Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Which Gail Rants About Bra Shopping

It's been a rough week, Fashionable Reader. I have been brought close to tears three times over the last four days.

Not because I have a book due, two trips to plan, queries about next year, three interviews to get to, four contracts to review, doctors hounding me, surgery (don't ask) and a host of other minor annoyances.

Nope. None of those.

It's because I have been bra shopping.

I love shopping. You are now, partly, familiar with my closet. I have put a lot of effort into it over the course of some 25 years. I have collected beautiful leather shoes from Italy, handbags and sweaters from Peru, lacy undies from Spain, vintage hats and dresses, designer skirts, even a few silk blouses and fancy coats.

And then there's bras.

 1950 Lily Of France Black Illusion Lace Bustier

Perhaps it is because the rest of my closet comes so easy to me. Perhaps it is because I want the unattainable, a bra I like that fits and looks pretty.

I measure 29 inches in the ribs, and 40 inches around the chest. It appears that according to most bra makers I actually don't exist as a human. Depending upon the manufacturer, I am somewhere in the vicinity of a 28-30 G-GG-H-HH, but you have to check to make certain that's not a British made bra. Pah, it hardly matters it won't fit no matter how much I calculate. (Here's how to try.)

For example, I have a Freya 32 G. But at a 32, given my calculations, I should really fit a 32 FF. The band is, obviously, too big. But FF's too small in the cup. So the correct fitting Freya bra for me is probably a 30H (even though measurements say a 30GG). This is something to do with British bras, because even though the size chart above says they correlate to US sizes, I find they tend to run slightly smaller in the cup, for me. Could it get more confusing if it tried?

This would all be fine if I could just go into a shop and try them all on. I'm happy to do that. Delighted even. I love shopping. I'd drop hundreds of dollars on a proper fitting bra. But no shop exists with a wide selection of small band + large cup sizes. If I am really lucky any given place will have three. Most boutiques have none at all. Nordstrom carries one Chantelle bra with a 30 band. One, at any given store. Chantelle bras are seam-riddled polyester rough lace nightmares I wouldn't put on my foot let alone my poor Rack. No other department store in the Bay Area carries any bras larger than a C with a 30 band. Not one. I hit up Nordstrom Rack anytime I can, most of my bras come from there, but none of them really fit properly.

I tell you, I've taken to hunting down nursing bras. They tend to allow for the bigger cup with the smaller ribs. Then I tear them apart and re-sew them to turn them into a normal bra. But even they are hard to find.

So recently I turned to online options. I have a printed out chart of bra makers who might have my size. Noted with all the ones I have tried and whether they fit or not. I am out hundreds of dollars in shipping cost mailing bras back and forth to different vendors. I have had countless emails bounce from the totally unhelpful help departments.

Here is what I want. A bra that . . .
  1. Fits
  2. Is comfortable
  3. Is invisible under a t-shirt
  4. Provides support without itching or irritation
  5. Looks nice
  6. Doesn't add bulk!
I am asking for the moon. Well, two moons, to be precise.

I don't need a padded t-shirt bra! It should be illegal to pad a bra over a D cup. And why always put the seem over the nipple? Who finds that comfortable? And it will ALWAYS show under any shirt. I live in a hot part of the world, I don't want to put on an extra layer of undershirt just to hide the seams in my bra! And while we are on the subject, whose idea was the blasted underwire? I mean, really? So uncomfortable. If the bra fits and has a nice wide band it doesn't need some bloody piece of metal poking a girl in the ribs! Not to mention causing me to break out in a nasty sweat rash.

Before you kindly and helpfully begin offering me recommendations, I have spent hours on the internet looking for bras. Hours.

Bravissimo is based in England, which means they are used to the big boobs small ribs but are very expensive. They are uncommunicative about how to get the right sizing for a British made bra because they want you to "come in and get fitted" and so don't tell you how to measure the fit yourself on their website. That just makes me mad. I'm not going to shell out for UK shipping only to have it not fit, again. Or, as seems more likely from their styles, have seems all over.

Breakout Bras seems to have the same issues as Bravissimo. I haven't tried them yet but I'm so disenchanted right now I can't work up the energy. A quick check of the site shows me that mostly I get one or two bra options in each category in my size, often lace, always underwired and seemed.

Figleaves is the retailer responsible for making me cry this past weekend, but they do have the biggest selection. I ordered three sports bras form them, none of which fit right. Their return policy in Machiavellian and they don't state on their website when a bra is British (and shipping from the UK and thus practically un-returnable) or American and running under a different size. Thus you have to try to determine which size you might be in which bra. (A word of caution, Shock Absorber seem to run one or two sizes smaller in general. I think I'd need a 30 J from them, which naturally they don't make.)

