I read sewing blogs (my regained passion) and I always come across the same advice: get a good bra, one that fits, elevates and makes what a good bra is supposed to do. Well, I think always “duh” but when I look in my drawers I don’t like what I see (too big, too small, padded bras that put the 50’s bullets to shame and the only bra that actually fits it’s long past it’s due date).
Now, I know that a trip to a well stocked shop is a must and that I must try 1,000 models and cups before I can find the right one. Asking specialized advice at the shop is not an option, since the 20-year-old girls attending seem to have even less experience than I do. So, my question is: What exactly is a good bra, what should I be focusing on when shopping, how do I recognize it? Mind you, I’m not asking for brands or types, I know every woman has a different bust, but a bit of guidance would be nice.
As I admitted to Irene, I generally trust the 20-year-old sales associates at Nordstrom. I mean, I know that a good bra should be snug, that the cups shouldn’t gape, that it shouldn’t produce copious cleavage, that it shouldn’t carve up the flesh on your upper back … but as a small-breasted girl who is relatively easy to fit, that’s about all I know!
So I called in an expert: K.Line. K has written many, many posts on brasierres and even sewed one herself! (Pictured above. Impressed? I sure am.) She is smart, witty, a superior shopper, and has loads of opinions on this matter, so I cajoled her into whipping up a guest post. And she is here to answer that age-old question: What makes a good bra good?
Sally has graciously offered to let me field reader Irene’s pressing question: What, exactly, is a good bra?
As a fellow sewing blog aficionado, a 40-year-old woman with large breasts and an urge to make my chest seem a) lifted and young and b) proportionate with the rest of my curvy, but small, frame, I hear her. I know the question she’s really asking is about general elements. In effect, “What’s a good bra for me?” I sense she knows there are as many good bras as good women. You just have to mix and match them correctly.
Fortunately, an obsessive love of shopping, a fearless willingness to surf the web (to see the vast array of stuff to choose from), patience to try on lots of miserably ill-fitting products, and a tolerance for super friendly fitters will take you from schlumpy to fantastic in no time flat. (Ha, ha, get it?)
First things first, take a look at yourself. Naked, I mean. Is your chest large or small? Are your breasts the same size? Do they sag or are they high? Are they dense? Is your back narrow or broad? Do your shoulders slope?
Next, put on a few of your current bras and review. Which one do you wear most often and why? Is it the one that fits best? Is it the seam-free one or the lacy sexy one? What colours do you like? Do you loathe them all?
Now be honest: Do any of those bras actually fit?
Elements of a Bra that Fits
The Band: In short – the band needs to be snug on the first hook (the loosest) so that, if you take the straps of the bra off your shoulders, the cups may slip off your breasts, but the band isn’t going to budge on your back. Another way to see it: the underwire (presuming you wear bras with underwire) will stay put right under your breasts. Correct band fit will determine, largely, the ability for the bra to lift and beautifully distribute the weight of your chest, large or small.
The underwire: Underwires are sized based on cup size. (I know this since I started making bras earlier this year.) The wire needs to fit the full expanse of your under-breast without being so long that it cuts in under your arm or comes too high at the breast bone. It needs to be long enough to press against your chest wall when the band is clasped. If the wire draws away from your chest it is either because the wire is too short or because the cups on the bra are too small. Underwire seems mysterious, but I assure you it’s just a piece of metal, manufactured in many sizes. The question is: Does that size fit you?
The cups: If your breasts pillow over the top of the cup, or pop out underneath (or at the side) OR if the wire comes away from the chest wall, the likelihood is that the cup is too small. A cup that’s too large will pucker, often diagonally and usually at the centre top of the cup down towards the wire. The breast will “shrink away” from the cup, leaving an unwanted span between the fabric and the skin. The worst offenders, in my experience, are molded bras which are a) seam-free (so the fabric doesn’t pull away from a centre point seam in different directions towards the cup edges) and b) stiff, by nature. Most breasts don’t work optimally with most molded bras, despite their usefulness under a t-shirt. Some breasts don’t work with any.
