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Adventures in underwear

When I was last back in Edinburgh, I went bra shopping. I last went 3 or possibly even 4 years ago, but sadly the four ones I got then are fast reaching the end of their life, so I thought I’d best get some new ones. I went to the exact same place as last time, John Lewis, where they have lovely matronly fitting ladies. I asked for help, because I couldn’t for the life of me remember my back size.

Much to my surprise I’d gone up two cup sizes, from a D or DD to an E or F! I know it’s not the done thing to tell people your actual size, but this is going to make it a bit easier to talk about. I should also point out that my body has changed very little in the last few years. My weight is the same (I did put on 3 kilos at one point after the wedding, but they’re gone now and I’m back at the ‘magical self sustaining weight’ I’ve been since I was about 23) and all my old bras all still fit me, so I am fairly certain that my breasts haven’t started growing. So it’s a bit ridiculous really! Of course I am not flat-chested, but neither am I bravissimo sized!

So I can only assume that there is some sort of cup size inflation going on, the equivalent of the vanity sizing dress size deflation. Because to give the fitting ladies credit, what they brought me did actually fit, so they weren’t just making it up. I was pretty incredulous and was quizzing the assistants, who told me that the average cup size of a woman in Scotland (apparently this is bigger than England – though I’m not sure who produces these statistics!) is DD. Which does somewhat beg the question why the shop was full of B cups. If DD is average, surely hardly anyone is a B any more and the producers and buyers are wasting their resources flooding the market with useless product!

My guess is that’s because B cup bras are pretty. Lovely delicate things with straps you’d be happy to have peeking out under vest tops and maybe a bit of lacey decoration. Whereas once you get over a D, and in some brands, a C (just to remind you, that’s two sizes below average!), it’s a different story. There’ll be a bra model, which you can tell is meant to be the large size equivalent (same colours and fabric), but is completely different. The straps will be wider and less decorated, there’ll be three hooks at the back, and there’ll be more fabric on the cups too. As this excellent post on the history of bras on Footpath Zeitgeist points out, this will be done on the name of ‘support’. Bigger breasts are by definition seen to be in need of holding up, in danger of escaping. Which has nothing to do with what is happening in reality. Some people (at all sizes) want lots of extra support, and some (like me) don’t need it and would prefer something that does a bit of holding up, but doesn’t build a restrictive military structure around your chest and also, you know, looks pretty.

But bigger size bras will almost always look frumpy and oldfashioned, and definitely not something you want anyone to see. Because if you’re big-boobed you really should only be wearing things with sleeves and high necklines! Hide yourself even if temperature wise it actually make you quite uncomfortable (on which, see Sadie’s post)! Or that’s the message I’m taking from this anyway. And as a person new to the larger end of the spectrum it pisses me off! It’s the same point I made when I first wrote about dressing modestly, ‘bigger’ women will be judged by different standards, not because of what they wear, but because their bodies are seen as unruly and somehow more sexual. And that’s not right.

As for the bras, I got two super frumpy tshirt bras, and escaped back into the DDs for two more fancy models, which didn’t exist in any bigger sizes. I got the blessing of the fitting ladies though! But what I really wanted was a replacement for my favourite bra. It’s cotton, it has a bit of padding, the straps are thin and there’s a bit of lace detailing. I love that bra and if I could find anything like it again, I would buy four of them and be done with it.

Any thoughts?

