Is There Such A Thing As a “Good” Minimizer Bra?

Minimizer bras get a bad rap, and for the most part, they deserve it. They’re what many of us wore back when we were still stuck in the “bra matrix.” They purport to reduce the appearance of the bust, but most mainstream minimizer bras do so by crushing tissue, particularly by folding your breast to your chest and smashing it down. This damages your tissue, creates discomfort, and doesn’t usually achieve the advertised “streamlined” look.

HOWEVER…

There are still a lot of good reasons why people seek out minimizer bras. As someone who has had quite a journey with my boobs and experienced a lot of dysmorphia, bras that downplay the size of my boobs get me through those times and allow me to look and feel the way I conceptualize “myself.” Even for people who feel great in the skin they’re in and like to celebrate or highlight their bust size, occasionally it’s nice to be able to fit into a top with not enough bust space or just try a new look. So minimizer bras are another tool that can increase our freedom as full-busted humans. 

We don’t want to turn tail and go back into the bra matrix, and we definitely don’t want any tissue-damaging crushing action going on. Half cup bras with vertical seams often compress and minimize outward projection, but they also increase cleavage and visual volume, so that’s not a great solution either. So what makes a GOOD minimizer bra?

A good minimizer bra encapsulates breast tissue and redistributes it over a less projected area, holding it closer to the chest. 

That means a good minimizer bra needs to have shallow cups with less projection. It usually needs to be a full-coverage cut that goes high up the chest. It also typically needs to have wide wires. In order to redistribute the breast tissue without any folding or crushing, you need somewhere for it to go, and that’s into your armpits and up towards your collarbone. 

Sound ridiculous? It can actually be fairly subtle. A good minimizer bra certainly will make you look wider from the front, but it will make you look much narrower from the side. It will also probably show above the necklines of low-cut tops, but it also often looks great with those higher-necked tops that sometimes don’t sit quite right with ‘regular’ bras with more projection.

The Fantasie Esme, now sadly discontinued, is my favorite minimizing bra. It’s ugly as sin (IMHO), almost impossible to find these days, and weirdly inadequate at the nipple-coverage game. But it allows me to wear dozens of tops that I personally found less flattering with a ‘regular’ bra. It also allowed me to fool my coworkers at one job into thinking I didn’t have big boobs for AN ENTIRE YEAR. As someone with some boob-ambivalence, it placates me.

OK, you want the proof, right? Here are a couple examples of how the Esme looks compared to a bra with more projection (in this case, I use my Panache Cari, which gives a nice rounded shape, as the contrast). 

First, here’s how an unstructured top looks with a regular bra:

Regular bra + unstructured top

And here’s how the same top looks with a minimizing bra:

Minimizing bra + unstructured top

Here’s a flowy, boxy top with the Esme:


This top would not flow as well with a regular bra. Also, my boobs completely disappear when I wear this combo, and I love that on some days. 

And here’s a shift dress with very little boob space that the minimizing Esme squeezes me into:


 In these loose tops, I love how the Esme looks. It’s a totally different look than I’d get in something more fitted (it doesn’t highlight my waist at all, and seriously downplays my breast size), and this look certainly is not for everyone, but I’m a fan. 

The minimized look doesn’t work with every style, of course. With fitted dresses, I prefer the rounded, more projected look of the Panachw Cari or my Fantasie 4520:

Regular bra + fitted dress

…versus the minimized look, which does not work here:

Minimizing bra + fitted dress

And with some clothes, I just want to look more narrow from the front, so the Esme isn’t what I’ll reach for on those days since it adds width to the front view. It also shows above lower-cut tops. When needed, I supplement with a cropped cami or bralet to hide the Esme poking out, which works just fine for me.

But, Skeptical Bra Blog, you said the Fantasie Esme is discontinued! What should I buy instead?

Great question, and one that I’ve been asked many times! Unfortunately, the very popular Fantasie Rebecca is NOT a replacement for the Esme. It gives a totally different shape with much more depth and projection (which is great! The Rebecca is definitely a good bra, it’s just not a good minimizer bra).

So far, I’ve found a couple bras that give the same minimized shape as the Esme. 

One option is the Fantasie Premiere:

PREMIERE-BLACK-UNDERWIRED-MOULDED-FULL-CUP-BRA-9112-BRIEF-9115-F
Fantasie Premiere. Image via Fantasie

Moderately more aesthetically appealing than the Esme, this bra gives me the same minimized, downplayed shape. I’ll do a slightly longer review in a couple days, but in brief: the Premiere only goes up to a GG cup, so I bought a sister size of 36G and altered the band to the equivalent of a 30HH. Unfortunately for me, the Premiere has regular run-of-the-mill straps; it doesn’t carry on the tradition of the Esme’s center-pull straps, which sit closer to the neck to stop them sliding off sloped shoulders. On the plus side, though, the microfiber cup fabric is very soft and comfortable, and gives much better nipple coverage than the Esme.

Another minimizing option is Fantasie’s 4500, perhaps the least-known of Fantasie’s Smoothing trio. 


The 4500 is (in my opinion) even less beautiful than the Esme, with its very utilitarian design. However, it has the advantage of still being available, although also just up to a G cup. 

