Supportive Bras for Large Cup Sizes

Taking an underbust measurement for bra fitting

Any instructional curriculum on the topic of female modesty generally emphasize proper coverage of the bustline. The reasoning is that male observers who wish to maintain a high standard of morality are undesirably affected by women in public who wear clothing that emphasizes this area. This is no news, really, since modern fashion exploits cleavage for its sex appeal and sales power. Some surveys have even suggested that men view women with naturally smaller breasts, regardless of what the women are wearing, to be smarter, more moral and more modest than those naturally gifted with a larger shape! Data like that suggests to me that society needs re-education about the realistic shape of a woman.

For smaller-busted women, disguising the size and shape of the bust is easy. For those of us beyond an A bra cup, and especially for those of us in D or larger cups (which is more common than you may think), this is impossible without a fluffy down coat. God created each woman with a unique shape, one that should be accepted and celebrated rather than criticized as intrinsically "immodest" because of its curves. Of course, covering the bust with non-clinging, opaque fabric and a high neckline is standard for modesty. Concealing the size and shape is not, nor should that perhaps even be our goal. Women are who they are, and I challenge teachers of modesty to consider re-working their ideas of coverage around realistic womanly shapes.

Along the lines of this topic, below is a copy of a letter I wrote to Jaclyn Cosgrove who authored a May 27, 2012 article in The Oklahoman titled, "Breast reduction surgery may relieve pains." My view is that supportive bras and societal acceptance of large breasts, rather than surgery, should be the alternative for all but a very few cases.

Thank you for your informative article on breast reduction surgery. As a graduate in apparel design with a decade of experience as a patternmaker, I continue to learn about how properly fitting undergarments can improve the lives of women, particularly those who might be considering breast reduction surgery. Large-busted women already know that bra sizes in the U.S. cater to women whose breasts are small to average in proportion to overall body mass. Few brands offer larger cup sizes for women whose underbust ribcage measurement is 26" to 36". This is significant because many women's natural body frames fall into that range. We know from sizing research, such as Textile/Clothing Technology Corporation's Size USA Survey, that the average cup size has increased in proportion to other body measurements since the 1970s, calling for larger cup sizes in the smaller bra band ranges, again something that few brands offer. The popularity of cosmetic breast augmentation surgery is responsible for part of the increase in cup size, while the growing presence of estrogen in our food and water supply is thought by some researchers to influence the development of larger breasts over generations of women.

Not only the dearth of adequate sizes but also misinformation about how a bra should fit contributes to the pain commonly experienced by women who carry the weight of larger breasts. When evaluating bra fit, 80% of support should come from the band. If the band is loose, the bra cannot relieve pressure from the back, and the bra straps cut into the shoulders. Most women would do well to shop for a smaller band and larger cup than they have worn in the past. The band should fit as snugly as possible and the cup should encase all of the breast tissue. For instance, a woman who thinks she wears a 36D might try sizing down to a 34E. The E through K cup sizes may sound big, but in smaller band sizes, those cups are beautifully proportioned to the body. This year (2012), the intimate apparel company Wacoal America acquired UK-based Eveden Group that produces the Freya line of bras with cup sizes up through K. Freya now appears alongside Wacoal in many U.S. retail locations. Online retailers are also beginning to offer extended sizes in a variety of brands.

As for women who genuinely need breast reduction surgery, my hope is that the number would be few. A cousin of mine was a teenager of normal weight with unusually large breasts when she elected to have this surgery to remove one pound from each breast. Post-surgery, she still had a lovely, curvy figure and later had two children with no breastfeeding concerns. On the opposite side, Christina Hendricks and Sofia Vergara are celebrated for their naturally large bustlines, and together they are sparking an international acceptance for larger breast sizes. When I hear of young women involved in ballet, gymnastics or ice skating who are pressured to have this surgery for the sake of their sport, I am saddened. I feel that each woman's figure is a gift from God and that well-fitting undergarments and increasing social acceptance for larger bust shapes are positive alternatives to the risks and potential regrets of surgery.

For additional information on finding supportive bras for larger cup sizes, Sophia Jenner writes an excellent blog with photos of properly fitting bras and enlightening instruction on cup size relative to band size. Note that while Ms. Jenner recommends choosing a bra band size close to the actual underbust measurement, my own experience is that the underbust measurement plus 4 inches is still valid for determining band size with most brands if you want to be able to breathe. In reality, most large-busted women wear a band size much larger than the underbust measurement plus 4 inches because they cannot find a large enough cup in brands that extend only to a D. So, following Ms. Jenner's general sizing advice should encourage many women to at least try a brand like Freya that offers smaller bands with larger cups. Ms. Jenner also recommends hooking the bra at the largest circumference when new to allow for cinching tighter as the bra stretches with age, which is fine as long as the padding extends far enough to completely cover the hooks in the end position, something I've found to be rare. My recommendation is to purchase a bra that feels comfortable when hooked in the next to last position to ensure comfortable coverage of the hooks.

Be forewarned that Ms. Jenner's blog contains actual photos of lingerie on real people, and though tastefully done, is most appropriate for viewing by larger-busted women seeking help with bra sizing and brand recommendations. One of the most helpful hints Jenner offers is to measure the actual bust measurement while leaning forward to get a full circumference. Two of Jenner's articles lay the groundwork for fit, "Are you wearing the correct bra size?" and "Simply ill fitting." This active link to a Bra Size Calculator may also be helpful, as the calculator link on Jenner's site needs to be updated at the time of this writing.