Review of ThirdLove Online Bra Shopping Experience
Bra shopping can be a frustrating, time-consuming, and overwhelming experience as you search for the “right fit.” That’s why online sites, like ThirdLove, have become increasingly popular. ThirdLove offers a fit assessment test as well as free shipping and returns to ease your pain. But how good is the shopping experience?
Getting the right fit
Let’s start with why it’s so difficult to find the right size bra. First, not all breasts are created equal. Some women need more support than others, some need a little lift, and some need a little help creating contour. The key is to find the best one for your unique size and shape.
Most women, it turns out, are walking around wearing the wrong size bra. That’s because your bra size and shape change if you gain or lose weight or if you have nursed a baby. That perfect bra that you’ve loved for the last two years might be completely wrong for you now. That’s why you need to check your size each time you buy a new bra. And that’s why finding a store that provides the most precise fit is the most important piece of the puzzle.
When researching ThirdLove, I compared it to other online-only sites, Soma’s SomaInnofit bra, which uses sensors built into a bra to measure your size in order to suggest styles for you, and the gold standard of a professional in-store fitting (I did the research before the COVID-10 pandemic).
Two online sites that stood out for their fit quiz, selection, and return policy were Lively and True&Co. However, once I went through their whole questionnaire process, I was told that they don't make bras in my size or just a couple of styles, which was frustrating and disappointing. So, these sites were a bust, no pun intended.
I should note that while I’m not off the charts, I am a full-busted woman who needs more support than say, a size C cup. Women with average size breasts will have an easier time with online shopping because sites tend to have more styles and stock in those sizes. And before you say it’s just not for women with big boobs, it’s important to note that women on the smaller size reported the same issues with size and selection.
The ThirdLove Fit Experience
I really wanted to love ThirdLove, but our relationship wasn’t meant to be. Bra sellers that use an algorithm and your inputted data to determine the right fit are only as accurate as the information you provide. If you’re not wearing the right bra size to begin with, it’s a recipe for failure.
ThirdLove asks you to fill out their Fit Finder questionnaire online, with one of the questions being “what size is your best fitting bra?” But of course, that comfy, well-worn bra that you love and think fits great might not be the size you’re supposed to be wearing. Mine definitely wasn’t. It didn’t ask for any measurements, but it did focus on the shape of your breasts, which helps make better recommendations.
ThirdLove sent beautiful bras – all way too big in the band as well as the cup. I can’t really fault them because the recommendation was based on what I told them I was wearing. But still, it was a frustrating experience. My bras went back.
ThirdLove says it sometimes takes a few tries to get it right. A spokesperson told me the recommendations are based on the data I provided as well as machine learning from past users who answered their questions in the same way, and whether they kept or returned bras. Basically, it’s one big experiment until they get it right, but the crowdsourcing aspect helps them build their algorithm.
I should note that once I was properly fitted (you’ll read more about this below), I got another round of bras from ThirdLove in my “correct size” (each brand fits a little different, which can impact sizing). While they fit me much better than the first two tries, they weren’t perfect. I determined that I would probably need a 34F½ on ThirdLove. (They had up to C½ at the time in my band size. Currently they offer half cup sizes up to E½, but only for band sizes 30 and 32). Since my last order, ThirdLove has expanded their selection in my size, and there could be some styles that would fit in a 34F. I'll likely give it another try to see.
The SomaInnofit Fit Experience
The SomaInnofit bra looks like a cotton running bra that you put on over what you think is your best-fitting bra. There are sensors embedded inside the bra that scans four different points around your bust area. I also answered some questions about what brand I normally wear and in what size. The data is then sent via Bluetooth to the SomaInnofit app on your iOS or Android smartphone. You’re then taken to the Soma website to see bras in your size.
The recommendations returned a cup size that is much smaller than my regular size, and band sizes that were too big. While it showed me an assortment of bras in the recommended size, many of the suggestions were not right for me. I need an underwire and support, not a thin, cotton bra.
Soma sent me three bras to try on, and none of them fit. They were way too small in the cup. I sent them back and got new sizes to try, which also went back.
According to Soma, it’s all about the feedback. A company rep told me that “well over 80% of first measures are recommending accurate size,” but sometimes based on shape and body tissue as well as personal preference, it takes a few tries. “By giving feedback in the app, you can get to a more accurate measure.”
I found that entering feedback into the app was way too simplistic. It asked two questions:
Did the band fit? Did the cup size fit?
Options: too small, just right, too big
I really wanted to be able to explain why it didn’t fit; it gaped at the top, I fell out of the bottom, etc. I think this would have helped me get better recommendations for the next round.
Between trying on bras, entering feedback for their algorithm, and numerous trips to the post office for returns, I felt like this was too time-consuming and frustrating an option for me.
In-Person Fit Experience
Going to a lingerie shop is the very method I grew up hating and dreaded even more as an adult, but it turns out, this was the best option for me. I went to the Town Shop, an NYC lingerie shop that specializes in bra fittings. I met Tiffany, who asked me a few questions about what I was looking for and whipped out her trusty tape measure. I almost fell over when she told me I was wearing a bra two sizes too big for me.