Fantasie’s Echo Lace (to a GG) also appears to have the same design as the Esme, and it’s still available here and there in a bodysuit as well as a bra. 


I have yet to try the Echo Lace, but will likely give the bodysuit a try soon. 

One last caveat… Minimizing styles aren’t going to work the same for everyone. People who have a lot of projection might find that a shallow bra that minimizes fights their shape, crushes tissue and goes into the side of “bad minimizer”. Also, my projected bra might be your minimizing bra and vice versa: it’s all about finding something that has slightly less depth and projection than your regular everyday bra. For me, that’s the Esme, but for someone else, it might be the Fantasie 4520 that I use as my everyday bra, and so on. 

Have you found any bras that minimize for your shape without crushing or folding tissue? Let us know in the comments!

The Perfect Strapless Bra for Big Boobs: The Curvy Kate Luxe

It’s … REVIEW TIME! Time to get you good people caught up on allllll the new strong opinions I have.


As soon as I saw Curvy Kate’s Luxe Strapless bra previewed, I knew it was going to be a winner. I’ve been saying for years that vertical seams provide the strongest support and least strap-dependent shaping, and I couldn’t figure out why no one was using them in a strapless bra. Well, Curvy Kate did it! The Luxe strapless goes up to a J cup across all band sizes and it’s amazingly supportive.

Curvy Kate Luxe Strapless bra
Curvy Kate Luxe Strapless bra, image via Curvy Kate
I got the Luxe in my regular size, 30HH. As someone who never had a strapless bra that stayed up, not even when I wore an A cup in seventh grade, my awe and rapture when I tried this bra on was boundless. I whispered in hushed tones to the bathroom mirror, “It works!”


The Luxe is true to size, in my experience. I worried that it wouldn’t be open enough on the top for me, but it’s actually fine. It cuts in a tiny bit, which might actually be a good thing, because it means it won’t gap on people with less upper fullness. I’ve found that the strapless dresses I wear it with universally cover up that little tiny bit of cutting in.

The shape is round, and in addition to the integral support offered by the vertical seams, the bra also features an internal along with no stretch that helps keep the whole situation aloft. Because of the half-cup design, it does show some cleavage, but it’s not unmanageable.


There’s a sticky silicon strip along the band, and that helped me feel secure in it. Usually, I like to pull a bra band further down my back, but with the Luxe, I found the opposite: it feels most secure if I pull the band up a little bit. Mine stayed solid as a rock through a long day of cleaning, cooking, brunch-hosting, mimosa-drinking, and a ten-block walk to a restaurant. I highly recommend it. Just having one day without any weight on my shoulders felt like a mini vacation.

Thank you for making this bra, Curvy Kate. We needed it so badly.

Yes, This Bra Is Awesome: The Panache Cari Molded Spacer

It’s … REVIEW TIME! Time to get you good people caught up on allllll the new strong opinions I have.

I can’t say that this particular review is a long time in coming,  because I just ripped this package out of the hands of my very kind and patient Amazon delivery man about five minutes ago.

 When I began to re-orient myself to developments in the full-bust bra universe, the Panache Cari caught my eye. With the massive success of the molded spacer foam Fantasie Rebecca, I wasn’t surprised to see that other brands are following suit and making their own spacer foam bras. I wish I could explain what this material is technically, but functionally, it’s a type of molded foam that feels very thin and light. When I tried the Fantasie Rebecca about a year ago, I unfortunately didn’t become one of its many fans; I had hoped it could replace the discontinued Fantasie Esme, my favorite narrow-strapped minimizing bra, but I found that the cups were too deep for me, especially at the tips, and the shape was too projected for my liking. I also felt like the support wasn’t as firm as I would prefer; it was one of those bras where you sort of understand why they stopped the size range where they did.

So to be honest, I ordered the Panache Cari out of curiosity, but without optimism that it would be a success. I fully expected disappointment and a return. To my surprise, my reaction instead was “You can take this bra out of my cold, dead hands.”
Unlike the VAST majority of full-bust bras, this one fits my aesthetic and strikes me as looking modern, current and sophisticated. 


The navy color is a huge coup: it’s just different enough from the standard black to be striking and memorable, but it’s still an extremely functional basic that matches anything, flatters pretty universally, and disappears under dark clothing. The design is thoughtful, but not at all overdone. The height of the cups feels perfect to me: it’s as full-coverage as it could be without looking like “a lot of bra.”


I also found the shape to be perfect. It’s not a minimizing bra that will replace the Fantasie Esme under flowy tops (which is a shame, as it’s MUCH more attractive than the Esme), but it is a perfect bra to wear with fitted tops or dresses. The cups were true to size on me. The shape is rounded without being flattened in any places, similar to my Fantasie unpadded Smoothing 4520, which until today I considered to be the best full-bust bra on the market (it just goes to a G, so I take in the band, and yes–a review is forthcoming).

 I found the band quite firm. I’m normally a 30HH, but bought my sister size, 32H, to fit into the cup size range. I found this 32 band to be very firm, and it felt almost closer to a 30; if you don’t like a firm band, I’d recommend sizing up in the band with this one.


The Cari goes up to an H cup. Due to a glitch in the Amazon sizing list that makes me CRY WITH LAUGHTER, I ended up buying a size “32 Husky.”


