Friday, May 21, 2010

Bras: Expensive, hard to find, hard to fit.

Image: A woman from the late 19th century wears a bra and long skirt. A fan covers her face.

I’ve gained a bit of weight in the last year or so, which means that my breasts have gotten bigger. Boobs are awesome, and I’ve always felt a bit deficient in the boob department compared to my more generously endowed friends (for whom titties are a common topic of conversation). So, I’m happy about having bigger breasts. I liked them before (36 b/c), and I like them now (not sure, but bigger!).

Here is what I do not like.

None of my goddamn fucking bras fit right.

None of them. I am spilling out and under and sideways. Not even the boob part for the most part – more the side.

Usually I work at home and thus I am in a position to wear no bra. But I am currently at my part-time job and with the shirt I’m wearing, I cannot remove it. I am distinctly uncomfortable, making it difficult to concentrate.

Before, my bras have not fit particularly well. They always fall from my collarbones; I don’t find underwire comfortable. But I’ve always been able to work it out okay. I was a 34/36 B/C – a size that bra manufacturers seem to like to make a lot of - and I never had trouble finding inexpensive bras in my size.

Bras are not easy to buy, even with conditional class privilege. While bottom underwear is relatively cheap and easy to find, a bra is $10 for one cheap one, and at least $50 for a well-constructed one. I don’t think I’ve ever spent $50 of my own money on a single article of clothing, and to buy one that few see.

This is not just something that happens. Breasts are unique, and different, and hard to fit. But there are millions of women in the US, and we shouldn’t be suffering, or uncomfortable, or forced to wear ill-fitting garments simply because we have a bodily feature common (but not exclusive to) to women. It’s not enough that we’re shamed for their size or visibility – too big, too small, too slutty, too prude – we must also spend a disproportionate amount of our clothing budget to outfit them attractively and

It’s indicative of sexism, because women usually have breasts. It’s indicative of sizism, because the bigger we are, the harder it is to buy them. It’s indicative of classism, because finding a bra that fits is expensive.

This seems somehow a small injustice. And it is, in a way. And it’s been better articulated by better writers. I am still writing from the perspective of an overall size-privileged body, and my breasts are still, comparatively, quite small and within the range where it would not take a lot of extra effort to get a couple of decent bras, or at least find some that kid of fit.

I suppose it is one of those things I will just have to spend money on. Money that should go to my debt, or my rent, or my groceries, will go towards buying an overexpensive item of support for my simple, lovely, body.

Inspired by a post from Cat of Little Miss Listless


  1. I'm with you! It's pretty impossible for me to find a bra that is affordable for me that is comfortable unless it's a sports bra, which isn't at all cute. Not that my underwear has to be cute, but I'd like the option! Victoria's Secret used to sell tshirt bras that were just simple cotton bras with no underwire. They were awesome and some of the most comfortable I've ever worn. Now when I try to find something that's not underwire, I'm again left with just one option: sports bras. Underwire isn't just uncomfortable, it's been linked to breast cancer! (Here's one link on the topic tho there are many more: Not something I want to mess with!

    I'm really upset that there are just no good options for me. I'm just going braless as often as I can do so without feeling uncomfortable around others (which is quite a bit now that I'm unemployed) or wearing sports bras or settling for the uncomfortable fit of a "regular" bra, which is so uncomfortable I can barely stand it.

    I definitely feel you on this. I enjoyed your post. Thanks for giving me the chance to rant a little :)

  2. Oh, I know, I have pretty much the exact same thing. I gained some weight it it seemed like two-thirds of it went to my left breast, and the rest to my right. So now none of the three bras that were a decent fit are big enough, they were rather expensive so I'm not buying a new one just yet, I've yet to find any sports bra anywhere that will fit me, and trust me, going braless is only an option inside the house, where no one has to see me grabbing my chest when I run up and down stairs. I can knock myself out with them!

    I know wearing bras has its disadvantages, but for me it's pretty much a choice between two evils. No bra has ever fit me perfectly, and even with a bra I'm still all over the place, but not wearing anything can get painful.

    Yep, definitely an industry that could use a little more work.

    (Also, that study, no matter how interestin, is a little vague. They point at lack of breast movement as a cause for cancer, but wearing a supportive bra doesn't stop many breasts from moving, nor is there any mention of cup size.)

  3. I have to admit - knowing the headaches that come from finding bras in a 40H (40J here in the US), and remembering the comparative ease with which I bought bras back in littler-boobed days, I had a very dismissive/defensive initial reaction to your piece. (She doesn't know how good she has it!)

    But then I realized - hey, if people who *are* supposedly within the target market of bra manufacturers have this hard of a time, it really does mean the whole system's fucked, and that's ridiculous considering the # of people who buy bras.

    Anyway, I know I'll sound like Oprah, but trying out a bunch of styles and sizes can make a HUGE difference, since bras very greatly by manufacturer, and this was a godsend for me. (I have little faith in most bra fitters, though.)

    Lastly, I share Silver's skepticism at the artcle linked to above, since it's conflating correlation with causation. I think the issue warrants further study, but considering the fact that many non-bra-wearers are probably also thinner, likely to be counter-cultural with vegetarian hippie diets, etc., I can't join in the panic.

  4. Hi there Alice, thanks for raising some valid questions. I definitely have it a lot easier than many women, as I tried to account for here:

    I am still writing from the perspective of an overall size-privileged body, and my breasts are still, comparatively, quite small and within the range where it would not take a lot of extra effort to get a couple of decent bras, or at least find some that kid of fit.

    So, yes, I am definitely still holding a lot of privilege in this arena - though I also definitely have quite a bit less than I used to. Privilege, after all, is relative and contextual, and I'm sorry I didn't account better for the size privilege that I hold - it's a little difficult to accomplish in a personal, rantish tone. Thanks for the privilege check :)

    (I'm pinch-modding, so apologies for being unable to answer all the questions about the study etc. - haven't had time to read it!)

  5. I solved all my bra problems about 3 years ago..... I just stopped wearing one! Since, I am not working right now, it is OK. I DO own ONE bra, but only wear it when it is ABSOLUTELY necessary (like if I am wearing a shear blouse)AND, I am a very large woman with 46DD breasts..... but I figure if you don't like what I have got, you don't have to look at it.

  6. Availability aside, the prices are the best indicator- I couldn't find a G cup for under $50, but sticking to a DDD can keep you in the $20-$30 range.

    ...If a store even stocks them :/ despite average cup sizes going up, I've seen less selection at Wal*mart and other stores for bigger sizes.

    And God forbid you have a unusual band size... or like something other than extraordinarily ugly granny bras. Sometimes making one's own bras/supports are the best option.

  7. Women are punished for having the "wrong" sized breasts on both ends.

    Me, I have a ribcage that flares out under my breasts (from the side view, my ribs stick out underneath as far as my breast do!). I cannot find a bra that has a small enough cup size while also having the cups far enough apart. Apparently as breasts grow smaller they also move closer together?

    My girlfriend's breasts are large on her small ribcage. She cannot afford a bra that fits, so she has the dreaded "third boob" in the middle where her cleavage spills over because the cup size is too small, while the chest strap rides up in the back because it is too loose.

    My solution has been to not wear a bra for over a year now, which I seem to be getting away with due to my thinness privilege. My girlfriend doesn't have the same privilege that I do, and is forced to try to wear clothes that cover up her unwanted awkward bulges.


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