Jana Paster is a self-appointed bra guru, pretty much obsessed with all lingerie. She is a wife and mother of two, former fitting consultant for Lane Bryant, and has worn everything from a 36C to a 42F, depending on weight, pregnancy and lactation. Shoot her an email at Jana@fussybusty.com
Ah, the search for the perfect bra. It is a lifelong pursuit (no thanks to gravity). It takes planning, dedication, and effort. When you find one that makes the girls happy, it’s quite an event. It leaves you with a feeling of immense accomplishment. However, there is nothing quite so counter-productive to a proper bra fitting than sticker shock. You could go into a store to try on bras on your period, without deodorant, wearing a shirt that has buttons, layers and those annoying little hanger straps, and you’d still be better off than a woman who hasn’t mentally prepared herself for the Mexican standoff with a tag that’s about to ensue.
Unfortunately, sticker shock is a double whammy. It comes in two forms: price and size. For this post I’ll focus on what makes the difference between a ‘cheapo’ bra and an expensive one.
If you’re a ‘big’ girl – anyone above a D cup, in my opinion – just let go of the idea of getting a bargain on your brassier at Walmart, Kmart, Kohl’s, Target, or any other place who’s lingerie department is next to Armor All Tire Shine or across from the Saltines. Those bras are made from cheap materials, usually have two sets of hooks, are not constructed to support a heavier breast, and will disintegrate in the washing machine. Taking care of your breasts is important at every stage in life. While most women think a breast self-exam is the beginning and end of breast maintenance, I believe the right bra is an essential part of a women’s health. You’ve got to be willing to invest in yourself. What costs more – a quality bra wardrobe or visits to the chiropractor every month? Taking a day trip to a big city for a boutique fitting, or spending money on clothing that only hangs in your closet because it doesn’t fit? Replacing a worn out bra or feeling self-conscious in your tops because they don’t drape on you properly anymore?
Ladies, you’ve got to pay for the details. If you wear a D-DDD, you should have at least 3 hooks on the back. F, G, & H cups should have at least 4 hooks on the back. If you are any further up there in the alphabet, hopefully you’ve got 5 hooks. The majority of support from a bra actually comes from the bandwidth. It should fit snugly and squarely on you – that is, the band should be parallel around your body. If you’re wearing a cheapo bra (or too big a bandwidth), you’re probably pulling it down in back all day long.
Anyone in an extended cup range should pay close attention to the side panels. Cheapo bras have thin, flimsy, all cotton panels and nothing but elastic. This is not going to cut it for big girls. You’ve probably heard that side boob, or what I lovingly refer to as pit fat, is also breast tissue. Ya gotta love it and support it just like your boobies. What you may not know is that most breast sizes DDD and over have more fibrous tissue. To the touch, fibrous breast tissue feels like rubbery, moveable nodules that are not affixed to a particular site on the breast. It is very common to notice this more fibrous tissue in your under arms, close to other lymph nodes. It can appear, disappear, and reappear whenever it feels like it – that time of the month, during humid weather, even after exams when you’ve been cramming with too much caffeine. Because this fibrous tissue weighs more and often comes and goes, the skin surrounding these areas of the breast often gets stretched thin, resulting in an uneven distribution of this weighty breast tissue. (In case you missed it, I just told you you’re not necessarily liable for those stretch marks on your boobs close to your arms.) This uneven distribution of tissue needs support! Therefore, make
sure the side panels of your bra come at least half way up your cup. Look for double lined mesh, vertical boning, and reinforced stitching where the panel wraps around your side and connects to your strap. These are all details worth paying for; just make sure you use them properly. Remember, the side panel needs to run parallel around you with the bottom (band) of the cups. It is almost every plus size woman’s instinct to pull their bra down on the side to lift up some extra fat and hold it in place. You should only be cradling the breast tissue, not belly fat. As a fitter, I constantly had to correct women from doing this. You end up pulling the cup out of place and changing the angle of the wire which results in even more side gapping.
Straps should never, EVER be non-adjustable or spaghetti size. Look for wider set straps that are lined or padded. Come on, if you have more than a handful on each side, how is 1/3 of an inch of fabric gonna hold those knockers up? If you find the right bra with straps that hurt, again, invest in yourself and shell out $10-15 bucks for some strap cushions. Don’t put tissue under there, or Band-Aids, or rolled up socks. (I have seen all three of these, honestly.) Look for cushions that wrap around the whole strap. The silicone ones are best because they are super soft and the material provides great traction on your skin so they don’t move around. The placement of straps is their most important aspect. If the straps sit narrow over your collarbone, then the cups will usually not be wide or rounded enough to envelope your breast. You end up having your actual breast poke out of the cup and look like side boob. If the straps are too wide, you’ll be pushing them back up onto your shoulder 400 times a day.
Finally, the cups. Good cups also cost money. A seamless bra is nice under clothes, but if the cup shape isn’t made for you, you’ll hardly appear smooth in your tops. Remember, the bandwidth is most of the support, the cups are for aesthetics. One cup does not fit all. And your shape should determine the cup, not the other way around. If you naturally point out, look for pieced cups. You’ll see one to three seams across the cups in vertical or diagonal lines. If you see a straight, horizontal line across the middle of the cup, RUN! This is a generic, cheapo bra. No real breast shape of a D or more can be accommodated by this flat line cup shape. If your breasts naturally sit together, look for deep, rounded and/or molded cups so your whole breast is encased by the cup and you won’t get the double boob look. (Also known as the mammary muffin top.)
All these details are important, and they all contribute to the price of a bra. If you are an F or below, you should be able to get a decent bra for less than $50, without having to run all over town. For those of you ladies whose cups runneth over, prepare to shell out at least $65. Expense does not equate quality, but the price will depend on the styles you like, and what they are supposed to do. If you’ve got cantaloupes and you want them perked up to where they were when they were oranges, expect to pay up to twice that. That’s some hefty work right there, and a suitably constructed bra that can push ‘em up like that will not come cheap.
The point of all of this is, don’t look at the price tag and let that dissuade you from even trying it on. The $98 bra you put back on the rack may be the best over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder you ever had the privilege of wearing. You’d never know that its particular details and shaping felt like two hands carrying you around all day because you let the sticker shock get you. Try on EVERYTHING! Resolve yourself to taking an hour or two every time you go bra shopping, and learn what it is you’re putting on your body.
Just like with clothing or shoes, after a while you’ll learn to see why it’s good or bad for you without even having to try it on. Take a friend with you for moral support and an extra, objective eye. But if you don’t put that pricey bra on to begin with, you are doing yourself a disservice. No one says you have to buy it, but it’ll teach you about your options. And, if after exhaustive search, you find the only bras that feel good and look good are a hundred dollars a pop, then you owe it to yourself to buy them.
Ladies, what’s the most that you are willing to spend on a bra? Do you think that “you get what you pay for”? What do you think of Jana’s first ever blog post??? Please leave comments/questions below!