Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ladies: Better Support through Engineering!

This one is for the ladies (or for those men who are well-bred enough to refrain from making stupid comments -- which will put them in a higher class than the chauvinist pigs over at the WSJ site, apparently). For the men who quake with passion at the mere mention of a breast: just go away. You need more help than we can offer you here.

I do not belong to that poor benighted class of women who could burn bras in the 60s and actually feel like they were liberated. Unfortunately, most bra manufacturers (including the ubiquitous and near-useless Victoria's Secret) only cater to a small range of rather unexciting sizes, which makes them worse than useless to me. (Worse, I say, because either the saleslady looks at you blankly when you request a size they don't carry, or she says blithely, "Oh, we'll just go up a band size and it'll fit!" Ladies, if you ever hear that from a saleswoman, RUN.) So I was pleased that the WSJ ran an article yesterday on better bras for larger cup sizes, a theme near and dear to my heart.

A well-made bra tends to cost more than $50 and often closer to $100. Why so much? Bras are engineering challenges that have been compared in the industry to suspension bridges. In a bra, the wires, straps and other engineering features redistribute the weight in the bra to the band around the torso.

...Good bras can have more than two dozen working parts. Seams support stress points and create shape. Rigid stays prevent the fabric under the arm from crumpling. Stretch lace at the top of the cup looks decorative, but it has a function as well: It ensures a smooth fit even when a woman's breasts aren't exactly the same size. The straps don't actually support the weight in a bra, but they do need to be firmly anchored into the band to distribute tension.

All that engineering is the reason that most lingerie stores advise washing bras by hand. Even putting bras in a lingerie bag won't protect them against machine detergents, which take the life out of lace, elastic and other materials. A good bra should last for at least two years, says Jenette Goldstein, owner of the Jenette Bras shop.

...When a woman with a chest circumference of 32 inches buys a 36-inch bra, the band often rides up in back, leading to sagging in front. "It's the see-saw effect," says Ms. Goldstein. "The more you crank the straps, the more it pulls up in back."

One of the worst things a woman can do for her figure or her posture is wear a poor-fitting bra, and I say this as someone who wore the wrong size for 15 years. Wearing a bra that fits correctly is a revelation and a joy and suddenly reduces a lot of stress on a woman's shoulders and back. And your clothes fit better, which is a not-insubstantial perk. If you can afford to eat nothing but beans and rice, that's one thing. But most American woman can find it in their budgets to invest (and it is an investment: in your appearance and in your health) in a good bra or two.

Let me say this to the nervous: a mis-placed idea of modesty is no excuse to wear a bad bra. Good support is not immodest; it is prudent and elegant. If a woman's goal is never to have a man think about you, she can certainly achieve that by wearing an ill-fitting bra. But ugly has never been synonymous with virtue.

Check out the slideshow after you read the article. That last bra is so fabulous I might have to buy it, even though I'm about to be relegated to the ghetto of the (well-fitting) nursing bra.


Jordana said...

Amen on the little engineering miracles! I am lazy and wash mine in the machine, but I have found that it is really the dryer that destroys mine. And for those of us in unusual sizes, going in for a fitting with a trained woman and spending $70+ is so worth it.

Jenny said...

"Oh, we'll just go up a band size and it'll fit!" Ladies, if you ever hear that from a saleswoman, RUN.

Truer words were never spoken. I was young, stupid, and victim to these words when I had my first baby. I was at the maternity shop and buying nursing bras. I needed 34DD which apparently only exists on the Internet or in the hospital. The saleslady (at the maternity shop!!!) said "We don't sell that size, but we can do a 36D and that will work just as well."

I stupidly listened to her and spent nearly $100 on nursing bras. And then the milk came in...what misery! Giant, heavy breasts just sitting on my stomach with the band up on top of my shoulder blades. Some days I would just cry. And worst of all I had spent all my available funds to buy them, so I couldn't get anything to replace them for months. And of course you can't return them because you can't return anything to the maternity shop. I bought well-fitting bras with my second baby and what a joy!

mrsdarwin said...

Jenny, your saleswoman will one day be called to account for her follies... I had the same problem at Motherhood and have never bought a bra from them since. The last time I set foot in Victoria's Secret the saleswoman tried to sell me two band sizes too big and two cup sizes too small -- I guess she assumed it would all balance out somewhere?

