Thailand

What they never told you about bra shopping in Thailand

feminism rocks
Burn them all.

Ah, the joys of womanhood, eh? Every one of us ladies can remember our first visit from Uncle Payne and Auntie Flo. Or that time, you didn’t know you were going to have it and how you decided to wear light pink pants that day. Or that time in Bangkok, the city of grit and sweat, you saw that tourist wearing shorts soaked in her own blood and you were mortified that no one told her, so you did. It’s a really hot city.

How about when you realized you had to start wearing a brassiere? And may I just add there is nothing more confusing and weird than having your FOB/fresh-off-the-boat mom refer to bras as brassieres. What? Oh, you mean a bra? Mom, no one calls them brassieres anymore…Geez, could my teenage life be any more embarrassing? What’s next? Corsets and girdles?

Yeah, being a woman can be LOADS of fun. Yes, I do realize I’m not exactly “stacked like the Library of Congress,” my blouse bunnies never blossomed or bloomed or boom-boomed. And at the time, I was like, “That’s it? That’s all I get?” I’m okay with the way I look though because, seriously, I’ve heard enough horror stories from fuller women who wear TWO sports bras in order to go running or getting a breast reduction so they no longer live with back pain.

I have what I have. And by this point in my life, I’ve also endured the “Why don’t you get a boob job?” suggestion and other thoughtful gestures from my mom like that slutty-looking top with the built-in bra in it. Uh, thanks. By now she’s given up on me having children and getting enhanced. The latest unending battle is “going back to America” and I plan on winning this one, too.

But back in 2009 when I first moved abroad, I truly did not know how long I would last out here. I was excited. I was in Bangkok getting my TESOL (Teaching English) certificate and I needed a new bra. Bet you never heard those two things stringed together before, huh? My favorite place was MBK in the Siam shopping district and once I found a lingerie store, I soon realized that I didn’t know my EU or international bra size.

So I said, “I don’t know my size.”

Then it happened.

What?

She grabbed me.

WHAT?

Yeah, she did a quick/Flash Gordon style “assessment” and I know my face was one of sheer shock. It happened in a blink so I didn’t have time to be upset or laugh or anything. It was like the words were just caught in my throat and I looked frozen. Have you ever been touched by a salesperson in this way? Yes, please do leave a comment. Let’s talk.

When I announced this on FB, my friend Julie said it happened to her in Japan. So maybe this is an Asian American thingy where they “welcome you back to the Motherland” kind of ceremony. Of course, there were the “Where can I get this job?” remarks from the brighter sex (*cue Beavis and Butthead laugh*).

Oh, so did she get my size right?

She did.

And yes, I was a wee bit embarrassed by this event, but managed to purchase one bra and then go to the Tokyu department store where I could confidently enter knowing my size without any further shenanigans.  That’s right, I said it, shenanigans.

Recently, I decided to ask a handful (no pun intended) of Thai women (that I know, this wasn’t an off-the-street survey) if this cop-a-feel assessment was considered normal. The majority said, NO and responded with laughter and shock, but one of them said, “Yes.” And then she started to talk about how some sales ladies would think this was impolite and for others, it was simply a perfunctory thing. We also talked about how some of them will put the bra on you right in middle of the store over your clothes like it’s no big thing.

My friend Kate, who I’ll gently refer to as Chesty Larue, said Thai sales ladies would laugh when they saw her looking for a bra. I actually know of many expat women who have had to endure the ordeal of finding a decent brassiere. I think the laughing comes from discomfort or hiding discomfort on the part of the Thais, but this doesn’t help the foreign women. In fact, it would probably drive me out of the store.

And even though I’m in size-heaven here (back in the US, they were always out of my size, always), I find the quality to be lacking. Even expensive, the only way to go if you want quality, wasn’t always a guarantee. After 5 years abroad, I have a drawer full of bras that I hate wearing. The best bra I ever owned was from Calvin Klein. I wore it like it was my only bra on the TV show Survivor. Buy a Calvin Klein bra.

Don’t buy a 39 baht bra from bargain bin at the Night Bazaar market in Chiang Rai. You will regret all three purchases. 39 baht? Yeah, that’s like a $1.16 bra where the underwire gets rusty after a few hand washings. And the wire feels like it’s poking you in the heart (it probably is). Each bra though had its own unique defect. I believe one of them changed shape, it was a shape shifter, and it was probably made in China.

