What Should Busty Ladies Look for in a Bra?

Today’s guest post comes Jenette of the eponymous Jenette Bras, a lingerie boutique in Los Angeles that specializes in D-K cup bras.  

Jenette is a recognized bra expert (she’s in this month’s InStyle magazine!), and I love her irreverent, sassy, down-home style.  For my readers who’ve been e-mailing me about more articles for curvy ladies, this one’s for you.  ;)
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You don’t take a Ferrari to a cheap mechanic, and you shouldn’t put your gorgeous rack in a cheap bra. Why not? Because those things are heavy, if you haven’t noticed, and they are not going to hold themselves up (if your endowment is the result of implants, then sorry, most of this article doesn’t apply to you).

To support, and simultaneously flatter, several pounds of soft, pliant, alluring, feminine flesh with nothing but lace, cotton, and a few inches of curved flat wire, represents a vast and ongoing engineering achievement. In fact, the brassiere is the most complex piece of clothing in your wardrobe. Along with shoes, bras require more skilled handwork than any other item of apparel.

That bra that seems expensive at $70 plus was far more costly to manufacture than the cute wrap dress at the same price. Just recently the South African textile giant Seardel announced the closing of their intimates department, citing the fact that the manufacture of bras was complex and labor intensive. According to CEO Stuart Queen, “The garments produced are generally of a very high minute rate with low selling prices, making it extremely difficult to recover the costs of labour inputs. Bras,” he added, “are close skin-fitting items that require significant investment in design, pre-production, technical resources, and quality processes.”

And about that inexpensive wrap dress? A good bra will help it fit perfectly, but even a costly dress won’t cover the gruesome effects of a cheap or ill-fitting bra. It’s called foundation wear for a reason.
So, now that I’ve talked you into buying quality, here’s a thought to cheer you up–based on price per wear, at two or three wearings a week, over the year or three that a good bra will last, your quality bra is probably the most cost effective piece of clothing you’ve got.

What to look for

Somewhere along the line, perhaps in the eighties, women became obsessed with seamlessness in brassieres. It sounds good. Sounds high tech, sounds comfortable, sounds attractive, right? Forget it, it’s the Empress’ New Clothes. If you’ve got serious bosom, seams are your best friend. Seams make it all possible. They are the struts in your wing, the flying buttress in your cathedral of pulchritude. Seams give reinforcement to the heavier bust. They shape and support.

It’s true that the old seamed cups made your breasts look like torpedos, but that was actually a fabric limitation and not the result of seaming. Advances in fabric technology have allowed near-perfect conformity to the natural shape, along with a range of attractive shaping options ranging from vintage-y modified torpedo to completely-natural-only-better. The range of options has never been so good.

In a well-made bra, the straps will not simply be tacked into the back (focusing all the stress at two points), but will merge into the band to distribute weight throughout the garment. The whole bra won’t feel stretchy. Elasticity will be controlled carefully throughout the bra, with rigidity for support and stretch for fit.

How and where to buy

Many women have been completely misled about their true bra size by unscrupulous manufacturers and retailers who simply don’t want the expense of making and stocking a full line of bras. They have promulgated the notion that the D-cup is the largest possible normal size, and Double-D is some kind of freak show. How far from reality is this? Since cup size is relative to band size, a D cup on a 30 band is a completely different volume than a D on a 40 band.

To precisely fit a full breasted clientele, a store needs to stock D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, H, HH, I, J, JJ, and K., with band sizes from 30 to 44. I myself used to run around –maybe I should say bounce around—in a 36DD. I wasn’t properly fitted in my 32G until I was 46 years old. It’s effin’ tragic is what it is.

Moreover, your size will vary in bras from different lines and your body will, for better or worse, change over time. All this makes a bra just about the last thing you want to buy online (the sole exception here is buying another of the exact same bra you are happily wearing now).

So you need to get sized by someone you can trust (and hopefully joke around with). Allow me to describe all the attributes of my own store in Los Angeles, Jenette Bras. If at all possible, you must be periodically fitted, by a knowledgeable fitter, at a traditional full service boutique with a full stock of larger cup sizes. Independent stores like this exist in many North American cities, but they do not run national TV ad campaigns, so you may need to do a little research. I do have customers in remote locations who make a point of visiting once or twice a year to stock up, so if it means a trip to a nearby city, do it.

To sum it up, if you’ve got the goods, yes, it will take a little more smarts, effort and cash than is asked of our more lightly-bosomed sisters. As it is written, from the woman to whom much has been given, much is required.

35 Comments

  1. Katie@knickers
    02/11/10 at 7:57

    Woo Hoo! Tell it sister!!! Wonderful article!

    With that said I now live in a "city" without a single lingerie shop so buying my size is online or nothing. If you're in the same boat feel free to visit me at Knickers for some tips on doing it yourself until you can get to a good fitter.