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  • J 9 May 2012, 8:05 am

    Has the band size gone down, though? Because many women have not been measured properly, and thus go around with bands that are much too big; as the cup is proportional to the band size, the same breasts need a bigger cup once the correct, smaller, band-size is found! So it might be that for the first time you actually have the right band size, which is what has led to the change in cup size. I have a very narrow ribcage (less now than before three babies, but still narrow) and largish but not not enormous breasts; it is almost impossible to find FF or G or GG in the smaller band sizes; in most bra shops they look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them what I need. I hope you at least find the new bras comfy 🙂

    • Franca 9 May 2012, 8:51 am

      Well, I was measured the last time too, in the same shop, so nope. Before that, when I just made it up myself, I did wear far too big a back with a C cup, and I remember being surprised how small I should go. So I know what you mean, it just doesn’t apply here! I can’t remember my back size from a few years ago, so I can’t be 100% sure, but given that I have lost no weight and fat/muscle tends to no spontaneously migrate out of the torso between ages 27 and 31, I’m fairly certain it was the same. Also, then, as now, I was between back sizes, hence the variation in cups. They said DD in the smaller back or D in the bigger, just like they’re saying 30F or 32E now.

      I guess I should count myself lucky then that at least bras in my size exist! What do you do?

      • J 10 May 2012, 5:34 am

        Well, sometimes I buy bras that fit in the cups, and adjust the band myself. Sometimes I spend way more than I feel is reasonable on the only one in the right size. And sometimes I just wear bras that don’t fit quite right. But maybe I should go brashopping in Scotland! My husband is actually talking of maybe having a trip up there this summer, I should save my bra-pennies as well as the travel ones!

      • e 10 May 2012, 7:16 pm

        Unless you can still read the label on your old bras it will be hard to be sure. But I think there has definitely been a change in the way a properly fitting bra is considered to fit. To offer the right support – much tighter band and then larger cups, whereas when I first started wearing a bra the intention was that a band that dug into your skin was too tight. However, unless you have almost zero body fat, if the band doesn’t dig in a bit – its not supporting any weight.

        I went from D/DD to F/FF and down two band sizes. Some people dismiss it as vanity sizing – but to me there is a world of difference in the support. I used to wear the old lady mechanical monsters with boning all over the place to try and get enough support, now I’m wearing pretty shaped bras. Much better. And I don’t care if it leaves marks on my skin for a while – better red marks around my rib cage than digging into my shoulders. But then I’m someone who doesn’t like breast movement – oh no, I want to be imobilised. My sports bras are replaced on a three monthly basis to ensure that!

  • Rhianne 9 May 2012, 8:17 am

    I hate frumpy bras for bigger sizes, hate them!! Actually the nicest bra that I’ve had lately was from Asda which my Mum saw on sale lol, it does exactly what you said – provides support without strapping me down and it looks pretty. Debenhams have a great bra section for bigger sizes too, I always go in the sales and get some from there too.

    I’ve always found that I’m a different size in Lazenza compared to anywhere else, so I stopped looking there as it was frustrating being told you were one size there and then everything not fitting everywhere else.

    p.s. I tend to buy multiples of bras I like too and then wear them all to death as well, its hard finding a nice bra!
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  • Cynthia 9 May 2012, 2:16 pm

    I may not be the right person to ask because I’m a D cup and I like wearing minimizers (Control, yo. Strap me down, I like it.) However, I have done a LOT of looking for decent bra fits over the years, and no matter where you are in the size spectrum there are so many things to consider. Like, even though I’m “only” a D, I buy bras from the “full figure” section because of spacing and placement on my torso. Brands like Anita, Fantasie, Freya, Chantelle — they all have pretty bras going up to your size and way beyond. Yes they will have thicker straps, but I’m wearing a lacy Anita bra right now (oh hai should I post that on the internet) that is allowing me to wear a low cut scoopy sleeveless top even while being a marvel of cut and sewn, multi-piece, non-stretch center gore, control engineering. I always shop for mine online. Once I know my size, it’s just a matter of trying on enough styles and seeing how they fit, and if the stores don’t have them in stock, Bare Necessities or Her Room or Bounce are always there for me. I’m not sure what the European equivalents would be, but I know I’ve stumbled on UK sites when searching for particular sizes or styles. When I find a brand that is fitting, I note the style numbers, and stalk them. I just scooped up a couple of $70 Anita bras on Ebay for $22.
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  • Rebekah Jaunty 9 May 2012, 4:12 pm

    “So I can only assume that there is some sort of cup size inflation going on, the equivalent of the vanity sizing dress size deflation.”

