Lingerie Advice for Mesomorphs (a.k.a. Women with Muscular, Athletic Builds)
When it comes to fashion and style advice — and, in the lingerie industry, fit advice — there are a lot of tips and info for ectomorphs (thinner women) and endomorphs (thicker women), but not so much for mesomorphs (muscular women).
Many times, women with mesomorphic builds are just lumped into one of the more popular categories of “thin” or “curvy.” But when you’re naturally muscular, you have specific lingerie and fit concerns that don’t really “belong” to either group. It’s taken me years of trial and error to figure out what works for my body type, and while some trial and error is just a normal part of the lingerie buying process, some of it is also a direct result of just plain bad advice for my body. So if you’re a fellow mesomorph (welcome!), I hope this article offers some helpful advice for you. And to make things even more useful, I’ve recruited a couple of my fellow mesomorph lingerie bloggers (namely, Lindsay of That Je Ne Sais Quoi and Lisa of Wide Curves) to offer some tips of their own.
What is a Mesomorph?
First, I want to acknowledge that there’s a lot of overlap between what we call body types. Human beings rarely fall into anything as neat as three simple categories, and this article is definitely not about saying any one body type is better than another. There’s no nutrition or fitness advice here, and you won’t even see a list of things that look “best” on muscular women or items mesomorphs “should” avoid. Why? Because Rule #1 of The Lingerie Addict is to wear whatever you like.
I’m using the word “mesomorph” to refer to people with a naturally muscular physique. In other words, you build muscle easily, with comparatively little effort, and others might even describe your body as being “dense” or “big boned.” You may weigh more than what most people assume you do, and you tend to be a bit stronger than what’s considered “normal.” Your muscles are well-defined, and you might even appear to be “in shape” when you’re really not.
A quick note, while I am using the word “mesomorph” to describe a certain body type, we’re not talking about constitutional psychology here (or the theory that body types can tell you anything about someone’s personality), which is obviously pseudoscience. In the same way you can talk about someone’s facial features without drawing an assessment on their personality (a type of pseudoscience called physiognomy), so too you can talk about people’s body types without making inferences on their character. It should be a given that people come in different shapes and sizes and have different body types with different distributions of fat and muscle. Some people have thin builds. Some people have thick builds. And some people have muscular builds. Even if you prefer to avoid the word “mesomorph,” this article is specifically about people with muscular body types.
I’ve been visibly a mesomorph since I was a small child. My arms have been well-defined since I was at least 9, and I haven’t weighed under 135 pounds since I was about 12. I’m one of those women who really does bulk up when she lifts weights, and I’ve always been strong for my size, and had well-defined muscles… even when I don’t exercise regularly. I’m heavy for my size (my weight is about 20-30 pounds more than what most people would guess), and my shoulders and back are really broad. I frequently have to buy clothing to fit my back and then get it tailored to fit my waist. If you were looking at me head-on, you’d probably say my body most resembles a rectangle or an inverted triangle. My shoulders are wide, my waist is fairly narrow, and there’s not a dramatic hourglassy curve to my body.
To offer another perspective on being a mesomorph, here’s what Lindsay of That Je Ne Sais Quoi had to say:
“To be totally honest, I love being a mesomorph. I’ve always coveted a muscular body, and for me it’s not terribly difficult to achieve. I feel super lucky in that regard. That’s not to say being a mesomorph doesn’t come with a few… issues. Mesomorphs can gain weight or lose weight easily, so I have to make sure I’m always eating enough, especially because I eat a pretty healthy diet and enjoy working out. It just feels awesome.
I have a great example of how working out too much will shape my body into an undesirably large (for me) silhouette. This past April I ran my first 10K — quite possibly my biggest physical achievement to date. I started with a few three-mile runs each week and worked up to running about ten or fifteen miles per week. By the end of training, my quads were so built up that I was struggling to put on my skinny jeans! Most people lose weight when they run often. Not me. My legs bulk up, and I gain weight rapidly because muscle is dense, and my appetite becomes insatiable.
Training for the race allowed me to confirm once and for all that I am, in fact, a mesomorph. Up until that point, I never understood why most people lose weight when they train hard while I just keep getting bigger. Once I realized and accepted this (and did some research online), I was able to tweak workouts and train accordingly. For me, the key is mixing it up and not overdoing it. I love lifting weights, going for short runs and hot yoga.
