Drapers tests the high street’s top names in lingerie to see if their offers are up to standard.
From slinky lace balcony bras and complex strapped bralettes to super soft T-shirt bras and backless, strapless contraptions – the lingerie market offers consumers a cornucopia of styles, sizes and shopping opportunities.
For the first time this season, Drapers’ mystery shoppers are putting high street lingerie to the test. Drapers trialled both the bra-fitting and measuring services, and the overall product offer. The seven retailers tested included lingerie specialists and department stores.
This market revolves around intimate products, so the level of service and sense of comfort offered by retailers is paramount.
The overall level of care and attention received during fittings was excellent – and in general the service in lingerie far exceeded the typical level of the high street. Despite some variations, staff were courteous, professional and kind.
However, the dizzying array of options and minute variations in size, style and shape were baffling, even with assistance. Not one bra fitted perfectly, and the process was complicated and, at times, exhausting.
Drapers visited the central London stores of the seven retailers tested – all were either on or close to Oxford Street. They were visited on 21 January and judged out of five on: the overall look and feel of the store; the service provided during fittings; the range and quality of the product; and the overall experience of the visit. These scores are combined for a total mark out of 20.
- Marks & Spencer: 17/20
- John Lewis: 13.5/20
- Boux Avenue: 12.5/20
- Bravissimo: 11.5/20
- Debenhams: 11/20
- Selfridges: 11/20
- Ann Summers: 10/20
Marks & Spencer
By far the best fitting experience of the day in an elegant dedicated space
Overall experience: 4.5/5
The lingerie offer in the Marble Arch flagship store is a prime example of just why Marks & Spencer is the UK’s largest lingerie retailer.
The contrast between the store as a whole and the vast lingerie department, which dominates most of the store’s second floor, is quite shocking. I move from a dark, dowdy space to a well-lit, spacious and elegantly designed section that showcases the variety and quality of the M&S lingerie offer.
The area is very neat. A good mix of high and low displays make it easy to browse and to spot products. T-shirt bras, shapewear, trend-led styles and M&S’s successful Rosie for Autograph range are all clearly on display.
Overall, the offer is quite classic, and caters to wardrobe basics with a subtle acknowledgement of trends. I feel very much as if there would be something for everyone in the M&S offer. Prices and quality are excellent: T-shirt bras start at two for £16 and range to £28 for statement bras in the Rosie line. Soft, luxurious feeling fabrics, solid constructions and nicely designed styles make for a good value overall range.
I am able to book a fitting online ahead of my visit. It is very simple, and only takes a few clicks. When I arrive the assistant due to measure me is ready and waiting and shows me into the fitting rooms immediately.
The fitting rooms are cleverly designed: they have a sturdy, lockable outer door and then a second curtained space for privacy. However, they are a bit dowdy. The lighting is quite harsh, the walls feel flimsy and they are very cold.
Nevertheless, the fitting experience is excellent. It is by far the best and most comprehensive of the day. The woman fitting me is clearly an expert and makes me feel extremely comfortable. She talks through how she is measuring me and what I should be looking for in a bra to ensure a correct fit in different styles. She asks my personal style preferences before leaving to find items for me to try on and returns with a wide variety of styles and fits.
The fitting process feels far more personalised than in any of the other stores, and beyond suggesting bras that will fit my size on paper, the assistant suggests specific styles, giving hints and tips specific to my body shape to enable me to find and fit myself in the future, regardless of what store I am in.
I leave with my size written down, alongside additional tips from the assistant as to what sizes I could look for in specific bra styles or different stores. I am hugely impressed with the level of care taken in the fitting process.
A good range and efficient service, but booking a fitting was problematic
Overall experience: 3/5
The lingerie department of John Lewis on Oxford Street is well stocked with an impressive number of brands and styles. In addition to a comprehensive own-brand offer, the store also offers a wide range of big-name brands such as Sloggi, Calvin Klein and Chantelle as well as a smaller, more fashion-led brands such as Bluebella and Maison Lejaby. Prices are sensible and the products feel good quality and value – a T-shirt bra from the own-brand collection starts at £20, and prices range to £71 for a Maison Lejaby premium bra.
Basic styles such as T-shirt bras and more elaborate, lace embellished or trend-led styles are in separate areas, so it is easy to browse. However, despite the overall pleasant space, there are several messy displays, even early in the day.
John Lewis offer the option to book in a fitting online in advance, but mentions online that appointments are also available on a daily, drop-in basis. When I attempt to book online, the process is very simple, but I choose not to book as the drop-in approach offers more flexibility. However, when I approach the fitting rooms in store, I am told that there are not enough members of staff to do a fitting there and then, and because of a computer error they cannot guarantee me a slot later in the day. This is a little frustrating. I am asked to return several hours later, and the store takes my mobile number, promising to call me if an earlier slot becomes available.
When I return to the store as requested, I am immediately shown into the fitting rooms, which are busy with other appointments. While the lighting is pleasantly bright, and the rooms are relatively spacious – the carpet is threadbare and the curtains feel flimsy. It is also quite cold and there are no chairs in the fitting rooms meaning I am left standing and chilly while I wait for the assistant.
