Bemoaning Bras

Published January 10, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I’ve been poorly over the past 24 hours.  A headache, then nausea, and what I think is an earache.  This morning I woke up with a bit of a cough.  I think just a summer head-cold, not surprising in all the damp we’re dealing with here in Queensland at the moment.

Today I stayed home from work, and spent up until about 3pm either trying to sleep off the ick, or just watching DVD’s and resting, trying to make myself better.   Mostly I was doing ok, but for some reason my chest was really, really hurting.  Around my ribs, like someone was pressing in against my sides.

Now of course, as much as I can talk about not listening to the concern trolls, be they anonymous commenters, friends/family/colleagues or just the bloody media, sometimes when one isn’t feeling well, and is a bit tired and emotional, the bullshit seeps into one’s brain.  So by about 4pm, I was having panic attacks (being prone to anxiety, these are my usual response to worry and stress) about these pains around my chest.

At some point, I had the thought that my bra was bothering me, it was feeling really uncomfortable, so I went and took it off and swapped it over for one of the better quality new ones I have.

Lo and behold, within half an hour… no more bloody chest pains!  The cheap, dodgy old bra I was wearing at home on my sick day was HURTING me!

So it’s particularly serendipitous that just this morning I was reading this post from The Rotund, aka the delightful Marianne Kirby about the lack of accessibility to decent bras for fat women.  What follows below started out as a comment to Marianne’s post, but considering the coincidence, I think it’s worth a blog post on it’s own.

Bras, oh bras!  This is the one area of clothing for plus-sizes gets me REALLY riled up.

Particularly as every time I bemoan the unavailability of bras that fit, look good and most importantly, hold my tits up, someone refers me to the ONE plus-size bra specialist in my city of over a million people.  ONE.

I want to scream at them that I’m well aware of the store, I’ve been there and even bought from there.  Yes, they have large cup size bras.  But the majority of the stock is in straight sizes, not plus sizes, with large cups.  And the plus sizes tend to stop at size 20 or 22.  Then the tiny few that do go over that size (generally to stop at a size 26, which I am lucky to fit into) don’t actually structurally support me very well.  Which left me with ONE bra that fit me, and supported my breasts.

And it is as ugly as a bucket full of smashed crabs AND cost me $90. (8 years ago, I imagine it’s well up over the $100 mark now).  This meant, at $90+ per bra, I could only buy one at a time, and could really only afford it once or twice per year.  I won’t name the store, most Brisbane plus-size shoppers know it.  I will also say that they had shitty customer service, the women working there grunted and pointed to the ugliest corner of the store, and when I asked for a fitting treated me like a piece of meat.

The only place that has a bra that a) fits b) supports me and c) I can afford to buy more than one every now and again, is Target.  It only goes to a 26E, but I am one of the lucky ones that fits that last size.  And of course it’s as ugly as a dropped pie.  But it works in holding my tits up without causing me major back pain, so I buy it.  I’m so very lucky that it comes in beige, AND white, AND black.

One bra.  One.  In a state capital city of an affluent, western country.  In a city of over a million people.  There is one bra that just suits my needs, available for me to buy.  In fact, a few years ago, Target were charging double the price they do now for bras.  The one they had that fit me then (which they have discontinued now) was $56.  The one they have now fluctuates usually between $25 and $30, depending on what promotions they have on.

Yet how many itty bitty bras are out there?  Or even moderate sized bras?  THOUSANDS.  There are whole stores devoted to them.  Big sales on at the convention centre, tossing them away for a few dollars, clearing stock.  Acres and acres of floorspace in department stores with fancy sexy styles in designer brands.  Target, Kmart, Big W, Myer all have great big floor spaces devoted to pretty bras at the moment, but all straight or tiny sizes.

Do you know what’s the real irony?  People, including advertisers, media and marketing, make fun of very large breasted fat women, playing on the saggy tits “joke” and yet nobody will actually provide adequate bras to prevent this.  Surprise surprise, most very large breasted women don’t want their breasts to be dragged down by gravity, it HURTS if nothing else, but because there is practically fuck all available for them to do so, they settle on ill fitting bras that simply don’t do the work they need to hold their breasts into place comfortably.