Thank the Goddess, I didn’t have to buy a bra in Ecuador. All the women there have been endowed by the arts and that would have been another kind of iron maiden. I also did not buy any clothes there as I thought the fashion at the time was incredibly gaudy (cause it’s sooo much better in Asia).

We better not get into panties. Okay, underwear! Bring them from home. Finding cotton underwear that lasts after a year and that does not sadly transform into granny-wear can be a challenge. Yes, Thailand has so many Western amenities and you can find just about anything you want (for a price) and it’s really lovely, but being comfortable in your intimates, I think, is not just important, it’s essential.

Yes, I’m available to speak at Girl Scout meetings and play dates…

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51 thoughts on “What they never told you about bra shopping in Thailand

  1. Asian versus North American clothing always fascinated me, but I never even ventured into the bras whenever I walked into a lingerie store in the Philippines or in the Asian mall here in Canada. I guess from your experience that I’m safe with what I’m currently doing. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha! That’s the most awkward bra fitting story I’ve ever heard. At least she got the size right! I always managed to avoid bra shopping in Korea. They had some lovely looking intimates stores and judging from the window displays, couple lingerie seemed to be a big thing. I just always felt incredibly awkward shopping in smaller stores where the sales associates basically follow you around even though they know you can’t understand each other. Browsing the little skincare boutiques was weird enough – I’d pick up things to look at them and they’d take them out of my hand and put them back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What? They’d take them out of your hand? That makes no sense. So much for buying.

      Yeah, the salesperson standing next to you while you shop is something I can never get used to here. I miss personal space 😛 Although in the States, you have to sometimes go hiking for help.

      Couple lingerie??? Ewwww.

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      1. “Yeah, the salesperson standing next to you while you shop is something I can never get used to here.”

        Oh, that’s exactly my #4 HERE!!! Yo u can very well guess that happens a lot here, too. It does happen more in smaller stores outside malls (probably mainly because most do not have guards or CCTVs)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You are a crack up! I personally wish we did not have the necessity of undergarments. I have been blessed with the (no necessity) no wire bra 5.00 special, yet my sister gave me a wire bra once and it poked the crap out of me. Fortunate to live in Maui and where a bathing suit top under my work out clothes for comfort and the ONLY time I have to deal with the undergarments is at work! I do love your commentary about your shopping experience, you bold sister you! Feeling your pull to come back to Hawaii? possible? Heart to heart Robyn

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😀 Living on an island and beach culture is nice for casual wear. I actually went shopping for bras and underwear when I went back. My mom gave me bras that don’t have underwire so I never wear underwire bras anymore. (I wonder how long this will last!) But the funny thing was I bought underwear that, after I purchased it, noticed it said, “Made in Thailand.”

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  4. As I you might have guessed: I don’t really have any clue about this topic BUT it reminds me of my wife going to the supermarkets in China everytime to buy underwear. Well, appearently it is very challenging as there is no real order to things, at least in the markets we visited, so it takes usually 3-4 visits, each taking at least an hour just that she finds 1! bra with luck.
    By now I reached a point were I begged her to warn me before we go again to such search so I can at least stay home and follow them later as I really cant help there…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. That was a funny and informative post. Things you just don’t think about.

    Okay, I didn’t get a full-on feel up here in the U.S., but I did get poked. Yeah, POKED. At least your salesperson got your size right and groped with a purpose.

    I was in the highly touted lingerie store in Beverly Hills (yes, so highly touted I drove all the way to Beverly Hills on a Saturday in LA traffic) to get some new bras that fit properly. I got sized up with measuring tape and eyeballs, and I was really disappointed that it was the same size I’d already been wearing (38 C, if you must know, probably I can never shop in Asia). I thought the bras were uncomfortable because I just wasn’t sized properly. So I tried on one and next thing I know, the saleslady was in the fitting room, handing me one padded insert. I look at her blankly and say, “No, no, I don’t want to be any bigger.” She poked my left breast and said, “This is your FULL breast.” She poked the right and said: “This is NOT your full beast. Put that insert in and you’ll be evened out and the bras will fit better.”

    She was right. But the poking was gratuitous.

