Lingerie Advice for Mesomorphs (a.k.a. Women with Muscular, Athletic Builds)

Jessica Abidde by Anna Swiczeniuk

Jessica Abidde by Anna Swiczeniuk

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.

–Bras

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.

–Knickers

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.

–Corsets

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.”

–Stockings

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.

–Loungewear/Nightwear

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.

Are you a woman with a mesomorphic build? What lingerie advice do you have for TLA readers? Let’s turn this post into a resource for all us muscular dames!

Mad Mimi Form

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. I started TLA in a small studio apartment in 2008. Since then, it's become the leading lingerie blog in the world, and has been featured on the websites for Forbes, CNN, Time, Today, and Fox News. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that every who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

19 Comments on this post

  1. Tristin Wheeler says:

    This is the most inspiring thing I have read about having a muscular build and finding lingerie, and definitely has an awesome selection of places to check out that I didn’t even know existed! I haven’t bought any yet, just because I have such broad shoulders and large thighs, and swaddling research on what might look best on me, and I am so glad I found this page!

  2. Michelle says:

    Yes, this is a much needed discussion! I had actually given up on bras entirely except for sports bras. I have large breasts (D or DD) but large pecs as well and can get by with wearing camisoles. I have real issues finding fit and I think it’s a combination of a very large muscular rib cage with thick back and traps. Basically, the straps are never ever long enough to compensate for my width (front to back) so the bra is always pulling up (unless the bra is small enough to ratchet the band down tight enough to suffocate me). I’d rather have less support than constantly fear that my bra is going to sproing up around my neck. Anyone else have this problem?? I’ve trained in bodybuilding, powerlifting, and strongman so I carry a lot of muscle

  3. MaiLinda says:

    Ooooo. I just have to chime in. I’m a mesomorph (age 48) – I”m 5’2 and a weight lifter!! I am so grateful I stumbled on this site because MOST lingerie just sucks on me!! My thighs are large (muscular) .. my shoulders are broad (thanks to lifting) and my tummy … sorry – it is NOT flat and never will be but it is so well proportioned to the rest of me I look exceptionally proportioned (I LOVE being a meso!!). And like the author, I gain / lose weight easily. And building my body for the athletic look is like taking candy from a baby – give me a couple weeks and I’ll have the bag of candy to myself – LOL. This article is so helpful to me and I really appreciate it!! Please do more like this for our body types because we want to look cute and sexy too .. and let’s face it, we DO have challenges with muscular physiques … so many things I put on in the story mirror but go… ‘my arms look to big / my legs are too muscular … GREAT article. Thanks!!!

  4. george says:

    Thanks for your post, Cora, that was certainly illuminating!
    I’m especially interested in the issue of wires for smaller breasts on muscular torsoes/the influence of pecs because I’ve never came across this topic and think this is really sth that ought to be considered in bra fitting theory.

    In regard to fitting I had my ‘awakening moment’ when I worked as a bra fitter and told a woman with all the smugness I could muster that she’d be a 34 band size at the least, not a 38-40 as she had claimed. Oh boy was that embarassing! Usually I was rather good with predictions but in this case: total fail! Afterwards I got very cautious with my assumptions. ;)

    Also thanks for the elaboration of the term ‘mesomorph’ – it makes me cringe a lot. :)
    It’s really strange that the whole idea of fitness than can be such a pain in the … does not seem to expand to more ripped women. You’ve got to be slim and firm but on no account muscular. Because that’s not what women are. (facepalm!) I’m not particularily buff but I can carry stuff other women can’t and it already caused weird reactions from men *and* women. And a friend of mine who’s rather muscular recently was having a crisis over the sleeves of a dress she came across in which she could not even fit her lower arms. It’s all the little things that make quite clear that there is still so much ideas floating around of how a woman should look, it makes you wonder if it’s really already 2014.

  5. Nikki says:

    I’m a mesomorph, and I do a lot of athletics and weight training. I’m 5’10, 165 pounds, and I measure 27″ underbust, and 44″ over. Among all my other bra fitting issues (high-set, pectus excavatum, narrow-rooted, close-set, flared ribcage), being muscular really creates a lot of problems.

