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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Girly stuff: the Ultimate Bra Post

posted by bitchphd
I have been meaning to do a bra post for absolutely ages, and the recent email I recieved from the woman who runs a Knickers Blog has finally prompted me to do it. The occasion of her email was to promote a contest to win free pretty lingerie--you have to sign up for her mailing list, and the drawing is a week from today (Thursday).

What really impressed me about her site is her Christmas Gift Guide. It divides things into styles and sizes, and goddamn if it doesn't have a broad range of really nice stuff in *all* sizes, including my own (which remains on a need-to-know basis, so don't even bother asking). Not cheap stuff, but hey: if you're going to be buying someone lingerie as a gift, the best way to avoid the "this isn't a gift for me, it's a gift for you" problem is buy buying genuinely nice stuff, and making sure it's in a style she likes. And if you're buying it for yourself, then all the better: it's your tits, spend the money.

But if you are going to spend a ton of money on lingerie--and in a minute I will explain why you should not cheap out on bras--then MAKE SURE YOU KNOW YOUR SIZE.

So listen up. The *vast* majority of women are wearing bras where the band size is too big, and the cup size is too small. Presumably this is because, having been, say, a "C" at 18, a woman decides she "is" a C cup, and when she puts on weight she just goes from a 34C to a 36C. WRONG. When you put on weight it changes the size of your breasts, not your ribcage; in most cases even a fairly substantial weight gain (or loss) won't change your band size more than one step. So, for instance, while pregnant I went from a 32 to a 34, even though I gained 35 lbs. Fifteen years ago, when I weighed about 40 lbs more than I do now, I was still a 32, because normal (non-pregnancy) weight gain is more evenly distributed and tends not to be heaviest around the middle.

Ideally, you want to be fitted by someone who KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE DOING. In the U.S., this means going to Nordstrom's (or, if you're lucky, to a good independent lingerie shop). Do NOT go to Victoria's Secret. In fact, never go there for anything. If you aren't lucky enough to have access to Nordy's lingerie department, you will need a tape measure, your torso, and the ability to add.

Measure around your ribcage, *just* under your breasts. Do not hold the tape measure loosely: you want the band to fit snugly. If the measurement is 33" or less, add five inches: this is your band size. If it is over 33", add three inches. Don't ask me why this weird arbitrariness; I didn't invent the system. If your band size is an odd number, you're supposed to round up, although I'd be inclined to try on both the smaller band and the larger one and see which fits best.

Okay, now measure around the breasts, at the widest point (usually the nipple). Make sure that the measuring tape is higher in the back than it was for the band size--that is, you want it horizontal to the floor. Also, here you don't want to pull the tape so tight. Tight enough not to fall down, not tight enough to cut into your skin.

Now subtract the band *size* (the number after you've added 3 or 5) from the bust measurement. The cup size is the difference: 1/2" = AA, 1" = A, 2" = B, 3" = C, 4"=D, 5" =DD (or E, in European sizing), 6" = DDD (F), and so on. That's your size.

A well-fitted bra holds up the weight of your breasts with the BAND, not with the shoulder straps. There are five ways to check your bra for fit. (1) First, after adjusting the straps, does the cup fit smoothly? Obviously if it wrinkles over the nipple it's too big (or else this particular cut is not for you). If the top of the cup cuts into your breast tissue--the worst instance of this is when you have the dreaded four-boob effect--then the cup is too small (or again, cut badly for you). (2) Once that's sorted, slide the straps off your shoulder and hop or jiggle up and down a couple times. If the bra doesn't stay pretty much in place, the band size may be too big. Ideally, you want the band to fit on the *tightest* setting, so there's a bit of leeway if you put on a li'l weight. (3) If the band of your bra rides up in the back, IT IS TOO BIG. (4) If the center of the bra, between the cups, does not fit flat against your chest wall, the cups are too small. This is a particular problem with soft-cup bras for larger women, and with maternity bras, all of which (imho) are pieces of useless crap. (5) If the underwire (and unless you are very small-busted, I vote underwires) is uncomfortable, either the fit or the cut of the bra isn't good. If you know the size is right, then don't buy that bra again (cough::VS::cough).

Ok, so now you've got the size down, and you know what to look for in a fit. What do you buy?

A few recommendations.

First, you cannot go wrong, ever, with Wacoal. Their bras are very well made; they last if you wash them with reasonable care (cold water, lingerie bag, hang to dry or, if you must, dry for ten or fifteen minutes). Unlike the vast majority of underwire bras, Wacoal realizes that breast tissue goes into the armpit--so their wires are wide enough to support *all* the breast, and not to cut into the side, which means they are comfortable all day. This is one of my favorites; it comes in nice colors (not, alas, through this link, which provides only your basic white/nude/black--I have one, though, in a nice medium blue and I know they also come in purple), creates very pretty cleavage, and yet it's practical and supportive. This is often a first Wacoal bra: again, it comes in a lot of colors, it looks nice (if not incredibly sexy), it's super supportive. They do, however, make sexy bras too: this one, which I want (but have not yet allowed myself to buy) creates a very nice d├ęcolletage. Finally, although I have not worn this one, I have heard from others that for smaller-breasted women, their iBra (forgive the name) is fantastic--it creates an underwire effect and fit without actual underwires, being made of some crazy new space-age material. IMHO, most of the bras you own should be Wacoals.

