Bras. They Do A Body Good.

This novel is long overdue. Compared to my thoughts on lipstick and the like, the topic at hand is of a much more personal and important nature. Lipstick shades have certainly changed over time, but none have evolved as much as my bra choices. And no other aspect of personal care and grooming has contributed as much to my "evolution" as the bras I have chosen to wear.

It's doubtful that I've ever alluded to this in any of my beauty-related posts, but in short, I'm rather busty. That's an understatement because I'm writing this blog and trying to keep you entertained. Actually, I'm Very Busty. I'm usually the bustiest person in the room, and if there is another Very Busty female there, there is a good chance I'm related to her (although not one of my sisters or cousins is as busty as I am).

I don't say this with much pride, unfortunately. At an otherwise petite 5 feet 1 inch, I shop for and wear bras that are considered "plus-size," "full," or "full-figured." This whole blogger body often feels wacky and disproportionate, and there are significant physical side effects. But hey, that's my genes, that's my life. I have been forever considering have a breast reduction surgery but for now, the right bras will have to suffice.

My entry into the world of bras is due entirely to the Oprah effect (chronicled in this NYT article on bra sizing). In case you missed Oprah's groundbreaking 2005 episode on the United States of Poor Bra-Wearing in America, please visit her website on the Bra Revolution (a simple search for "bra" on the site also gives you this whole list of information and resources). While I'm no Oprah-phile or celebrity junkie, all the credit goes to her for shedding light on this largely ignored (and somewhat inaccessible) but very basic aspect of that one thing we all do everyday - wear clothes. Had it not been for that episode and the consequent focus on the importance of being in a good bra, I might still be suffering from the burden of bustiness.

In short, what this episode revealed to America is that:
1) Most women are wearing the wrong bra size and don't even know it
2) Every woman should be properly fitted for the correct size and should receive a true fitting from select bra specialists; if not, they should know what elements make a good fit
3) There is a whole range of cup sizes beyond the standard DD that you see in major department stores and the largely useless Victoria's Secret, sizes that are not just meant for "plus-size" women and nursing mothers

I took one look at my chest and thought - who am I kidding? I define one of those women! My breasts are screaming for a fitting! Why have I been trying to squeeze them into unfortunate disasters all these years! Why has no one ever suggested an alternative? Lucky for me, one of the boutiques featured on that episode (and subsequently, many others) happened to be right here in NYC. I visited it as soon as I could, and never looked back.

When I was first fitted for the correct size, I was astonished and somewhat embarrassed by the large cup size. At the same time, the amazing fit significantly changed my approach to general clothes-wearing and radically improved my self-image. Not to suggest that one's self-image should rest on appearance and clothing. Regardless of size, shape, and appearance of our bodies, I think we can all agree that ill-fitting underwear and clothes make you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. Even more importantly, they put a strain on certain body parts (mostly the back and shoulders in the case of bras) and can lead to poor posture. If all it takes is a good bra, then by all means, I will have it.

The function of a bra is so basic and yet so elusive. But if you go for a fitting, you will notice the difference, especially if you have large breasts. The work of a good bra is immediately visible - the breasts lift a little, there is some separation and definition to them so that you don't feel like there is an extra butt on your chest, and they are held firmly but comfortably in place. Since there are so many good-bra-imposters out there and since there are so many more sizes than women realize, it's easy to forget that any bra should be doing all 3 of these things well. It's also mind-boggling than given the variety of breast shapes and sizes, so many different women try to fit into the same bras.

It is no exaggeration that if you wear the right bra, you may not need to go up a size in a dress or top. If you wear the right bra, you'll appear a bit slimmer and all the best parts of your body will be better accentuated. If you wear the right bra, you'll barely feel it (I'm sure women of all sizes look forward to taking it off at the end of the day). If you wear the right bra, carrying yourself well throughout the day will be easier and healthier for you.

It may sound like I'm buying into some ideal of what a woman's body should look like, but it's not about ideals or perky, cone-shaped breasts (although there was definitely something to the more "constructed" underwear of the past). The simple fact is that clothes don't always fit our bodies the way they need to in order for us to look our best. This goes for men and women of all shapes and sizes. But small changes due to the right underwear (and good tailoring) have had a huge impact on what clothes I purchase and wear, and how well I can maintain them.

For me, wearing a decent bra is no different from getting my pants hemmed (which, at my height, I have to do for nearly every pair). If the right bra and some lifting, separating, and holding make it easier for me to button a shirt or wear a wrap top, I'm in. If my breasts have better support and aren't running free and wildly away from me as I walk around this city all day, I'm in. I have enough going on in my head to be self-conscious about them. While I agree that improving your appearance needn't be an unhealthy obsession, it's important to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. For most of my life, my breasts ruled much of what I saw in the mirror and most of the wardrobe choices I made. I longed to wear a button-down shirt and other clothes in sizes that were still proportionate to the rest of the body, and now I know how. Call it maturity - I prefer to call it my bra.