 Yup. Anyway–the cups felt very stable and supportive to me, so I think this is one that could definitely expand to at least a J, and I hope it’s successful enough for that to happen.


The best part and the total knockout punch for me is that this bra features a racerback clip. That means I have the option to wear the straps much closer to my neck, which feels infinitely more comfortable for me. I found it easy to fasten with the bra on me, but it doesn’t seem possible to fasten it before putting the bra on, so folks with neck, shoulder or arm mobility limitations might find they need someone else’s help to fasten the racerback clip.

My taste has changed a lot since I turned 25, and the frilly, cute patterns I used to love do nothing for me now. In my quest to rebuild a lingerie wardrobe that feels more “me,” this bra looks like it could be a solid cornerstone. I would highly recommend it.

The Perception of Scarcity Leads to Wardrobe Insanity

Perception of scarcity leads to wardrobe insanity

I’m not the first person to write about this and I won’t be the last, but I am a person to which this happened in a big way.

The perception of scarcity is a concept in which we think something we find is available only in a limited quantity and we must “stock up.” This is a pitfall that I think full-busted women are especially subject to!

As full-busted humans, we often come from a background of wardrobe scarcity. As of ten years ago, almost all of us were still living in a bra matrix. Even the earliest bra-fitting blogs were still a couple of years away. Bravissimo’s website looked like this:

2006 Bravissimo

Brands like Freya, Fantasie and Panache had existed for years, but were mostly known only to specialty-boutique shoppers. So for the rest of us, we did experience scarcity when shopping—we went to store after store finding zero bras that fit us. (I took many trips to the creatively named L’Eggs/Hanes/Bali/Playtex outlet, and I seriously cried every time.) When we finally found something that did work, we made sure we had enough of them to last us, because there was a very real chance that we might never again find something that worked.

And then a funny thing happened… we started learning about better bra fitting. Bras in our sizes started to become more available. Size ranges increased and designs got (somewhat) better. More companies popped up. More information abounded. But often, we kept stocking up… and then some of us ended up like me, or like my commenter from a couple weeks ago who was sorting through a collection of 51 bras.

Same thing with clothes. When you have a tricky body shape to fit, and you find an item that works, it’s very easy to buy one in every color, with the thought that you won’t find anything that works ever again.

I’m guilty of this. If I find a top I like in white, I’ll also buy it in black and pink. Just in case, right? It’s practical, right? And then I’ll wear it only in the white, and no matter how dingy and worn the white one becomes, I continue to reach for it above the other colors. When I discovered a dress I liked last year, I bought it in eight colors—several of which were actually colors I really didn’t like! When I purged my wardrobe recently, I kept only two colors, my favorite icy blue and a practical forest green.

At this point, I have to face the fact that when it comes to filling my closet, there is no scarcity. In fact, there is excess. I’m trying to pare down my wardrobe so that I can wear the items I really love more frequently. Since doing this, I feel much more relaxed and happy, I have more storage space, and I’m beginning to face my consumerist flaws.

I wish I could go back in time, but since I can’t, I’m selling and giving away all that I can and donating the rest.

I think it’s worthwhile for all of us to take a moment to consider how our body shape affects our consumerist identity. Coming from a background of actual bra scarcity, it’s easy to continue to operate from a place of fear when shopping. When stocking up leads to overstock, take a moment to step back and breathe–we have options now, and we can afford to be choosy, even minimalist. 

Bra Band Alterations Mean Freedom

I received a comment on my last post requesting more information on bra band alterations. I haven’t posted about it since my original tutorial for shortening a bra band, mostly because I haven’t changed my method at all since that time. Since it’s been three years, I figured it couldn’t hurt to put this information back on the front page.

As many of you already know, bra cup size letters do not represent a single size — they are relative to band size. That means the cup volume of a 34D is the same as the cup volume of a 36C. These equivalent-cup-size, different-band-size models are called “sister sizes.” Translation? If you are able to alter a band, you can create the perfect fit in any bra that comes in a sister size with a larger band than your real size. For example, as a 30HH, I can use band alterations to fit into a 32H, 34GG, 36G, 38FF, 40F, etc.

Some of you might be thinking, “Why should I have to do this? Bras should come in sizes to fit everyone; I shouldn’t have to take matters into my own hands.”

Before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that this is absolutely true. No one should have to alter a bra band. Companies should make sizes to fit the full size range of their customers and should offer a variety of shape and style options in each size.

If you are above a G cup, you’re probably laughing right now because you know reality does not match this ideal world. Although we have more options than ever going up to J, K, even sometimes L cups, it’s still not enough. Many of the best bras still only go up to a G cup, and the amazing technological and design innovations you see in DD cups and below are still belligerently nonexistent in the upper cup sizes.

So why should we take matters into our own hands and alter our bra bands? Because it frees us. To paraphrase from my 2013 tutorial: when it comes to bra fitting, I have a philosophy of independence. I want us to know our shape and what fits us best without needing to rely on often-biased commercial interests for that advice.

I don’t want us to be limited by the (sometimes tiny) constraints of the full-bust market. I want us to be able to work with what is available, even when it is not adequate, and to move past the limitations of the market so we can get what we need.

