When Monica Wynne was in her 20s and had just given birth to her first son, she was in the market for the best nursing bra she could find. A friend told her about a spot in Benson that sold bras, so one day, she cruised down Maple Street looking for it.
It wasn't hard to find: A huge white bra was displayed on a mannequin in the shop window. A bra so big it could be called gigantic.
“I thought 'Well, shoot, I ain't that big so they have to have my size,'” Wynne said, laughing.
That was 20 years ago. Wynne still wears those special bras in her custom size, 36KK. Now the undergarments are made under the name Custom Fit Bra Co. and are sold in Omaha at just one shop, Cathy Dougherty's OmaBra, which operates out of a small storefront on the west side of Benson.
That big white bra that undoubtedly has caused speculation in many cars driving through Benson still is in OmaBra's window, and it is indeed huge. Size 52N, to be exact.
Dougherty's had customers with small breasts and customers with extra large breasts — one larger than the 52N. Customers who needed her to make alterations on a bra for the perfect fit or to order a special strapless bra for them to wear on their wedding day. Customers who are 20 years old and customers well into their 70s. Customers who had all but given up on the right fit before they found her.
OmaBra is the last business of its kind in the city — a vestige of old Benson, now more known for hip bars and restaurants — and it provides a service that Dougherty said fills women with relief, improves their self-esteem, and, maybe above all else, helps them like what they see when they look in the mirror.
“I've been doing this for 13 years,” Dougherty said. “I've seen everything.”
Dougherty, like most of her customers, first found out about the custom-fit bras she sells through another woman who was already wearing one.
In 1999, she went to a lingerie show and heard a woman talk about custom-fit bras. Dougherty decided to try one on even though each bra cost $50.
“Once I tried it on, I knew I was going to wear it home,” Dougherty said. “She would have had to fight me to take it off.”
Now Dougherty spends her mornings at her job on the support staff of Lewis and Clark Middle School and afternoons in her shop, where she meets clients for private fittings.
Beyond that bra in the window, OmaBra is a small shop, with Dougherty's office in the front and at the back, a white curtained fitting room where she fits clients. Plastic tubs full of neatly organized undergarments and mannequins wearing the bras are in the fitting area, as is a full-length mirror, where clients can take in their before-and-after silhouette.
Custom Fit Bra Co. bras, which have also been sold under the names Cameo, Figurette and Colesce Couture, aren't like most bras.
There's no underwire. Instead, there's a sort of shelf built into the bottom of the bra that lifts the breast. Dougherty calls that shelf a “hammock.” All of the bras can work as nursing bras, with an open cup and a flap that clasps into place over the front of the breast.
When Dougherty holds the bra in the air, it hangs in the shape of a horseshoe, not a straight line, and this design helps to evenly distribute the weight of breasts and take pressure off a woman's back.
This style come in two colors, beige and black, and in a huge range of sizes — from 28B to the size of the one in OmaBra's window or larger. Price depends on the size of the bra, but they start at about $65.
Dougherty said she has had customers too small for the 28B, although those who are too small for that size probably don't need the support of a custom bra.
Price is a consideration for most OmaBra customers, but in the end, Dougherty said, they decide the cost is worth it.
Wynne, who is 41, said she buys two bras a year from OmaBra and wears one under the business suits she sports to teach sixth grade at Edison Elementary and the other during her daily workouts and when she serves as a track club coach. For her, the comfort is worth the money.
“I can't imagine working out without one of these bras,” she said, “not with the size that mine are.”
Margie Polenz, another OmaBra customer, said she doesn't think twice about the investment. She's told friends about the bras, she said, and they were surprised at the price. But she breaks it down differently.
“I spend $180 on the bras and they last me two years,” she said, “Other women spend way more during those two years on $20 and $30 bras, and I have two great supporting, best-of-the-line bras.”
Jeanne Moseman, who sold the custom bras at private parties around Nebraska for more than 20 years and still sees clients occasionally in her Hooper, Neb., home, said she used to encourage women to buy three bras at once — one to wear, one that could be washed and a backup, just in case.
“When you are on the other side of the fitting room door it's like, 'Oh, they are expensive,'” she said. “But they last. And in the long run, they aren't expensive at all. It's how it makes you feel and look.”
At the private parties, Moseman said, most women arrived wearing the wrong size bra. And more than 90 percent of first-time OmaBra customers walk into the store wearing the wrong size too, Dougherty said. They wear bras that ride up in the back. They wear bras that make them look larger than they are.
“It's not their fault, though,” Dougherty said. “Of those women, 80 percent of them could never find a bra in their size at a regular store.”
Women at parties would look at one of their friends before the fitting, and then Moseman would fit them into a new bra.
The buyer and the other guests were amazed at the difference.
“You look good. You look better, and you know it. It's not a secret. It's an all-around fantastic thing for a woman,” Moseman said.
Polenz will tell you that too.
“I have one on right now,” said Polenz, who is 69, as she was being interviewed. “I started wearing them in my 20s and I never stopped.”
Polenz, a size 36DD, said she had a friend who sold the bras and that's how she found her first one. A tomboy at heart, Polenz said she likes lots of support. They just made her feel better about herself, she said.
They did the same for Wynne, who remains thankful that she saw that huge bra in the shop window 20 years ago.
She wore the bras while she nursed her four kids — the oldest is Richard Wynne Jr., a walk-on running back for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
“It makes me look like a normal size. I have a waistline. I can wear normal clothes,” she said. “And it got me through nursing all those kids”
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