Brassieres, underwire, cups, cradles, strategic spandex, bras.
The vocabulary to refer to the most intimate of female fashion garments goes on for miles. My personal favorite is over the shoulder boulder holder, because sometimes it feels like I’m toting around just that. Boulders. As a busty gal, I started wearing training bras at the age of 11, and when I was 12 my mom took me for my first “real bra fitting” the local Victoria’s Secret.
The prospect of going into the most loudly sexualized store in the mall was terrifying. What if someone from school saw? I was shoved into a dressing room where a strange store attendant came in to “measure” me. I use the term measure lightly, because this woman didn’t even ask me to take off my shirt or the training bra I already had on, she simply dragged some piece of ribbon around my torso. The whole ordeal traumatized my 12-year-old mind, and it set me off the idea of ever asking for help with bra sizes ever again.
For years, I never asked questions about bra sizes. I just kept my head down and let the commercial stores tell me what my bra size was. I kept getting the same answer: “You’re a 38 DD.” I was put into bras with looser bands until the garment itself was so wide that it just hung there around the long perimeter of my breasts. It created the illusion of a filled-out cup, since it was essentially tracing my figure like a crime scene body, but there was no support.
After some digging, I ended up at a sedately decorated and brightly lit lingerie shop in Uptown Park called Top Drawer Lingerie. The atmosphere was welcoming and calm, not hyper-sexualized. Top Drawer didn’t feel like some kind of shameful secret.
I was greeted with a smile and I admitted point blank to the attendant that I’d been lost in mainstream lingerie stores since middle school. She glanced at my melancholic mammaries and gave me a look of sympathy.
What I learned was how mistaken and misinformed I was—and most women are—when it came to breast support. It turns out in a good bra you shouldn’t need padding. Stiff cups should be optional because with the right support any woman’s natural assets can fill out an unlined soft cup bra like a pin-up model from the 1940s.
My real bra size was—drumroll please—a 34I. Yes, I, as in ‘I wore the wrong bra size for half my life.’ What the ladies at Top Drawer told me was that the anatomy of a bra is set in three parts:
- Bands should always fit snugly along our body, and if you find that it’s constantly slipping down or fits at a downward angle when you wear it, then you might need to come down a numeric size.
- Straps should be firm along your shoulders, but if you’ve got deep grooves in your skin then let loose a little!
- Underwire should reach around to the sides of your breasts (as the owner of a wide-set bosom, that all the way to my underarms for me). If it doesn’t, then it could be cutting off your breast tissue and pushing it back into your back, creating the illusion of flabby fat tissue as well as contributing to poor breast health.
Go ahead take a long look in the mirror now with your bra on. Do your boobs hang low? Do they wobble to and fro? Instead of tying yourself in knots over it, just head to an upscale lingerie store for a real fitting. Yes, good bras are going to naturally cost more. Bustier gals like myself have to deal with prices upward of $70 per bra (cheaper prices online, though), and when you compare that to your average sale bucket at Victoria’s Secret, it doesn’t seem appealing. But the benefits of a high-quality, well-fitted bra outweight the price difference.
The benefits even spread to your emotional well-being—there is no better confidence boost than taking a stroll with your best silhouette, feeling comfortable and supported. We all deserve to treat our boulders to the best possible holders, so go out and find the right bra for you. I recommend something lacy with little bows on it.