That is why I am an advocate of either knowing how to sew, or developing a relationship with a good tailor. Sewing and tailoring give you power to change what’s available in fashion, and if you have that option, your bra world opens up to include models that wouldn’t otherwise work for you. Sewing and alteration enable us to improve fit faster than the glacially slow evolutions of the brands themselves.

For those of us who wear smaller band sizes, we often find ourselves frustrated that the bras we like don’t go up to high enough cup sizes. Even though cup sizes are relative to back sizes, most bras cut off their size range at a single cup size across the board. So a brand will claim “We can’t make this bra above a G cup,” when actually, the 38G that they do produce has the same cup volume as the 30J they refuse to manufacture.

I’ve heard a lot of people cautioning that taking in a band can be disruptive to the fit of a bra. However, I disagree. Brands don’t scale their bras to fit a smaller frame anyway, which is why those of us who wear small back sizes often find that underwires are too wide and straps slide off our shoulders. Taking in a band won’t solve these problems, but it also doesn’t cause them or increase them. All you do when you take in a band is remove the length that has been added.

There are, of course, inconsistencies that will arise with alterations; however, in a general sense, there is no reason you should not be able to alter a band and still get a good fit. The only real sticking point comes if the point where the strap hit the band is significantly changed. If you find this is the case, you may actually like the results–it’s nice once in awhile to have your bra straps sit somewhere slightly different–or you can take in fabric on both sides of the strap to even out the position. I take in the band between the cup and the strap, and have never found this to be a problem.

Be aware that cups can seem bigger when you try on a loose-banded bra, so make sure the bra you are altering has enough room in the cups. To test, try on the bra and pull the band tight enough–it’s easier if you have a friend to help with this–and make sure the cups still fit right after swooping and scooping.

I do my band alterations on a machine, since it’s much faster. However, this alteration can also be performed by hand–you just need to use a small enough stitch for the fabric of the band. If you’re bringing the bra to a tailor, you can print out this tutorial to show them, or ask them to use their best judgement for how to do it. (I’ve heard horror stories of tailors turning up their noses and saying bras can’t be altered, and I recommend that you waste zero seconds of your life dealing with those tailors–just find someone else who will take your money.)

This is an alteration that can most likely be removed later without damaging the bra. As always, though, alterations are performed at your own risk.

Tutorial: Taking in a bra band

1. Compare the bra you’re altering to a bra with a band of similar material (and ideally, similar cup width) that fits well.

Alter band 1

2. Based on the length of the band that fits, fold and pin the extra fabric between the cup and the strap (in the armpit area). If you’re unsure, I recommend erring on the side of making it slightly bigger rather than slightly too small. Tip: it’s easier if you push the pins in at an angle, since the folded fabric will be thick.

Shortening a bra band, step 2

3. Sew around the folded area in a rectangle, using a fairly small stitch. If you’re using a machine, you can either use the reverse stitch for some of the sides of the rectangle or just end each seam and turn the bra over to deal with the problem of the bra bumping the body of the sewing machine.

Shortening a bra band alteration, step 3

Go slow, be careful to remove pins before sewing over them, and avoid sewing anywhere close to the underwire! You could break your needle.

4. Repeat for the other side of the band and test your fit. The band should now sit horizontal around your back without feeling too tight. If the alteration isn’t quite right, remove it with a seam ripper and start over.

Shortening a bra band alteration, step 4

 

Boom! Simple. No material is removed, so even if something goes wrong with the stitching (it’s never happened to me), you won’t risk exploding out of your bra. Below are some photos of what these steps look like on a real bra.

P1030124 P1030126P1030125
P1030127 P1030128

How to Boost your Full-Bust (Online!) Shopping Success

IMG_5748
My tops, folded Marie Kondo-style. I haven’t been able to fit all my tops in one drawer for years.

 I recently read the famed “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo, and much to my surprise, this book really hit home. It seems like it actually will be life-changing for me. I knew I’d hit on something amazing when I found myself texting my boyfriend from work, “I can’t wait to get home so I can keep tidying!”

IMG_5804
I bought the book on Kindle… to avoid bringing one more item into my house.

As he will tell you, I’m a fairly clean but somewhat messy, deeply materialist person. I come from sentimental, borderline-hoarder stock. I’ve always gone through cycles of boom and bust where I overshop, then purge and declutter, then organize, then over-shop. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the size of my wardrobe had gotten a bit scary. Now I’m addicted to folding clothes, and I feel a deep peace and a new appreciation for my possessions.

IMG_5764
Marie was right about everything else, so yes, I did give in and fold my socks like she suggested. And yes, it did take up less space. That’s all my socks in that box on the left.

Because I do tend to be so materialistic, yet also very spiritual and ritualistic, Marie Kondo’s philosophy of personifying and thanking your possessions works really well for me. I’m working on the komono category (defined as “miscellany,” or in other words, “all your crap”) right now, and I can’t wait to see the results when I’m all finished.

FullSizeRender (1)
Gremlin enjoyed some birds while I was tidying. Birds definitely “spark joy” for her.

So right now, if you asked me where I shopped, I would say “nowhere”… I’m trying not to shop right now, especially not for clothes. But… because I’ve been such a shopaholic for the past few years, I’ve spent a ton of time shopping, and I got really good at it. 