    I’ve wondered about this.

    “Which does somewhat beg the question why the shop was full of B cups. If DD is average, surely hardly anyone is a B any more and the producers and buyers are wasting their resources flooding the market with useless product!”

    Maybe the DD wearers don’t buy many bras, since so many of their options are frumpy and expensive. For me, bras are inexpensive and fairly easy to find in my size, so I can buy plenty of them.
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    • Franca 9 May 2012, 6:57 pm

      That’s true. When I was a smaller size (or thought I was a smaller size) I would buy bras all the time. Now it’s a chore which I delayed for as long as possible, I didn’t go until my favourite was actually falling apart. I resent having to pay so much money for the specialist brands too. That said though, everyone in the shop seemed to be a huge size (I overheard several conversations involving FFs, Gs and GGs). John Lewis are known for their fitting ladies, so I guess that’s attracting everyone.

  • tagatha 9 May 2012, 4:28 pm

    I’m always advertising Prima Donna bras (which run up to H cup!) for everyone when idle talk turns to bras. Plenty of colour and lace and pearls if you want them but also some basic seamless models in basic colours. They do cost a lot but they’ll also last several years. Plus I’m prepared to pay for comfort, lugging around E-cups and a big belly is uncomfortable enough.

  • poet 9 May 2012, 5:48 pm

    Fascinating, and depressing! I haven’t noticed any such vanity sizing in Germany or the US but it’s definitely imaginable that they would start it. If they do I hope they adjust the quantities in which cup sizes get produced and extend the scale at the upper end, because otherwise, bustier ladies will have even more trouble finding fitting and affordable bras than they do now…
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  • Katie 9 May 2012, 6:04 pm

    As a 34E/F that thought I was a 36C, my solution was Bravissimo for non-frumpy Freya, Fantasie etc. Their bra fitters don’t even get a measuring tape out. It’s also best if you get them to help every time you buy a bra as different styles sit differently and might need to be smaller or bigger, plus slight weight gain or loss does affect them. The best advice they gave me was to use the loosest hook when you start wearing it, then after a few months move to the middle one, then when it’s more worn and washed, move to the tightest hook. They also tell you to ‘rearrange’ breasts into bra.

    You’ll appreciate the exta support of the bigger bra styles when your boobs are still where they’re supposed to be years from now…and no one notices the thicker straps except me at the end of the day when there’s no red marks on my shoulders. Although – yes – small ones are so cute! But no one with boobs wants tht edouble or underarm boob effect….Yay. People should talk about bras more. K

  • Cat 9 May 2012, 7:11 pm

    Go to Bravissimo! Freya, Curvy Kate, Panache, Faubourg, Masquerade – all of those make gorgeous bras for larger cup sizes (I’m a 30F myself, cup size is only relative to underbust size after all, so it’s not like an F cup is necessarily particularly big – often smaller than a D in fact!). Brastop.com carries most of those brands, often more cheaply because they tend to carry last season stuff.
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  • Sadie 9 May 2012, 7:37 pm

    I like Freya for pretty bras in larger cup sizes (actually, Bravissimo have a lot of pretty bras, but Freya tend to be comfortable for me too).

    I’ve certainly usually been able to tell when my breasts have got bigger (the oh-so-lovely ‘quadriboob’ effect as they spill over the tops of the cups is a dead giveaway), so if your old bras still fit that seems odd – though of course the old bras might have stretched out in four years?
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  • Hillary 9 May 2012, 11:22 pm

    I saw a whole special on the history of bras down to the point they create the elastic. The elastic is only meant for you to get this, 3 months of wear!!!!!!
    Overtime the elastic breaks down and stretches out. So while your dd may fit you may actually be that F. Know what I mean? As someone who has had the exact same problem. Got mad I couldn’t find one like the one I liked went back bought old sizeit was too small and wore it psi fully until it too stretched out and fit likes knew.