Really , such ignorance is inexcusable in people whose job it is to charge a premium price on the basis of having a superior product. I only buy bras at my local specialty store, and I get remeasured every time. No point in spending that kind of money on something that doesn't fit!

I guess you can tell I feel strongly about this...

mrsdarwin said...

Jordana, you're so right about the dryer. I usually put my stuff in a bag on the gentle cycle with Woollite or whathaveyou and then hang it all up. Pregnancy, however, obligates me to have an item or two that want a gentler touch, so now once a week I toss everything in the sink and let it soak. The main problem there that I fall asleep and only remember my soaking laundry at 3 am...

Charlotte (WaltzingM) said...

What about those of us with not a lot on top? Is it still important to invest in a top dollar bra? Where does one go to actually get fitted for these engineering marvels and do they have one that will make me look bigger than a 12 year old girl stuffed with socks? Thanks!

mrsdarwin said...

I think some department stores have trained fitters, but I asked around and did some internet searches to find a local (as in less than twenty miles away local) bra store. I think that no matter what your chest size, it's a good idea to get fitted, just so's you know. One of the best pieces of information I took away from a fitting is HOW a bra should fit. Now, if I try on something in the wrong size, I know why it feels wrong. Whether you're small or large, the support should mainly be in the band of the bra, not the straps. Even if the tight straps don't give you a backache, the silhouette will be wrong.

Another tidbit: the bra should fit snugly on the widest hook, so that you can adjust inward throughout the life of the bra as it stretches. If you can start out on the tightest setting, you probably need to go down a band size.

I have been told that the Wonderbra actually lives up to its billing, while the Waterbra is not such a great product...

Foxfier said...

I'm (thankfully) a runt, so I can still mostly buy off a normal rack. (Most expensive bra I ever bought was VS-- ugh. Expert sizing, my left foot.)

I actually bought an emergency bra at Walmart that I am tickled pink about-- it's a "Danskin Now" sports bra that is probably the most comfortable bit of underwear I've owned since I was 17 or so.

RL said...

This one is for the ladies (or for those men who are well-bred enough to refrain from making stupid comments -- which will put them in a higher class than the chauvinist pigs over at the WSJ site, apparently). For the men who quake with passion at the mere mention of a breast: just go away. You need more help than we can offer you here.

I like boobs and can't imagine anyone making a stupid comment about them. I also can't imagine someone quaking with passion from reading the word breast, but who doesn't at least smile at the thought of them?

I'm pleased that on this blog we can have a mature conversation about big boobies.


Rebekka said...

I'd say it's less about how much you spend and more about how the bra fits. If you're not as well-endowed you may not need to spend as much to get a well-fitting bra as someone who is larger or has fit issues like two different cup sizes or sloping shoulders. But everyone, no matter her shape or size, should have a well-fitting bra (AND a good quality sports bra with NO BOUNCING AT ALL).

It was interesting to see that I'm not far off from the national average - that explains why I can only ever find A's and B's on the rack...

And just HAD to add that my verification word is "gawks".

the other Sherry said...

I'm currently using two sports bras as my nursing bras - didn't have time to take a trip to a major metropolitan area at the time I had to acquire them before leaving for a year in Poland. Don't have enough Polish to try to find a specialty bra shop, much less shop in one. Fortunately, once I got past the initial engorgement stage, these have worked pretty well -- I'm well supported and can nurse reasonably easily. I'm rather limited in the necklines I can wear, but since I live about 98% of my life in turtlenecks or T shirts that isn't really a problem.

Once I'm back in the States, though, I'd like to try looking for something really well-fitting. Any suggestions for the Columbus, OH area? or maybe Cincinnati?

BettyDuffy said...

I always love having a chance to talk about my knockers. Thanks Mrs. D!

Biggest problem I have with spending a ton of money on bras: extreme size fluctuations due to maternity and nursing.
By extreme, I mean some letter that sounds like it belongs to an adult entertainer, slowly drifting down over the course of the first year to a couple of deflated has-beens (smaller even, than before I had kids).

They're tricky, and I never know what they're going to do when. And just when I think the cup-size is stable, I typically get pregnant again, which opens a band circumference can of worms.

So, I end up buying lots of cheap bras, and none of them fit.