I’ve been doing a ton of research into zero waste living as well, and that has solidified my love of thrift shopping. It’s worth double-checking the ethics of some of the thrift chains that claim to work for charity, but buying secondhand is always an environmentally sound choice… and I feel like when you have the added layer of treasure-hunting, you do appreciate those “rare finds” so much more. The problem with thrift shopping? If you don’t have a well-honed idea of what to pull off the rack, it can take FOREVER and leave you frustrated. So it’s very helpful to have some strategies and a plan.

I also love shopping on eBay. Whenever I do so, I make sure to buy pre-owned rather than from professional sellers because that way, I know I am helping someone who is either working on decluttering their life, or who needs the money. I’ve been grateful for people who have bought things from me on eBay when I was in a financial bind, and I always try to return the favor to the universe.

(Plus, winning eBay auctions gives me an energy boost like nothing else. I used to sometimes bid on auctions that were ending soon when I had to pull all-nighters to finish essays, and the adrenaline rush would triple my work speed and get me through the task.)

eBay shopping demands an even higher level of shopping savvy to make sure your time is well spent, since you often can’t return these items.

In order to shop successfully at thrift stores and on eBay, as well as online from all sorts of retailers, you’ll want to work on developing an “eye” for what will work and what won’t. The best way to do this is just to practice—shop a lot. Try a ton of things on.

Go to physical stores. Try on things you think will work AND things you think won’t work. Try a single item on in multiple sizes.

Measure the clothes you already own that fit you well, and compare those numbers with your body’s measurements. Do your favorite clothes match your measurements? Do you tend to love items that have a larger waist measurement than your waist, for instance, or a smaller bust measurement? Do these items match your specs to a T, or are you surprised by the differences?

Learn to visually assess boob space, waist size, and length. I recommend stores like Marshall’s and T-J Maxx for getting practice at this, because it’s helpful to compare a ton of different brands instead of just figuring out what works for you in a single label. Keep practicing and this will start to come naturally. Just don’t buy everything you like while you practice, or you’ll end up with a wardrobe like mine before I sorted it!

For several reasons, I highly recommend shopping alone as you work on your skills. You’ll want to be able to focus and streamline the process. Also, it’s crucial in this stage to work on developing your own style and your own opinions of what fits. It can be fun to shop with a pack of friends and solicit everyone’s opinion on every item, but the result can be that you never stop to figure out what you think of an item. Plus, we all have well-meaning friends who can be discouraging on a shopping trip, instantly rejecting an item that you may actually like. Trying to predict people’s opinions will distract you from the real project: trying to predict an item’s bust measurement by glancing at it on the rack.

Keep mental track of your success trying things on. At first, you might grab twenty things off the rack to try on and find two that work well. As you train your eye and hone your skills, you might up your success rate to 50%, even to 75% or higher. You may even find there are certain stores where you can achieve almost a 100% success rate. H&M tends to be like that for me. (That’s why I don’t allow myself to walk into H&M anymore. Come for the reasonably priced boy shorts, leave with 18 burgundy sweatshirts and seven sundresses. Stop on the way home to buy a third dresser. Weep. Repeat.)

Once you feel like a master of guessing fit, shopping trips will start to go faster; you’ll be able to eliminate items before trying them on, and you’ll have fewer of those discouraging mall trips where nothing seems to fit and you feel your self-confidence and morale slipping.

You’ll also be ready to start shopping online more with fewer returns! Online shopping can be such a time-saver—no driving, no parking, no getting rammed with people’s baby carriages, no waiting in line to check out. It’s also so much easier to sort by price, size, color, and style. The downside, of course, is struggling to guess fit. With a solid background in in-person shopping, you’ll be well on your way to reducing those last-minute dashes to the post office to get your return in on time.

In the heyday of my online shopping obsession, I did a lot of shopping on Forever21, H&M, Boohoo, Old Navy, etc. I now online shop almost exclusively on eBay when I need something, for the reasons mentioned above. I know that there are ethical and human rights issues when it comes to fast fashion (often, this applies even the stores with higher price points), so I’m not endorsing any specific store; I’ll simply use certain stores as examples when relevant for fit information. I encourage everyone to do their own research about the best places to shop.

Here’s what to look out for when online shopping:

Fabric style—knit versus woven. Knit fabric has some stretch, and woven fabric usually doesn’t. So, while a knit item will often fit a wide variety of body shapes, you’ll have to watch the measurements and fit much more carefully when it comes to woven items. Forever21 always specifies knit vs woven, and that’s one of the reasons I used to shop from them so much.

Measurements—don’t think too much about the store’s general size chart for all items. You might want to glance at it to see how your normal size theoretically compares with this shop’s sizes, but what you really want to pay attention to is measurements for individual items. Many online stores list each individual item’s bust and waist measurement, as well as the length. On eBay, most sellers don’t list measurements, but they will often provide these details if you request them in the “Ask” section. Some measurements are taken flat (for instance, from armpit to armpit) and must be doubled, while others go all the way around the item (for instance, a full bust measurement). You can learn a great deal about an item, especially a woven item, from these numbers.