A little more expensive, but also much sexier, is Chantelle. So, for instance, this bra, which fits way better than you'd imagine something so pretty would--that is, it fits very well. With expensive or fine bras, if you're really worried about longevity, the best bet is to wash them by hand (five minutes at the end of the day, with Woolite, in the bathroom sink--hang to dry overnight), although I usually do mine in the washing machine on cold, as described above. Although I normally despise molded-cup bras, I admit that under some of today's tighter t-shirt styles, a lace bra creates the not-so-attractive "cottage cheese" look. I don't mind nipplage, but some do; and molded cups have the advantage, too, of being warm in the winter months. I think that this is a very fine t-shirt bra. I own it, and it's one of my favorites. The molding is cut so that it does *not* accidentally create the quad-boob effect (which a lot of molded cups do, b/c they're cut too low and you overflow them a bit). This bra also has two places in the back where you can adjust the shoulder straps to fit closer in, or farther apart, depending on the neckline / armholes of your shirt. Also, it's extremely comfortable.

Finally, for inexpensive but sexy (in a slightly less sophisticated, more fun kind of way) bras, try Felina. They're usually a little more about the demi-cup, come in lots of colors, and do not shy away from the just slightly slutty. That first link is on sale at posting time, by the way. Plus, along with the usual matching panties for each bra, Felina also has comfortable, cottonish boy leg shorts that come in more colors than is listed here--again, if you find a Nordy's, they should have them, and the colors match Felina's bras.

A bit about maternity and nursing bras: as I said above, in my experience, they are useless pieces of ill-fitting crap. And believe me, I tried EVERY brand and style I could find. Now, when I was pregnant, Wacoal wasn't yet making its nursing bra, so I certainly think you should try that if you are in the market for a nursing bra. Here is what I did, but first, a caveat: I know that all the books say, "don't wear underwires lest you plug your milk ducts." I, personally, think this is crap: if you buy an underwire bra that *fits well*, it shouldn't plug anything (b/c it shouldn't be pressing on the breast tissue) and it should, obviously, give you much better support than a non-underwire bra. However, if you are prone to mastitis, proceed carefully with this advice, although I nursed for 2 1/2 years this way and had no problems.

I say, for both maternity and nursing, wear regular underwire bras in the closest size to what you should be wearing that you can find. Now, the problem with maternity bras is that you can't really find cup sizes over an H or so. *Very* rarely you'll get a J cup, but beyond that, they don't exist. And yet--and no, it does not look freaky--there are women who get that big when they're pregnant, especially if they're small women to begin with. Remember cup size is not absolute: it merely expresses the difference between bust and ribcage. In my experience, the larger cup sizes in "maternity" (i.e., not underwire) bras gave *terrible* support, and you're better off with a regular bra. If the cup size is a problem, here's what you do: buy a bra in the proper *cup* size. I.e., if you're supposed to be a 34 J, get a 36 DDD/G--the bust measurement will be the same, even if the band measurement is wrong. Then, alter it: take in the band on both sides (making sure you do it at a point where the straps will still fit in the right place). Not great, but it'll do in a pinch. You can also, by the way, alter a bra which has a cup that's a bit too big, or that has stretched, by rolling the side of the material back over the underwire until it's a taut cup, then stitching it down to the band just behind the underwire.

For nursing, screw fiddling around with snaps and shit on nursing bras. What I did was simply wear lower-cut tops and camis with a regular underwire bra. When it's time to nurse, reach in the neck of your shirt, slip the shoulder strap of the bra down, and scoop the boob out the top of the bra and neckline of your shirt. Voila, baby access--and you're not exposing your belly, no one sees anything more than with a low-cut top, and the baby's face isn't buried under layers of clothing. If the weather is cold, wear a scarf to cover your neck and chest.

One last word, on expense. The brands I've linked here range from about $50-$60 (Wacoal) to $60-$80 (Chantelle) to $30 (Felina). In general, however, I say consider $30 a *cheap* bra, and $50 a reasonable price to spend. Bras, like shoes, are basic clothing items that can serve a fashion purpose, but are primarily functional. You want them to be comfortable; you want them to last; and you want them to support you. Don't cheap out. If money is an issue (believe me, I understand) a good way to go is, again, Nordstrom's: they always have a sale rack, and you can usually find one or two decent bras at a discount. Or try Felina. Or think of them as an investment, go buy 3-4 good bras, rotate them every day (don't wear them two days in a row), wash them once a week in cold water, hang them dry, and I swear: they will last for years. If you buy good ones.

(Good lord, it took me two hours to write that post. The things I do for you people.)
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