When I was in the US in late 2007/early 2008, and I went to Lane Bryant, I found several bras that fit, were comfortable and structurally did their job, even a couple that were cute, at a mere $24 – $28, so knowing that $56 price tag back home, I bought a dozen bras and brought them home with me.  I spent more on bras than I did on accomodation in a lot of places over there!

I am very lucky, I can afford to buy several of the Target bras (particularly when they had them on mega mega sale like last week, got them marked right down to $12 ea… almost unheard of!) so that I don’t have to rotate two or three the whole week.

I used to have to do that though.  I used to only be able to afford three or four bras per year, even the ones under $50, and since I have to wear a bra every single day, because of my rack of doom, it meant I would be constantly washing them and wearing them three or more times per week.  Which meant they wore out REALLY quickly.  I was forever mending them, taking wires out of old ones and sewing them back into less old ones, re-stitching seams and so on.  This is the first time in my life I’ve been able to afford to just go and buy another one (so long as Target don’t discontinue this one or jack the price back up) if one tears or an underwire breaks.  It’s the first time I’ve had enough to go a whole week before having to wash them so I had enough clean ones to wear.   I can’t tell you how liberating it is to know that so long as I do laundry on a weekend as per usual, there are enough bras to get me through the week.  How liberating it is to know that if I need another bra, I can afford to go and get one and have somewhere local to me that I can get one?

I’m one of the lucky ones.  How many plus-sized women don’t have another bra to change into when the one they are wearing breaks, or is hurting them?  How many of them don’t at least have one affordable bra that they know is almost always in stock at a store easy for them to get to, that they can go and pick up when they need to?  How many of them simply can’t afford to buy the one bra that fits them because it’s ridiculously priced?  How many of them are outside the sizing range, in a cup size bigger than an E, or a band size bigger than a 26, or heaven forbid, outside both sizings?

So how about some of those plus-size retailers out there start taking their customer service seriously and providing us with bras that tick all the boxes.  That are affordable.  That fit.  That hold our breasts comfortably and for the whole day.  And for fuck’s sake PLEASE make them PRETTY!

40 comments on “Bemoaning Bras

  • Have you tried those bra band extender things for the problem of bras that are the right cup size but don’t have wide enough bands? I bought a couple of them recently and I’ve been really liking them and they’ve definitely increased the amount of different brands I can buy etc because I have the same problem of bras coming in the right cup size but only going up to a size 14 band.

  • I’ve tried bra extenders but I find them really uncomfortable. Last time I had a bra fitting I was a 20F. Target bras don’t really do the job. I so empathize. I’ve been wearing my old breastfeeding bras – incredibly ugly and not that supportive – because they are comfy and they fit. Finding sports bras is my biggest nightmare. I have ONE that I wash after every trip to the gym, and it is falling apart. Dire. People just don’t get how bad it is.

  • Oh God yes! I’m around a 24I but that fluctuates significantly during my cycle. I spent most of last year buying bra after bra after bra trying to find one that fit for at least a few days per month. I have one underwire bra that is perfect – except for the bit where the underwire digs into my underarms constantly. Apparently my boobs can only grow width ways if I need a bigger cupsize!? Do you know anyone who has boobs that grow out of their underarms? Fortunately I can comfortable squeeze into the cheap(ish) Evans cotton bras which do me fine most days unless it’s hot and humid and then they rub under my boobs which is pretty horrible.

    Honestly, my biggest issue is the lack of consistency in sizing both between and within manufacturers. At least then I could guess which way they won’t fit. As it is I could try 8 different sizes before I find the one that is the least uncomfortable.

    • I wonder if we tallied up how much money we’ve wasted on bras that don’t fit, are more expensive than they should be, are ugly enough for us to be ashamed of them, rub, chafe, poke and are generally not adequate for us, would we be able to buy a bra factory and force them to make us some decent fucking bras??

  • ARGH BRAS. I’ve had the infuriating experience in the past year of having no bras that *properly* fit me, to getting properly fitted while on a trip to the UK and then of course finding no one (and by no one I mean the one bra shop I can/will go to in my city) stocks my *actual* size!

