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Fit matters, times two

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The 30 minutes I spent topless in close quarters with Millie changed the way I look at the world.

I just wish I hadn't waited until I was 37 for the experience. Yes, it was awkward standing there as she adjusted and tugged. But in the end, it wasn't half as humiliating as I expected.

After half an hour, I walked out of that dressing room with the perfect bra.

It took years of less-than-perky breasts and achy feet to realize there are two things you should never buy unassisted: bras and running shoes.

I'm not a runner, but I've always secretly wanted to be one. My urge re-emerges each year about the same time that the tulips make their debut. Until I was assisted in picking the right shoes, each spring I would curse my feet and ankles for keeping me from running.

Stephanie Wurtz, a Pikes Peak Road Runners board member and runner, admits she used to buy the footwear that was on sale, or in the most appealing colors. After an injury, she says, she started taking advantage of the free service offered at nearly every running store — shoe sizing.

"I haven't experienced [injury] again since I got fitted for the appropriate shoes," says Wurtz, who's training now for August's Pikes Peak Ascent.

It's an easy process, really: Experts in the store listen to your needs, look at your feet, bring out samples, and then watch you test them out. Some stores are more tech-equipped and use cool computers or record you running on a treadmill.

Given the nuances of foot alignment (some turn inward, others outward; Wurtz's are neutral) and the raging debate over shoe design (standard cushioning vs. today's "barely there," low-profile models), there's a lot to learn. Wurtz advises that even after you find your perfect brand and style, you keep in touch with the experts. Manufacturers can change the design but not necessarily the name; it's the staff's job to keep track of these subtleties.

Of course, if you're a runner who logs the miles on each pair of shoes, you're probably already doing this. But if you're considering becoming a runner or you just hike or walk, getting the right pair can turn what felt like a chore into, well, less of a chore.

And just as athletes should know the value of the right shoe, women should know the value of the perfect bra. Their partners actually should, too. Most men might only think about this fancy piece of underwear when it's pushing up or coming off, but not only does the proper fit make breasts look better, it can relieve back and shoulder pain for women, lifting overall mood.

My first fitting came at the hands of the aforementioned Millie, a saleswoman at Dillard's, who was old enough to be somebody's grandmother and had an old-school sensibility. She explained to me where the girls (yes, that's what she called them) should settle when tucked into the right bra — halfway between the shoulder and the crook of the elbow. She grabbed my girls and put them where they belong.

Many retailers that sell bras offer free sizing. Some places take it a little more seriously — like Title 9, the women's athletic outfitter with a store on Tejon Street. At Title 9 they refer to themselves as bravangelists, and have regular events where fitting takes center stage.

Store manager Abby Akin says the biggest mistake most women make is wearing the wrong size. She estimates that half of all women aren't in the right size. (Yeah, that was me. I went from thinking I was a 40C to a 36DD.)

Yet, she says, "Women just hate bra fittings."

Who can blame us? Even men can appreciate a resistance to getting half-naked in front of someone armed with a ruler. But a few minutes of toplessness and a few hands-on adjustments, and, between the improved appearance and potential ease of pain, your girls will thank you.

"The bra is just as important as the shorts or shoes you choose," Akin says.

Sure, you can grab bargain shoes off clearance racks. And you can pull the same sized bra off the shelf that you've been wearing forever. But when the services are free, why wouldn't you take advantage?

The world will be a perkier place.

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