Interpreting measurements–This advice applies mostly to woven items, since knit or stretchy items have much more flexibility in their fit. If the waist and bust measurements in a woven item are similar to each other and sound like they’d fit your bust, you’re likely looking at an item with a boxy fit. You’d be surprised at how many boxy items are cut to fit a 40-inch bust in the size Small! If the waist and bust measurements are similar to each other and sound like they’d fit your waist, you’re likely looking at an item that won’t work well for a bust measurement larger than your waist. If the waist and bust measurements differ, look at how much they differ by. With about a 10-inch difference between my waist and bust measurements, I can often get by with an item that has just a 6-inch difference between waist and bust measurements, as long as the waist is big enough. That’s based on the fact that I don’t have a ton of projection and like my boobs to get a bit squashed in clothing, so you’ll want to figure out your own “limit” for bust-waist difference. Items that are woven and have a measurement smaller than your bust will compress your boobs, so experiment with different items to see how much compression is still comfortable and flattering for you. Some people prefer no compression or even extra space, while I actually like a little bit of compression because it minimizes my bust and also makes the garment more supportive (that means “better for running for the bus”).

Reviews—read reviews if the site offers them, and take them with a grain of educated salt. Someone else’s complaint is your cue to hit “Add to cart.” Look for reviews where people complain about a bust area that is “too big” or “saggy” or that say that an item was “unflattering to my small bust.” Look for reviews where people claim to be a “DD cup” (that usually means G and up when stated with no band size on a regular retailer’s site). When shopping on eBay, see if you can find any reviews of the item elsewhere on the internet, or shoot the seller a question asking how they found the fit.

General shapes–there’s a stereotype that higher necklines are unflattering on a full bust, but I think they can be very flattering. They are also easier to find a good fit in, because you don’t need to worry as much about covering your bra. If you are looking to avoid showing a lot of cleavage, be more selective when it comes to low-cut or spaghetti-strap items. The number one style to beware of is the dreaded “waist detail” style that leads to the dreaded “designated boob space.” In other words, any item that has a defined waistline may fall too high for your boobs to fit above it. This is where all that practice you did at eyeballing bust space is going to come in handy! By no means should you feel that all items with a defined waist are off-limits, even if they have a higher empire waist. I love babydoll cuts that hit right on the bottom third of my boobs, and I think they can be very flattering. I’ll talk more about specific styles and shapes in later posts.

If you have a sewing machine, use it to increase your online shopping success! When you’re not sure of which size to order, go with the bigger size, knowing you can take it in and tweak the fit. I’ve found that most people tend to get very precious about alterations and worry that things will take a long time, require complex materials or advanced skills, or should only be done by a tailor. Some of you don’t like sewing and that’s totally fine–a tailor is a great option in that case. However, if you are open to sewing and have access to a machine, be bold! Especially with an inexpensive or secondhand item, there is very little you can do that will truly wreck a garment as long as the scissors don’t come out. Seams can be removed if you don’t like how an alteration turned out, the vast majority of fabrics are at least 90% sewing-machine appropriate, and even a really sloppy alteration often looks just fine to the naked eye. You can even alter thick, chunky sweaters if you’re reckless, like me. I’ve been doing incredibly lazy, slapdash alterations for years on at least a third of the items I buy, and no one has ever noticed and called me out on it. I’ll walk you through some of these slapdash alterations in later posts.

If you made it this far, congrats! You’ve just completed your first Skeptical Bra Blog lesson in the art of online and by-sight shopping! Questions? Come at me in the comments. Thanks to all who commented on my last post–I’ll be incorporating your answers, tips, and thoughts in later posts as we continue with this series.

You Do NOT Have to Wear Special Clothes Just Because You’re Busty

…unless you WANT TO! I’m a 30HH and my wardrobe doesn’t contain clothes from any dedicated full-bust retailers!

My non-full-bust-specific wardrobe
My non-full-bust-specific wardrobe

Now, I have no beef with full-bust retailers like Bravissimo/Pepperberry, BiuBiu, Urkye, Campbell and Kate, DDAtelier, etc. I think they fill a void that is greatly appreciated by many people and they do very good work. (I’ve certainly had some frustrations with Pepperberry’s design choices in the past and that’s still true, but generally speaking, I’m glad they exist.)

But I also don’t think our options, as full-busted people, need to be limited to just these companies. In fact, none of my clothes are specially made for a full bust. That means my entire (quite large) wardrobe consists of just those “great finds” and “hidden gems” that we all stumble across occasionally at regular retailers. I do a lot of shopping online and have honed my methods so I’m able to spot what will work without trying things on.

In addition to the expected skater dresses and babydoll cuts, I also wear a lot of clothes that wouldn’t traditionally be suggested for the full-busted: men’s shirts, boxy tops, unstructured shift dresses.

I don’t find it extremely difficult to find flattering clothes for my figure, but I’m well aware that this does NOT match everyone’s experience. I’m going to do a series of posts where I share my tips for finding those “hidden gems.”

To guide this series, I need to hear from YOU! Do you shop at “regular” stores, at full-bust-specific stores, or a combination? Online or in person? What challenges do you have with regular off-the-rack clothing? What frustrations and benefits do you experience when shopping with full-bust-specific brands?

