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Bra Shopping for Busty Women in Denial

I don’t picture myself as having breasts. When I create an image of myself in my head, the girl I see is the prettiest combination of short, pale, nerdy, and awkward that I can possibly conjure. She’s thin, but not sickly; adorable, but not asexual. While she isn’t totally flat-chested, her breasts are sort of a nonentity — they’re there, but you don’t really think about them. In my head, I am Natalie Portman.

While we share all of the pale/short/nerdy characteristics, there is a major area in which Natalie and I differ. She’s a woman who’s already so thin that losing ten pounds made her seem fragile enough for us to believe she’s the Prettiest, Most Perfect Ballerina Ever. Meanwhile, I’m nervously hoping that I don’t gain the last eight pounds that separate my “normal” from “overweight” on the BMI scale. Natalie Portman is the bra industry; my reality is 32F.

Coming to terms with my horrifically large breasts has not been a fun process. In my mind, I am a skinny pixie; in reality, I carry around an absurd surplus of flesh on my top half and an only slightly less absurd one on the bottom. Tiny-busted girls, I know you might feel a twinge of jealousy, but trust me, there’s nothing fun about hearing your shoulder blades make noises that would typically merit a can of WD-40. Let’s all unite in hating the B- and C-cups, for whom Planet Boob is seemingly designed.

Thanks to my “endowment,” I had all of the requisite fun times. Gym-class mockery. Being squeezed into ill-fitting contraptions by commission-hungry Victoria’s Secret drones who were secretly praying that I didn’t know bras weren’t instruments of pain. Trying on the smallest feasible size at Target, in the hope that puberty wasn’t being as cruel as I hoped. If womanhood was rehab, I was Amy Winehouse.

But I’ve managed to develop a system. And after reading so many comments on Bonnie’s foam-bra screed, in which my fellow full-busted sisters bemoaned the lack of good non-padded options, I feel obliged to share this system, and my feelings on bra-purchasing for large-busted ladies.

1. It’s not your fault. If you’re feeling like a freak, you’re not alone. Bra sizes have risen from an average of 36C to 36DD in the past decade. And it’s not just America: in the same decade, British women went from 34B to 36C. A lot of this is attributable to the overall fattening of both nations, but pound gain doesn’t always equal cup gain — and many women aren’t overweight, but are still obscenely top-heavy. Other potential causes: implants; the Pill; hormones in factory-farmed food; hormones secreted into water supplies by contraceptives.

2. Vicky is dead to you. This is the oft-questioned “secret”: V. (um, duh, she’s an alien) advertises with models who wear your cup size, but doesn’t actually sell bras that fit them. In all matters relating to your top half, scorch her from the earth. (Her undies are cute, though.) This also goes for your old pals Gap, Target, et al. They are mass-market and your tits are not. At least you can still get socks pretty cheap?

3. Not only are they big, they’re bigger than you think. Because the “weird” sizes (below 34 band, above D cup, etc.) aren’t normally carried in stores, getting fitted for a “real” bra can be a horrifying process for those (um, all) of us who once thought DD to be the biggest non-surgical size available. The lettering system swerves wildly between American (D, DD, DDD, DDDD, DDDDD) and European (D, E, F, G, H). Neither choice is good: either you’re faced with near-incomprehensible size letters, or you’ve been classified by a guy who was probably so enthralled with big tits that he forgot the alphabet after letter four.

Do measure, though. You might not be the size you think you are, especially if you’re pretty close: a lot of 34Ds are much happier once they try their first 32E. If you have a cloth tape measure, the Internet can help set you straight on sizing. But if you’re really clueless, or just lazy, go to the fanciest department store in town (Nordstrom, Nieman’s, Dillard’s, Bloomie’s, Saks, et al), have the saleswoman bring you every bra in the place until you find one that feels insanely comfortable, and gird yourself to be totally impervious to anything that doesn’t fit you like a second skin. (I did this; after the first 12 bras, the words “That looks like it was made for you” were uttered by a saleswoman for the first time in my natural life.) This first bra will cost you $80, but now you’ll know a brand and a size that are just right, and Google has your back from here on out.

4. British ladies have it right. They’ve lobbied for decent bras, in weird sizes, in non-matronly designs, and by God, they’ve gotten them. My favorite bra brand, by far, is a British line called Fantasie. Their motto is “for women who are full-busted but not full-figured.” If you are a certain size of lady, you may have just heard choirs of angels singing in your head.

