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This week's Chicagoan: Stephanie Kuhr, retro-lingerie maker

"Most of the high-waisted panties I make are very sheer, so it's not like your grandma's panties."


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A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"Bras are way more complex to sew than one would think. Every 16th of an inch can make a big difference. It's a feat of engineering, because you're going against gravity, trying to hold up this appendage that's sticking out. A lot of overseas factories have stopped making them, because they're one of the harder and less profitable things to make.

"Bullet bras came about because they didn't have the same fabrics we do now. It was an engineering thing. They couldn't make a rounded boob. It was the best shape they could get out of their fabric, and then it became a fad, so they exaggerated it and made it fashionable. I was talking to an older gentleman in the industry, and he said that when he was growing up he honestly thought that's the shape boobs were.

"Last summer was the last time I was in a Victoria's Secret. I'm too busty for them, but I thought I'd try it, because I loved it when I was an adolescent. I went in there, and I was like, 'I wear a 32DD. What do you have in that?' The lady kind of looked at me funny. She gave me a 36D, because that was all they had, and sent me in the dressing room. I put it on, and I literally laughed out loud. It was trying to add three sizes, which I don't need, and then there was extra tissue spilling out everywhere.

"They get away with a lot of fit problems by making them really low-cut, so they're not fitting in as much tissue. And then they have those molded foam cups, and those you don't have to have a great fit with either, because they sit on their own; you don't really need to know what's going on underneath there. People get used to having this uncomfortable bra feeling, and they don't know any better.

"A lot of women will have one breast bigger than the other. That's an easy fix for custom work. You can add a little bit of padding to one side, or use a special cup to deemphasize it. A lot of the women that I've talked to, especially on the west coast, have had breast augmentation and ended up larger than they originally anticipated. They think they're getting a DD and all of a sudden they're an H cup. Then they become really flustered and don't understand why the bras don't fit.

"The vintage look has become more mainstream because of shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire. That high-waisted panty is a lot more common now. That's how fashion works—they got as low and scanty as they could, and it started to get a little trashy, and people got sick of it. So they went in the opposite direction. Most of the high-waisted panties I make are very sheer, so it's not like your grandma's panties. Or if they are, your grandma's very naughty.

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