It can be a struggle to be a small mesomorph, though. In my “natural” state, I don’t have a lot of body fat and can stay toned with minimal to moderate effort. Because of this, I am often the receiving end of comments like “you need to eat a cheeseburger.” I’m not underweight. People are actually surprised when I tell them how much I weigh, and it’s because it’s mostly heavy, dense muscle. So that gets old and can be kind of frustrating.”
How to Shop for Lingerie If You’re a Mesomorph
Typical lingerie advice just doesn’t take into account how non-compressible muscular body types are. There’s a certain amount of assumed “squish” when you’re offering suggestions to women, but many muscular women just don’t have that. Mesomorphic women tend to be both denser and firmer than what’s considered “normal,” and one of the first problems a more muscular woman may run into is finding a bra that fits.
Modern bra fit now says to use your underbust measurement as your band size. Said another way, if your underbust is 28 inches around, then bra experts say your band size should also be a 28. While that rule works great for women who have some cushion around their ribs, it works less great if you don’t. Not only does it hurt, but I literally feel like I’m going to flex out of my bra if I wear anything smaller than a 34 band. However, my underbust measure is four inches smaller at 30.” And I’m not alone.
Lisa of Wide Curves says when it comes to bras, “I size up in band because I don’t have squish on my ribs, so I can breathe.” Plain and simple: muscle doesn’t “squish.” And if you have a muscular body type, it’s important to remember that a bra size which works for a friend or family member may be totally wrong for you… even if you have the exact same measurements. Always listen to your body, especially if your body is telling you something hurts. It’s completely okay to use sister sizing if you need a more comfortable fit.
Something else muscular women have to keep in mind is the size and shape of their pectoral muscles (their chest muscles). If you’re a mesomorph, your pecs can have just as much effect on what you find comfortable as the size and shape of your actual breast tissue. Lisa of Wide Curves says, “I am very picky about the cut of lingerie/bras around my pecs. This is probably one if my most difficult fit points. It will kill a bra style instantly.” Lindsay concurs by saying, “Even my cup size can change depending on how many pushups I’ve done lately. I’m serious! It sounds ridiculous, but the pectoral tissue underneath shapes my modest breasts more than the fatty tissue on top. For this reason, I do own a small range of sizes and wear different bras depending on how my body is feeling that day.”
So in addition to sister sizing, you may also want to keep a range of bra sizes in your lingerie drawer. Lindsay explains, “Sometimes you have to accommodate your body, especially if you’ve been training. I have both A and B cups in my bra collection, with bands from 30 to 34. I’m sure this is in part due to different brands’ sizing mechanisms, but it’s also because of my muscle fluctuations. So, don’t throw things away immediately if they’re too big or too small. Chances are at some point (as long as you still love the piece, of course) you’ll revisit it.”
Finally, both Lindsay and Lisa recommend bras with wide bands. Lindsay says, “I enjoy bras with wide bands because they’re more forgiving of my body’s natural muscle fluctuations,” while Lisa prefers, “…3+ hook bands because they don’t dig into my rib cage like shorter bands.”
When it comes to underpants, all three of us are in agreement: thin, tight elastic is out! Both Lisa and I sing the praises of stretch lace, and Lindsay and I frequently go a size up in bottoms. Like Lindsay says, “I’ve got curves in the back… and I like them there.” While I feel most comfortable in boyshort, hipster, and full brief styles, Lisa prefers high cut panties because “low sides cut cut off circulation and dig into my big hips.” What does this mean for you? Play with with different style and brands until you find the right fit! Besides stretch lace, I also like microfiber and bamboo for my knickers. In short, any material that can stretch in multiple directions without digging in or losing its shape is a winner for me.
I love corsets, and I have for years. But it took me a long time to realize I was never going to get the dramatic hourglass shape non-mesomorphs can achieve. Again, it all goes back to muscle just not compressing very well. While I believe the best corsets are custom no matter your body type, this can be especially true for muscular women as standard off-the-rack designs assume a certain amount of “squishiness” in their fit. I also recommend purchasing a corset with hip gores (or getting them added if you’re having one made) as hip gores let you lace your waist down a bit tighter in comparison to your hips… and that gives you a more extreme silhouette. Generally speaking, longline or overbust styles look the best if you’re going for that corsety shape as underbusts can make you look a bit “tubular.” Finally, allow yourself a little extra time for breaking your corset in; you won’t be able to lace down as tightly or as quickly as your non-mesomorph counterparts.