Not only do they have a perfectly feminine, sexy, and lacy regular line (with a few beige-foam concessions for those who hate joy), they also have a junior line, named Freya, which is totally the morally compromised Skipper to Fantasie’s proper-but-smokin’ Barbie. Freya sells some bras that are completely inadvisable, including a see-through black bra embroidered with neon-green and baby-blue stitching, offered in up to a G cup. I own two of that one.

Other bra brands I have tried and found worth buying: Chantelle, Elle Macpherson (she runs small on both cup and strap size, though), Lunaire, Wacoal (but note #5). I’ve never tried Frederick’s of Hollywood or Felina, but some people like them. The Brits also have Marks & Spencer and Bravissimo; you can place a web order, but shipping is pretty steep.

Oprah has gotten behind this brand Le Mystere, specifically a model they make called the Dream Tisha. I can’t speak for the rest of their line, but do not buy the Dream Tisha. It is foam city, and not even a comfortable iteration, at that. Also, the Oprah imprimatur means you’re far less likely to find this brand on sale.

5. Minimizers aren’t a good idea. Wacoal is a company that makes a line of pretty ugly bras in respectably busty sizes. They are comfortable, but a good chunk of their line is minimizers. While these sound awesome in theory, here is what they are: breast-pancaking modules. Your boobs will not stick out as far in front, but they will more than make up for it with added volume on the side. A well-fitting normal bra, sans foam, is actually the best minimizer. You may want one actual-factual minimizer in your bra toolkit, but it will only solve a handful of your total gapeage/stick-out-age problems.

Bonus note: For $5-10, tailors will put a little hidden metal snap in between those two shirt buttons that are ALWAYS FUCKING OPENING. This tip has changed my life.

6. GOOD LORD, THE MONEY. Yes, all the prices are nuts. But there are loopholes. Fantasie and Freya are established entities in England, established enough to have factory outlet stores. People on eBay buy the unworn stock from those stores and sell it. Type in either brand name with your bra size (searching both the U.S. and U.K. letterings behooves you), and you can usually get good bras in your mailbox for under $40, including shipping.

Also, you stand to benefit from my personal theory, the Rich Lady Rule. The RLR, as I see it, is the following: at any time, every expensive department store needs to be prepared for two different rich ladies with yoga-toned torsos and huge fake breasts to wander into its lingerie department for a bender. If they do come, the store ensures that it keeps their business in other arenas. If they don’t, the store sends the useless stock to a discounter.

Every time I see a Nordstrom Rack or Filene’s Basement and can make a quick stop, I immediately hit the bra section and hunt for the five-or-fewer offerings in my size. They’re not always my perfect ideal of a bra, but they’re usually the right mix of inexpensive and attractive to merit buying, with plenty of non-foam models. Marshalls and T.J. Maxx have also yielded results, though less consistently than the fancy-pants discounters. It is not a simple process, but combined with eBay (which also gets some of its stock from these places) and department-store sales, it is possible to pull together a decent wardrobe for about $25-30 per bra.

Also: be sure to hand-wash those suckers, and never wear the same one two days in a row.

7. Sports bras. You might have to spring for the full market price on one of these, but considering that it’s probably your greatest tool for exercising both comfortably and with minimum eventual sag, $60 isn’t so much to ask. BareNecessities, HerRoom, and other bra sites offer them in actual cup sizes, with legitimate separation between the boobs. (Mine is a Freya, and is probably their single non-slutty offering.) Incidentally, if you’re above a D, lack of uniboob is a non-negotiable in sports-bra purchasing.

8. Swimsuits. Still a total nightmare; godspeed.

9. Strapless. Also fucked.

Even with these guidelines, it’s not a fun time. I have a few mental exercises that help me feel as good as possible about the whole breast situation. For example, I have made Christina Hendricks my spirit animal. Reading the gleeful comments about her bust that appear alongside every article is a real picker-upper.
Another one: There is a whole quadrant of every clothing store that I can’t buy, and I try to see that as a good thing. Were I able to shop in that sector, my wardrobe would consist largely of ensembles scientifically proven to embarrass me in a decade or less. Backless lace rompers?

Allie Pape lives in San Francisco, where Nordstrom Rack is conveniently located right next to Trader Joe’s.

Tomorrow: I’m 27 and I Love My Training Bra.

Photo via FunnyPotato

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