    Last time I was shopping with girlfriends we went to said store and one of my companions actually asked “if I ever wore my bras like a hat” because apparently the cup size was soooooooooo huge. I was flabberghasted. Here I am, clearly struggling to find ANYTHING appropriate in an item of clothing I NEED TO WEAR, and apparently that’s just hilarious to someone who can buy shitty $10 Cotton On bras whenever she needs something to go with a turquoise spaghetti-strap top.


    • Yes, I too have had people ask me if I can fit my head in my bra, if I wear it as a hat with a friend, and various other HILARIOUS versions of this. All of them from women who don’t even have to wear a bra, if they don’t want to, but have the choice of THOUSANDS.

      • Admission: I actually do wear my bra as a hat sometimes of an evening when I first take it off, mainly for my own amusement and to a lesser extent the amusement of my dogs and partner. Of course, much less amusing coming as a joke from someone else…

  • OMG I can so relate to this! The most comfortable bra I currently own is one I got from Avon about a million years ago and I will cry when it finally goes to bra heaven. It really irks me that most retailers take great pride in advertising their “plus size” section which might go to an F cup but rarely bigger than an 18 or 20. And don’t even get me started on maternity bras! I’m 5 months pregnant and dreading having to buy them again. I still have my old ones but felt so self-conscious every time I wore them as I could feel my poor boobs bouncing around in public saying “LOOK AT ME!!!”.
    Oh, and a small word of advice… if you’re at home having a sick day, I’d highly recommend freeboobing – wayyy more comfortable! 😀

    • I love freeboobing! But if I do it for too long, I get back pain because my boobies are just too big. 😦

      Man, I didn’t realize until I read this how damn lucky I am to have a Lane Bryant in the area and their website’s selection available to me. I can’t really afford $36 a bra right now, by any means, so I’m kind of stuck with just one nice bra at my disposal until that changes, but it’s nice to know that when I get the cash that I will have options that fit okay and aren’t hideous.

      • Same here – hurty back!!

        You know, it’s ridiculous that those of us who can actually GET a bra, and I’m talking ONE bra, consider ourselves lucky, isn’t it? I mean, proportionately we are lucky compared to a lot of other women, but that just makes it all the more obscene for all of us.

  • I’m living in Asia right now and looking for bras to fit my larger sized ribcage is an exercise in futility. I finally broke down and went online to ebay and did a search for my favorite bra. Any time anyone lists one for sale I get an email update and I can go to the ebay page and look at it and if it’s what I’m looking for I can buy it. Otherwise I have to depend on someone back home in Canada to go to the lingerie store there to buy my bras and package and send them to me. Which is a bit embarrassing and ends up being quite costly as well. So I guess what I’m saying is, have you ever gone to a sight like that and searched for your favorite bra? You might find it there. I get other large sized clothing there as well, because as I said I’m in Asia, which is home to millions of size zero women and thus home to clothing stores which cater to those sizes.

    • I cannot imagine how hard it is to find suitable bras in Asia Daantaat.

      I have tried eBay but the big ones get snapped up faster than I can buy them! I keep an eye on it though.

  • I was just about to add in a small vent about maternity bras but I see Kate has beaten me to it. Fat women get pregnant too dammit!!!

  • I’m lucky to live in the U.S. and have easy access to Lane Bryant bras — every once in a while I’ll try to get one somewhere else for cheap, and within an hour I’m remembering why I spend the money for LB bras!

    I know LB doesn’t ship worldwide, but a lot of people sell LB bras on ebay. If I still worked there I’d hook you up with the employee discount! 🙂

    • I have a friend who is a pilot in the RAAF. He offered to get me bras when he was in the US last time. Here he was, this strapping RAAF pilot, going into several LB stores in the Seattle area… and to no avail… he was there just after the big end of year sale, so there were none of the ones I can wear in my size left. My friend is pretty awesome for trying though.

  • Argh! I can SO relate to this, as a wearer of 16-20G size bras, and especially the feeling of being treated like dirt by sales staff. One woman laughed in my face when I asked for a sports bra. ‘They don’t MAKE them that big!’, she said, hardly able to contain herself. I love Netball and Trampolining, but both are high-impact on the boobs. I wore two bras at once for years to contain the bounce. I finally found a good sports bra online and paid mega-$ for it. Relief! Downside: it squishs everything into the Monoboob of Doom. And so the battle continues!!!

