Bras Beyond DD

or, Why I Hate Victoria's Secret

I am a smaller-than-average person with larger-than-average breasts. Because of this, I've had a very difficult time getting bras that fit. In the decade since I've exited puberty, I've done a lot of driving around, calling people, and web research to find bras. I have become something of a well-fitting-bra evangelist, and this page of links is my way of putting everything together in one place so it's easy for me to point the way to comfortable support to other people. Nobody should have to wear a bra that has shoulder straps that dig in, or a bra that gives you that uncomfortable, unbecoming, and unhealthy quadruple-breast look.

bra size cartoon
Wapsi Square, by Paul Taylor

If you wear a DD (or larger), you've probably noticed that most bra companies don't believe that anything exists beyond DD. It's especially hard to find the larger cup sizes available in the smaller band sizes; many companies have 34 as the smallest band size available. (Some notorious places like Victoria's Secret seem to make bras available in only six sizes - 34ABC and 36ABC - that's a disgusting lack of choice.) Fortunately, there are places out there that do make a wide range of bras - band sizes of 32, 30, 28, or below, and cup sizes of E, F, G, and beyond. For some reason, there are a number of companies in England that make the larger cup sizes with smaller back sizes. As a caveat, it seems like these English bras have cups that run about one cup size smaller than their American counterparts - and they tend to be pricey.


Sizing

I find that the measuring tape only gives you a good idea of what size to *start* working with; you really need to try on a variety of sizes and styles to find out what works for you. It's relatively easy to determine the band size by using a tape measure, but cup size is much more difficult to determine. Everyone's breasts are a different size, shape, and density, and i don't think there's any one "magic formula" out there that will work for everybody. It's like shoes; you need to try on various styles by various manufacturers to figure out what will work for you; and you may buy different sizes depending on the manufacturer and style. (Be warned that there are many different measuring "systems" out there, and each one can give you completely different results for what size to wear.) Also, be aware that the size you wear is not constant. At certain points in your monthly cycle, you may need a bra with slightly larger cups. A weight change of as little as five pounds can also cause you to need a different size.

It seems that most places recommend measuring over your "best fitting bra" for sizing, which can seem like a sick joke when the "best fitting bra" looks like it's at least 4 cup sizes too small. However, you do have to start somewhere, so here's the best strategy I've heard of. (I usually measure myself in front of a mirror, but if you are not a contortionist and can get a friend to measure you, that may work better. If you have a friend who sews clothes and who is used to taking measurements, that's the best.)

  1. Start off braless.
  2. Measure around your body just underneath your breasts, keeping the tape measure as level as possible; mark down this measurement as "A".
  3. Measure around your body, above your breasts but under your armpits, again keeping the tape measure as level as possible. (You should not be measuring any breast tissue here.) Mark down this measurement as "B-1".
  4. Now put on the "best-fitting" bra you have.
  5. Just to check, measure around your body just underneath your breasts again. This should be the same as the previous measurement "A", but don't panic if it's not. It could be an indication that your current bra band is the wrong size (too big and slipping, or too small and digging in to much), or that you measurements aren't completely accurate.
  6. Measure around your body arcoss the widest point of your breasts; ideally, this would be across your nipples. Keep the measuring tape snug enough to stay in place, but loose enough to not deform your breast tissue. Mark down this measurement as "C".
  7. Measure around your body, above your breasts but under your armpits, keeping the tape measure as level as possible. (This time, you may be measuring breast tissue, especially if you are spilling out of your current bra.) Mark down this measurement as "B-2".
Alternative for the completely braless:
  1. Do the measurements as listed for "A" and "B-1". Ignore the "B-2" measurement. (Since you're not wearing a bra, there's no cup overflow to calculate.)
  2. Bend over 90 degrees at the waist/hips, so that your back is paralell to the floor.
  3. Measure around your body across the widest part of your breasts (ideally, across the nipples). Try to get the measuring tape snug enough to be accurate, but loose enough to not dig into your breasts. Mark down this measurement as "C".
Now, what you can do with those numbers depends on how complicated you're feeling.

Too Simple

Wacky but Better

Now, try things on

I recommend going to a specialty shop to try on bras, if at all possible. Most of these shops will measure you and help you find something that fits. However, don't let anyone talk you into something that isn't well fitting, comfortable, and flattering!

Grab bras in several different sizes from several different manufacturers. Do try our ones that are larger or smaller than what you calculated - for example, if you guess that you would fit in a 34D, grab a 34DD, 34C, 36C, 36D, 32D, and a 32DD. They may glare at you, but hey, they are in the business of selling clothes.

