You know those women who can open their closets, pull out a few things and voila! they look amazing and effortless?
I am not one of those women.
As a result, if I have an event to look good for, I have to make a plan and lay things out and worry a lot. Such was the case a few weeks ago when I had a work thing I wanted to look cute and moderately professional for. I even bought a new bra for my racerback tank.
As a total rookie, I bought the bra while dashing through a store with both my kids in tow, relying upon the fact that it looked about right and was the size I thought I was: 32C.
Big mistake. The moment I hooked the clasp in front I felt like someone was trying to strangle me to death and I was afraid a deep breath might cause my ribcage to bust through the band, Hulk-style.
Being as I had to leave the house in 20 minutes, I went into full tantrum mode, tearing off the bra like it was trying to kill me. I put together a less-cute outfit that did not require a racerback bra. I looked less cute and felt generally shitty about the whole thing.
The next day I returned the offending brassiere and asked the woman in the lingerie department what the deal was. She had sold me the bra the day before saying that if that brand normally fit me in that size, it wouldn’t matter if I tried it on.
This time she had a different story.
“Oh yeah, everyone sizes up in that bra. You’ll need a D.”
As I left the store, I mulled over the idea that I might be a D cup. How was this possible? Wearing a D-cup would require an entire re-framing of my identity as a woman. Up until the last year or so, I’ve been an obsessive dieter and exerciser, dealing with some body dysmorphia and disordered eating, and had never been bigger than a small B cup.
I’ve worked really hard to get to a point where my slightly-softer body makes me feel sexy instead of anxious. One result of going from being half-starved to healthy has been the doubling in size of my boobs. It is, without a doubt, my favorite part of my new figure. But size D? Really?
When I got home, I looked over my bra collection. Everything was kind of a mess and nothing fit quite right. I love lingerie, so the fact that my collection is a disaster is probably a symptom of the fact that I still believe my body is not yet “normal” and may go back to its previous size.
But it won’t. I don’t want to go back to excessive exercise and calorie restriction. I want to be happy in this body, which is strong and healthy. I think part of that acceptance means investing in new lingerie that fits well and doesn’t pinch my boobs or restrict my breathing.
I remembered that great episode of Oprah where the whole audience shopped for bras and got fitted by adorable women wearing measuring tapes around their necks. I needed one of those women to help me, though I mourned the fact that Oprah wouldn’t be there, encouraging me to feel beautiful with my new, curvaceous rack. Sigh. I wish I knew Oprah.
Turns out I didn’t need Oprah because I found myself this goddess named Serene at Nordstrom, who I swear to you is the greatest thing to happen to my boobs since I learned, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust” while reading "Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret" in sixth grade. Serene is a Lingerie Fit Stylist and is the sort of woman you want to hang out with and talk about that mysterious text message the weirdo you’re dating sent you. I assume she probably knows how to deal with those life problems, too.
Luckily my husband isn’t the type to send weird text messages, so Serene and I could focus on what was happening with my boobs. The first thing she did was measure me. Then she brought me the ugliest bra I’ve ever seen, called the “fit bra.” Apparently seeing how that one particular style worked told her all sorts of things about my boobs.
Here’s what’s cool: Serene asked my level of comfort with having her in the dressing room. She left when I changed into the fit bra, and then asked permission to come back in (basic human decency, but you’d be surprised how often I’ve had sales people barge into the dressing room).
I told her I was fine with her coming in, and staying in. After birthing two kids and spending years with a boob out nursing them, I’m sort of immune to people seeing my nips. But I recognize that other women might not be like me, so I think it’s cool that Serene has ways of fitting bras that allow all sorts of differing levels of comfort with nudity. She can even gauge the fit of a bra through a special tank top that keeps you totally covered, if that’s more your speed.
She looked at the fit bra, then left to grab a whole bunch of styles. The first bra she brought me fit really well. I asked what size it was.
“I’m sorry,” I said, breathless with both horror and excitement. “DOUBLE D? Isn’t that what size Dolly Parton wears?”
She laughed and explained that there’s a big misconception about cup sizes. We think a D cup always holds a certain amount of boob, and the band size is the only thing that changes. However, “as the band of a bra gets bigger, the cup size gets bigger as well. So the cup in a 32D is smaller than the cup of a 38D and so forth,” she said.
It seems obvious, but somehow that had never occurred to me. So while a 38DD might be big enough to wear as a ski mask if you’re going rob a bank, a 30DD would only really cover the head of a baby bank-robber.
Having someone walk me through the process of buying a bra changed everything. Things I didn’t realize could be fixed were fixed. There was one really gorgeous bra I wanted to buy, but didn’t quite feel right. Serene pointed out that there was armpit-boob spillage (that’s my term, by the way, not hers) and found me a different one. I couldn’t help but think of how Kate Conaway should be with me, since she seems to have the same issues with finding a bra that fits.
And get this, chesty ladies, you know the problem of shoulder-digging straps? I honestly thought this was just a part of being busty. But with the proper fit around the band, the majority of the weight of the breast tissue will rest on the chest band and in the cups. Serene says that if the band is too wide much stress is put on the shoulder straps and that causes them to dig into the shoulders.
Getting the band to fit right is a two-step process. First, you have to buy the right size (duh). Second, when you’re choosing a bra in your size, make sure that it fits perfectly on the loosest hook when you buy it.
Why? Because all bras stretch out. If you want your bra to last a long time, you’ve got to have room for your bra to give. If you buy it on the tightest hook, then when the bra gets bigger, you won’t be able to go any tighter. Next thing you know, the shoulder straps are digging in.
She also explained that you can actually minimize the look of back rolls caused by your bra strap. Your first instinct might be to go up a band size, but Serene says that’s not always the problem. Oftentimes the cup isn’t big enough to hold in all the breast tissue, and that causes the breast tissue to come out of the cup, making the band tighter. Instead, stick with the same band size and go up in the cup size. Get over the idea that you’re an A or a DD or a G. You just might need one size bigger. If it makes the bra more comfortable and your clothes look better, who cares?
The only downside of my shopping trip is that I wish the bras I went home with were sexier. I sort of miss the lacy, frilly things that were so easy to find in B and C cups. But Serene says there are everything from unlined balconettes to bras for plunging necklines from A-cups to H-cups at Nordstrom. Certainly there’s even more size variety if you expand out into specialty markets.
I don’t know what a balconette is, but it sounds hot. And if part of learning to love my body as it is means buying sexy lingerie, I can definitely get on board with that.