Thanks for letting me share.

federoff9 (better make that 10) said...

Ghetto of nursing bras?!? Au contraire! There are a number of VERY good nursing bras out there... and I should know, I just passed my 398th week of being pregnant! (Not all the weeks are continuous!) So, as I've nursed my babies for an average of 12 months, you can image, I KNOW NURSING BRAS!

Yes, avoid "Motherhood." Go to "" and look at their bras. The Bravado line (especially the Bodysilk seamless bra) and the T-shirt soft cup nursing bra by Melinda G. are FANTASTIC! I packed 4 of these for 2 weeks in Europe, and the baby nursed great, my clothes fit well, and I was well-supported... and I'm about a 38 DD when nursing.

mrsdarwin said...


That's a fairly helpful site, but even there I'm running into the same problem I normally face, which is that I wear a 32, and very few places carry a 32 in cup sizes larger than E, in underwire (some people hate it; I won't go without it 'cause it's just not a good scene). But the few that Expressiva carry in the size I need look nice.

Fortunately, my local store keeps some good stuff in stock, so in a few weeks I'm going to head down there and stock up.

Anonymous said...

Well, a huge part of the problem is that no one knows how to fit a bra correctly. The traditional formula to measure your ribcage for the band, add 4 or 5, then measure around the widest point of your bust and subtract that number to determine your cup is just... insane. By that logic, I should be wearing a 42AA - a nonexistent size that would provide worse than no support.

I'm almost at the point of getting some custom corsets made instead of coping with bras anymore.

I will admit to going braless during the last trimester of pregnancy though. My ribcage expanded 4 inches at that time, and it was excruciatingly painful with a bra, and plenty uncomfortable without one. When my son was born, he had this huge calf muscles and I think he was bracing himself in there and pushing on my ribs with his legs.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...


As another member of The Extremely Under-Endowed Club, I would say that yes, it is really worth it to have a fitter help you find the right size bra. That's how I discovered that the reason that my bra cups are always partially empty is that regular stores don't carry sizes small enough for me.

The fitter (at Nordstroms) could only find two two bras in the whole store in my size. One was a nursing bra which really made me laugh! I can't imagine how anyone who's nursing can be a double A! Even I swelled up to a C while nursing Fillius Major.

JMB said...

I don't know where you live but if you live close to a Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales, Saks or Neiman Marcus, get thee over there ASAP if they have (and they frequently do) bra fittings with experts from Wacoal or Le Mystere or some of the other top bra manufacturers (Chantelle, Maidenform, etc). Usally they advertize these fittings events in the newspaper or on the company's website.

Incidentally, there is no difference in cup sizes for an A and a B. I learned that. I also laid out some big bucks to buy 3 every day nude Wacoal tee shirt bras (about $60 each) and a convertable Chantelle bra which can be used as a halter and a strapless bra. I also bought one black tee shirt bra as well.

Having nursed 4 childen for a combined total of 10 years, my breasts deserved some TLC. Everything looks better when you are not sagging and your bras fit well.

Now that I have my bras down, I have serious issues about underwear. No riding up, saggy cotton, panty lines. You name it. I'm afraid to make a purchase because I've been so disappointed.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Another underendowed vote for good fit. I wear a 40A, only because I can't get a 42A. Nursing, I went up to a B size. God bless the invention of the sports bra. I got talked into paying $$ for nursing bras the first time I was pregnant, and discovered that I didn't come close to filling it out, that wires are as annoying as they ever were, and that a 40B sports bra was much more convenient (just shove everything upward and go; no unsnapping).

Camisoles are nice, too. They make a nice alternative to bras when you want something nice-looking underneath, and they're cheaper.

How I suffered as a teenager for my flat chest. How happy I've been as a woman for avoiding the tribulations of my sisters (like Mrs. Darwin) who have to wear proper bras.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I should really pre-read, thus avoiding using "nice" as if it were the only adjective in the world. Ah well.

TS said...

Word verification: "shame". As in, it's a shame that we can put a man on the moon but can't seem to put a breast in a cup very well. This (and parties known as "showers") are at least two reasons I'm glad I'm male.

Roz said...

Based on this sample (and looking in the mirror), it appears that a significant portion of the Catholic blogosphere has been waiting for someone to open the bra subject. Good luck ever getting it closed again.

