WELCOME TO BRA WEEK! This week and next, the Autostraddle writers and some special guests will be giving you the scoop on over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders and otherwise-inclined chest-covering situations — fashion, history, feelings and so much more.
Hi everybody. How are your boobs? I’m here today to talk to you about what to do with your life when your rack is too substantial to fit into “normal” department store sizes. I don’t know about you, but I was already wearing a C cup by age 11, which made middle school an awkward and uncomfortable time for all involved. When you’re already a pretty weird kid, all you really want to do is blend in, but my own body betrayed me. I was cursed with giant tits that failed to deliver anything but purely negative and altogether unwanted attention. By the time I’d reached high school, the girls in my chemistry class were calling me by a whole slew of horrible nicknames, and I was made to feel incredibly self conscious about my body for the rest of my natural life! It felt a lot like this:
All of that changed many years later, when my then-girlfriend’s best friend picked me up and took me to a place called Bratenders in New York City, where I received my first professional fitting and my first bra that actually fit. It was there that I discovered that I was not actually a 36DD but a 32G (hello ladies), that bikinis were a thing I could wear without pairing an ill-fitting XXL top with a M bottom, and that wearing the proper size opened the door to a whole new world of self confidence.
The first tip I can give you is never to go to a Victoria’s Secret or any other chain store at the mall. Your boobs don’t fit into anything they have there, and if they tell you otherwise they are lying. I spent too many years of my life wearing an ill-fitting bra and feeling miserable about my body, and I don’t wish that feeling on anyone, especially you, girl. Your feelings are important to me. The day you try on a size that actually fits you properly is the day your entire worldview and feelings about your body changes forever.
If possible, I would recommend finding a good lingerie shop nearby and getting fitted by a professional, but if that isn’t available, this Reddit thread is full of useful advice. Size is generally pretty subjective, and fits vary across brands and styles, so it’s always best to try things on first. I am only an expert in the bras that fit my particular rack and the racks of those I’m intimately familiar with, so for the purposes of this article I also consulted my good friend Emily White, president and treasurer of the imaginary International Hot Chicks With Large Racks Society.
Before we get into specific styles, there are three major complaints we must address:
+ Strapless bras are just never going to be a thing — I’m sorry. They do exist, but to my knowledge the laws of physics just have not adapted to properly create a bra capable of properly supporting any part of one’s D-or-above-sized body without straps. I have tried for years to find an acceptable solution, but they always make me miserable — they dig into my skin, and never look quite right. If anybody reading this has a better suggestion, I’d love to hear about it.
+ This is never going to be cheap. Unfortunately, most stores don’t tend to carry larger sizes, which means we have to seek coverage out elsewhere, mostly from specialty shops — which ends up being pretty expensive. On average, a quality bra can end up costing between $70-125, which is infinitely frustrating. Highly recommended spots to buy include Freya, Brastop, Jenette Bras, and my personal favorite, Linda the Bra Lady. (Autostraddle also has affiliate accounts at HerRoom, Bigger Bras, Torrid and Lane Bryant, if any of those are your merchants of choice.)
+ Emily wants me to tell you that sports bras are a particular challenge for women of generous proportion. I have no idea because I hate sports (huge rack + jumping jacks = not a pleasant gym class experience), but this moving comfort bra from RoadRunner Sports is a good place to start.
Based off of my favorite online bra-shopping spots, here are a couple of suggestions I’ve found for you and your boobs:
This is just a sample of things I found appealing — you are in no way limited by style or color! There are literally hundreds of options out there.
As for swimwear, here are a few cute suggestions I found while scouring the internet:
Please feel free to share any tips or other advice you may have in the comments. We’re all in this together.
Panache! They are lovely, well made, often on sale at Herroom/Figleaves/etcetc, and I find they support large, heavy boobs really well. My favorites are the Tango Balconette and the Andorra.
Seconding Panache- I wear 32G and Panache makes the only bras I find comfortable and sexy! I’m currently wearing the Panache Jasmine bra and matching panties ;)
My Panache sports bra is the first bra that actually lets me run without taking myself or others out in the process. I can even (kinda) do jumping jacks. They aren’t even *that* expensive compared to other standard bras.
I’ve always had trouble with bikinis cause I like the look of the around the neck straps, but they hurt like hell!
But my new one does this thing where it pretends its going to the neck but then it’s just crosses around the back. It’s super comfortable and I never want to get rid of it.
Does anyone have suggestions for wire-free bras that fit well in larger sizes? My boobs are kind of wide-set, meaning that anything with a wire inevitably winds up poking me in the outer boob area. Not to mention the fact that sometimes I want to forget that I have boobs (b/c of weird gender stuff) and an underwire is a constant an uncomfortable reminder of them.
