Until I test drove the 9to5 bra last week, I never truly appreciated the details that differentiate bras and make some more work-appropriate than others.
The extremes are obvious: Lacy lingerie is worn for an entirely different purpose than sports bras.
But for many women, finding a bra that does double duty - playing down cleavage without producing the dreaded "uni-boob" - can be a challenge.
Necessity drove Torontonian Andrea Clair to design the 9to5, which boasts a tank-top-like panel over top of a traditional bra.
A former personal trainer and fitness consultant for hotels and condominiums, Ms. Clair says that getting dressed for meetings used to be an exercise in frustration.
"I would look at my wardrobe and say, 'How is it I have so many clothes and yet nothing to wear to work?' "
So she took one of her bras to a tailor and requested a strip of extra fabric across the top. Two years and countless prototypes later, the 9to5 offers a solution for women who want to wear lower-cut shirts or blouses to the office without putting too much on display.
The polyester spandex bra with doubled front straps (an aesthetic detail that provides extra support) is available in sizes 32B to 38E and can be purchased through Wink Intimates, Ms. Clair's newly launched company (winkintimates.com). When I meet Ms. Clair, who is in her mid-40s, she is wearing a rose-coloured wrap dress revealing a white 9to5 underneath. "It gives you a nice va-voom, but it covers so you don't get too much of it," she says, adding that building a bra is comparable to building a bridge. "It's architecturally very challenging to do."
The bra costs $139, which, to be sure, is on the high end. But Ms. Clair reasons that it maximizes women's wardrobes. "Your 20 outfits turn into 40 outfits."
She's right, more or less. While musing over the 9to5's nod to the busty Dolly Parton, I went through my closet, trying on tops with the bra underneath. Suddenly, pieces that I would have considered more evening-appropriate looked suitable for the office. It doesn't look nearly as flirty as my basic standbys, but thanks to a lacy band it doesn't feel sporty either.
But when it comes to work bras, I wondered, is there more to consider than just cleavage? I called up Liliana Mann, owner of Linea Intima in Toronto and sage of supportive undergarments.
Not only do different bodies require different bras, she says, but actual jobs factor into the equation.
"If someone is standing all day long, she needs good support at the back because the weight is taken away from her bust," Ms. Mann explains.
Conversely, someone who is seated or drives all day should look for a bra that is comfortable under the ribcage. "It's very important to tell the [sales associate]what you do. I always say don't wear a sports bra all day long, but if you are a fitness instructor of course you're going to wear a sports bra all day."
Does this mean that women should toss fashion bras for ones that, quite literally, work better? Not exactly, Ms. Mann says. "We like to like ourselves in the mirror, and the same goes with bras. They should fulfill the function but we should enjoy them at the same time."
One last piece of bra business: Always match dark undergarments with dark clothes. This has nothing to do with being a sartorial perfectionist. Rather, Ms. Mann says, nude bras can become discoloured by dark clothes.
"Get three bras that you can wear with different colours," she recommends. "Any extras can be added based on how fashionable or sexy you want."
For now, Ms. Clair only offers black and white, but she has plans to add off-white and even an animal pattern. Too wild for the office? Perhaps. Then again, she could simply modify the name to 9pmto5am.