    Humans are definitely not completely symmetrical!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No, it’s very common. I used to stare at myself when I was younger to see if the girls looked even or not. But yeah, poking? WTF? You should have poked her back. Hahhaha.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hahaha great article! I have never been “measured”, thank god. I also don’t think bras are uncomfortable, does that mean I am wearing them correctly? (As I have read many times that as much as 70% of women wear incorrect sizes). I am in the tending-to-big but not-too-big department so I don’t have back problems or anything. I have a difficult time finding bras in China though, the ones in Chinese shops all have pads and foam and thanks I am satisfied with what I have haha. Luckily there is Marks and Spencer in Shanghai and Suzhou, I always get my bras there, they have western sizes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh, yes, a Marks and Spencer would save the day, eh? Yeah, I always take out the padding. Even if the girls could use a boost I feel like it’s false advertising. My friend confessed to me that she wears heavily padded bras and when she started hooking up with this guy we knew, I kept thinking, “What’s he gonna think when he finds out!”

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      1. Haha well maybe if most girls do it he is already kind of expecting it to be fake 😛 That happens in China for sure, hahaha.

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      2. Well, there’s already a large portion of guys who arent at all into large breasts. Please, no surgical boobs. That’s an immediate, “pass.” They’re not attractive,

        I don’t think I would notice/care padding.
        If I’m at the point of taking off a bra, I’ve got something else occupying my mind. : )

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It’s true though! And I think I’m not alone in this wanting of the world to be into the fun and joys of sexuality and not the distractions of practical sex.

        “Is this thin enough?”
        “is it big enough?”
        “am I ______ enough?”

        These run through our minds when all we are being told by our partners through sex that, “yes. you ARE enough.”

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved reading this!

    When I went to night markets in Thailand and on various shopping sprees in China, I didn’t get very far because the salespeople would just look at me and say something along the lines of, “no size”. Or they would just look at me and shake their heads while pointing elsewhere. What if I wanted to buy something for a friend who was smaller than me?! I felt very indignant at the time, but now that I have traveled more, I just know that that is the way things are sometimes. Gotta roll with the punches if you are a traveler!

    -Amanda at http://teachingwanderlust.com/

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    1. Very true. It’s tough when we don’t speak the same language and sometimes people just seem downright rude. But I don’t think there is a gentle way to say, “no” without possibly opening the door to more conversation that might not be able to take place.

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  8. Costco and Maidenform saved me from having to step into a Taiwanese bra shop. though the “skin-tone” bras are a bit off for me and still show under white shirts, I was sooo happy to be able to just pick my size off a display. I tried to buy some additional stock recently but it appears they redid their sizing – a C cup was about the size of an A! after an awkward return experience, where the clerks had a nice giggle, I’ve decided to stock up while in in the US this summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Resizing! Confusion! I feel like when I go shopping for anything these days I don’t know what size I am. Yes, stock up. That’s what I did. Hahahhaa.

      Like

  9. Oh bras… I am the one that gets laughed at in stores… Though have never been felt up for sizing. 🙂 I have to buy all my bras online from
    Victoria’s Secret and have them sent to me by my mom. Yep, my mom still gets my bras for me in a way. Haha.
    Now underwear, luckily I can get cheap cotton ones at tesco. They don’t last long, but at least I can buy lots because they are cheaper. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vickie’s Secret and I are not compatible. I don’t know how folks order something like bras or shoes online. I think it would be so tricky. What if they don’t fit? Then you have to deal with the hassle of the return, right?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, when I went back and visited last year, I went in to the store and asked the lady to measure me and bring me every bra in that size. I found two types I liked and that were comfortable. Then I had her write them down for me, so I order those… Whew. That ended up being longer than I expected. 🙂 I think I win for longest run on sentence ever!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha. 🙂 not slow at all! I would never order bras from back in the USA unless I had done the try on thing… Although I do wish I had done it somewhere with cheaper products :-/

        Liked by 1 person

  10. This is such a hilarious post, Lani. You were touched without consent by that salesperson who really just wanted to sell you a bra! She sounds like an expert at what she does and does it often.

    Bra shopping for me has always been a nightmare in Asia and Australia. I am really flat as a surfboard down the front and to top it off, scoliosis has made my chest uneven in a big way. The only bras in the stores that fit me are the tween ones in Australia (yes, Aussie land, not Singapore or Malaysia) and only a few times I’ve managed to find underwire ones that fit well and won’t dig into my skin. However, I’ve tried on enough of chesty intimates of various materials to know that they look different with different outfits. Then there are bralettes but I really like more padding…

    In Australia, salespeople generally leave you alone in the lingerie section unless you ask for help. It’s always deserted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I’m glad I made you laugh 🙂

      Yeah, the tween ones in the States always looked massively more appealing that the grown up ones. They were probably cheaper and more comfortable.