Anita has lovely sport bras up to G cup (or more?) and I just dicovered a lovely wireless, comfy and nice looking bra by Rosa Faia.
Panache sports bras are amazing! I wear a 30HH and never thought I would find a sports bra that could stand up to my boobs but the panache ones do!
If you’re in the UK, Bravissimo and Debenhams are good, offer free fittings, and sell bras in the E/F/FF/G range for like £25-40.
Freya’s balcony bra is particularly magical for day-to-day wear. And for sports bras lemme rave about Bravissimo’s Panache possibly the only (certainly the first) sports bra on earth in which I can take my FFs running — that’s right, RUNNING — with no other form of support and without needing to uncomfortably hold my boobs in place with my arms while I run. I got other sports bras people swore would stop the bounce issue and it was just lies (*cough* Shock Absorber). This thing, though, is like armour. Cannot recommend enough.
*sold by Bravissimo, not made by them, sorry!
YES Bravissimo is fantastic, the fitting service is great and its the only shop ive found that actually does my size (28FF in case anyone was wondering, which is super annoying bc a lot of places dont even do 28 in the first place, let alone with larger cup sizes)
I was waiting/scrolling for a Bravissimo comment :) the woman in M&S gave me a dirty look and a 38C Doreen, Bravissimo set me up with a 34E Freya t-Shirt bra that changed my life. Only thing was that the lovely fitting room lady didn’t get my lack of desire to celebrate my rack… huge tomboy wanting to hide the boobs is not their demographic apparently. Minimiser was a dirty word.
Definitely wouldn’t trust M&S for fittings but they do make some nice bras. I’m a 36E so I still fit some of the standard bras and the M&S autograph range has some really pretty and supportive ones. Not exactly cheap but not crazy expensive either, I think my most recent buy was £25.
elomi bras are treating me right these days, and I also love freya. I got fitted at nordstrom’s and have had fabulous experiences there across the board. I also like for sports bras the “booby trap” which I got at title nine, and there’s the “last chance” bra which people like; it was not my favorite.
Bra Week has been the most helpful thing ever. Next trip to New York is going to include stops at some of these shops…
THANK YOU. It’s so good to discover alternative solutions. Lane Bryant has served me generally well, but it’s hard to keep these ladies in line.
I would also like to mention that going to a store where the fitting room attedent helps you pick out things + checks if they are actually fitting is very helpful. If you can find a store and a person that you feel comfortable seeing you half naked, it’s worth it. When measured by professionals, I almost always end up coming out around a D cup, but when trying on the actual bras in the store, those were way too tiny and I fit more appropriately into a 34DD. I don’t know why the measuring tape betrays my body, but it has happened almost every time and thanks to a patient and adorable bra fitting woman who checked everything i tried on, my breasts are now comfortably resting in their correct cup sizes.
Seconded to having someone check out if your bra fits properly. I have the same weirdness about what measuring tape says about my boobs versus what bras say. So annoying.
joining the chorus for panache. truly the best.
also, if you’re in Portland, go to The Pencil Test for a fitting and their wide variety of sizes that are impossible to find in any other store!!!
Wow, screw my phone. I love the pink polka dot bikini but just a tangential PSA to the large thighed women like myself: the ruffle looks cute on the model, but you might look like a hippo in a tutu if you’re not skinny. I’m only going off my own lingerie experiences though. I wish more stuff was “thick but not plus size” friendly!
As a proud 36GG, I swear by Freya and everything they make. Most especially the molded cup types. They make me, my boobs, and anyone who likes looking at cute boobs super happy.
But can we also remind big chested ladies that store bought sports bras are the devil? Like don’t even try that whole “doubling up” thing. Just. D
3 sports bras…at once. Ugh. Also I had a shock absorber that gave me bruises…it was horrific…they didn’t move. Not worth it at all though.
iPhone just ruined the effect.
But don’t do it, babes. Don’t.
I AM ALSO A 32G. I have a strapless bra that I got from Linda The Bra Lady, brand name Le Mystere. It does a decent/good job for most of the clothing items one might want a strapless bra for, but I will admit that after five or six hours the skin on my ribcage is crying. Still, if you need need need a strapless bra I would recommend Le Mystere.
OH. MY. GOD. THIS is the post I was waiting for!!!!!!!! And I now have found a better sports bra thanks to AUTO FUCKING STRADDLE. Y’all I need to honestly get fitted by the pros. I think I’ve been wearing the wrong bra all these years!
