August 22, 2013

Bra considerations and cheap tricks

Hi everyone! Thanks for your response to my "breasts and bras" post.
I will definitely pursue the subject further. I'd like to try and post regularly about it, covering the matter from different angles (pun intended). And I want to create a bra link page, including all sorts of things from good fitting and/or information, sewing patterns, bra-making tutorials and suppliers of lingerie sewing notions. So, if you have any links like that, please mention them in the comments or email me. Of course, you can also use the email for any specific bra-related questions. 

Today, I thought I would keep it light. A simple "anatomy of the bra", so simple tricks to make RTW bras fit you better and maybe some bra history.
For the last subject, I looked up the entry on bras on Wikipedia. It's here and it's actually quite an interesting read. Of course, it's quite funny that both the title picture and the one in the "mechanical design" chapter show rather badly fitted and worn bras, but that's not my point. Neither is the great quote on the challenges of designing a bra:  "In many respects, the challenge of enclosing and supporting a semi-solid mass of variable volume and shape, plus its adjacent mirror image—together they equal the female bosom—involves a design effort comparable to that of building a bridge or a cantilevered skyscraper." (Wow, no wonder it took me so many tries and I still have to develop the thing further...).
The real issue of the article is this: We don't need bras. Apperently, research has shown that bras don't prevent sagging of the breasts (indeed they may even encourage it) and may, especially when badly fitted and especially with larger breasts cause back, shoulder, arm and breast pain.
It seems that, like the corset in its day, the bra is worn for reasons of vanity, fashion and conformation to social norms, whether those would be of modesty (not showing nipples) or of attraction (to the opposite sex).
If you are considering making your own bras because you find RTW ones uncomfortable or you are looking for a more natural look, read the article, especially the bits about sagging and health issues.

After getting rid of that elephant in the room, let's return to some of my intended post: In that previous post, I discussed bits of bras in terms normally used on blogs by those sewing bras. I don't think any of those were unclear to anyone, because no-one asked about them. However, just in case some people were just too shy to ask, I thought I'd explain anyway:

These are the parts of a bra as I named them. Of course, I such have drawn the shoulderstraps so that they were connected to the wings in the back as well. 
In the Wikipedia article, the "wings" are called "back wings", which is not such a great difference, and what I call the "bridge" is called "gore".
Obviously, there are many different styles of bras. As a result, every element in this drawing can look completely different for any given style, but I think you get the idea. (and I don't want to go into a discussion on styles here because that would be another long talk...)

And now, on to the tricks!

If you don't feel up to the challenge of making your bras, there are many things you can do to make RTW bras fit better.

The main thing to remember is that strange relationship between band size and cup size. And you can use this to your advantage.

Suppose you wear a 75F... This is the kind of size which would force you to go to specialist shops and pay quite a lot for a bra. But the underwire of a 75F is the same size as that of 80E and 85D... 
85D is a standard size in a lot of places. You can try the 85D, purely checking the fit of the cups themselves and whether or not the bridge width is right for you. At home, simply take a seam ripper, take off the hook-and-eye closure, cut away about 4 cm of the band at each side (there's negative ease in the band, so cutting out 10 cm in total would make it too small. Obviously it's best to check how much length to remove before you cut) and stitch the closure back on using a small zigzag stitch on the sewing machine. This will put the back connection of the shoulder straps closer to center back but that's usually not uncomfortable at all (if you think it will be, take out length of the band at each side of the strap)

And suppose you wear an 85A. This size can also be hard to find. But the wire should be the same as 80B which you can get everywhere. 
In this case, the solution is even simpler. Many lingerie stores and sewing supply stores sell bra band extension things: pieces of elastic with hooks on one end and eyes on the other. These come in one and two band size options and can simply be hooked onto the bra's normal closure.
Of course, here you also have to take care the front of the bra fits you properly.

My third tip has to do with shoulder straps, and it comes with an anecdote:
A few months ago, I was fitting a young lady for her wedding dress. She was petite and wore something like a 75B bra. Not a size which should cause anyone trouble. Of course, she had taken her bra off for the fitting of her strapless wedding dress. I pinned the hem, she tried on veils and her mother took some pictures. The whole operation took at least half an hour. When I helped her out of the dress, I noticed she still had red marks on her shoulders from the shoulder straps of her bra. Normally, I don't comment on customer's own clothes and lingerie, but in this case I thought I would. 
When I asked about those shoulder straps, she told me they were painfully tight but she had had issues with straps slipping off her shoulders and the lady at the lingerie store told her she should tighten the straps to deal with that... So, I recommended she'd try other bra styles, like halter or racerback.
Later I remembered there's an even simpler solution yet: the same places which sell the bra extensions often also sell a kind of "hook" for shoulder straps. With that thing, you can pull the straps of a normal bra together at center back which prevents slipping straps without them having to be very tight.

I suppose everyone knows a bra should "carry" the breasts on the band and cups, which distributes the weight of the breasts on the torso. If the shoulder straps are so tight they pull up the back of the band, that weight drags on the shoulders instead.

I think this is enough for today. Please weigh in with your opinion on the bra debate, your links and any other comments or questions.


  1. This is such a great post that I come out of my usual lurker cave (feedly in my case, but I never miss one of your posts) to say that even though I bought the supplies to make my first bra I've been very intimidated by it and altering my existing bras to my recently found perfect size at 30D would be a great way to jump in the pool!
    I also notice that of course with time bra bands seems to get distended, would you advise to take the band in or to throw it away ?

  2. I've thought about doing this, but felt a bit weird about buying something only to alter it immediately. But you're right, it is quicker. I have just started on the bra making journey and sent off for several kits. I've made two muslins so far. Maybe I should do a few alterations to keep me comfortable while I'm learning! Oh and thank you for building this resource.


  3. My breasts are very heavy so I can't wear a racerback or halter because the straps put too much pressure on my shoulders at the neck so I started making little strap pads that slide over the strap and sit right on top of the shoulder. It really helps!!

  4. This is such great information! I've been lurking a bit, but I did want to mention that I hosted the Show Off Your Skivvies challenge, and one of the guest posts was on how to know what size bra you are, complete with pictures. Check it out because I found it amazingly helpful.

    Also, I've just made my first bra, though it didn't have wires in it. I'm starting to wonder if I should even bother because the wireless bra I made is SO comfortable that I hate going back to my RTW bras. (Of course, they're also the wrong size so... that could be it too.)

    Just for info on the challenge:

    And the post on the perfect bra size:

  5. I had a read of the wikipedia article and it was quite fascinating. I can never find any bras in my size even though I've always thought I was a pretty regular size. I'm not sure if I would ever make one though.