    I fit into a 28 band quite well, for day wear. When I’m completely relaxed, I can, in most cases, shut my band on the tightest hooks. However, if I have to get a heavy box out of the closet, I feel like I’m going to rip my bra. And it shows. I know it’s time for a new bra when the hooks of my old one have been ripped out.

    But the problem is, being well and truly into the full-bust range at a 28HH/J, a looser band just won’t cut it. I can pull a 30 up over my breasts without unhooking it. I wear a 30 band and it rides up, or the cups push away the slightest bit when I move, and I spill out the bottom.

    So what’s a happy medium? I’ve tried to find loose 28s and firm 30s, but with all my other fit issues, there’s really only one brand that’s spot on and a dream to wear (Comexim – I’m in love!). I think I’m just going to end up replacing them as they need it. So expensive!

    • Cora says:

      I’m glad you’ve found a brand you love! Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be much help when it comes to recommendations for your particular fit concerns. I’d recommend getting in touch with Wide Curves as she’s also a full bust mesomorph, and seeing if she has any recommendations.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. […] women with visible body hair, women who are more slender or heavier than the ‘ideal’, mesomorphs, transgender people, women who are short or tall, women with visible disabilities, and even women […]

  7. AcheKah says:

    I play in two worlds. Meso build – 10 squats a day gives me “Baby Got Back” type butt – with a near perfect hourglass shape.

    For me, narrow wires are not good. It’s from my pectoral muscles, narrow may fit my boobs better, but they hurt like the devil. However, I do prefer the tight band. But, I have heavy boobs, so the support is needed. Tight band relaxes soon enough, my back tries to kill me in bigger sizes. But, there’s a lack of large cup bras that work for curvy meso boobs.

    Also, underpants. I’m no dang sick of women’s panties that start as boy shorts then rid up into butt floss. So, whatever. I don’t own cute panties. I buy men’s boxer briefs. Wide enough waist elastic, no tight leg elastic, and they don’t turn into butt floss. Add in since they end lower on my legs, no VPL.

  8. Galactica says:

    Ho… interesting post…
    I allways tough I wasn’t someone really muscular because my sister’s body has allways be naturally more muscular, than mine, but I can relate to your descriptions a lot. I have big muscle in my legs (and problems with skinny jeans), visible abdominal muscles even if I do nothing, shoulders that need to size up in clothes. If I workout I become quicly wider and if I stop I quickly look “slimmer” (and need tighter bra bands and smaller clothes even if I gain fat !), I weight 72kg/158pounds but I am slim, etc. And I also discover my need to have a lot of bras that fits differently to accomode boobs and muscles fluctuations ! So finally I may be quite muscular-mesomorph… and my sister just more than me.
    So, thank you for this article, because I don’t feel alone/abnormal anymore about my “strange” body fluctuation !

  9. Lynn B. says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! All these years ( I am 58) and I thought I was alone with this body type. I grew up with people making fun of me and my musculature. When I was young and working out regularly I had arguments with trainers who insisted I needed to up my weights when I KNEW that if I did that my muscles would become ridiculously large. I didn’t wear pants or jeans for years because of my thigh & calf muscles. Way back when before pantyhose, I would lie to saleswomen that stocking purchases were for someone else because my height meant a shorter length which did not fit unless I liked the tops at my knee. The only positive aspect of this body type, for me, was that no one ever could guess my weight within 20 lbs. It is only now, at this stage of my life, that there is some squish and so I have gone down to a 32 band from a 34. Just wish side stays were easily removed from bras since they have always been an issue for me and my muscled rib cage. Wish I could afford for all my panties to be stretch lace. Yeah for Hanky Panky!

  10. daisy says:

    arrg i have waited for MONTHS for advice like this as i read it i could feel myself mentally ticking off everything in agreement!! and actually your comment on corsets is something i have to very much agree with; the space between my lower rib cage and the beginning of my hips is next to nothing.. i barely have anything to compress and it was only after digging a little deeper in the lingerie world and finding brands that actually compliment what ive got i got over my issues with NEEDING a defined waist. another thing i find a nightmare is buying fitted babydoll type things, like kmd vargas dresses, because im so broad at the back and i have to buy for my bra size, i over compensate and end up having baggy unattractive amounts of excess material from just beneath the bust downwards.!! nowadays i stick to soft cup bras and am harbouring a love for NOE to deal with the fact fitted things that actually FIT aren’t something i should hold my breath for!!!
    and thank you so much for posting on this. sooo much love x

  11. Porcelina says:

    I’ve just had a lightbulb moment reading this. My body type is much more mesomorph on the top half. So *that’s* why I have such trouble with bras! Thank you so much for this post!