She gathered 5 or 6 bras from different brands just to see how they fit. She had me in and out of bras I never would have tried on, showed me how to make adjustments both to the straps and my breast tissue, and before I knew it, she narrowed down which brands worked best for me and what size I needed in that brand. She’s the one who determined I’d been wearing a band size that was way too big for me, which is why I wasn’t getting enough support from my bras. After about 90 minutes, a little frustration, and a lot of laughs, not only was she able to find the right bras for me, but she also offered her opinion on which ones were more flattering on me. Her guidance was invaluable. I was hooked.
The bra selection
Hands down, scrolling through a website and choosing bras to try on is a much more appealing shopping experience than being handed bras by a store fitter.
Finding bras on ThirdLove
I give a lot of credit to ThirdLove for the way they present the bras and their selection, which includes Balconette, Minimizer, Racerback, and more styles. The fabrics and styles are beautiful; they just lack the size range for me. ThirdLove says their inventory is data-driven; they rely on the data from sales and returns to inform what styles and sizes to make.
When I clicked on a bra to see more information, under the picture was an option to see an image of a model with a larger bra size. This made it much easier to see whether a particular bra style was right for me. This was my favorite feature of ThirdLove.
The other thing they got right was suggesting that you select a backup size when ordering. You can add in a backup bra for no extra charge, which makes so much sense. This way, you have a few to try on at home, under the actual clothes you’ll be wearing, and there are fewer back and forth trips to the post office with returns.
Finding bras in the Soma app
I found the Soma app to be quite frustrating. I could only see a very brief description of each bra. I would have liked some information on whether it had an underwire, and whether there’s a seam in the bra. Clicking on the bra took me to the Soma website where I could read customer reviews but then I had to go back to the Soma app to see the next bra in my size. This could have been much more streamlined.
My biggest frustration: If I’m looking at 38DDD bras, I don’t want to see the bra on a 34C model. Show me how it’s going to look on me and whether it offers the support I’d need.
Finding bras in store
My in-person experience was far less dreadful than I imagined it would be. And while there were frustrating moments, in the end, I was entirely successful. Did I spend almost 90 minutes topless in a small dressing room pulling bras and shirts on and off? Yes, but the one-on-one service I got from someone familiar with all their different brands was worth every moment.
She knew all the stock (including Wacoal, Panache, Chantal, Natori, and many brands I had never heard of), which brands run large or small, and which styles were better for my particular size and shape. More importantly, she knew how the bra was supposed to fit. While I turned up my nose at a few she brought into the fitting room, once I had it on and she tightened the straps to where they needed to be (something I never got quite right on my own), I had to agree they were the perfect fit. While the online sites sent me 38DDD’s, I walked out of the Town Shop with four 34F bras that I love.
Pricing and quality of bras
ThirdLove bras are very thoughtfully made. There are no tags or labels to annoy or poke at you, and the style number and size are printed on the inside of the band. The bras come in a variety of soft materials and lace and are available in choices of color.
The average bra price ranges from $68 to $76, which is higher than average, but within the range of department stores and sites like Soma, and lower than specialty stores, like the Town Shop, where I wound up paying close to $100 for one of the bras, and the gym bra was about $75. It was more money than I’ve ever paid for a bra, but it was worth it to me because it fit so well.
Ease of bra returns and exchanges
Most bra shopping sites have pretty good return policies that give you ample time to try out a new bra. But ThirdLove’s return policy is much more lenient because it lets you send back a bra that has been worn. If you bought something you thought you loved, wore it, and decided it didn’t fit well, you can wash it and send it back for free within 60 days.
Shipping for purchases over $75 is free on Soma, and exchanges and returns are free. They provide a pre-paid shipping label for you to send back your merchandise.
True&Co and Lively also offer free shipping over $75 and free returns by mail. Soma offers free shipping over $100 and will exchange sizes for free. They give you 60 days to decide, and that’s been extended to 120 during the current health crisis. However, if you just want to return a bra for a refund, there is a $7 return fee if you pack it up and send it back by mail. When Soma stores open back up, you will be able to return bras for free to a Soma store near you.
The bottom line
Shopping online is your only option at the moment, so I would recommend giving ThirdLove a try, especially if you already know your correct bra size. Their size options and styles for each size have expanded, the site is easy to navigate, and your returns are free. Add to that the convenience of trying on bras in your own home, under the clothes you want to wear them with, and it’s pretty much a win-win. Their prices are reasonable for the high-quality bra you receive, and if you find a bra you love, I suggest you check back often or sign up for emails to be notified when your bra goes on sale.
[Image credit: Andrea Smith/Techlicious, Soma]
Andrea Smith has been covering consumer technology for over 30 years, since before Amazon.com was founded. As Technology Producer at ABC News Radio, she was one of the first female journalists in the tech space and created and produced a daily tech broadcast designed to explain the rapidly changing world of technology to a mainstream audience. She became an on-air broadcast reporter at ABC News, appearing on ABC News Now and Good Morning America. She moved to Mashable to launch the Lifestyle Tech vertical, where she focused on the many ways technology became part of our everyday lives. She continues to write about consumer and lifestyle technology for a variety of outlets and has appeared on CNBC, NBC, Fox, and WABC-TV, among others.