Battle of the bras: take the torture out, support yourself with knowledge

by Sassy Outwater

Dear guys: We love ya, but this one’s not for you, so buzz off. Thanks.

Okay, they’re gone, so girls, let’s talk about that pesky thing we stuff ourselves into every morning… that life-saving tool we love to hate… The one that’s supposed to be simultaneously sexy and practical but usually just winds up pinching you in the wrong spot or letting you down… the infamous bra. I don’t know about you, but after a long day at work, all I want to do is come home, yank my bra out from under my blouse, and yell: “Set my people free!” Bras are a necessary evil… unless you have conquered their inner workings, and are smarter than they are. We need them, but most girls know surprisingly little about them: how to care for them, how to pick them, how to make them look their best… (Wow, that’s awfully similar to the list of things I don’t know about men… Hmm…. Correlation?)

But Let’s be candid. I’m a buxom broad… I mean seriously well-endowed (or cursed, depending on whether you consult my back muscles on the subject.) Going out in public without a bra on is not an option for me. Heck, hanging around the house without a bra is not really an option either. Since high school, I’ve prowled the lingerie stores in search of elusive, enigmatic things: comfortable, stylish, supportive bras for all occasions. And believe it or not, such things do exist. Whether your breasts each need their own zipcode, or you can get away with no bra if you want to, here are a few essential tips you need for bra shopping and keeping your bras in top condition.

There are zillions of bra styles out there… and when you first walk into the bra department and pick out a pretty one… listen hard. There are tiny alarm bells going off inside your breasts going “Noooo! Don’t shove me into that! It’ll be my downfall!” Believe it or not, when it comes to picking a bra, there is a method to the madness. Bras can be broken down into many categories. There are bras with and without underwires, demi bras and full cup bras, push-up, balcony, shelf and nursing bras. There are front or back closure bras. There’s what I like to call the everyday bra. Then there’s the sports bra, the minimizer, the strapless, the long-line and the corset.

We all have our favorite bra. Think about it. We each have a drawer full of jeans, another drawer full of shirts, a drawer full of underwear and socks… but how many bras do you own? Probably only a few. And of those, I guarantee one sees more rotation than the others. A good comfortable bra supports the breasts, flatters your individual shape, evenly distributes weight around the rib cage without killing your shoulders, and does not dig, ride up in back, or pinch. To find your dream bra, you have to know your body--know your measurements, and know your bust type.

Bust type:

Some women have breasts that need to be accentuated a bit. There are teardrop-shaped breasts, and rounded breasts. Breasts that need lifting, and breasts that need to be brought to the center of the chest, or pulled apart. Large breasts occasionally need to be minimized. Breasts need to be supported during sports, or showed off a bit in an evening gown. And there are bras that do all of these things. The type of bra that will feel and look best on you depends solely on the shape of your breasts. One is not better than another; they each just take their own kind of bra.

For small breasts
  • Try a push up bra to give a little lift and add some oomph.
  • Try a demi bra for a sexy natural look.
  • A shelf bra, with a thicker fabric on the bottom and a lace at the top is great for forming cleavage and looks very sexy.
  • An underwire for smaller breasts is not always necessary.
  • Front closure bras on small breasts are not only flattering to your figure, but also convenient and comfortable.
For larger breasts:
  • A balcony bra can lift and support without giving you too much bust. Look for seaming on the cup of the bra for even more support.
  • A minimizer bra can help fit you into jackets and button-up blouses.
  • Look for a bra that lifts and slightly separates the breasts for everyday ware, and one that draws them slightly together for evening and formal wear.
  • The bigger the breasts, the more cup coverage you want. Make sure the breast fits smoothly in the cup and does not overflow the sides.
  • The larger the breast, the more underwire support you want. Under wires, though uncomfortable sometimes in the wrong bra, are a vital ingredient to looking beautiful in your bra. Don’t be scared of the under wire. It’s your friend.

Bra fitting:

A good, objective bra fitting from a knowledgeable woman is crucial. I love going to boutiques that carry several brands. A good department store like Nordstrum can also help. If you like Victoria Secret or Fredericks, and find that their bras are comfortable to you and you know your size, go there. Use what works for you, but try several bras on in different sizes, and move in the bra. Walk around, bend, stretch, test drive the bra. Will it stay in place? Support you? Flatter you? Does it feel comfortable even after activity? Be warned that bra designers are tricky. A C cup from one manufacturer may be smaller or larger than another. Some bras are measured by the European standard, others by an American design standard, so don’t buy a bra without trying it on first if it’s from a manufacturer you’ve never worn before.

The way to properly put on a bra is deceptive. Slide the bra into place, then bend over slightly to lift the breasts into the cups of the bra. Lift from the outside, and make sure each breast is comfortably in place before straightening up. This gives you the maximum amount of lift and support. Find a bra that matches the cup size and fits comfortably around the rib cage.

Measuring:

When we hear numbers like 32D or 34C, that can be rather confusing. Here’s the breakdown:

  • The numbers in a bra size represent the circumference around the rib cage just below the bust.
  • The letter or letters after the number represent the size of the cup around the breast.

Cup sizes range from A through M, with double, even triple letters as sizes. Don’t be fooled by the double letters. If you are told you are a double D, that could also mean that you would fit in an E cup bra.

Once you know your band size (the number) a measurement around the bust line will tell you what cup sizes to try. My favorite sizing chart is over at: http://www.lindasonline.com. Visit Linda’s blog for all kinds of bra help, a great sizing chart you can use at home to measure yourself, and tons of beautiful bras.

If you are not comfortable going for a fitting by a store clerk, there are tactile sewing measuring tapes you can order to use to do the measuring yourself. If you need help interpreting the sizing chart on Linda’s website, feel free to call her. Staff are always friendly and can talk you through measuring yourself.

Fit:

Remember, a bra should sit comfortably just at the base of your shoulder blades. The shoulder straps should be securely over the shoulder, not slipping down your arms, but not leaving grooves in your shoulders either. The breasts should fit fully into the cup, and not fall out over the side of the cup or have any loose fabric in the bottom of the cup. If you have either of these problems,try another style of bra in the same size.

There are demi cup bras that only cover half the breast, and full coverage bras that come to the top of the breast. Find which cup supports and flatters you.

Long-Lines, convertibles and corsets

For more formal occasions when you are wearing a strapless dress, a scoop-backed gown, or a halter-top, a convertible bra or long-line bra is a must-have in every woman’s wardrobe.

A convertible bra has detachable straps, so you can criss-cross them in back, hook them together for a halter top, or take them off altogether.

A long-line bra has no straps, but cups the breasts, and hooks down over the back and abdomen to give a clean, beautiful silhouette figure.

A corset takes this look one step further by supporting the breasts and tightly lacing in the waist. A corset provides excellent back support, and when worn properly, can give a beautiful shape to a woman’s figure without strangling her. For more information on corsetry, visit http://www.absolutecorsets.com.

Bra maintenance:

Once you’ve found that perfect bra, take good care of it. Wash your lingerie in a lingerie bag or pillow case to keep it from bending or being damaged. Always wash in cold water, or by hand if possible.

Never put bras or lingerie in the dryer. Hang your bras to dry on a hanger, or over a towel railing.

It’s best to replace your bras every eight months to a year, since elastic and fabric stretch with time and wear, and will not support you as much when they age.

As always, if you have comments or specific bra questions I didn’t answer here, or want to find out more about me and my crazy life, visit me on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/sassy outwater.

-Sassy Outwater: Musician, writer, health and style junky, yoga instructor and blind chick!

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