If Your Boobs are Bigger Than Your Budget – 2016 Ethics Update

Back in 2012, I published a post about finding affordable bras. I can’t believe that was four years ago, and I think it’s high time I publish an update that reflects my current thoughts surrounding the ethics of consumerism and accessibility.

I still see it repeated everywhere on the internet that bras for a full bust cost an unreasonable amount of money, and I still have the instinct to push back against this. It’s my view that $60 isn’t an unreasonable price for a bra that’s well-engineered–particularly because many bras for lower cup sizes tend to cost nearly as much, if not the same amount or more. (Underwired bras from Victoria’s Secret generally cost $45-$60, for instance.)

But $60 is a lot of money for a lot of people, and I hate the thought that cost concerns would keep someone in a badly fitting bra. There are many options for finding bras more cheaply, particularly online.

Where can you buy cheap bras online? Brastop has great deals on out-of-season colors, Figleaves has an outlet, and Large Cup Lingerie offers free international shipping. Even Amazon sells UK bras to US buyers nowadays, sometimes at discounted prices and sometimes not.

You can look for used bras on forums like r/abrathatfits and Bratabase. Make sure to use Paypal to protect yourself, and don’t send the money as a ‘gift’ unless you know and trust the seller.

The cheapest place to buy new bras is still usually eBay. The problem is that a lot of people are using “US sizes” (not a thing) on eBay now, so you might think you’re getting an H cup, but you’ll receive a mis-marketed FF cup. Be careful when shopping on eBay—make sure to sort for Worldwide and double-check that the seller specifies UK sizes. Or if it’s not listed, just ask the seller for a photo of the tag and look for the UK size.

Now, with this being said, I also think there are complex issues at play here, and it has always given me pause. Budget sites, sales, online retailers, etc all make it harder for physical bra shops to make a profit and in some cases, to exist at all. Erica’s post here gave a voice to a lot of the qualms I have about recommending budget sites. The fact is, if we as a full-bust community want to have brick-and-mortar stores that provide fitting services, then we as a full-bust community must support these operations to the greatest extent that we can.

In practice, there are a couple of issues with this, though:

  • Everyone has the right to a well-fitted bra. Not all of us can afford to pay $120 for a bra at boutique prices—and that’s the price you will see at some, not all, boutiques. People who are already struggling financially, or who are committed to a budget, should not be made to feel that they are harming the full-bust community by seeking prices they can afford.
  • As a bra fit blogger, I have to be honest with myself—part of the reason that I exist is that boutiques just don’t exist to a necessary extent in the US. We have Bratabase, blogs, forums, and online communities because there aren’t and weren’t stores that could give us this information. One of the main goals of my blog is to ensure that full-busted women have the education and savvy to be able to confidently and successfully order bras online.

So where do we go from here? My solution is two-fold:

1. As a shopaholic who’s attempting to reform her ways, I’ve gotten really into minimalism and capsule wardrobes lately. I’ll NEVER get down to a 33-item or 9-item wardrobe, but I’m trying to pass on all my clothes that aren’t strong favorites (which is still going to leave me in the 120-item region without counting accessories, but it’s a process). I’m exploring the idea that there is such a thing as ENOUGH. That even if an item is cute, and fits well, and looks good, and I like it, that doesn’t necessarily mean I need to own it. So my new bra philosophy is just to buy less. I would love to just have 2 beige and 2 black bras, a sports bra, a strapless bra and a sleep bra. I’m not nearly there yet and it’s going to be a long road, but I’ve stored away duplicates to swap in when my old standbys wear out and I’m trying to sell the excess, even though nostalgia can make it very painful to do so. If you already have a drawer stuffed with bras you love, maybe you’d like to join me in this challenge and take a major pause in buying more.

2. As a very recent freelancer, I am on a super-strict budget, so when I do need an item, I can’t afford full price. I mostly buy factory seconds and floor models on eBay. To me, this seems like a great compromise in which I’m not undercutting the profits of boutiques that provide a good fitting service, but I’m also getting a product I need at a price I can afford.

What are your thoughts on the ethics of bra-buying? Are you a budget-seeker or a boutique-supporter? Let me know in the comments.

Why I Won’t Be Reviewing a Ton of Bras These Days

Some of you may have noticed from my dramatic “goodbye post” that when I decided to take a break from blogging, I was feeling a little, uh, bitter. I wasn’t getting any joy from the new bras I was buying, I was beyond over dressing “for my figure”, and I was exhausted by drama on forums and in the blogosphere.

It was really good for me to take a break, but when I was finally ready to rekindle my interest in bras, it didn’t take quite the same form. I was no longer especially interested in seeing new prints and fashions. My obsession was just form and function—the most effective bras, no matter what they looked like.

In my case, I specifically was looking for minimizing bras that allowed me to expand the types of clothes I was able to wear. As I discovered, a lot of the bras I really like in terms of fit just go to a G cup–and a lot of them are discontinued and difficult to find.

But a funny thing happened: I no longer cared if these bras were in my exact proper size or even went up to a HH cup at all. I just hit a wall and got to a point where I wasn’t willing to settle. Right now I’ll buy ANYTHING in any sister size. As long as the cups are big enough and give me the shape I want, I’m pretty much expecting to be altering a band nowadays. I’ve mostly been buying Fantasie bras in 36G and taking in the band using this method.