The fitting experience itself is relatively good. The woman measuring me is brisk but friendly, courteous and efficient. However, there is some awkwardness as she waits outside the changing room for me to switch bras – in the loud changing rooms she does not hear me speaking through the curtain. I am also slightly unnerved when she unexpectedly brings a second assistant into the fitting room to ask for a second opinion. While I appreciate the commitment to finding the correct size and style, I feel slightly manhandled as the two women turn me to and fro, and discuss my shape.
Once I have been measured, the assistant is persistent at finding a bra that is both comfortable and well-fitting. I am impressed that she suggests alternatives to try ordering online, rather than pushing me to buy bras that do not fit properly.
Overall experience: 3/5
Total: 12.5 /20
The fitting rooms of Boux Avenue’s store on Oxford Street are the most glamorous and luxurious tested all day. The cubicles are situated at the back of the store up a small flight of stairs, which adds a sense of privacy. In addition to a smart design with sturdy, lockable doors, the fitting rooms are warm and featured adaptable “mood” lighting. Three buttons give the option of “day”, “dusk” or “evening” lighting – all of which are very flattering, and are a playful addition to the experience.
There is no online booking option, but I am immediately shown to the fitting rooms when I walk into the store to request a fitting. The assistant is swift, friendly and efficient. However, the overall experience feels a little basic. While I am measured and fitted with a bra that is comfortable, I leave with no indication of whether I may need different sizes in different styles. I feel that I have been fitted into the bra that the assistant wanted me to wear, one that fits my measurements but not my style or shape preferences – which I am not asked about.
Beyond the fitting rooms, the store itself presents a pleasant browsing experience. It is nicely lit and, beyond a slightly messy Sale section at the front, it is neat, tidy and easy to browse. I particularly enjoy the choice to display a small amount an size range of each bra on hangers, and hide further stock neatly in drawers underneath. It makes the store feel much more spacious.
I am impressed with the overall range of styles and sizes on offer in the shop: there is a good mix of basic T-shirt bras and interesting, unique styles. However, the aesthetic is dominated by romantic, lacy, push-up and plunge styles or very plain basics, and I would have liked to see some products mid-way between the two. Prices for basic styles are in line with other high street retailers, and a basic T-shirt bra is reasonable value at £20 – quality is reasonably good, and styles feel well made and comfortable.
Overall experience: 3/5
Bravissimo is a store that clearly hosts a lot of bra fittings, and a slick set-up is geared to the fit service. There is no obvious online booking option, but when I visit the store and ask at the desk about fittings, the assistant radios downstairs and tells me that I can be booked in for a fitting in 15 minutes’ time. Although this is not as swift as other stores, it is still fast. I browse the store before heading downstairs to check in at a dedicated “fit” reception area, where there is also a large waiting room.
The entire basement floor of Bravissimo is given over to fitting rooms and a separate waiting room. While the lighting is a little draining, the space is very pleasant: sofas, armchairs, magazines and a water fountain all give a little touch of luxury and give a very professional impression to the process. Unfortunately, the fitting rooms themselves are not as pleasant as the waiting area. When I am showed into my cubicle the lighting is harsh, the walls and floor are grubby and well-used, and I do not feel overly comfortable in the space.
The assistant fitting me is very efficient and thorough, measuring me by eye and bringing me styles to try on and test. She talks me through everything she is doing as she does it, however she sounds quite bored when she speaks to me, and I feel like I am being hurried. While she suggests online alternatives and sizes to try in other stores, I am left feeling as if I have wasted her time when she concludes there are no styles in stock in store that will fit me.
The offer caters specifically to fuller-busted women, and there is a far wider range of sizes than seen at any other retailer. However, the style range seems quite limited – the overall shape of the styles is not very varied and there is not anywhere near the level of shape diversity as other retailers. Overwhelmingly, styles are soft, full-cup designs. Despite a range of colours, prints and patterns, the overall offer feels dated and there are not many styles that appeal to younger audiences. Styles seem to cater to function over fashion, which is a little disappointing.
Nevertheless, the quality is very good, and all designs appear to be very well made, offering excellent support. Prices are slightly higher than elsewhere – a basic T-shirt bra starts at £28.
Overall experience: 3.5/5
Despite large signs encouraging me to be measured in store, the fitting rooms in Debenhams are cordoned off when I visit the lingerie department, and there is not a single member of staff to be seen within the department or its adjacent womenswear sections.
The offer is extremely large – a good range of brands and a strong mix between well-priced T-shirt bras (good value and good quality, starting at £12) and quirky, fashion forward styles. An eye-catching tiger print bra from the Nine by Savannah Miller collection (well-priced for a trend-led style at £16) is a highlight. There is also a comprehensive shapewear offer with several brands and numerous styles to choose from.
However, the sheer quantity of products on the rails and the number of racks positioned close together on the shop floor, feels overwhelming and claustrophobic. Displays of the Ted Baker, Jenny Packham and Nine by Savannah Miller range all are given a large amount of space, making these brands much easier to browse.