    • Franca 10 May 2012, 7:33 am

      What, seriously? three months? that is the most ridiculous thing i’ve ever heard! i guess that must have been what happened, given that i wore them for several year!1 also i suppose that means my new bras will become too big soon!

  • Kathleen 9 May 2012, 11:22 pm

    I haven’t noticed size inflation with cup sizes and it is something I watch pretty closely (in the business). What I do think is that there is increased awareness with respect to fitting. It has been said that something like 80% of women are wearing the wrong size. I don’t know if that is still true but many women are being properly fitted now and discovering to their chagrin or delight (pick one), they’ve gone up a cup size or two.
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    • Franca 10 May 2012, 7:26 am

      well, i’d be surprised if that was still the case1 there’s actually an interesting discussion of the murky origins of that statistic in the footpath eitgeist article i’m linking to in the post.

      • Franca 10 May 2012, 7:36 am

        sorry for typos. i’m on a terrible keyboard where lots of keys don’t work unless you hammer them, including the shift one.

  • Sarah 10 May 2012, 6:11 pm

    I used to work in Debenhams Lingerie and we had So. Many. Women. wearing completely the wrong size. Lots didn’t want to go beyond a C, they believed it was huge, it’s a funny sort of disbelief where they’re only disadvantaging themselves by not wearing the right size yet it appeals to their sense of normality and correctness to stay “normal”. Obviously it’s a hugely personal thing, I was working in the lingerie department for several months before I had my first fitting (36B – > 36D, the shame!), so it’s good to see people posting about it and talking about it.
    I think perhaps there are lots of women buying the Bs and Cs who are really larger but don’t know, or don’t want to know.
    Another thing that’s a shame is when someone has a bad bra fitting (more so if they’re put off by it). Some shops with poor training will leave someone in a terribly sized bra, or give them a number but no idea how to recognise a good fit. I once assisted a lady who was looking for 40AAs (having been fitted in M&S) and I almost laughed out loud when she told me, she was tall but skinny and by no means flat chested. So I offered to re-fit her and sent her away with 36DDs!
    Have you come across the Invest In Your Chest blog and Busts For Justice? They’re full of advice and larger bra reviews (and although you probably don’t need it, it’s still an interesting read and worth passing on).
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  • Diana 10 May 2012, 7:12 pm

    Having had two breast reductions (one in jr high and one in college), bras have always been an issue. When I went to Paris, my husband wanted me to being back lingerie. Every store I went to nothing fit. Finally, I was asked to get measured and I was told I’ve been wearing the wrong size all along. I didn’t believe the woman, to be honest, so when I came home I went to a reputable department store. What I thought was a DD the whole time I was really an H or HH!! It doesn’t matter if I lost weight or gained, my breasts stayed the same size (hence the reduction in jr high. I looked like a freakish Barbie). I honestly don’t mind the matronly bras, they are more comfortable than the lacy ones, which are more expensive and end up digging in my shoulders! And honestly, bare breasts are much better than lingerie, haha 🙂

  • Terri 11 May 2012, 1:09 am

    It’s been so long since I was properly fitted, but I won a bra in a giveaway last year–a full cup-size bigger than I normally wear, but it does fit. Perhaps there is a “size” inflation.
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  • Roobeedoo 11 May 2012, 12:37 pm

    I have spent my whole life believing myself to be flat-chested, only to suddenly require a C cup (my guess) in my late 40’s. The rest of me is the same as it ever was! In my opinion the thing that went wrong with bras in recent years was the insistence on foam cups for everyone. It is incredibly difficult to find a simple thin-cotton cup: everything seems to be padded and pumped up, even in the teen sizes I buy for my daughter. The only thin-fabric bras seem to be aimed at the stripper market, which is definitely not the look I am going for!
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  • Ejegmama 11 May 2012, 8:55 pm

