitted sweater dress. “You sure about that?” she asked. I sighed; the jig was up. “No, I’m not sure,” I admitted.

She took me into the dressing room and measured me in three places. “You’re a 34D,” she said. This time it was my turn to ask, “You sure about that?”

She then gave me the Victoria’s Secret mathematical equation for measuring bra sizes — which I can’t repeat here because it didn’t make sense to me in the first place, because I don’t have a degree in mathematics. Suffice it to say, I did as Sydney said. I tried on a 34D bra — and it fit perfectly. It felt comfortable and looked great. I was sold.

I now tell all of my friends — and I am telling you — that you need to swallow your pride and stand in a dressing room wearing a pair of tights and an old bra (or you can plan ahead better than I did and dress accordingly), and let a sales associate at a lingerie store measure you so that you, too, can wear a great-fitting bra. You will stand straighter, look sexier and more polished, and feel much more confident.

And if you think you’re wearing the right size bra, know that 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size (not guilty! At least, not anymore!) and that one in five women’s breasts become larger after menopause.

Where to Find Bras in a Wide Variety of Sizes

If your bust size is too large to shop at Victoria’s Secret, know that the online store Bare Necessities carries bras in sizes up to 56J. If you’re looking for a brick-and-mortar store (and you aren’t lucky enough to live near a wonderful independently-owned lingerie store, such as The Pencil Test in Portland, Oregon, for example, which specializes in sizes D and above and provides a measurement-taking experience one friend describes as “life changing”) one mall store that does carry more expansive sizes is Torrid, which carries sizes up to 48G online and up to size 46G in stores. Savannah, a sales associate in Madison, Wisconsin, says that along with traditional bras, Torrid also carries very supportive bralettes and very supportive sports bras, which she says many women going through perimenopause and menopause find comfortable.

Get Comfy

Speaking of comfort, many women swear by the online company Third Love, which doesn’t make you measure yourself, but finds your fit through a series of questions instead, provides a money-back guarantee, and stocks bras in sizes from A to K cups. Yummie, another popular and comfortable brand, makes bras that come in only three sizes (S/M; M/L; L/XL) and are stretchy and unstructured with removable cups, which are not only extremely comfortable, but also useful for breast-cancer survivors who have had mastectomies.

Breathe, and then Shop Breathable

In terms of what panties to wear with your bras, traditionalists — and by that I mean doctors, sales associates, and mothers — tend to recommend cotton because it’s “breathable.” The website suggests that cotton briefs and bikinis are ideal because they offer full coverage, don’t create chafing problems, and are made from natural fibers which don’t irritate the skin. The authors advise against thongs, which they say can cause urinary tract infections. (There may or may not be other reasons not to wear thongs. Some women find them very comfortable; some women find them very uncomfortable. The two sides, like those who prefer Pepsi or Coke, must agree to disagree.)

Wick Away Moisture

While cotton may be the more traditional choice, panties made out of moisture-wicking material are gaining popularity for women experiencing perimenopause or menopause as well. Brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Hanes, Lululemon, Patagonia, and ExOfficio all make sports-panties with wicking technology that are popular with sports enthusiasts as well as with perimenopausal or menopausal women experiencing hot flashes. “I discovered the genius of moisture-wicking underwear for hot flashes by accident,” my friend Monique, an avid cyclist, told me. “I needed to do laundry, and I was all out of regular panties. All I had left were my moisture-wicking ones. I went to work, had about ten million hot flashes, and stayed dry all day. I thought, moisture-wicking technology, it’s not just for cycling anymore — now that I’m 50!”

Keep Cool While You Catch Zzzzs

The first time I had a night sweat, I awakened hot, sweaty, and certain I was coming down with the flu. I kicked off the covers and stripped off my sweatshirt and flannel pajama bottoms. About three minutes later, the feeling disappeared. I felt fine, pulled the covers back over me, and fell back to sleep, only to wake an hour or so later, shivering in in the November cold of Wisconsin. An old pro at perimenopause by now, I know exactly what to sleep in: tank tops and cool summer-weight bottoms, long cotton or bamboo t-shirts, sleeveless nightgowns. Some friends swear by sleepwear that uses moisture-wicking fabrics. Other friends swear by sleeping in the nude. As a California-transplant to the Midwest, I’m just not prepared to do that in the middle of winter in Wisconsin, but in a temperate climate, or in summer, that just might be the most sensible and economical solution of all.

Shop for Shapewear… for Arms?

Think about all of the things your 20-something self would find hard to believe about your present life. Somewhere on that list (perhaps right after “What do you mean you don’t live in Paris?!”) has got to be the assortment of shapewear in your closet or drawer, and perhaps nothing would be more perplexing to her than the idea of arm tights. A new layering shapewear product by Spanx, arm tights are made from hosiery and are meant to be worn underneath tank tops, sleeveless shirts, and sleeveless dresses for women who feel self-conscious about their arm “flab” — or crepey skin due to decreasing estrogen caused by perimenopause or menopause.

There is shapewear for pretty much every “problem” a woman might see in her figure: a single pair of shapewear shorts can cinch a tummy, lift a booty, slim thighs, and grant three wishes… (okay, perhaps I made the last one up.) And yet, as one browses shapewear on Amazon, one begins to suspect that one is shopping for a miracle, not merely desiring to control a “meno-pot,” but I suppose that the difference between feeling “so-so” and “fabulous” in a body-hugging dress or jeans can indeed feel rather miraculous.

Why Not Expect Miracles?

Perhaps that is the lesson of peri/menopause and undergarments, after all. When we’re experiencing hot flashes and night sweats, we’d like to look hot, stay cool, and keep comfortable all at once.

And on our best days, with the right undergarments, maybe we can.

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