    Also, a good bra fitter is worth her weight in gold.

    I visit lots of shops and there are some bad fitters out there. I told one woman what size I was looking for and she stared at the girls like they were going to rip through my shirt and attack. Another shop has introduced 4D because a G cup must mean you're a freak.

    Just getting fitted isn't enough VS will do it, not well but they will do it. It's important to find a good fitter and if you find one you can talk & (gasp!) joke with, hold on to her for dear life.

  2. daisychain
    02/11/10 at 8:20

    I don't have a big bust issue myself, heh, but I'm going to e-mail this post to a friend who does…she'll appreciate it a lot.

  3. Courtney
    02/11/10 at 9:14

    Love this entry!

    I have to admit, though that I'm a bit frustrated. How do you access custom bra fitters when you live in middle America? It's nice to have them in LA or NYC but where do you go any place else?

    Not trying to be negative–it's an honest question I have :)

  4. Katie@knickers
    02/11/10 at 9:27

    @Courtney, I'm in the mid-west exactly (so I'm told) 44 miles from the center of the country.

    So for those of us not on the coasts a good place to start is My Intimacy.com. They have a network of bra fitters that have to be approved by them and I was able to find one about 1 hour away.

  5. Jenette Goldstein
    02/11/10 at 13:08

    Hah! "Rip through my shirt and attack" LOL, Katie. I sympathize with my land-locked sisters. Truth is, even in LA I wasn't satisfied with my options (so one possibility is you could start your own store). If you HAVE to go corporate, and I realize that sometimes you do: Vicky's Secret: NO, they don't cater to us. Intimacy, yes, with reservations. I believe the bra-fit business is best suited to the small owner-operated brick and mortar store (until I expand, of course…).

    Let me take this opportunity to invite any indie fit shops out there to send me your stats. I would love to send you customers. Shout out to The Pussycat in Pittsburgh, Alla Prima in San Francisco, Townshop in New York, Night and Day in Andover, The Fitting Touch in Birmingham, and Bra Genie, just over the lake from New Orleans.

  6. Jodi
    02/11/10 at 16:03

    Tell it! Vicki's real secret is that they're hopeless.

    I'm in NY and not really mad about Intimacy (more hype than help I think). It was someone at a small store on the Upper East Side (Allure Lingerie), who first looked at me and said, "You need a different size." I do? I did!

    Lingerie on Lex is good too.

    I haven't gone, but I understand that the staff Orchard Corset Center (on the lower east side) are fit geniuses.

  7. Treacle
    03/11/10 at 1:44

    Thanks for stopping in and responding to the comments, Jenette! I'm glad your article has gotten such great feedback. :)

  8. Miss Kitty Plum
    03/11/10 at 4:11

    Love the article Jeanette. I am a specialist bra fitter too and the more people out there spread the message about proper fitting lingerie the more likely we are to change the awful statistic of 80% of women wearing the wrong size bra!

    Maybe a lingerie fitting roadshow would be a good idea!

  9. christina
    03/11/10 at 16:33

    Loved this article. I write reviews of books that inspire us to try new things and a few months ago went for a real fitting after reading A History of the Bra in America. Those articles in magazines about finding your size are pointless when compared next to a true fitting. I went to La Petite Coquette and they spent so much time with me – it was incredible to find out I was a size larger than I though!

    The hardest part of the adventure though was finding a place that I felt I could trust staff to really help me and was friendly about it as well. I can't imagine living in a small or out of the way place where you're only options are a local department store or teenage staffed Victoria's Secret!

  10. Magnifique
    10/11/10 at 21:32

    I agree with Miss Kitty Plum, the 80% statistic is something that needs to change. And although Magnifique is an online boutique, we do appointments for our locals to be fitted to help them get out of that dreaded statistic. P.S. I love the lingerie fitting roadshow idea too. :)

  11. Stocking Vixen
    24/11/10 at 22:07

    For people away from specialty retailers, Nordstrom stocks cups sizes up to J and the nice ladies there were responsible for me learning I don't wear a 40DDDD, but a 36H. My rack has never looked better.

    • Mackenzie
      23/07/12 at 0:39

      Nordstrom is great! First bra I ever got that fit right came from there. The fitters there know what they’re doing and moved me from a 34B to a 30D, and eventually 30DD (fit for the larger side, not the smaller side…). I keep trying to send my sister there.

  12. Alisha
    05/01/11 at 14:59

    Thank you so much for this article. You are so correct in your phrasing that shopping for 36G bras can make one feel freakish! I mean I am big but well proportioned, classic hourglass. If I lose weight (prayers being lifted) I will lose it everywhere, but I like my girls, my back doesn't hurt from them (unless in the wrong bra!)and did I say, I like them! Vic and her secrets are for tiny tits and they have really been mean to me for even suggesting they carry anything this size but now I know there are better places and fitters to give my hard earned cash to!