For a professional corsetiere’s opinion, Danielle of Ava Corsetry says:
“When I make corsets for women of a muscular build, I sometimes alter the basic pattern in shape to take into account things like slimmer hips. Muscled bodies, as opposed to soft tissue, also respond less to the pressure of the corset and can put more strain on it, so I add extra spiral steel bones and either a wide flat steel behind a standard busk or a wide, flat busk for stronger support. A coutil lining is a must as well.”
I started off as a stockings blogger, so I’d feel like I was ignoring my roots if I didn’t address hosiery at least a little. Though it seems obvious to just check the size, I’m the first to admit that’s not always helpful. What are you to do when your weight puts you in one size, but your waist and hip measurements put you in another? My general rule if I’m choosing between two sizes is to pick the larger size. I’ve found that it’s always easier to work with more material than with less. I also avoid cheap hosiery, and anything that claims to be “one size fits all.” The reason is because cheaper hosiery tends to be knitted into two chimney-straight, up and down tubes while more expensive hosiery is knitted in the shape of the leg. I’ve found the latter is a much better fit for my body.
Finally, let’s touch on loungewear and nightwear. Lisa says, “I love loungewear,” and I agree! If you must have sleeves, she recommends cap, batwing, or dolman sleeves. Lisa also recommends that muscular women “steer clear of anything where the boob area is defined or seamed, not just because the cups are too small (unless its bra sized), but because the band/bottom of the cups/seam cuts into my ribs.” I honestly don’t wear a lot of cap sleeves because they visually increase the width of my shoulders and that’s not a look I like, but it really just comes down to personal preference. We’re both in agreement about our love for robes though; they’re one of the few items of lingerie that fit beautifully without needing to factor in a lot of body calculus. Last point: stretch materials like jersey and modal work better than non-stretch satins and laces. Again, it’s all about using fabrics that can accommodate subtle (and sudden!) changes in your build.
Our Favorite Lingerie Brands
Despite sharing a body type, Lindsay,Lisa, and I don’t all like the same things. Think of this section as a starting point, not a rule book. If one brand doesn’t work for you, don’t internalize it as an issue with your body. Just move on to the next. It can take multiple tries before you find the lingerie that’s a perfect fit for you. Don’t give up after just one or two attempts.
For her picks, Lisa recommends loungewear from Midnight by Carol Hochman and bras by Natori. For lingerie, Lindsay is a fan of Bradelis, Poison, Fortnight, NOE Undergarments, and Bordelle. Between the Sheets, Relique, and Zinke are her favorites for loungewear, and Angela Friedman is her top choice for corsets. Like my collaborators, I’m also a fan of Natori and Between the Sheets, and in addition to those two I also like to wear Claudette, Hopeless, Kiss Me Deadly, Shimera, Hanky Panky, Wacoal, Wolford, Falke, Rago, ClareBare, and Boom Boom Baby Corsets.
Final Thoughts on Being a Mesomorph
Lindsay and I both agree that, when it comes to size, what’s on the tag is just a starting point. Not only can the number or letter you wear vary across brands, it can also vary depending on what’s been going on with your body lately! Don’t let other people’s perceptions of how a woman’s body “should” look (or weigh) affect how you feel about yourself. Mesomorphs are outside of either version of what the lingerie industry (or society in general, for that matter) considers “normal.” And the advice you get, while well-meaning, simply may not apply to you. Above all, always remember to love your body.
I’d like to end with the following quote by Lindsay, “I like the way my body looks and feels when my arms are cut and my legs are defined, or when the pelvic triangle starts to show through. On a woman, this isn’t everyone’s idea of sexy, but I’ve embraced it — it makes me feel beautiful. Keeping myself nourished in a full body, mind and soul capacity is when I feel the best, and subsequently when I look best. It sounds so cliche, but I guess it’s cliche for a reason. Once you figure out how to keep that cycle going, you’re on your way. I’ve found it’s much less about your body and more in how you think about it, and allowing yourself to appreciate the features you like while being able to accept the things that are the way they are.”