So what have we learned, Fashionable Reader? Even Gail gets frustrated by some shopping. Bras are her downfall. Next up, in a month or so, when I have recovered from this experience, I'm going to try ordering a custom bra from Decent Exposures. Ugly as sin, but some standards have to go and at least they responded to my emails.

Wish me luck.

~ G


  1. You have my deepest sympathies - I'm not really big in the bosom, but I'm an odd (actually nonexistent) size- it comes out to a 40A, I think. I just buy the closest fit I can afford and use bra extenders and try not to look at myself.

    Also since the daughters everything has been more sensitive, and it's very hard to find bras that don't have nasty seams right across the cup on the inside where it hurts the most.

    Good hunting, anyway. We deserve pretty bras, dadgummit!

  2. Gail - I completely identify with this. I took am of the large rack, small rib shape. There is a woman in my town (Philadelphia) who sells my size in a variety of fashions, but before I found her, it was difficult. If you are ever in Philadelphia, I'd be happy to take you to her. She's a character.

  3. It should be illegal to pad a bra over a D cup.

    This. Seriously. I am at the high end of what most stores carry (34D) so I don't have as much difficulty as you, but I have to skip past most of the CUTE bras because the manufacturers have seen fit to make a valiant attempt at putting my cleavage directly beneath my chin. Which looks really awkward in a T-shirt.

  4. Oooh i got all distracted by the Cold Comfort Farm screen caps at the beginning of this article :D
    Such a great crazy movie!
    And bra shopping is never, ever fun.

  5. You've just written about my bra-shopping experiences completely. Except the bit about being out hundreds of dollars in shipping - I'm too cheap to risk my cash on something that likely won't fit. ;_;

    I used to love Cacique bras, but then I shrank too small (their band sizes start at 36) and now I can't wear them anymore. :(

    I settle for Nordstrom. I'm lucky enough to have one within driving distance, and their employees are incredibly nice and helpful. Plus I can usually find something that fits well enough off the rack. But ideally, I'd love to find a local bra-maker that I could just order custom bras from. I'd shell out two, three times the cost of a regular bra (usually $60 at my size) for one that fits me perfectly.

  6. I feel your pain. I had been wearing approximately a 42-DD or DDD ... which can be hard enough to find, unless I go to Lane Bryant. But I've been losing weight, which is mostly good. Except that as my band size has gone down, tissue mass seems to have ... remained. So for a while it was approximately a 40-DDD or ... F?, which was challenging, but doable. These days, however, I'm at about a 38-F or G, which is downright impossible to find, even at Lane Bryant.

    And that's ignoring the fact that, at these sizes, everything is plain. Most of them need to be "full coverage" to actually fit. And why is it that so many department stores only cary up to a DD, or maybe a DDD, and 95% of them are described as "minimizers" and are, again, ugly?

    Boobs are my big advantage to being a bigger gal, why is everybody trying to hide them? Also, we're culturally obsessed with big boobs but bras don't exist for them, wtf?

    I hate bra shopping with the fire of a thousand suns.

  7. As someone whose vertical bone structure seems to be against the ideas that fashion seems to think should exist for a woman, I'd suggest you simply ditch the shops.

    Have you considered just looking for custom lingerie shops? I know they have them in LA (that's where a lot of the strippers get their outfits) so if you don't mind the expense, that might solve the whole problem, since you should then also be able to pick your materials, etc. After all, it's San Francisco -- SOMEWHERE, someone makes lacy underthings to custom sizes...

    Just a thought to stem the tide of possible tears.

  8. Been there, done that, and you know about the latex allergy.

    I, for one, like under wires. Ones without wires tend to leave me saggy, there's just never any support. And on special occasions or just on a non-work day when I feel frisky I'll break out the VS Bombshell which is incredibly thickly padded along the bottom half. A bit of a pain since I'm a DDD and the biggest most of their bras (except for 3 that you can only get through internet orders) are DD at the biggest. So I get bigger around than I need.

    You know how I whine about how I want to learn to sew (I found a lady who's willing to teach me for cheap because her daughter and I went to school together! Now I just have to arrange the times.) - well, it's not just clothing. I want to learn to sew my own bras! So I can have nice wide straps, cups I don't overflow, and a wide bottom band. Stores like Joannes do sell the basics for making a bra including the hooks and eyes.

  9. As a woman on the perpetual hunt for a 32F bra, I so understand. I have managed to find some 32DDD that are a decent fit, and Macy's usually has a couple in stock, in the Lunaire brand.

    I've been wanting to order from this place, http://www.wizardofbras.com/, for a while. The selection is good, with lots of bras that come in the small bands (starting at 28!) Its in the LA area so you might even be able to visit. They also offer an online fitting/measuring service that I used a few years ago (I never knew 32F was even a size before then)

  10. "It should be illegal to pad a bra over a D cup."