You might be wondering what aspects of a high-quality bra lead to a good fit and improved performance over average bras. Usually, the band (fabric that stretches across the back) is where most of the support in a good bra should come from, and band-size is more important than cup-size. In high-quality bras, the band is usually better constructed and sturdier than average (and not necessarily wider or thicker). In the case of any good bra fit, regardless of the brand, the middle part of the bra should lie flat against your chest and breasts shouldn't spill out of cups. I like my plus-size bras for the fit and also the breathable, comfortable fabrics that seem more like underwear and less like Halloween costumes.

There is also something incredibly indulgent and yet so practical about going to a specialty lingerie shop and getting properly fitted. I'm not sure if women were ever meant to find something as intimate and functional as a bra in cardboard bins and flimsy fabrics, and without expert assistance. Specialty and high-quality bras are definitely an experience, but this leads me to the only sticky and somewhat unfortunate aspect of joining the Bra Revolution.

Cost. Particularly if you fall into the fuller bra category. The average price of a bra I try on in-store is $80, and most of them are European brands. While there are discounts and sales available through online retailers, they are never as frequent as one would like. The best way to go about this whole process is to get fitted in-store, make note of your size and the brands you tried on, and then search for them online. My first caveat is that manufacturers have differences in sizing and design, so the same size among various brands may not always be the right fit - try as many as the store has in your determined "size" and search only for the ones you have tried and like in those sizes/brands.

If you can't find a better value online, my advice is to go ahead and make the investment in-store. It is the closest thing to your body and the most influential in how certain clothes fit. Beyond that, it can be a major source of physical distress if you are particularly large-breasted. And think about it - you probably spend just as much or more on clothes, accessories, makeup, and skincare. Save and plan for one, and start with that. I promise that you will reach for it more than the other unfortunate pieces you have called bras. Then, slowly work a couple more into the bra rotation (convention is to give a bra a day's rest before wearing it again) until you have about as many as you personally need for a week.

My second caveat is that high-quality bras should be taken care of and need their "rest," so avoid wearing them out too quickly. While they defy gravity and all, they are still rather delicate and should be handled and cleaned with care (gently hand-wash and hang-dry only!). Trust me, I know. When I first got fitted, I could only afford one bra and was luckily able to purchase a second using a gift card. I wore those two bras to death, and didn't take good care of them. They can still do a decent job, but they have definitely seen their day. So while you may start out with 1 or 2, it is worth building the bra wardrobe.

If, of course, your new size-adjustment still allows you to buy bras at the standard major retailers, be my guest. But having one or two specialty brands might help for special clothes or occasions.

Note: Like women, pretty bras come in all sizes. Don't shy away from the right bra for fear that it will look like grandma underwear or maternity wear. I would put form and function above design, but we all do need a little color and sizzle. I assure you that you can find it even in the plus-size range. It just takes a little searching and perhaps a little more saving to splurge on something special. If it is difficult to find your plus-size bra and you find yourself searching through surgical/specialty/maternity/nursing retailers, onward ho! Plenty of women do it. But the issue has motivated me to take on a personal mission and see how these sizes can become more widely available.

For those of you interested in getting fitted in New York City, I recommend the My Intimacy boutique (which was featured on Oprah and has stores in several other cities), but there are a few others, including Bra Smyth. I've compiled a list of some of the best available brands that carry cup sizes A-H, and some of the best online retailers for them (my favorites are starred):

Specialty Brands:
*1) Anita (their Rosa Faia line has beautiful and comfortable designs - the Daytona Underwire is my favorite)
2) Aviana
*3) Chantelle Paris (Best for Small, Medium, and Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
4) Conturelle (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
5) Edith Lances
6) Elixir (
Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
7) Empriente (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
*8) Fantasie of England (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
9) Fauve (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
10) Freya (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
11) Glamorise
12) Le Mystere (their Dream Tisha T-Shirt bra is apparently Oprah's favorite and a best-seller, but I have yet to try it)
13) Natori
14) Panache (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
*15) Prima Donna (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy; my favorite is the Satin Underwire Bra)
16) Wacoal (I didn't have a good experience with these for some reason, although it is another Oprah-favorite line)

Available at:
1) Athleta (mostly sports bras)
*2) Bare Necessities
*3) Bigger Bras
4) Fig Leaves
5) Fresh Pair
6) Her Room
*7) My Intimacy (in-store only)
8) Nordstrom's (in-store and online)
9) The Bra Factory
10) The Lingerie Store USA
11) The Pink Bra
*12) Bra Smyth (in-store and online)
13) Bits of Lace
14) Essential Apparel
15) Bra Boutique
16) Treasure Lingerie
17) Linda's Bra Salon (in-store and online)
18) Ruth Lingerie
19) Loretta's Intimates
20) Lingerie Lingerie
21) Underwear24
22) La Petite Coquette (in-store and online)
23) Lauren Silva
24) Lady Grace Intimate Apparel
25) La Mode Lingerie
26) Claire De Lune
27) Bust Stop
28) Bra Experience
29) Corset Corner
30) A La Mode Lingerie
31) Bra Shop
32) Bedroom I's Boutique
33) Wizard of Bras
34) A Brief Affair


sallyrose said...

You can also buy this lingerie - plus beautiful swimwear from Beau Dame Lingerie http://www.beaudamelingerie.co.uk/lingerie/swimwear/panache-sorrento-softcup-triangle-bikini-top.html

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