I realize this is NOT accessible to everyone. Not everyone has a sewing machine or a friend with a sewing machine. Some of you have a mental block about sewing that rivals my mental block about dancing (yeah, yeah, we should probably all work on getting over these things—I’ll go first if you go first). And that is totally legitimate and I want my reviews to be relevant to everyone, not just to sewers.

So I really apologize that I won’t be able to do as many active reviews of bras that come in my actual size. That being said, I was surprised to see that the full-bust world has changed remarkably little while I’ve been away, which means that I still feel pretty qualified to give tips on brands, so just ask away if you’d like to know. And I do have a few key reviews coming up, so stay tuned!

Your Boobs at Work: Scrubs

“Help! I have to wear scrubs at work, and they don’t look flattering on my full bust.”

I’m starting a new series, Your Boobs at Work, where I’ll examine some of the pitfalls encountered by fuller-busted women with the clothes they’re required to wear at work. It can be frustrating feeling like you spend a majority of your day wearing clothing you don’t like, but don’t worry–there are solutions!

The main problem people face with scrubs is the lack of structure and the difficulty of finding a good fit. They’re baggy, they’re unisex, they’re not cut for boobs, and they’re usually made of pretty utilitarian fabric (for the unitiated: betadine will stain your skin for a week, but washes right out of your scrubs).

Scrubs exasperation is an issue I see A LOT on forums and one that is very frustrating for a lot of healthcare workers! Now I’ll make a shocking statement: I LOVE scrubs. Wait, what? Yes, I love scrubs! I think they are so egalitarian and freeing. Everyone looks the same in scrubs, and everyone looks good in scrubs.

I worked in healthcare for two years after college, and the first 14 months required me to wear scrubs, so I do have some tips to offer.

First off, let’s talk about what goes underneath. As anyone who has worn them knows, scrubs are baggy and tend to take on the width of your widest point everywhere—so if you have a bust that’s larger than your waist, your scrub top will hang down from your bustline and make you look like you’re that width all over. Not necessarily a problem, but if you’re not a fan of the look, seek out a bra that keeps your boobs close to home.

If you’ve found a bra that minimizes projection (how far your boobs stick out) without squashing you uncomfortably, that’s a great bet! My favorite bras for this are the Tutti Rouge Liliana (though they’re changing the fit for upcoming seasons, so it might not work for this anymore) and the Fantasie Esme. Another great option is a comfortable sports bra, like the Panache Sport (which even comes with padded underwires). Keeping your boobs a bit compressed will make your overall baggy-scrubs profile a little more streamlined.

P1030422
Scrubs with a regular bra with projection

VERSUS

P1030424
Scrubs with a bra that minimizes projection

If you’re limited to the specific brand and style of scrubs you’ve been issued, just make sure to choose the smallest size you fit into. You definitely don’t want to choose a size so small that it restricts your movement in any way, but choose the size that allows freedom of motion without any extra bagginess. Ideally, you’ll be able to find something that is about the same width as your bust measurement all around. It will still hide your waist, and if your hips are smaller than your boobs, it may hide those too. But the crucial part is that fitting it to your bust measurement will make it as fitted as it can be.

If you can sew, and have possession of your own scrub top rather than your scrubs living at the hospital, you can alter it. Now keep in mind, you’re not trying to have it fit like a glove. In general, most people are going to wear scrubs that are relatively loose-fitting in at least some areas and it’s likely that your employer expects the same from you. So don’t worry about taking it in for a perfect form-fit. Just nip in the waist and/or hips a little bit for a slightly more streamlined look.

If you can choose your own brand or style of scrubs, take advantage! The best thing to look for, honestly, is not necessarily empire waists, wrap tops, waist ties, and ruched details. Some people do find that those help, but I always found that the scrubs that tried to define my waist actually looked even more shapeless, and really maximized the visual impression of bustiness, which wasn’t what I was personally seeking. If waist-defining details don’t work for you either, I’d recommend a simple fit with stretch.

My job restricted me to a single shade of gray, and we could only wear the Cherokee brand. Within that limited structure, I really liked Cherokee Workwear Stretch. I got a basic top with a really minimalist yoke neckline detail (this is the one I liked-not an affiliate link, it’s just available in a lot of colors here) and got it in a size small enough to hug my boobs. I found it really comfortable and flattering. (Also, it had a special pen pocket. That’s what I miss most about wearing scrubs–the awesome pockets.)

575348_10202317362273655_1147931064_n
Me + my scrubs

Other brands and styles beloved by full-bust healthcare workers include: the Kathryn top by Koi (waist-defining detail), Grey’s Anatomy (they make a 3-pocket style similar to the Cherokee Workwear Stretch one I liked, as well as several waist-defining and mock-wrap styles, and many styles have buttons at the sides to adjust fit), Wonderwink’s Four-Stretch Knit Panel top with stretchy side panels, Cherokee Flexibles (also with side panels), the Urbane Ultimate top, and the Heartsoul brand. 

Bottom line? Scrubs aren’t meant to highlight your bust or waist, and that’s totally fine—it’s just how they look. I read somewhere that the best accessory to wear with scrubs is great hair, and …yeah, that’s kinda true. But even more, the best accessory to wear with scrubs is your awesome healthcare skills.