  11. I feel as a 38C I am not a non-existent size but I do have bra issues as well and dread shopping this weekend for a bra that is comfortable and looks nice.
    My issue is I do no want padding...why would I want to look bugger and bumpier? And while I appreciate lift, why is under wire so uncomfortable? But if I drop these 2 things I suddenly am left with very plain and unattractive lingerie...
    And I can't even attempt to explain the frustration of trying to find a bra made with eco-friendly, organic materials! o.o

    Well good luck to all of us...maybe one day the boob fairy will bless us with a drawer full of these mythical undergarments.

  12. I wish you much luck and extend all my sympathies. I am so lucky that I can easily find pretty bras that fit, but I have watched my mother struggle with bras (she has the oppotsite problem to you: small cup, big band - at least she can get band extenders, but she still has problems finding pretty bras) and I know what a pain it is.

    Good luck!

    I also have the exact same list of requirements as you. You'd think they're all fairly straight forward, easy to come by requirements, but even in smaller sizers it's almost impossible to find a bra that meets ALL the requirements. There's often reports about how women don't wear properly fitting bras and how this contributes to other problems - well, maybe the whole problem could be solved if the manufacturers just made better bras! I have one particular bra that I own in 3 different colours/patterns because it actually meets all the requirements (as long as I'm not wearig a white t-shirt) and I figured that was an investment worth making.

    Good luck! I hope you have success on your endeavors soon.

  13. Oh, I wish you lived closer to me - I work at a bra fitting salon! A good bra fitting salon will have a range of sizes for all people. For example, my store carries from a 28 to a 48 band, and from an A to a K cup (UK sizing). I highly suggest looking up a store that specializes in bra fitting - NOT a department store. They will probably have more options for you, and you can try on there. No annoying return policies or having to mail stuff back!

  14. Sevenlies, where do you work? England, I suppose. Perhaps someday I will be in your area? Rumors are the closest place to me is actually in LA (8 hours drive) but next time I am down there I will make time to go.

  15. I also am of a mythical size; somewhere between a 38D and a 40A. I have a very broad chest and back and my boobs actually sit pretty high and wide on my chest for someone who breast-fed 2 babies a decade or so ago. I usually end up with the underwire somewhere around my armpit or down around my ribs. I have started buying the Spanx brand bras. They are front closure and seem to work best for my build and while the bras may not be the prettiest, at least they aren't ugly and don't have awful seams down the center of the cups.
    My mother has an awful time bra shopping as she is not only gifted in the chest department, I came by mine honestly, but had a mastectomy and has to wear a prothesis. There are specialty shops that sell mastectomy bras and some of them also carry the harder to find sizes. It might be something to check out in your area.

  16. It sounds like my bra shopping experiences minus the small band size. Depending on brand, I'm a 36-38 G-I. I find maybe 3 bras total in those sizes and I can't currently afford to spend more than $40 for a bra. Someday I'll find pretty bras I hope. The only non-beige one I have now is a Warner minimizer that's python print and the underwire rubs welts sometimes.

    On the other hand, I like underwires and bras with a little (note I said little) padding in the cup. It prevents the cup from stretching on me and holds things more firmly.

  17. As strange as this sounds you may want to try to go bra shopping in japan! As strange as it seems I have found that to be my best option for pretty but fitting bras (I wear a 30ee/ 30f depending on American sizes.) There is also a handy site (http://www.85b.org/bra_calc.php) with a much more comprehensive bra size calculator that doesn't make you want to cry and they have international bra size conversions too! Hope this helps you out a little bit!

  18. Gail,

    I also have major issues finding a bra that fits, but have a large band size as well as a large cup. I generally settle for the DDD cup in a Balconet style from Lane Bryant, however back in the days when I was flush with money for clothes (like college, when my grandpa picked up the check) I found Frederick's Of Hollywood. I don't know if they still do it, but one of the Frederick's on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood would custom fit a bra. You have to go to the specific store (the one with the lingerie museum) on Sunset, but for a while that was the only place where I could find a cute bra that fit perfectly.

  19. You live in Northern California, am I correct? Because if this is so, there is an amazing little shop in Fort Bragg called Understuff, which was the only place for years where I could go in, and not only try on bras in my size, but have a selection of bras in my size. It is magical, and I believe they carry your size too. Or at least they did last time I was there. And the staff is amazing. The first time I went in, I asked in vain hope if they had my size (at that point 32f) and not did they, but the girl spent a good 20 minutes finding me stuff to try on. Pretty stuff. I almost cried with joy, and then dropped $250 (Worth it. It's been three years and I still have those bras).

    Also, I have had much better luck at Her Room and Bare Necessities rather than figleaves as far as online shops go. HR and BN actually have customer service and are also US based.