  13. kymaro body shaper
    19/01/11 at 12:21

    Thanks for this great post about how busty ladies could choose a bra. I think you make an interesting point regarding seams.

  14. yresim
    11/03/11 at 4:29

    Great article. My only question/comment/complaint is about bra sizes. You said that a good bra store would stock sizes D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, H, HH, I, J, JJ, and K. However, I was always told that the extra letter denoted the next size up (so, a DD is the same as an E). Based on that information, your size list seems redundant. Is that the case here (intentional redundancy for the purpose of clarity)? Or have I been misinformed about the sizes?

    • Kim
      09/10/12 at 19:02

      yresim, it depends on the manufacturer. In the UK a lot of the companies do the double-letter sizes.
      In USA DD is usually equivalent to E.

  15. Aysel
    30/03/11 at 15:17

    I am 22 and have been learning to fit bras for three years now.
    I just started fitting at a Nordstrom (after learning that I am not, in fact, a 34C as VS taught me but a 32F, yikes!)and this article is really helpful!

    Learning to fit larger busted women after I believed that a DD size was as large as it got is completely wonderful!

  16. Ana
    11/07/11 at 16:45

    liked the article but what about 28, 26 & 24 band sizes? why can't petite girls have big boobies as well?

  17. Gigi
    11/07/11 at 17:48

    A wonderful read indeed!

    The one thing I would suggest buyers be a little wary of, is there is currently a lot of 'vanity sizing' going around. Example, I was happy in my 36C then a 'professional' sized me as 34D, "oooh, ah! I'm skinnier and bustier than I thought', not the case. It's just my sister size. And in modern stretchy bras I can really wear either. But, after buying a few What Katie Did bras and being extremely happy with my overall experience, but finding the 36C and 34D bras a little snug, I used their guide to size myself. 38D, "I'm fatter than I thought! Boo hoo!…but wait, this bra looks deee-licious!".

    Long story short, your size may very well vary somewhat from style, make and material.

  18. Christine
    19/07/11 at 22:05

    yresim, in UK (British) sizing, the sizes go D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, etc, where as in US (American) sizing, the sizes go D, DD, DDD/F, DDDD/G, H, I, J, etc.

    And I echo Ana's comment – what about busty ladies with a band size that's under 30? I would kill to be able to shop at a store that offered 28 bands (and G+ cups)!

    • Amb
      30/05/12 at 7:59

      Where do you live?
      Bravissimo in the UK have 28G+, and do good fittings.
      Change Lingerie also do 28 bands and up to H in UK sizes.
      In my experience, Change fitters can vary a lot in terms of being good or bad (I’ve had extremes in both ends), but their calculator is the only accurate one for EU sizes I’ve ever seen, so that’s a good sign!

      I too would kill to get a fitting! Change is the only store in my country that go beyond FF (their cups run a bit small, and their bands pretty loose, so can in no way sister-size my 34HH)
      Yesterday I went to a store to see if they had expanded their range, and I was treated horribly. I came in wearing a 34HH, and without even looking at it, they said “I don’t think so”, and ignored me and the bra when I said it was a good fit. So they brought me a 38E (obviously, I must have been lying about everything bra-size-wise!), which they were forced to admit was too small in the cup (but refused to even let me try anything below 38′s, despite that I asked for it, and when I tried to show them how loose the band was, they turned away!). Then the whole team was gathered to “deal with the problem” (my breasts), and they shoehorned me into a 38FF, which surely must be right, because FF is the biggest, anything above is impossible! After failing again, they said that this proved that I was a 42FF, because that was the only way to get a bigger cup. When I tried to remind them, that I found it unlikely that I had been wearing 34′s in all other bras if I was really a 42, they scoffed at me! I left in tears, it was quite horrible. They made me feel like a freak, a joke, a fraud :( When I read blogs and shop online, I tend to forget just how bra-knowledge-deprived the real world is!

      I have a question, though: Why are there no longline bras or bikinis for bigger cups? Is it more difficult? Is there no demand?

  19. Annie
    31/12/11 at 17:07

    I’ve had a fitting from Jeanette and enjoyed it very much. Great shop, and Jeanette is a lot of fun.

    One thing I don’t remember asking her is what to wear under a T-shirt. She’s right about the seams, but what do I do when I don’t want the seams to show?

    P.S. I’d love to see more posts from owners of specialty lingerie shops who sell larger cup sizes. Nice blog.