  • Like Maryann’s post, this resonates with me incredibly. I can’t walk into a Target (or other mass retailer) and buy a bra off of the rack. I can barely walk into a Lane Bryant and do so (I probably can’t, actually, I haven’t patronized one in ages) and all of my bras are bought from a catalog. Then we get into overlapping issues of privilege — I can afford to order from a catalog, and then order more when I get one and it fits and looks good — and fat tax, as ordering and paying for shipping and then returning what doesn’t work ends up costing much more per kept bra than I’d pay if I could walk into Target and buy even their most expensive off-the-rack bras.

    What I will never understand: Just My Size is the maker of a line of plus-size bras and pantyhose here. They sell my size in both, but not in stores. (They have a catalog.) But I can go into any Target, Walmart or KMart and get a pack of their panties that fit, without any sweat. And my lower half is my larger half. What do they think women who wear their size 12 or higher panties are wearing on their chests (or legs)?

  • I’ve been so frustrated with bad fit that I’ve basically given up wearing a bra, except on special occasions. :p But not every woman has this luxury. (I’m not sure I really do…maybe everyone’s just tolerating looking at my low boobs. :p) My breasts are small, especially compared to my band size, so it feels nigh-on impossible to find a proper bra, never mind one I can afford. I’ve never even fathomed having a pretty bra because it’s never been an option for me. Bra industry, you fail.
    Also, I love your euphemisms, Kath. Ugly as a bucket full of smashed crabs or a dropped pie? I’m nearly crying I’m laughing so hard!

    • Sometimes I’m such an Aussie!

      Sadly going bra-less is not an option for me. It’s just too painful and uncomfortable. The drag on my back thanks to my rack of doom just causes so much pain.

  • In US sizing I’m supposed to wear a 50C. The bra extenders can sometimes mean I can buy a 48C but cup size apparently changes with band size.
    Now my large band size is due to a genetic disorder and is not ‘usual’ for someone who wears a US 22-24 top. So, I’m a bit more understanding about the lack of availability of bras for me than I otherwise would be.
    Lane Bryant seems to be carrying fewer bras in a 48C at my last look. Now I think I’m going to have to order online and I’m hesitant to buy bras without trying them on first. But even at my mid-size cup size I’m just more comfortable wearing a bra and my clothing looks better

  • Have you by any chance ever tried a smaller band size than a 26?
    Tighter bands provide better support for large busts, and it might increase your shopping choices as well.

    • Yup, and sadly they give me that chest pain feeling. 26 is very much the right size for me. Though that said, even if a 24 or 22 worked… there aren’t any other choices at those sizes either.

  • It is that time of the year for me too (bra shopping) and I am currently in the process of orders and returns with I ordered 3 bras in the same size but only one fit. The other two are going back and I am trying two from a different brand which will hopefully do the trick. I can’t get bras from Target as they only go up to E and I am an F.


    • Ugh. It’s just wrong that we have so little by way of options. Despite the opinion of some privileged people, ONE bra that meets several (but not all) of the requirements of a bra is not “problem solved”.

  • I’ve only had good service from the shop that you mention, but I deal with them online, not in person – as the nearest bra shop that has my size that is both supportive and NOT underwired is 250km away. There is a Target 55km away, but there I can either choose “supportive” OR “wirefree”. And I’m only a D-cup (24D Australian/46D US) – I know at least a dozen of women in my tiny town alone that would take a larger size than that. My girlfriend is a G-cup, and takes very, very, very good care of her bras!

    • Yeah, online has been lovely but the last time I went in I desperately needed a new fitting (dropping weight thanks to breastfeeding = double whammy boob change) I did not even get acknowledged. I was there for 20 minutes before I stalked out. I couldn’t get a single person’s attention. They were all newbies too – as much as some of the old ducks are jerks (tell a 16 year old “you’ve gained a lot of weight since you were here last” is not okay) they at least acknowledge you walking into the store.

      And it turns out I’ve shrunk enough to maybe start trying out usual bra stores and upmarket places. Which will be weird.

  • I wear a 16J and I can’t find a single bra to fit me in Australia. I got fitted at Bravissimo in the UK a few years ago and now I just buy online from the UK. It’s not cheap. I mainly wear the Elomi Energise sports bra, as it’s too expensive to try ordering something new online and have it not fit. And yes, I’ve had lots of smaller women say ‘Surely you can get something at Myer, I’ve seen HUGE bras in there!’.

