We’re taught that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to see when we look in the mirror. Tamara “Tammy” Woodard has made it her mission to help women see beyond their own body-shaming tendencies and to recognize their individual worth and beauty.
Woodard, 61, has owned and operated Underneath It All in Peterborough’s Depot Square since August 2010, a women’s boutique that carries undergarments, clothing, sleepwear and loungewear. Her specialty is her customized bra fittings that encourage women of every shape and size to feel good in their own skin.
Mother to an adult daughter and grandmother to one grandson, Woodard has lived in Peterborough for 15 years now. A transplant from Massachusetts, she lived in Cambridge and Arlington there, and raised her daughter in Leominster before moving to New Hampshire.
In the mid-1980s she worked as the director of a government-funded program that assisted welfare recipients in finding employment. The position required a lot of advocating, fighting for grant funds and helping women overcome any obstacle that was in their way of keeping the job — child care, transportation, housing, training.
In one year, she placed 45 women into the workforce. It was rewarding work, she says, but meant long stressful hours. In the late-80s she changed gears, opening and running a child-care business for school-aged children for 10 years, also working at the same time at the nearby school in the office and covering classrooms. The flexibility of these positions allowed her to be available for her growing daughter.
She moved on later to other positions, working for MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Star Container Corrugated Co. in office jobs and sales when her daughter was a teenager, learning a lot, she says, but not finding much overall life fulfillment. She grew to realize she needed to once again start her own business, not knowing yet what that would look like, although she had always dreamed of opening her own coffee shop.
“Every job you have makes a path for you,” she said. “There’s a learning curve all the time. I didn’t want to be in the corporate world. … It didn’t make me feel good.”
So, she left a world that she says cared more about money than people, took some time off and then started an online business called Green Angel Cottage after moving to Peterborough, where she sold New Hampshire-made products. After a year online, she opened a storefront in town, adding her own jewelry, bath salts and teas to the inventory.
And it was then that she unexpectedly found her niche.
“Many times, customers complained to me they couldn’t buy bras in Peterborough,” she said. “I was confused about why they were telling me this, but after 10 people telling me, I knew this was my new niche.”
She brought in a few bras for select customers and Underneath It All was born. She knew it was a risk and that it might not succeed, but told herself she would be happy if it lasted even a year.
It did much more than that. It took off. In four years, she had outgrown her space and moved the location to Depot Square, continuously expanding her offerings to sleepwear, loungewear, clothing, jewelry and gift items. And bras — lots of bras, with her customized fitting service that draws women from near and far.
Women who can’t find their size in department stores, or who have been mistreated by other retailers are all welcomed warmly by Woodard, who encourages them to embrace their bodies and have a good time in her store.
“I have to make women laugh,” Woodard said. “Because women are so hard on themselves and they’re tired of feeling uncomfortable. I want women to feel uplifted — both from their bra and to feel good about themselves.”
Women will travel from all the other New England states and beyond to be fitted by Woodard and they will return year after year. She keeps track of orders so that she can ship to customers down the road as well. Most days, she “lives in the dressing room,” as she described, and says it’s much more personal than just a normal shopping experience. She has intimate conversations with her customers, about what they are going through and their insecurities.
“We need to help each other accept who we are and be happy where we are,” she said. “We’re not 16 anymore.”
Betsyann Gilcreast, longtime owner of the now-closed Paper & Roses in Depot Square, nominated Woodard for the Extraordinary Women honor — she’s also a part-time employee — writing, “Customers come from miles, even countries, away. Tammy works with women who have had mastectomies, reconstruction or shoulder issues due to surgery or injury; pregnant or nursing moms whose bodies are changing; athletes in need of the perfect sports bra; brides-to-be with a wedding dress, the cut of which is lower than they anticipated; teenagers taking a first step into adulthood and needing their first bra; a daughter trying to find her fragile mother appropriate sleepwear; a husband trying to anticipate the needs of his wife recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Whatever the issue, Tammy spends as much time as needed with her customers. She is the right fit for someone needing the right fit.”
And Peterborough is the perfect fit for Tammy. The small-town community, she says, has supported her business and made sure it survived through the years. When she’s sick, people offer help. And she’s part of the Depot Square Association, with other business owners who gather to discuss ideas for growth and community involvement.
“I’m so glad I was led here,” she said. “It’s about more than bra fitting. It’s about making women feel good. That’s what makes me happy.”
Part of Woodard’s community connection involves giving back. She donates store products for area fundraising events and gives clothing to The Salvation Army and The Highlands, a care facility in Fitchburg, Mass., for patients with dementia.
Every year she holds an annual bra sale, and this year following the sale she had more leftover inventory than normal that she wanted to donate. After researching and reaching out to several charities with no response, she heard of a national organization called I Support the Girls.
Through an international network of affiliates, the nonprofit collects and distributes bras, underwear and feminine hygiene products to girls and women of all ages who are experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, impoverishment or distress. As the organization’s website states: “A woman shouldn’t have to choose between feeding herself and her personal health. Every woman should have the ability to maintain her dignity.”
“It was so many organizations involved,” Woodard said of why she felt drawn to donate her surplus inventory to I Support the Girls. “It was a big umbrella helping so many.”
Woodard itemized discontinued styles, various sample pieces, slow sellers and leftovers from her recent sale. Everything was brand-new and her donation filled 29 large bags and included 1,026 bras and 497 pairs of underwear, plus shapewear and pantyhose products. It was then distributed to five or six sites across the country by I Support the Girls, Woodard said.
Underneath It All is the only donation site in New Hampshire for I Support the Girls and Woodard plans to continue her dedication to the organization’s mission by collecting donations from the public of clean and gently used bras and underwear that don’t fit or have been long forgotten about in the back of bureau drawers. Those who donate receive 10 percent off a new bra purchase at the store.
She said the response from the public has been enthusiastic. “Every woman has bras in their drawer that they don’t wear,” Woodard pointed out. “Bras that don’t fit right or that they don’t like.”
It’s just one more way she can support women.
“I’ll be 85 and still here doing this,” Woodard laughed. “This is where I’m staying. It’s somewhere I can age. I don’t want to do anything else but continue to help women.”