    I don’t know. I’ve been the same size for a few years but I tend to wear a bra out in about 1.5 years. Last time I went shopping I was sure I had dropped a size since my boobs were sort of slipping under the band but when she measured me I was the exact same size. I asked about this and she said as they wear out the stretch out so its possible that you are a touch bigger but your old ones still fit bc they were wearing out. I don’t really know though really anything is possible with sizing these days.
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  • Claire 12 May 2012, 3:02 am

    I identify with this post so much! I have always had a narrow ribcage and large cup size, but my options got even more limited a couple years ago when I tried my first 28 band bra and realized how much more comfortable it was than a 32. I had already gotten pretty bummed out by that point by the frumpiness of the bras available in 32E, so it was sad to see my options dwindle further. Just as you say, the super high-cut, “minimizer” type options don’t really fit my wardrobe or my needs much of the time. That said, I’m pretty happy with my current situation: I have a few frumpy t-shirt bras that I wear often, and some pretty bras from Ewa Michalak, a Polish company that makes beautiful bras in all kinds of sizes — and makes balconet and plunge bras for very large cups. My current favorite is http://www.ewa-michalak.pl/product-eng-106-HM-Halfek-Szmaragd.html — which is probably the most beautiful bra I have ever owned. It might take some trial-and-error to figure out your correct size by mail, but I think it’s really worth it. Good luck!

  • anna 12 May 2012, 4:44 am

    ugggh this has been my problem since high school, when my breasts suddenly grew into DDs. i remember seeing all the pretty, colored, lacy, sexy bras, but none were ever in my size. the ones that were in my size were all somehow called ‘the minimizer’, and they were frumpy, industrial strength old lady bras. completely disheartening for a teenage girl.

  • impossiblealice 12 May 2012, 8:32 pm

    I’m a GG cup, and have always had big boobs, and bras are SO much better than they used to be. When I was a teenager, I had to wear frumpy old lady bras because that’s all they made in bigger cups. Now Bravissimo do some gorgeous ones, and Debenhams are pretty good too. They may have wider straps and three hooks, but with my boobs, I need that, so I’m really happy now that I can get some nice looking bras in a variety of styles and colours. The only annoying thing is how ridiculously expensive they are. It bugs me that I can’t pick up nice bras for under a tenner the way you can if you’re a B or C cup.
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  • Darlene 16 May 2012, 2:13 am

    Your post makes me so sad because it represents how things USED to be in the full-bust market. It’s how things were for me when I was in high school and college in the 80’s, but since 2000 there has been an explosion of gorgeous styles for larger cups. And in the past few years there has also been an explosion of bloggers on this topic. Perhaps we’re not doing a very good job with our SEO if you couldn’t find us before writing this post . . . or all the other women I keep running into women who think there is a dearth of pretty bras available for D+ cups.

  • Never Took Home Ec 22 May 2012, 5:28 am

    I primarily wear Freyas (which are totally freaking cute, BTW), and haven’t noticed any cup size inflation going on since 2006. That is, my 30FFs are actually, honestly, too small in the cups, and I really do wear a 28GG or so.

    Often what happens is that ill-fitting bras force breast tissue to leave the general boob area, so that when you first get properly fitted, you’re not getting all your boobs in the cups. The longer you wear properly fitted bras, the more the tissue will migrate back to place. And thus your cup size goes up. That’s probably what a lot of people are seeing.

    Also, what I *have* noticed when comparing my 2006 Freyas with my 2012 Freyas is that, after accounting for wear and the size of the band, my older bras are TIGHTER. Yeah. The elastics they’re using to make Freyas now are more stretchy than they used to be, or the bands themselves are getting bigger. This sucks hard, because at 27″ ribcage, I’m really at the small edge of a 28 band. So I take in my bras. (Panache, Curvy Kate and Cleo don’t work as well with my shape, and Ewa Michalak is so far away.)

    In any case, you’re definitely not doomed to ugly bras as a DD+. Check out all of those brands I mentioned, and look at Bratabase.com.

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