      In any case, no more underwire for me (if I can help it). They can’t be good for you and there are better ways to get that desired lift. I totally understand it when I see big chested women without a pushup – it must be massively uncomfortable for them too.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow, that’s great writing Lani! It makes me want to write an article on boxers vs. briefs, my uncomfortable first purchase of a jock strap, and the appearance of man-boobs on guys as they age.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. With current global weight gain and aging populations, that 90’s idea of the “manssiere” has come of age:

        As long as the sales people are all women I won’t being sized in the way you were!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Gosh, how strange to figure out bra-size by a store clerk. Because am small and dislike underwire bra styles, when I see a good, comfortable one that’s not overly padded, I buy them in bunches.

    then a few years later, discover how pricing has gone up…

    You know in my Chinese dialect, the slang for bra is: fish net…like 2 fish wriggling in a net.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Oh man, this took me right back to the ONE time in Taiwan I decided to buy a bra. It was in a department store, and there was a bin full of beautiful bras and panties in the aisle, like a bargain thing. I just looked at them, but then a lady who was obviously the lingerie lady approached me. I was actually interested, kinda, but I knew they wouldn’t have my size. She didn’t grab me, but she did whip out a tape measure and measure me. In front of all the other shoppers. I acted so cool, but I swear I never sweated so much. Anyway, she got me the size she thought I was, but the bra was awful when I got it home. Too tight in the ribs and the straps were all wrong. I didn’t go anywhere else.

    But on a side note, I’ve watched a lot of anime, and I notice they have girls, like in high school, friends, who grab each other and joke around. Not lesbians, not sexual, maybe just fan service, but it was played off as being normal girl joking around. I have no idea if this is accurate, but it surprised me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are these animes drawn by men? 😉

      I can’t speak for Japanese or other Asian cultures, but since I teach Thai students and probably that age bracket the comics are referring to, I’d say, no, I don’t see this.

      They are much more likely to tease than grab “the girls”. However, when a teacher is not around, who knows.

      Guys, on the other hand, will be much more likely to grab “the boys” or stick their foot in certain places and those have been eyebrow-raising moments. Yeah, as an American, the way straight teenage boys act here would be considered “really gay.”

      Then again, teenage boys are much more physical than girls and immature. But it is weird.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. LOL!!!! This is such a funny post, and very relatable! I think the grabbing-thing has to do with the culture of being a bit more personal and assuming when dealing with others. That totally happens at times here (although I personally do not approve of it and will actually tell off anyone who will do that to me). The worst I’ve experienced and witnessed have been sales ladies putting the undies over your parts to approximate the size you need. It doesn’t help that my blouse bunnies did boom-boom; it feels so awkward ’cause you feel like everyone is looking there.

    Very entertaining post, Lani, as usual 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I’m glad you liked it 🙂 Went by the bra department the other day and thought about this post. Hahaha. Almost wanted to go in, too.

      Like

  15. Blouse bunnies…? =) Feel terrible for you but I’m not surprised some saleswomen grab like that in Asia. Asians’ social boundaries are generally more lax. The fact that we bargain (negotiate boundaries) and don’t know how to observe lines (while waiting) says a lot. Calvin Klein. Noted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All very true. When I was in the States recently, I almost laughed out loud when the person behind me in line stood far away, as in, thank you for respecting my personal space.

      Like

  16. In Costa Rica you aren’t even ALLOWED to try on a bra unless it’s over your clothes. Huh? Really?? I almost asked if men were allowed to try on shirts (of course the answer is yes). Then I was going to make the analogy of how it’s ok for HIS nipples to touch a shirt, but a woman’s can’t touch a bra….but in broken Spanish it wouldn’t have been pretty.

    I know well the dread of needing to find a new bra. I have two top items of clothing I absolutely HATE trying on and finding a fit….bras and jeans. I’d rather have major surgery than to shop for either. When I went back to the U.S. recently I found some good bras at Target of all places for a great price. Then I hunted down some decent sports bras for wearing around the house and some are so good I just use them as bras. Ahhh the perils of being a woman!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t imagine. I mean, a bra has to FIT and be comfortable. That would be like not being able to try on shoes! I wonder what happened in the past that is preventing future buyers from trying them on. Shoplifting? 😉

      Ahhh yes. The ‘ol buy as many bras as you can when find a good one!

      Liked by 1 person

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