Caveat: If you have 2 breasts of rather disparate size, a molded bra can be helpful in presenting a more even silhouette, but the smaller breast will swim and you must wear the size for the larger breast in that situation.
Other caveat: Fantasie makes a molded bra that isn’t firm. It’s seam free and without stretch but it moves and it’s very supportive. It’s also very flattering if it fits your frame. I have heard that it’s a fussy one to fit, but it’s my neutral staple. I’ve never come across another bra constructed of the same material (and in smaller sizes) but perhaps it does exist.
DO NOT DESPAIR! In this wonderful day and age, you will be able to find a bra with the right band size and the right cup size. (Unless you fall into an extremely small minority at either extreme.) Note that as the band size decreases the cup size goes up. So… 38C is the same as 36D is the same as 34E is the same as 32F, etc. Your back size influences your cup size. An F cup is not intrinsically huge (or freakish, I might add) – any more than a 38 back band is freakish or huge. It is what it is. Just buy the bra that fits.
- Side note: In my experience as a woman with large breasts, the optimal cup fabric is low on stretch (or even stretch-free). Also, 3 piece cups (cups comprised of 3 pieces of fabric seamed in two spots on the cup) are better for sizing and more flattering than molded, 2-piece or seam-free cups. (There are of course exceptions.) If you are of small- or moderate-breast size, the world is your oyster. Go for those slinky stretchies with less architectural integrity. If you don’t need it – and you are young – you may not need to pay for it.
I should share my bias right now that good bras should cost. I’ve made them. I know the price of the materials. I know the degree of intricacy that goes into creating them. I understand the requirements for large (or small) manufacturers to produce beautiful product and to market it adequately – while paying for and respecting qualified staff. I spend upwards of 200 bucks for bra and panty sets. (I always wear sets.)
After years of shopping at small boutiques, my new fave way to buy is online. Yes, I know it sounds crazy – especially if you’re unsure of your size or if your tolerance for returns is low. But you can buy easily on Figleaves.com if you know a brand that fits or if you are very sure of size and the fit of the product. (Or if you are a lingerie daredevil with appetite to return as necessary.) The site offers products for about 30% less than small lingerie shops. For instance, a not-on-sale Freya set, purchased on Figleaves, will run you about $80 – $90 bucks. (Note: Much though I wish it were so, the peeps at Figleaves are not paying me in product to tell you this.)
Another plus for online bra shopping: You’ll have more stock to choose from in a wider range of sizes, and you’ll be able to try on 8 zillion things in the privacy of your own boudoir while drinking a gin and tonic. It’s vaguely irritating to return lots of stuff, but worth it, as far as I’m concerned.
I do appreciate qualified SAs who know their stuff and who work in stores that stock the products I wear. Unfortunately, I’m not satisfied with my options lately. I know enough about my body to know that trial and error is an appropriate system for me right now. I’m not suggesting it will work for everyone.
My go-to bras are by Freya, Fantasie, Panache and Charnos (to name a few). I can actually buy a Freya bra sight-unseen and pretty well know it will fit. I own practically every style as they really work for me. I’ve learned that Freya works perfectly for my small back and large, upper-dense breasts. The brand, British, cuts for exactly my body type. The underbands (the part that encases the wire) of the majority of their bras are not overly thick. (Now, that’s a whole other story for another post perhaps. Underwire bras can be constructed in 1 of 2 ways, and one of those ways adds more bulk – and, theoretically, more lift and structure – than the other.
I’d better quit this post while I still have a reader or two – as you can see I am passionate about the bras! Feel free to email me, or to check out semi-regular lingerie posts on my own blog, if you have any questions.
Got any questions for K.Line? Other tips for judging a good bra? Where do you buy yours? Any brands or stores that you’ve come to trust?