Introduction: Raising expectations in full-bust lingerie

Hi. I’m here to add yet another voice to the mix in bra and lingerie blogging, and since there’s no dearth of voices already, I want to open by discussing why.

Thea thriving bra-fitting online community is concentrated primarily on under-served size ranges — not just because there are far more women than widely assumed by industry in these size ranges, which is true, but because these women are so ill served that they are desperate. For their own sakes, they are compelled to figure out solutions because — particularly for the small-band large-bust segment — failure is not an option: the lack of a bra that fits can entail major quality of life, health and daily living disadvantages. Because the present state of the marketplace and the culture makes finding a bra that fits extremely difficult for, say, a 28H, success entails becoming educated and expert enough that a high proportion of these women turn into bloggers, educators and opinion leaders, and I mean “opinion leaders” quite seriously–they represent the leading edge on fundamental improvements under way in fitting theory and practice, with the anglophone epicenter of the field presently at the ABraThatFits Reddit.

Parallel to the fit-o-sphere, there’s also a robust fashion lingerie blogging community that is not or not primarily concerned with matters of fit. They are frequently friendly and sympathetic to the plight of women outside the fashion lingerie market’s preferred demographic. But essentially they’re not fit bloggers. They’re concerned with style, fashion movements and trends, beauty and aesthetics, originality and creative. The uber-superstar here, for me, is TheLingerieAddict. You can start just with her blog and fall down a whole gorgeous fascinating rabbit hole of swooningly beautiful and/or fierce.

And most of this stuff barely intersects at all with the full-bust fitting world. Blogging that takes a strong, foregrounding interest in both fit and fashion is sparse. Right now the outstanding player is Miss Underpinnings, who presently enjoys a much deserved and swiftly rising level of success. And it isn’t hard to see why. It comes down to what Wide Curves has brilliantly formulated as the hierarchy of lingerie, riffing off Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

Maslow-hierarchy-Wide-Curves

As a 32G, not gonna lie, my basic fit needs are remarkably well catered for. I’m not going to say I’ve had a blissful mindless life of easy privilege, because I haven’t. I spent many years in ill-fitting horrible bras accumulating rage and chronic muscle spasm issues before I found my way to good fitting advice and discovered the major UK brands that cater to my range. I’ve faced some unusual challenges around fit, on top of the usual hurdles blocking one’s way into even a moderately full-bust size in the U.S., and I have self-educated considerably as a result. I am not a fitting expert, but I have something to say about fit, or at least questions of legitimate interest to bring to the podium. And we need that. Oh, do we still need it. The U.S. is on the brink of an explosion in understanding and awareness, and a consequent sharp rise in consumer expectations, and it all can’t come too fast or get enough done quickly enough. But me? Pretty much, I got mine. I don’t have a life-ruining bust size — I don’t have to get my clothes from Pepperberry or Urkiye, I don’t have to order my bras from Poland, I don’t get harrassed or stereotyped at the office, I’m really kind of ordinary. And my ordinariness, my relative size privilege, puts me in a position to wonder what might be reasonable to expect above basic needs. We must insist on the minimum of a bra that fits, yes, but must we be satisfied only with the minimum? Having successfully navigated the shoals imposed by bad fitting culture, in firm possession of the ability to procure a bra that fits, I’m now eyeing the upper levels of that hierarchy of needs pyramid.

TL;DR: I want to go shopping.

But I am stymied, people. I am met with a wall of NOPE. I have options, yes, but choices, not so much. Workaday brands have been joined in force in recent years by the jaunty young flirts led by Freya and Cleo, so if you are a no-nonsense utility bra buyer or a roller derby manic pixie dream girl aspirant — not that there’s anything wrong with either of those! — then you’re cool. For DD to F, aesthetic and creative variety is starting to emerge outside of that space: you can get sophisticated and elegant, and if you’re determined you can find the very occasional something different. To G or GG, there are sparser beauty options and there are no players left at all in edgy or androgynous or architectural or seriously sexy. Past GG, I’m pretty sure, it’s the Sahara. And, frankly, most of the really good stuff mostly still comes in B and C and that’s it.