    P x

  12. What a great read! I’m so happy to finally read an article that doesn’t lump women into the two (bland and oversimplified) categories of thin and curvy. There is so much variation in between, and no one “right” way to dress or size mesomorphs – not in bras, corsets, or anything else. So much of it needs to be up to the individual woman’s taste, and pieces like this are great for educating folks about that. Rock on!

  13. Jess says:

    SUCH a necessary post, omgosh!!! THANK-YOU!!! Bookmarking this, printing it, cherishing it forever

    p.s. And thank-you for using my photo :)

  14. Nicole says:

    I don’t think I am a mesomorph (while I do get bigger muscles when I workout and never can get the “skinny runner” look…if I don’t workout I just get fat ;) ) but this was very true for me as a muscular woman! When I first got a proper bra fitting I was fitted in a 38G but almost all of the bras cut into me near my armpits due to my pecs and were too tight in the band. When I told the lady I felt like was going to “hulk” out of the bra if I flexed she looked at me like I was crazy! But it sounds like what you describe! I also have to go to much larger sizes on the bottom than the top.
    I’ll have to try the brands you recommend- I still have trouble finding a bra that fits my boobs AND my pecs!
    I was surprised by how much this helped…I usually just call myself curvy and leave it at that..and think I have weird fit issues other people don’t. Thank you!

  15. AE says:

    I’m sort of in this category – no squish in the ribs (less than 1″), big-boned, plus some muscles that bulk up if I so much as look at them, slimmer hips and broad shoulders – but I’m not in other ways as I have larger breasts (34GG/36G) and not all my muscles respond to weight training by growing. I also don’t lose weight easily. Tight sleeves are indeed a problem (it doesn’t help that most women my height are petite), but bras are really a pain. I’m frustrated by the fact that I can choose between my bands riding up or the wires warping (or some combination of the two). If I go with my actual underbust, the wires really warp, even for brands with stronger wires. If I go just one size up, the band is visibly riding up in the back and my back starts hurting (and the wires are still a little warped).

  16. Sweets says:

    I loved reading this post! I’ve only recently had the opportunity to fit more mesomorph women, and the experience was another great reminder that not all fit advice is one-size-fits-all. I so appreciate your corset tips! I’d never have thought about making those particular fit adjustments or recommendations, so I’m really glad to have those in my back pocket now.

  17. denocte says:

    Thank you so much for this write up! I’ve got a friend with a similar body type and I’ll forward this to her asap.
    Love that you talk about your fitting experiences. Glad you don’t let them get you down.

  18. June says:

    I found this post fascinating since there really hasn’t been much on muscular builds out there at all. I definitely find that I fit in that category (although not all the recommendations above necessarily work for me but that’s probably also due to loose skin from major weight loss and multiple pregnancies). One thing that I’ve found that my weight is often (extremely) higher than other women who are the same size as me. I was pretty shocked to hear friends say that I was “thin” prepregnancy even though my weight put me into the overweight BMI category. It’s just not a term I’ve ever thought of being applied to myself.

    Even now with the extra baby weight I’ve found I can never go by weight guidelines in hosiery. I recently tried one brand and went by measurements (the fit was correct) but if I would have gone by weight I would have way above their size recommendations (and I didn’t even get the largest size).

    I do find that for me underbust works great for my band size that being said I have a lot of loose skin left over from the weight loss so it gives me more padding than most even at my smallest.

    I’m glad you mentioned corsets too! I’ve always wanted to try one but having such a straight torso (well and a long one at that) has made me shy away from them. Like you I doubt I’ll ever get the dramatic nipped in waist but I’d still love to try one at some point.

    Oh, and yes to having problems with shoulder fit and upper arms! It’s insanely frustrating because it’s so hard to find clothes that fit my waist/bust correctly and then they all end up being tight on the shoulders and arms. I wish I knew a solution there! That and find bottoms that fit a big butt, rounded/post-partum waist, and slim hips. I still haven’t found a solution there.

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