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Bra-mageddon, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Buy A Vest

2012 March 15

I had a day out with my Mum the other week, and feeling safely cosseted between the matriarchal protective spheres of Mum and Marks & Spencers, I decided to brave a thing I dread: bra shopping.

I hate bra shopping. Generally I’m not a massive fan of shopping per se; it usually feels like a massive waste of time I could spend doing something actually relaxing, like having a cup of tea, or wandering around a museum. Or sleeping. Anything, really. But I digress.

A blonde woman in lingerie looks down at her impressive cleavage and gasps in amazement. The tagline reads Hello Boys. Image shared under Fair Use guidelines, copyright Wonderbra.Bras. I hate them. Where to begin my hatred? A little history, perhaps. I do like a little historical context to flavour a problem. Makes me feel like a proper academic. Except one who uses wikpedia entries a lot – like this one here.

To summarise: basically there was nothing for quite a while (when literally people didn’t wear much at all), then there were togas (or for the ladies, stolas) and people didn’t really care, then all of a sudden there were all kinds of things dedicated to “dealing with breasts”. There were bits of cloth in various arrangements with and without padding, corsets, bodices, and finally something that resembled the modern bra.

Which was never burned, incidently, except possibly in awful household fires. And we had the Madonna cone bra, of course.

Then came the Wonderbra with its rallying cry of Hello Boys, and to be honest I was never 100% clear on whether she was advertising her mammaries to boys, or addressing them as boys, and it all got all a bit confusing so I tried not to think about it. Plus it arrived when I was 14, which is a Bad Time for bosom-related upset.

Skip forward a bit further and we get Shakira declaring in 2002 that it’s:

Lucky that my breasts are small and humble
So you don’t confuse them with mountains

… which I’m still not really sure about, because, again, we’re getting all obsessed over size. Small or big? Which is better? (And why do we have to have better bodies anyway?)

My own ‘humble’ beginnings: for me, the bra was a graduation from the pre-teen crop top and the childish vest into the world of being a Real Woman. Periods were also involved in this uncomfortable phase (and they are also rubbish and make your breasts sore, but you do not have to go to the shop and pay money for them). This was not a good start for the bra and I, and it didn’t get any better.

The portion of my adult life that I’ve spent around bras has always involved the fickle inconsistency of measurements. As an experiment, on my shopping trip I got measured in three different shops and tried on more bloody bras than I have done in my entire life. I am, for the record a 34, 36 or 32 A, B or C. So that’s not really a good start. Furthermore, none of these bras, in any of those official sizes, actually fit my chest. Some do better than others, but there is no general indicator of agreed size.

Let’s talk about what they look like.¬†They’re mostly quite ‘girly’, except where they’re meant to be ‘sexy’. Ah, that old problem again. I can have a virgin bra or a whore bra. Great. They contain a lot of extraneous stuff like lace and bows and other frou-frou items that my bosom really doesn’t need, so I spend a lot of time snipping things off bras whilst hoping that the sheer volume of stuff I’m lopping off isn’t in some way structurally vital.

And what about underwire, while we’re at it? No item of clothing aimed at men, designed to sit on sensitive, soft flesh, would include metal wire within a flimsy silk and lace contraption, frequently destined to poke out and puncture your poor, unsuspecting skin. Underwire, together with its evil cousin Padding, is the great illusionist of the bra world. This is not a world in which the bra is only there to clothe, support or protect you. No, it is not a knight in shining armour: the bra is a churl and a pimp. It exists to make your tits look nice. And by “nice” I mean bigger and with cleavage. As opposed to, say, the way they actually look.

Being realistic, since my breasts are not large: I don’t have a cleavage without serious amounts of bra-mirage work, without which any “revealing” top tends to reveal a lot of… sternum. It’s nice sternum, but it’s not the look I’m “supposed” to have.¬† And even when I’m wearing the damn thing, it doesn’t fit. The cups leave gaps where my breasts are not. The straps are too tight or too loose, leaving red marks in my ribs and creating weird bumps of flesh around the sides or under my arms that an anxious person might negatively label “fat”. In the panic room of the changing cubicle, it’s easy to get worried. Especially when one’s chest appears to be both “fat” and “small” at the same time.

Simply put, bras aren’t designed for my body shape. The fact that the bra is a quintessentially “feminine” object makes me feel unfeminine. Sometimes I’m okay with that. Sometimes I’m not. And all of this creates the sneaking suspicion that my own breasts are not socially adequate by themselves. It isn’t nice to feel like your body is inadequate. And for the most part nowadays, I don’t. But I used to. A lot. Especially as an unhappy teenager. Various problems with food ensued. It was not a good time, and it is a not good time that many women (and men) go through.

But bras are not solely the enemy of “small” women. Curvy ladies also loathe bras, and perhaps with even more reason. For them, the bra is often essential. The larger the bra required, the more expensive it is. Also – so I’m told – the more complicated the re-arranging of weight around the body, creating more lines of soreness across the shoulders and an additional aesthetic difficulty of ‘too much’ cleavage at inappropriate times.

Seriously, fuck bras.

But what to do about it all?

  • Stop wearing them altogether? Easy for me to say, as long as the weather isn’t cold and it doesn’t rain, but this won’t do for the larger-breasted, for whom some element of mammary management is essential to personal comfort. Similarly, I can’t go bra-less all the time – even for someone my size a trip to the gym requires something to stop the painful bouncing.
  • Buy other bras? I keep being told that if I was only measured “correctly” I would be fine. I’m disputing this, because I’ve been measured a lot, and measuring me doesn’t seem to alter the sizes of bras which persist in being made for a particular shape of wearer who is not my shape. A lot of women’s clothes are like this. I shop around for those. Perhaps there are magical bra shops where one can purchase perfect fitting, soft and comfortable bras for around a tenner. I doubt it, though.
  • Wear a corset instead! … no.
  • Strap them down? Um. Well, whilst I have been known to do this, I don’t want to flatten my breasts all the time any more than I want to inflate them.
  • Buy a vest! I do like vests, and there are lots of places that do vests with a bit of extra fabric at the top in case of sudden cold, or rain.
  • So I’ve bought loads.

    And they’re great.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. hellison permalink
    March 15, 2012

    OH god the horror/depression of bra shopping. I require a fair bit of mammary management (a phrase which has been making me giggle for half an hour now ;p) and until recently there was nowhere local that sold my size, instead I had to plan trips away around Bravissimo locations… The sizes/fit between makes varies so much (WHY? WHY is one 36 an inch shorter than another 36?) that buying online is a bit of gamble, trying them on is the only way to be sure.
    I do get very excited now by all the colours and pretty in bravissimo after years of being relegated to black, white or beige. They also do nice vests with built in bras ;) I just wish I didn’t have to get on a bloody plane to buy them!

  2. March 15, 2012

    I deeply approve of vests. I deeply detest bras. I feel you are a kindred spirit in this terrible mess of lingerie. Huzzah!

    However, as a pedant who speaks Spanish, the original Shakira song doesn’t have “humble” in it at all… that’s just an add-on to fit with the rhythm and required syllables to make it work in English.

    (Sorry – I can’t help it when Spanish is involved)

  3. wererogue permalink
    April 2, 2012

    I’m given to understand that, for the larger-breasted woman (like my wife) an underwire can be a deeply functional thing – it does the bulk of the holding, as such, and without it much discomfort would ensue.

    Good article! Bra adverts really aren’t very good at marketing to women.

    • Miranda permalink*
      April 2, 2012

      Yeah, I can’t live without my wires :)

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