Bra shopping isn’t always the sexy, body-positive experience it’s cracked up to be. For many of us, it can be downright punishing. But a recent visit to The Rack Shack in Bushwick made me see lingerie—and my own body—in a new light.
“This one may not be for you, but I’d like for you to experience it,” said owner Laura Henny with a warm smile and a lilting Dutch accent. She hung a slip made of black lace from a hook in my fitting room. The garment was a plunge bra, with a wide band that fastened low in the front. Two strips of lace, anchored by a refined racer-back, magically transformed my breasts into a pair of round, freestanding orbs. (I’m 40, a mother of two, size 34GG.) And yet, I suddenly had the sort of body that could be slipped into one of those Oscar gowns with an impossibly deep-V neckline. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror, and honestly, as a somewhat shy and modest person who has spent 25 years trying to draw attention away from my boobs, my reflection made me a little nervous.
“I don’t think this is for me,” I called through the curtain, “but I’m grateful that it exists!”
The Rack Shack shop is an airy, sunny room on a quiet Bushwick street. Henny stocks bras from size 28A to 42HH (and is planning to expand her sizing by summertime). In business for three and a half years, it feels more like an artist’s loft than a traditional bra shop, and it’s a one-woman show with proprietor Henny as the sole employee.
The bras are tucked into simple white dresser drawers that line the perimeter of the space. On top of the dressers, which serve as display counters, are silky panties and dainty gold bracelets. (On closer look they turned out to be elegant little handcuffs.)
Rack Shack is in business to fulfill the needs of all kinds of bra-wearing humans. Need a harness for a night out at the nearby House of Yes? Henny’s got you. Do you find that the industry-standard beige bra color doesn’t match your complexion? Henny is working with the brand Nubian Skin to carry bras in all shades of nude.
During my visit, she spoke of the emotional experience of fitting a trans-woman for her first bra. We chatted about her straight, cis-male customer who has appeared on the Rack Shack’s inclusive Instagram feed with his chest hair spilling out of a cute little aqua green bra.
“This is a safe space, and he just likes to feel pretty,” Henny said breezily. She’s so warm and friendly that when her UPS guy arrived with a shipment, she jumped up to greet him with a hug and a kiss.
The fun, artsy, cool-boobs attitude is obviously not the typical bra shop vibe. As I tried on a surprisingly wide array of structured everyday bras and delicate bralettes in my typically hard-to-fit size, Henny recalled the grandmotherly brassieres that were presented to her as an 8th grader in a G cup, back in the Netherlands town where she grew up.
I could relate. My own bra-seeking journey began in a cluttered little shop on Long Island, where the elderly and aggressive bra-fitter squished my bouncy teenage boobs into frumpy beige satin “minimizer” cups, the color and shape of shiny hamburger buns. (The recent Broad City bit about bra shopping with Ilana’s mom hit a little too close to home for me.) While I gave up on seeking out sexier options and immediately surrendered to wearing sports bras under boyish clothes, a young Henny found a seamstress in Amsterdam who could alter cute bras to fit her.
Fast forward to a few years later. When she moved to New York City and couldn’t find her dream bra shop, she opened her own.
The Rack Shack is a different species from the fancy bra shop on the Upper East Side where a pretty young woman once assessed my topless body and then groaned that she was going to have to really dig to find something for me with a small band and giant cup. It also shares very little common ground with the dark fitting room on the Lower East Side, where I once stood, wearing a wide, terrible minimizer over my 6-month-pregnant belly when the lady proprietor asked if her husband could pop his head in for a second opinion. (Um, sure? I guess?) The Rack Shack would never carry the incredibly ugly, putty-colored boulder-holder that I bought at an appointments-only spot in Midtown after the fitter spent 15 minutes jiggling my boobs into it and promising that it was a perfect fit. (It wasn’t!)
I’ve gotten some great-fitting bras from another shop here in Brooklyn, but those came with unsolicited weight loss advice from the feisty proprietress, who promised I’d have a much better selection if I could just go down a cup size or two. I wish I would’ve told her that I was grateful for my body, which had recently birthed my second child, and that I wasn’t looking to change it to fit into a bra. Instead, I just took my new nursing bra home and cried.
When I shared this with Henny, who wears the same cup size as me (and has the words “NO body shaming” written on the front page of the shop’s website), she just shook her head.
“My biggest mission is to make everyone feel good,” she said. “I carry all the sizes because I don’t want anyone to feel they don’t fit in.”
Then, she whipped out a bra by Polish brand Ewa Michelak, which you can’t find anywhere else in the city. Now, I’ve always looked for bras to downplay my double-G’s, in hopes of making them seem more proportional to my medium-sized, 5-foot 5-inch frame. But this bra, with its clean lines, round cups, and wide, glossy panels, had the opposite effect. Instead of smooshed wide against my rib cage, my boobs were out front, as perky as balloons, as unapologetic as a pair of cantaloupes on a summer day. The look involved more cleavage than I’d like to bring to my regular haunts (playgrounds, coffee shops, greenmarkets, punk rock shows). But if I wore it under a demure crew-neck t-shirt, I could keep my tomboy-ish identity while feeling like a secret bombshell underneath.
Maybe this was the look I’d been going for all along, I realized. Personally, I never would have expected to have a moment of self-knowledge and body-acceptance in the fitting room of a bra shop.
Matching a person with their perfect bra is something of an art form, but Henny doesn’t take herself too seriously. She mentions that she uses the shop to host a monthly comedy show called Butt Dream, as well as an occasional music and spoken word poetry night curated by Artery. When she isn’t fitting customers, she’s doing production work for the theatrical performance of Bach & Bleach, showing at La Mama in June, to support the creative vision of Esther Apituley, a viola player from Amsterdam who strives to make classical music more accessible.
So, in a sense, the Rack Shack really is an artist’s loft—the studio of an artistic genius who sculpts your boobs into the rack you didn’t know you had.
The Rack Shack is located at 155 Central Avenue in Bushwick, 347-915-0248.