The Boom in Full-figure Bras
According to industry estimates, four out of five women are wearing the wrong bra size -- typically too large a band and too small a cup -- leaving their breasts squeezed, unsupported or spilling out. “Ill-fitting bras can cause neck, shoulder and back pain, tension headaches, breast tenderness, skin irritation and poor posture,” says Steven Chang, a family physician who writes the Daily Dose newsletter for the RightHealth.com website.
The Beginnings of the Bra Revolution
Actress Jenette Goldstein, who appeared in Aliens and Titanic and rocks a 32G herself, opened a Hollywood lingerie store called Jenette Bras to help women with “knockout racks” find pretty bras that fit properly. A well-fitting bra, says Goldstein, will make a woman look instantly slimmer and more shapely, banishing the “quadri-bust,” where the breasts spill over the top of the cup and under the armpits, giving the appearance of four breasts instead of two. A well-fitting bra also avoids the matronly “uni-bust.”
When Oprah devoted a couple of shows to her famous bra intervention, things began to change. “Suddenly, women were walking into a lingerie department thinking they were a 36C, getting a professional fitting and walking out knowing they were a 36DD,” says Dan Sackrowitz, a marketing executive with the online lingerie boutique BareNecessities.com.
The most popular bra size in America remains a 36C. However, sales of plus-size or full-figure bras -- defined as a band size of at least 40 and a cup size of DD or larger -- have risen at three times the rate of overall bra sales, according to the research firm NPD Group. Nearly 159 million plus-size bras were sold in 2008.
More Choices Than Ever
Today it’s easy to find full coverage in sizes DD to G and beyond in a range of colors and sexy styles, including balconette and deep-plunge styles. Department store brands are offering specialty lines in larger sizes: Playtex has Playtex Secrets, Maidenform has its Lilyette line, and Wacoal offers nearly a dozen styles that are available all the way up to a G cup.
Plus-size retailer Lane Bryant also recently introduced its new Cacique Intimates line with the tagline “so not what mom would wear.” Says Gill Heer, the senior designer for the line: “Typically, the old plus-size bra-maker only offered nude, white and maybe black. Certainly it was never considered appropriate for plus-size women to want to wear a fashion color like lilac, lime green or hot pink.”
How to Shop for a Bra That Fits
When a bra fits properly, the straps should carry about 10 percent of the weight of your breasts, with the band supporting the other 90 percent, says Goldstein. Get a proper fitting from a lingerie boutique or department store. Some fitters will use the “eyeball method,” assessing you visually before giving you several bras to try on. Most fitters, however, will pull out a tape measure and measure you right under your breasts and then around the fullest part of your bust.
The first measurement is your band size (if it’s an odd number, add one inch). To get your cup size, subtract your band measurement from your bust size; each inch represents a cup size. For example, if your band size is a 36 and your bust size is a 39, you’d wear a 36C. Sizes vary across different brands and lines, so always try on a bra before purchasing it or shop from an online boutique with a liberal return policy.
If you’re having a hard time finding that perfect fit, “sister size the bra,” suggests Alicia Vargo, owner of the online boutique Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie. “Keep the same band size but go up a cup or go up one band size and down a cup.” For example, if the band of a 36D bra fits snugly but your breasts are spilling out of the cup, try a 36DD and a 38C.