My trick is to go to a good store, find a great bra, note the brand and MODEL NUMBER (even within a brand, fit of bras can vary), go home, search for it on eBay and then buy yourself a brand new bra for much, much less than you'd spend retail.

(Just doing my part to increase your available money for almsgiving, one bra at a time.)

bearing said...

I'm really sorry I came to this discussion so late. It is a bit of a hobby horse of mine.

I HATE Bravado nursing/maternity bras. Just to stop people from ordering some on line on one person's recommendation (nothing personal, federoff, I just want to say that YMMV if not YM*W*V.) Me, I swear by the brand of nursing bra known as Anita. Nordstrom never has my size in stock, but you can go to Nordstrom, be measured, and have them order the right size for you; it will come to your house and not have any shipping charges, and I believe you will be able to return it to the store if it is the wrong size. I would hope that any high-end department store or standalone lingerie store would do the same. And MrsD, if I'm ever lucky enough to visit you in your home city, you are taking me to that lingerie store. :-)

I admire frugality, I do. But at some point a person has to put her foot down and announce that in certain classes of consumer goods, "inexpensive" is NOT a good deal. I am done with cheap bras, period.

(Also cheap haircuts, but that is another thread.)

mrsdarwin said...


Preach it, sister! (Bras and haircuts, I'm with you.) Come to Austin and we'll go down to Petticoat Fair. I do believe that there's a big place in Cincinnati though -- check the phonebook next time you're in the vicinity. The awesome place in the WSJ article was in LA, but if we're ever there at the same time, it's a date. :)

I was given a Bravado with my first -- never again! This last time I had an Anita which I loved, but which needs replacing.

Charlotte (WaltzingM) said...

You're in Austin? How did I not know that? I'm in DFW!

OK ladies, you've talked me into it. I guess I always thought it didn't matter what I wore because there wasn't that much to sling around up there. I am convinced now and plan on taking a birthday trip to the mall (ugh!) to get properly fitted soon.

bearing said...

Can we talk nursing sports bras now? I find the Moving Comfort "Fiona" to be good for opening up to nurse, but only a decent sports bra for light support activities (ok for brisk walking, maybe hiking, not enough for running). I have bras with enough support for running, but there is NO WAY you can nurse in them. I'm stuck taking the baby to the locker room to nurse mid-workout.

Tony said...

As the dad of a well-endowed daughter, I passed this article on to my wife with instructions to quietly pass it on to my daughter.

My daughter wouldn't want to know that I even know she *has* breasts. :)

eulogos said...

When I first got pregnant, I hadn't even worn a bra for five years. I was a 32B, with no sag at all. As I got larger, a friend gave me two, which were the only ones I had for several years after that. I pulled them up to nurse. I didn't even know there was such a thing as nursing bras. Someone bought me nursing bras somewhere around my 8th baby!

My problem with bras is that my breasts point outwards, not straight ahead. There is at least a 90 degree angle between them. (This was also a problem when nursing lying down, as the bottom breast was pushed into the bed if I lay sideways; I had to lie leaning back at a 45 degree angle to get the bottom breast up to the baby's mouth. I always had to have a pillow behind my back. When I switched the baby to the other side, I had to switch the pillow also. On cold nights, when I had to have covers over me, switching to the other breast was quite an operation!)
I found one style of Walmart! which has enough space between the cups for me, and I have bought that style in several colors. But recently they haven't had it any more.
Some of my 36C bras are now too small, and I don't know if I am a 40C or what. So I could really use a fitting.

Question: do all of you who have larger sized breasts have a permanent dent in your shoulders from bra straps the way I, who am much more average, have? Can this be avoided? I assume it is permanent now.

Interesting article.

Susan Peterson

Roz said...

Hi, Susan. Welcome to the world of "dealing with difficult boobies".

No, I'm pretty buxom, and I don't get shoulder indentations. The straps shouldn't even be the main way your breasts are supported - the bra itself should provide enough structure even if you slip your straps off your shoulder. The straps smooth the top of the bra and cut down the "vibration factor" (I'm trying to be delicate here.)

A bra fitting might be a good idea. Frankly, just going to a good department store or bra shop and trying on different styles and sizes might be a revelation to you. Take heart! There's upper-body comfort ahead.