  20. Tina
    29/05/12 at 22:00

    So interesting to come across this– I just went bra shopping the other day and it was horrifying! I saw in the mirror that I was doing a full-body blush when the tiny little attendant at Nordstoms was trying to help me. She insisted I was a 42F but it was so tight and uncomfortable. I spill out over the top of the cups and the the underwires dig into me in the armpits and underneath, jabbing into my ribs. I was so upset that I spent $70 on a bra (I’m not afraid to spend a lot on a *decent* bra) when it’s clearly too freaking small! I thought I’d get used to it because she said the band is supposed to be tight, but I’m not supposed to spill out of the cups! It’s too late to return because I already cut off the tags and wore it to work. Now my back and sides are all unsightly bulges and I have perpetual quad boob. I just wasted all that money on a bra that is horribly uncomfortable and unflattering and I’m so irritated!
    What I wouldn’t give for a real bra fitter that can deal with larger, busty ladies!

  21. 30/05/12 at 12:12

    Where I live – Wyoming , lower end department stores Target, Kmart and Walmart sell 36/38 and up band up to DDDD and sometimes 5 D’s, you can get those easily in either store brand, Just My Size or Playtex, and a few designer celebrity bra Kate Jackson. Some of those lines are heavily padded but many are unlined
    Anything under 34 band- nothing over B cup and its in the little girls section at the moment.

    At Macy’s- One in Casper, Wyoming, you can get Wacoal and that goes to an H cup and they also have 30 band to DDD/F, Calvin Kelin also has 30 band to DD/DDD. Felina to DDD. They size but they add 4 to the band, and then count cup. So I just adjust measure and get my size.

    • Emily
      12/12/12 at 14:44

      I live in CO and I am a 32DDD but the only place I’ve found carrying them is Victoria Secret (one store in the whole state actually). I’d gladly shop in other stores as well if they have my size but if I find anything (a very very rare occurrence) they tend to look “grandmotherly” and if I am paying upwards of $50, I refuse to buy unless it looks sexy or at least cute and neutral.

      I don’t fit the sister size 34DD because even on the tightest setting the band is generally too loose. I’ve been told to try Macy’s and I haven’t had any luck. Do all Nordstroms carry low band/big cup sizes in store?? I can’t afford to shop on line and bother with shipping and all that hassle.

  22. Lilith
    31/05/12 at 12:19

    Great article, the only problem being that a decent store should also stock a band size of 28, it’s hard to find big cups for any band size, but 28 is almost impossible!

  23. Melissa
    04/07/12 at 15:44

    I see that this is an older article, but I was referred here by a post on Busty Girl Comics and wanted to throw in my two cents – I recently checked out Change lingerie after seeing them recommended online, and I had a fantastic experience with them. Their bands start at 28 and they go up to a J cup. I think fitting experiences vary on so many factors but my personal experience with the fitter at Change was exceptional. When I measured myself with a tape measure, my band was 32″ and my cup at the fullest point was 42″, and the fitter declared me a 34I/J – I bought three 34I bras since I’ve been losing weight and I know they’ll gain some stretch with normal wear. She also taught me that your support should come from the band and that you should be able to loosen your straps without it making a difference; the band on my new bras is so much more snug than I’d ever worn before, but she’s completely right that it holds my girls in better than anything else. If there’s a Change store near you, I highly recommend them. They have great sales, I bought three bras for about $100 CAD :) happy hunting, fellow busty ladies!

  24. Tina Marie
    21/04/13 at 21:01

    Well. I am both plus sized AND need a fuller cup, and the lack of available funds and places to shop has been a nightmare my whole life. For the last 5-6 years I have worn bras of a 48DDD bought at the Avenue, because I really do need the band size. However, I also have the problem of spilling out of cups-on top and underneath-so I KNOW I need a bigger cup size. I was recently told that Catherine’s sells them in bigger cup sizes, but all the Catherine’s here are gone. I do not have the money to waste trying things over and over online. Also, FYI for us bigger girls: the Just My Size line at WalMart and places like that is no good for everyday wear. The bras are cheaply made with NO support. Can’t find a Playtex to save my life. At this point I honestly don’t care if it makes me look like a grandma, I’d be happy with a bra that fit!

  25. Jen
    15/08/13 at 1:35

    I really would love to know of a shop in Seattle. I am a 36I or something…and just ….I want something other than a tshirt bra….I hate bra shopping because I want to cry…..So…a custom shop in Seattle. Any recommendations would be amazing! Seriously amazing…

    • 15/08/13 at 1:48

      Have you tried Zovo Lingerie in University Village? There are companies making bras in your size, even if they’re not sold in the city you live in. There’s no need to go the custom route and we talk about a lot of brands for full-busted women right here on the blog. :-)

  26. Joanna Rohde-Morse
    16/09/13 at 19:42

    I have had the pleasure of being fitted by a couple of extremely knowledgeable ladies at Dillard’s Department Store. I “bounced” around in a 40DD for years until I was properly fitted into a 38G. It’s great to have the “girls” sitting comfortably!

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