Go down in band size until you find something that's snug without being too tight. Then, go up in cup size until the cup is just a bit too large. Go down one cup size. In theory, you should now be holding a bra that fits.

Sometimes you can find a specialty shop by looking up stores in the yellow pages and asking them what brands and sizes they stock. In my experience, many shops that offer mastectomy forms also carry bras in a large range of sizes. You can also call a manufacturer or distributor directly, and ask for a list of shops in your area that stock their merchandise, but be aware than many shops do not stock the full range of sizes that a manufacturer offers.

But, what if my breasts are uneven?

So, what do you do if you have only one breast, or if your breasts are very uneven? Well, measure from the center of your back to the center of your front across the larger breast, and double this measurment to get "C". (This is a klugey way to pretend that both breasts are exactly the same size.) When buying a bra, get one that fits the larger breast, and pad our the smaller one to fit. If you only have a cup size difference between your two breasts, you may be able to get a bra that has extra padding, and rip the padding out of the already larger side. I think it's more important to make sure that the larger breast is properly supported and not squashed, which is why i recommend buying bras to fit it. Unfortunately (at least, for these instructions), my breasts have less than half-a-cup size difference between them, so I don't have personal experience in dealing with this.


Stores

B*Tween Bras is the company that Steve Bernstien (mentioned in my story below) co-founded. He's working on making bras in the E to Q cup range. (No, the Q is not a typo.) If you've completely struck out finding a bra that comes anywhere close to fitting (for instance, if you can't find that elusive 36K bra), bop on over to his site, take a look, and drop him a line if necessary. He'll probably hate me for increasing his workload, but he was such a lifesaver to me that I can't resist pointing him out to other people who are in a bind.

Bravissimo has a breathtaking catalog - breathtaking in that darned near everything in it comes in my size! After so many years of looking at bra catalogs to find either nothing or one *boring* bra in my size, it's wonderful to find a wide selection of pretty and fun bras that will fit me. Most bras are available in band sizes 30 to 38, and cup sizes D to G. There are a few bras in cup sizes up to JJ and band sizes down to 28. They also have swimwear, strappy tops, sports bras, and strapless bras.

Double-D is another online bra seller with an excellent assortment of bras.

Ruf Peska is working on a site for large-cup small-back bras. I love this sizing chart - this is a long-ignored market segment that dearly needs attention.
size chart

Decent Exposures has been repeatedly recommended to me as a manufacturer of very comfortable bras. They use a slightly different measuring system than most bras. I have not ordered a bra from them, so I have no personal experience with the comfort that I've hear others tout. Even if it looks like they don't make your size (for example, if you need a smaller band size or larger cup size), write them email and ask. They'll most likely make whatever you need.

Creative Woman, located in Monrovia, is where I used to go bra shopping when I lived in the Los Angeles area. I find the web site difficult to navigate, but the physical store is quite good.

Other online stores that have a decent selection of sizes are B2G, Bra Experience, Big Girl's Bras, Fig Leaves, Maple Drive, Silk Peach, and Undercover Experience.

The Lunaire line of bras is available in cup sizes C to DDD, band sizes 32 and up. Some Nordstrom stores carry this line.


Sports Bras

sports bra cartoon
Wapsi Square, by Paul Taylor

Enell makes sport bras. They have a number of "standard" sizes, and they will custom-make a bra for you if you don't fit in a standard size. They will work with you as mush as necessary to get you a sports bra that fits. I have a custom-made bra, and it immobilizes *everything* - I can jog or jump rope in it. This sports bra works on the "squish-them-flat" principle.

The Lady Cameo bra is another bra I use for sports. (Be warned - the web page is a mess.) They bill themselves as "support bras", but they work quite well for sports. The measuring system they use is completely different from most bras - you'll probably wear a band side that smaller than you're used to, and a cup size that's two or more sizes larger than you're used to. (Don't faint when you see the size that fits.) They make band sizes down to 26 and cup sizes up to N. This bra makes me quite "pointy", but it also immobilizes everything. I can jog or jump rope wearing this bra.

Bravissimo has sports bras in band sizes 30-38, cup sizes DD to G.

The Lunaire line of bras includes a sports bra. It is available in cup sizes C to DDD, band sizes 32 and up. It gives you a more natural shape than the Enell or Lady Cameo; but it doesn't immobilize you completely. It's fine for most sports.