Eventually, a member of staff notices me waiting by the fitting rooms, and after several more minutes someone arrives to measure me. I am shown into the fitting rooms, and asked to press a buzzer on the wall when I am ready to be measured.
The fitting rooms themselves are very pleasant. They are large, with a plush banquette seat and elegant, boudoir-inspired fittings. They have a solid door with a sturdy lock, are clean, warm and comfortable – far nicer than the rest of the lingerie department.
The assistant measuring me is quick and efficient. She measures me while explaining what she is doing and why, which is reassuring. The bell is also very convenient, allowing me to call when I am ready, and speeding up the process.
I am disappointed to be told that Debenhams is unable to cater to my size in store, but, the assistant is extremely helpful, directing me to alternative brands and stores that would be good places to try. From a retailer’s perspective, this may not be ideal, but had I been sold the wrong fitting bra I would later be less inclined to return to the store for other purchases. I am impressed that there is no attempt or suggestion that I should purchase a badly fitting bra just for the store to make a sale.
Overall experience: 2.5/5
Selfridges’ Body Studio in the Oxford Street store is a vast and impressive haven of lingerie. It is divided into two sections – one offering youthful, playful and unique brands such as Dora Larsen and Hanky Panky, and the other featuring more classic, sophisticated, luxury brands and styles such as Bordelle and Coco de Mer.
This division is useful as I browse and helps me to easily find the type of product I am looking for. Both sections are smartly designed. The youthful area featured quirky wooden fittings and a fun “knicker bar” of rolled-up underwear. In the more elevated section, wood panelling, a lower ceiling and thick carpet on the floor creates a luxurious, private space for browsing. There is a large range of sizes available and I am pleased to see mannequins in a relatively wide array of sizes.
Ahead of my visit to Selfridges, I choose to book an appointment online. The process is very simple, and I am impressed by the variety of options. In addition to standard fittings and express 30- and 15-minute options, there are options for post-surgery fittings and fittings for trans women – an inclusive option that is very pleasing to see adopted by a mainstream retailer.
However, when I arrive five minutes early for my fitting, I am left waiting as the staff appear to struggle to locate the person booked to measure me. I wait for around 10 minutes. When someone eventually arrives, she is a little unfriendly and cold, and I do not feel overly comfortable as I am shown into the fitting rooms.
I am disappointed by the rooms themselves rooms, as despite a pleasant, 1960s-inspired design, they are a little dilapidated. While the lighting is warm and the brass hangers are pleasant, the carpet is threadbare – not the quality I would expect from a luxury retailer.
The fitting service is also not of the calibre I would anticipate from Selfridges, especially given the pricing of its offer. While prices start at £15 for a B’Tempted style, they reach £495 for Agent Provocateur. As such, I expect more care during my fitting.
I am not measured using a tape measure, and the size I am told is considerably different from the other measurements I am given (32C as opposed to 30D or 28DD in most stores). While I am given several different bras to try on, the assistant never physically checks the fit: either the cup size or back size. Instead and goes entirely on how I say it feels, and I do not know how a well-fitting bra should feel when on. During the process, I do not feel that she is actually doing anything that I could not have done for myself, or that she is providing me a better fitting bra than I currently have.
Althoughe there is a bell in the fitting room that I use to let the assistant know when I am ready, her response is not very swift when I call. I would not object to this, as store staff often have a lot of other things to be getting on with. However, I can hear the shop assistants chatting by the entrance of the fitting rooms, giggling as I wait. This makes me feel quite uncomfortable and I leave the changing rooms swiftly, unwilling to purchase from the store.
Overall experience: 2/5
Ann Summers has made its name with its unashamedly sexy product offering, and when I visit the store on Oxford Street, the designs on display perfectly captures this seductive theme. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner as I visit, so there is an overwhelming amount of lace, red satin and silky strapping on offer. While the style variety is quite limited, it caters perfectly to the Ann Summers aesthetic.
Unfortunately, the store is not the most pleasant place to browse. The basic, white tiled floor and cramped layout do not feel luxurious, and the huge amount of product on the shop floor is confusing to browse. Additionally, while it is not the retailer’s fault, I find it unnerving that several men waiting for their partners watch me as I browse.
The cubicles are comparatively small, and the curtains rather flimsy. However, I do enjoy the quirky wallpaper, which features tongue-in-cheek illustrations of couples. I can see into the main store through the gap in the curtain, which is not private enough for a lingerie store. Additionally, when the assistant comes in and out of the cubicle during the fitting she has to open the curtain. I feel a little exposed.
I am offered a fitting immediately when I ask, and the assistant is friendly and warm, putting me at ease. However, the process feels more like guesswork than a full fitting. I am not measured, and I am told that Ann Summers fits based on how you fit one of their current bras. This means I take a style into the fitting rooms to try on for size, and then the assistant helps me judge if it fits or not, before going to get alternative sizes. While having someone to fetch alternative sizes is useful, I leave with the sense that I could have easily done the exact same process myself and achieved the same results.