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A Guy in a Bra: What Wearing One for Three Days Taught Me about Empathy

By Elevate

July 25, 2016

Consumers Design

Over the past five years, I’ve worked with a variety of brands that cater to the female consumer. From hair care and makeup to hosiery and other intimate apparel, I certainly know more about these products than the average guy.

Although I’ve become quite familiar with the marketing of these products, as well as the beauty and apparel categories in general, I’m well aware that there is plenty I can’t begin to understand through market and audience research alone. I don’t know what it’s like to actually use these products. Take bras, for example. While I have an outsider’s understanding of how people shop for bras, I can’t personally relate to a bra consumer’s daily struggles. To get a glimpse into this consumer’s mindset and further develop empathy, I accepted a challenge:

Wear a bra for three days in order to attempt to understand what it’s like.

The idea for this challenge was brought about by our Associate Creative Director, Sara. (Although I can’t help but give partial credit to Cosmo Kramer’s “bro” as inspiration.) She’s tried to get me to do this for years, but I always thought that the circumstances were more likely to involve a lost bet than being a part of “work.” Suffice it to say, I agreed to the challenge in exchange for one thing: that she also partake in an empathy experiment (more on that later).

Now, back to the challenge at hand. Here were my observations:

Peter being fitted for his bra.

Step 1: Fitting

Prior to beginning, I needed to know my size. Fortunately, Sara also has been trained in fitting bras, so I was able to find my size in the comfort of our office rather than amidst crowds of people in a department store. I know that seems like cheating, but it was still an uncomfortable experience nonetheless. I learned of the level of vulnerability that a fitting requires (i.e., it was still uncomfortable being fitted in the middle of the office). It’s weird having other people touch you.

Step 2: Shopping

This past spring, Elevate conducted a focus group about finding the right bra, and one of the most memorable sound bites from the session was: “Bra shopping is a chore.” Let’s say that I was also less than thrilled about the idea for myself. Fortunately, I have generous colleagues that were willing to help a guy out. Samantha, our UX Lead, found me three different bras to wear. That’s kind of like an underwear-party bridal-shower thing, right? There’s a lot of uncertainty in bra shopping. I’ve been in those stores before and, even though I now know what size to look for, I would still have no idea what to do next. Bra shopping is definitely something that requires some assistance.

Step 3: Wearing

Day 1: The Bralette (My take: One that doesn’t have padding or wires and feels soft.)

  • How do I put this on, especially when I’m in an office and am feeling self-conscious about the whole thing?
  • Why am I doing this again?
  • Does it fit right? I’m not really sure. I don’t know what it’s supposed to feel like.
  • Two hours in: This is itchy and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since it became strapped to my perfectly mediocre torso.
  • My strap is slipping. Don’t let anyone in this meeting see.
  • Not really a problem for me, but this doesn’t seem very supporting.
  • In a meeting: How can I subtly adjust this?
  • At 5:30 p.m.: Finally, I get to take this thing off. Ahhhh.

Day 2: The Underwire Bra (My take: One with hard wires that dig into your ribs.)

  • When getting dressed in the morning: What can I wear so that people don’t see me wearing this? I guess I should wear a dark undershirt with a heavily patterned button-up that isn’t too form-fitting.
  • This one is different than what I wore yesterday. How do I put it on?
  • Also, there’s lace on it. That looks itchy.
  • Does this one fit right? I have no idea. It feels weird.
  • My armpits are getting poked.
  • While in the men’s restroom: Is the bra showing through my shirt?
  • I’m itchy again. Yes, the lace is itchy.
  • Finally. Done for the day.

Day 3: The Sports Bra (My take: One probably intended for running or maybe sitting on the couch.)

  • This seems like the most comfortable. I’m not doing anything athletic, but at least it won’t dig in like the last one.
  • Sitting at my desk: This is tight around my arms.
  • It keeps slipping up. Now that I’ve started messing with it, it’s become more annoying.
  • When packing up in the evening: I’m free!

Conclusions

  • It’s hard to know if you have the right fit or not. I never wore one of these before, so I’m not sure what they are supposed to feel like. If someone has never experienced a good fit, they don’t know what they’re looking for.
  • Something might be uncomfortable because of the style, not only the size. (I’m looking at you, underwire.) When there’s an issue with the fit of a bra, it’s hard to know what exactly is wrong in order to fix it.
  • Finding the right bra seems like it often might be less about maximizing comfort and more about minimizing discomfort.
  • Sweating.
  • Careful consideration needs to go into what is worn over the bra, especially if you’re worried about it being noticeable (like I certainly was).
  • When putting them on, I always felt awkward (for a variety of reasons). Although not exactly the same, I’m sure there is a level of similar self-consciousness when getting fitted.
Peter reading up on bras.

Although this was a short experiment, the point I’d like to reiterate is the importance of putting yourself in your customer’s shoes. If you’re not the target audience for the product or service that you’re looking to sell, then it’s going to require some concerted effort to get into the mind of your customer. There are a variety of ways that we go about this in our experience design process at Elevate (most of which don’t involve manssieres), but it always requires asking the question,

“What does this customer truly want and need?”

rather than “What do I think this customer wants and needs?” These are questions to constantly ask yourself when thinking about your customer and, hey, maybe trying to live a day in their shoes would help.

Speaking of living a day in the someone else’s shoes, as mentioned earlier, Sara also agreed to conduct an empathy experiment. What better shoes for her to live in than mine? And what is something unique about me that some people find hard to understand? I’m colorblind. You can read more about Sara’s experiment in Going Color-Blind: An Experiment in Empathy and Accessibility.

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