Title 9 Sports carries sports bras in cup sizes A to DDD, band sizes 32 and above. The large-cup sports bras they carry look very similar to the Lunaire sports bra and to the Shock Absorber sports bra. They also have the Enell bra, but I recomment just going directly to Enell and getting a custome size that will fit better.


Distributor

Eveden Limited, a.k.a. Stirling Brands in the US, is a company that owns several English brands. If you go to their website, you can call or write them and ask for a list of stores that carry their products.


The story behind this page

Like I said, puberty hit me hard. I literally grew out more than I grew up. I started as an AA at the age of twelve, and grew a cup size a year from there. I realized that I was doomed when I had to wear a C cup bra at the age of (almost) fifteen - *before* I had my first period. While my friends were chanting "We must increase our bust", I was praying that mine would stop growing. Clothes started fitting wrong after that point - most clothing is designed for B cup figures, and fits embarrassingly tightly on a D or larger cup. (Wearing something that's a hair too tight can look intriguing; but when clothing is way too small, it just looks slutty and gross.) When I was a High School junior, wearing a DD cup, shopping for a prom dress was difficult. The size 4 dresses fit well - from the underbust down. To get something that would fit me and my bust, I had to get a size 14 dress and remove a foot of fabric from the waist and hips. (It didn't fit me anymore by the time I was a senior - my nightmare bust had grown another inch.)

I didn't start having severe bra problems until I was seventeen (going on eighteen). My mom always took me clothes shopping for the new school year. When we went to the department store for new bras, the clerk took me in the back room, measured me, looked at me "busting out" of the DD bra I was wearing, then sighed and announced that the store had nothing that would fit me. She recommended that we go to a "specialty store".

My well-meaning mother misinterpreted this as "Victoria's Secret". We walked in, and my mom announced that we'd like to look at the 32DDD bras that they had. The clerk smirked, and called out "Come here - you've got to get a load of this," to another clerk. Clerk #1 asked us to repeat our request in front of her and clerk #2. When we did, they both burst out laughing. Between gasps, clerk #2 announced loudly, "Honey, we don't have anything like that here. We only carry NORMAL sized bras." At this point, I ran out of the store in shame and humiliation.

I had to order my bras out of a catalog that year. There was only one catalog that offered a bra in my size. It was available in only one style and in only one color. My mom clipped out a few articles about breast reduction surgery, and offered to make all the arrangements for me and pay for it, as soon as I was finished growing. I declined, because even though I felt like a freak and hated my body, I didn't want to go through surgery.

Thus started the many years of no choice in bras - one maker (Bali), one style (full cup), and two dull colors (beige or white). In 1994, I was excited to find a black bra by Vanity Fair. Whoo-hoo - choice! However, in 1998, things took a turn for the worse. Both Vanity Fair and Bali, the only two manufacturers who had been making 32DDD bras, stopped. I called both of the companies, and they both had the same statement: "Not enough people wear that size. It's not profitable for us to make it." I asked each company what I was supposed to wear, and was given the phone number of someone who might be able to help. I called a trail of people, being bumped up some unseen bra-manufacturing chain, until I got the number of Steve Bernstein, in New York.

Steve listened to my story, and damned the other bra makers with me. "Those people don't care about helping women - they just go for a market segment, and leave everyone else out to hang. I'll take care of you!" He came out to the Los Angeles area on business a short time later with a briefcase full of samples. When he measured me, he announced "I can tell you part of you bra problems right now - you shouldn't be in a 32 band, you should be in a 30!" Ack! 32 bands are hard enough to find - I had never seen a 30 band in a cup above B! He left me with a number of bras (and a swimsuit) that fit, and a number of tips on how to find bras. Bra-wise, life has been good since I've gotten in touch with Steve.

To spell out exactly why I dislike Victoria's Secret: they only offer bras in a small range of sizes, and yet market themselves as the pinnacle of women's undergarments. When I was growing up, I was waiting for the day when I could buy something cute and fun from that store - only to be laughed out of it when that day arrived. There's a loyal percentage of women who can fit into their garments, but the rest of us feel like freaks for being too "fat" or too "thin", or for having breasts that are too "large" or too "small". There is a very wide range of normal sizes, ranging from below A cup to above G cup; the problem is when people confuse the commonest sizes of 34-36 ABC that Victoria's Secret offers with "normal" sizes. I'm glad that I've found sources that provide garments that fit my figure, and I think everyone deserves to be able to shop for clothes that fit without being made to feel freakish.


contact info: reverse: edu dot caltech dot ugcs at cat
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