  20. @Krissy - Judging from what I googled, there is no lingerie museum anymore. Apparently when Fredericks moved to Hollywood Blvd they abandoned the museum.


    Which sucks cause I really wanted to go once you mentioned it. :-(

  21. As a 34G, I totally understand where you're coming from. I've actually had good luck with Figleaves, but I suspect a lot of it is luck of the draw. I also don't mind bras with seams, however, because they make the girls look quite nice. I have a t-shirt bra for when I have to worry about any lines showing through. If I can afford to, however, my local area actually has a couple of bra specialty shops who carry things in my size. They cost a small fortune and are not at all pretty, but at least they're functional, which is more than I can say for anything else I can find off the rack.

  22. *sigh* One would think if we can send a man to the moon, we could pretty bras that fit and properly support...alas, no.

    I fall into the G/H cup arena, however with a 38 band. So, if the shop carries the cup, they typically also have that band.

    I read an article some 10 years ago or so about a shop in Paris that had been custom making lingerie for generations - comfortable, supportive, perfect fit, AND beautiful, to boot! Sadly, I don't remember where I read it or the name of the shop. I dream about it whenever the bra I've worn that day has been particularly heinous...

  23. oh my I totally agree! I am not blessed with your small band issue, but I have the oomph issue combined with horrible neck/back issues. I will now only.ever.anytime wear bodywise deep cup bras now. Oh heavens they are comfie. And they have the give in them - so even though I am over a size 30, I wear the size 24 bras, and they work dammit! If you like the restrained feel/look they might not work for you - I love the round shape they give, and in line with breast health advice you jiggle while not bouncing :D

  24. In SoCal, these places have sizes beyond D and do personal fittings:


    Jenette Bras - the alphabet starts at 'D'


    Creative Woman - The Wizard of Bras

  25. Gail if you are ever in Phoenix, AZ tell me I will take you to CC's the man is like a cross between a 20's tailer and a 90's Russian Mobster. He can size most ladies at a glance and his selection is astounding. Tiny shop filled with every kind and style of bra. Think the wand store from Harry Potter for the girls. I try to take all the ladies in my life their at least once cause most of them have never been properly sized.

  26. I live in Dublin right now (Ireland, not Ohio) and there's a lingerie shop near me that creates custom delicates. Here is the website, should you wish to check it out.


    As you already know your measurements perhaps they could work something out so you won't have to come to Dublin (unless you happen to be in the area either before or after your trip to Germany).

  27. I apologize for coming so late to this party... I've been swamped with school work. I apologize even more for coming here AFTER you already left Dallas.

    Bra shopping has left me in tears on more than one occasion. Clothing shopping in general has because of my size, but that's another story.

    I know of a store in Plano that specializes in carrying bras for the bustier ladies. I am big in ribs and chest (48H-ish), but I manged to find a couple of things in their Flower Mound store (which no longer exists) about 3 years ago. I am fairly certain that they go all the way down to a 30 band size. I can't confirm for sure the sizes because the school connection I am on blocks their site.

    If you plan on going to one of their stores, they will fit you and they know how the sizes of the bras they carry tend to run. They have limited options in... specialized sizes... but that's just what's available from manufacturers.

    If you want to check out their site and see if it is at all promising, since I can't confirm for myself, it's here: http://www.lorettasintimates.com/

  28. I went to great efforts, and blogger went and ate my post. I had apologizes and eloquence and explanations!

    Anyway, I apologize for being so late to the party. Here's a bra store that has helped me in the past: http://www.lorettasintimates.com/
    It's located in Plano, TX. I went to their location in Flower Mound, TX when I lived there a few years ago, but that one no longer exists.

    I cannot confirm the sizes because I am on a connection that blocks the site. Google, however, says they START at 30D and run to 48H.

  29. Try Herroom.com, they understand ordering 3 of the same bra in various cup/band combos and returning 2. Also go to an {intimacy} store. They have a fantastic selection and will fit you, and their salespeople know which brands will work on your shape. However, they are not cheap - expensive and _worth every penny_. I was on the high side of department store sizing (38DDD) until I got serious about exercise. Now I'm a 34H ( or FF or G - completely understand your frustration).

  30. I feel your pain. Bra shopping is evil. I have had good luck with www.bodywise.com.au. The girls are great at answering questions via email, are friendly and have a very clear return policy. They also dont have underwire and stock really good sports bras.

  31. I know it doesn't help much if you aren't near the store, but I've had incredibly good luck with a store in Richmond, Virginia called Blythe (http://www.facebook.com/shopatblythe). They keep records of your size and brand purchases, and are very good at knowing what *should* compare between brands. I was out of state and needed to buy a new bra online, so I called them up, they pulled up my record, and I happily received my Elomi 40FF a few days later.


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