  • It’s ridiculous that Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, etc. will sell plus-size underwear up to a size 13, but they won’t stock extended bra sizes.

    I can get away with a 48 DDD and I can wear a 46 DD in Breezies but in reality, I need a 44 H or maybe even a 44 I. Some Lane Bryants do carry H cups but they only have a few and they sell out quick.

    Making extended size bras should not be rocket science!

  • I buy online now from the states since Australian stores charge so much for bras that fit, and the cheapies just don’t provide me with daylong support. Of the couple of stores in Australia one is always out of stock in my size whenever I try to order, and the other is so expensive.
    Ebay is my friend, but i have a huge pile of “right size wrong fit” bras since I never get to try any on before buying them

  • I’m apparently supposed to be a 40J or 42I or some ridiculous thing. The only place I’ve ever seen those kind of sizes is online, at around $80+ each. There’s no way I can afford that kind of money for 1 piece of clothing. I’ve been wearing some cheap “sports” bras from Wal-Mart (no Target in Canada, or at least this part of it) They’re size 44, so the band fits nicely, but the rest is very tight. Luckily not uncomfortably tight, just enough to flatten things & control the bouncing. Sadly they’re the best bras I’ve had in years (thanks to completely unsupportive uniboob nursing bras).

    Except for exercising & going out of the house (stay at home mom & slightly agoraphobic, so as seldom as I can manage) I go without a bra. I’m always a little puzzled about the complaints of back pain, because I’ve never had any issues. I guess I’m just lucky?

    I’ll have to look at this Lane Bryan place. It would be nice to have a decent bra.

    • Sadly Lane Bryant doesn’t go large enough. The prices were the most reasonable I’ve seen for larger bras

      • You’re in Canada, so you could try Cheaper than $80, anyway. I only see up to 44H, but that’s at least getting closer to the right size.

  • I’m lucky enough to find my size ‘relatively’ easy, but I’m pissed off on your behalf. If I were business savvy at all, I’d so open my very own plus-size lingerie store. I think there’s way, way more demand for affordable, chic plus-sized bras than supply.

  • Bras can be as cheap as $12?? In what alternate universe?? (Clearly, I never shop with my skinny friends) Thankfully I live in Canada and therefore have access to the series of shops owned by Reitman’s ( Miraculously, in the past couple of years they’ve started making a line of incredibly comfortable and sexy bras (with and without underwire) that come in most of the larger sizes. I’m told it’s still hard to find larger cups, but at least the bands are big enough.

    I had to laugh at the idea that people have the budget for a different bra for every day of the week. That’s like.. $350 every few months, right? >_<

    I am so totally sick of snobby skinny salespeople that I never shop outside the plus stores anymore, but I pay dearly for the privilege.

  • Man I sympathise. My worst experience was going into John Lewis to be fitted for a bra. I checked out the shelves and it looked like their largest size would fit, and I’d been having problems with the fit of my M&S bras so I thought I’d give it a go. The assistant measured under my bust (apparently her method was to guess the cup size!) and came back with a selection of pretty horrific looking things. Fine, I thought, if they’re comfy. They were all massively too tight (although the bra fitter was adamant that having boobs and back overspilling everywhere and not being able to breathe was exactly how they should fit) so I asked to try some different ones. Ten minutes later I’m still in the dressing rooms half naked and she comes back with one fugly bra in a random size that didn’t fit at all. Then she suggested I should lose some weight. My partner said all she’d done was randomly grab a bra from the shelf and then go chat to a co-worker. Never ever going there ever ever again. Urgh.

  • I absolutely hate bra shopping!

    I used to go to Innerwear but the attitude of the fitters at my local store is horrible and they were more interested in making a profit by selling me an expensive bra which only sort of fitted and was uncomfortable as hell than fitting me into something which was actually right.

    I’m on the hunt for a new bra now actually, I’m only 17 and I think the only way I’m going to find a bra in which I can both be comfortable in (no poking underwires!) and not have saggy mono boob is if I go where my Nana shops and get a fugly lace number for $100. And if I want a sports bra? Ha, impossible because fat people don’t play sport because why else are they fat?

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