Here we are, INUNDATED with fierce lingerie — fall 2013 and spring 2014 are the biggest tidal wave of lace and silk and sheer and bondage-inspired fashion EVAR, people are basically doing cage bras as outerwear this season, and I’m talking every price point, not just the super expensive underwear for Wall St tycoons niche or the platinum pop star stage-supplier niche. And here I am, not rich-rich, but with New York City interests and resources, and not even in a hard-to-find size. And I cannot buy a cage bra to save my life. Not one single solitary cage bra. There are some workarounds, but basically, I got beans. And I’m not the only frustrated one. Here is a spot-on Two Cakes On a Plate rant from earlier this month, for instance. And Miss Underpinnings has been taking some temperature checks on unmet needs this month and been practically drowned in wails of yearning from full-busters for something in the strappy cage and harness aesthetic … of which, more anon.

So I get it. I really, really get it that fit comes first. (There are 28Js starving out there, missy! How dare you complain that the bra that fits you is in Pepto-pink cupcake print? You just clean your plate and say thank you and be grateful we let you out of the beige orthopedic minimizer penalty box.) But maybe we shouldn’t settle, you know? Maybe the marketplace has evolved to the point it’s time for the full-bust segment to move up on that Maslow needs pyramid. Maybe it’s not fussy or selfish to start raising our expectations. If by expanding and raising the volume of our collective voice to challenge calcified mindsets and realign objectives, we can help accelerate this market evolution, I am all for it, and I don’t see why the positive changes can’t encompass fashion as well as fit. It could create an even bigger growth engine for the industry than fit alone.

At a minimum, I can get a few raves and rants out of my system and amuse and interest someone maybe. It’s the internet and soapboxes are cheap. Upcoming: brand overviews, specific bra reviews, drooling raves for lingerie I can’t have, advocacy, situation analyses, future-state scenario planning for the industry, and so much more. I have a demanding day job, but what the hell.

Odeanna

13 Comments

  1. I wear a 34GG in most brands. It’s true that I have a fair amount of choice at this range, and I have sufficient income to order 20 bras online and send back the 19 that don’t remotely fit. I still feel like I’m at the bottom of the hierarchy most of the time, however, as I find myself buying bras that I think are ugly, just because they are comfortable. I don’t feel that I have the luxury of choosing bras that I like the look of from among the bras that are offered in my size.

    I do agree that the market has gotten a lot better. Ten years ago, I was buying $100+ Prima Donna bras and I was happy to find them. Now I can find bras at $40 and I have to try on dozens to find one that works…but it is an improvement. I can and do order my clothing from Poland, an option I didn’t have even five years ago. Maybe I’m not finding my personal style in bras and shirts, but I still appreciate that this stuff is available now, at an affordable price. But of course I want more, so I’m willing to listen to new companies. Trying new lingerie brands is something of a quest; I’m always looking for a better fit, and if I like the look of it as well, I’ll probably replace my entire lingerie wardrobe with it.

    • That all makes complete sense! I am with you: outraged, OUTRAGED that I even have to CONSIDER settling for ugly or even just blah in bras. How dare they. I have a lifetime of residual rage from supercilious department store bra fitters who flat out told me the the nice, pretty bras were neither technically feasible nor aesthetically appropriate for busts over DD, so I may possibly be a bit hot-button about this. But RLY? It’s not like I tolerate that nonsense in my regular clothes. I will say I have an easier time clothes shopping in the UK than in the US, but there are plenty of things that work just fine and are in no way apologetic/resigned/frumpy. That said, I saw a lot of gorgeous Polish/Russian/pinup-type full-bust clothes at the Hourglassy swap last Saturday — Leah brought a whole show-n-tell bag — and some of it is significantly awesome so I am toying with tackling the hassle at some point just for fun. I can chalk it up to R&D, as investment on playing in the full-bust space. Yeah … that’s the ticket. I am beginning to think I probably should have pulled together some capital for this project, but heigh ho.

      And I went through the same thing with Prima Donna ten years ago. I have a major post brewing about PD, but it’ll have to take its chances with the other three dozen jostling for space in my head. Rrrrr day job.

      Also, thank you for being my first ever commenter!

      • Prima Donna is a pretty decent bra if you’re up to a G cup, or at least I quite liked it…except for the price.

        It is always nice to get comments and know people are reading, isn’t it?

        • They fascinate me. I was just trying to reply but find it’s impossible for me to discuss PD without doing the full thousand word treatment. I should have just called this Up Front.

  2. “There are 28Js starving out there, missy! How dare you complain that the bra that fits you is in Pepto-pink cupcake print? You just clean your plate and say thank you and be grateful we let you out of the beige orthopedic minimizer penalty box.”
    LOLLLL I’m dying. I love your voice! You have a new subscriber :o) Can’t wait to read more from you.

  3. I *should* be able to fit into “regular” tops, but I can’t unless they design for an hourglass figure. Wide shoulders+big ribs+big boobs = disaster. I am finally resorting to busty tops and dresses. There are a few mainstream brands I have limited luck with, but not enough to rely on…and it all goes out the window if I wear a padded bra of any type.

    As far as bras go, I am hanging on for dear life at a 36G U.K. If I go up at all I am sized out of styles/brands I am used to because I require plunges or the rare low-gore balconette. The shortage of choices above a G cup and 38 band are abysmal.

    And I’ve been trying Prima Donna. Yeah, big post coming. So far, I just wish the cups were bigger and the gores were lower…

    • There’s a lot of pervasive sizing hinkiness. I notice different styles within a line don’t fit the same at all — like, the Madison isn’t a bad utility fullcup for evenly full to full-on-top shapes and it’s cut wide and deep enough that it effectively runs a cup size or even two cup sizes large. The balconette version: not so much. If all the balconettes run like that one I’m not surprised you’re having trouble. And the only plunge I’ve tried is the Menton, which helpfully stops at an F. I’ve an old 36F Menton plunge that would be legit excellent on my 32G self if I took in the band, and it’s quite stretchy-roomy-forgiving generally speaking, so that might be worth playing with. Check out Debenhams Gorgeous plunges, maybe? Cheaper than PD and a lot more choices.

      • I tried the Menton and Twist a la Folie plunges and the Menton was the perfect size in 36G…but terrible shape. A la Folie was a mess. I have two more on order, and we’ll see. I suspect PD is an “almost” brand for me.

  4. I love your way of putting things! I’m a starving, unable to order abroad, 28JJ at the near bottom of the pyramid- but if even the selection of DD-GG is expanded… Maybe it will encourage the rest to catch up a bit?

    • I hope so. DD-G is the breakthrough attack point from the fashion side because the brands are least intimidated by it — partly because the engineering challenges are actually smaller and partly because even the brands who’ve started to get it haven’t fully shaken off their old biases about what cup size actually means and can’t get their heads around J cups as other than mind-bogglingly huge, rare, and outside the fashion target demographic. Hopefully establishing a beachhead with some early wins in the lower full-bust range will fuel the spread of a more evolved understanding of the full-bust customer and that will combine with the concurrently emerging rise in fit awareness to ultimately provide some decent GG+ fashion options as well. But it’ll move in phases. That’s just realism, though I’m flirting with 30GG and am not too happy about it either.

  5. That was not a blog post – it was a Manifesto! I was looking around me for a picket sign to brandish, because, Sweet Baby Deity, you have hit upon a boil of festering, outraged rebellion.
    At a 36GG, I am furious every time I have to board a plane & realize I am looking at comfort in the guise of a hideous beige beast from Bali, with foam-wrapped flexible wires…or the torture of one of my perfectly fitting Freya or Panache – who cannot seem to grasp the concept that *wires can be cushioned*?!
    I mean, WTH? I feel the same consternation I felt when I lived in the UK, in a brand new house, mind, where the sinks all had separate cold & hot faucets. Not a single faucet, where the hot/cold mixed, but two separate spigots 6″ apart. Try washing your face with set-up. The Brit brands with the unpadded, harshly encased wires remind me of this exact glaring flaw in design. (Oh, I’m looking at you Panache. And Curvy Kate.) Where’s my picket sign!

    • LOL! If the wires hurt that much, maybe you need to start from scratch and try to figure out a better well-fitting bra solution, because that level of wire-induced misery usually says wrong shape or size or style bra to me. But I do hear you. There’s a certain amount of non-optional authority you need in the wires and band beyond a certain cup volume, which is generally just not going to feel like clouds. FWIW the best wire-cushioning technology in a legit full-bust brand in my experience is probably Prima Donna. The cups run quite wide and deep, it’s an idiosyncratic version of European sizing, so be prepared to experiment and maybe downsize. They’re pricey but they wear like iron. I have some Issues with PD, but they may be the ur-solution for what you’re describing. It sure beats horrible mis-fitted Balis.

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