An early heads up!! I am designing and manufacturing the ultimate sports bra in San Francisco so I can make being active a joy and not a pain! As an athlete I know a thing or two about comfort and fit. My bra promises to have no chaffing, high support, fashionable colors, front closure for easy on / off, adjustable straps and adjustable torso. There will be NO bounce and it WILL have great looks. I’m so excited to be doing this for ladies like you. Keep an eye out for it next year. TMak Sportswear. Cant wait to read more comments from your about sports bras so I’m sure to get it right :)
My biggest problem…aside from my 34Es…is finding a bra with short enough straps. I’m short…and frequently the manufacturers of bras assume bigger boobs = taller person = longer straps. Where this madness comes from is beyond me. Any suggestions both for why or brands to try?
I just sew the straps shorter when I need to. Also I feel like even when I tighten them to where I want them, the adjusters tend to slide back up unless I sew them in place.
Yes! Always! I feel so much less alone.
I’m a 32/34 DD depending on brand. I’m really into Calvin Klein and Elle McPherson b/c they’re cut smaller (no underwire polking my arm pits and appropriate shoulder length without having to whip out my pathetic sewing skills). I think unfortunately Calvin Klein’s largest size is a DD, but Elle McPherson definitely goes higher.
Moving comfort is where it’s at for sports bras.
Wooo look at all those skinny white lady models! Ha.
In all seriousness though, this Bra Week has given me the clear message that I need to have a professional fitting done. I’m sure I’m wearing the wrong size. Luckily there’s a lingerie shop in the plaza next door to me that does them. Now to save up the monies…
Also, I hope that a Bra Week post is coming for MOC people with big racks.
That model comment came across as snarky and I didn’t mean it that way exactly! I think it’s a testament to how committed Autostraddle is at showing diversity in their models that I immediately noticed that this post didn’t have that.
Thank you for posting this. I think most women need to get properly sized and be willing to pay for quality bras. It pains me to spend $100 bra, but my shoulders and back appreciate it. Finding out I was HH cup (UK sizes, I think I’m a J cup in US sizes) was the best thing ever!!!!! Ironically when I stopped wearing DDD/E bras and wore the right cup size, my boobs now look a lot smaller and less porn star ish. My shoulder indent are gone and way less back/shoulder pain.
However, my biggest pain is not finding anything sexy. I that once you go bigger than DDD/E, all the bras are UGLY.
This is relevant to my lady parts’ interests.
I can’t wait to look some of these places up and then wish I had enough money for one!
Also, why isn’t there a big-busted-people’s bra company called Boulder Holders yet? This is a thing that needs to happen.
I have no idea what my actual bra size is. I refuse to wear anything with underwire and the closest I’ve gotten to something that actually fits is a 36DD. The kicker is that I only have one ginormous boob. I have what I like to call a “variety pack.” This makes bra shopping especially difficult.
“But, Shannon, everyone’s breasts are slightly different siz–” Let me stop you right there. I’m serious about the variety pack. My gyno said “whoa, you weren’t kidding.” I’m waiting for Autostraddle to do a mismatched boob article. I know I’m not completely alone here. Having a B-ish cup and DD-ish cup makes bra-ing impossible. I stick with yoga bras and carry a “whatever” attitude about it. In case you were wondering, I’ve never had any complaints.
Just want to take a second to give a shout-out to my fabulous sister. I hate bra-shopping because 1) it’s expensive, 2)my boobs, while lovely, are very difficult to fit, not least because one is almost a full cup size bigger than the other, and 3) it’s physically exhausting to try on 50+ bras to find 1-2 that fit really well. When I was visiting my sister for the holidays, she took me to Nordstrom and acted as my personal fitting room attendant, bringing me dozens of bras at a time and giving me loving, helpful feedback on their look and fit. She’s a nurse, so she looks at bodies all day long and is phased by nothing :-) After I found 4 bras which I like and which actually fit really well, we went back to her apartment for wine and the L Word. Best bra-shopping experience ever.
So if you’re lucky enough to have such a sister or other similarly wonderfully supportive person in your life, I recommend that you enlist their help on your next bra-shopping trip! I’m sure that many store-paid attendants are awesome people who are great at their jobs, but I’d rather not take a chance on a stranger when I know I can get really great help from somebody who knows me, loves me, and has seen it all before.
this was the right thing to read tonight because the only two things that make me cry in this world all the time every time are my taxes and getting fitted at victoria’s fucking secret. “WE HAVE THIS IN PINK WITH FLUFFY BRIMS AND RHINESTONES ON IT! WOULD YOU LIKE ONE FOR 500 DOLLARS? IT’S ALL WE CARRY IN YOUR SIZE.”
i love you stef. #mahalo
I have two bras that I swap out at the moment, and both are AHMAZING. My favourite is a Freya bra that feels kind of like bathing suit material, and the other is a really pretty one by Fantasie. Back pain = gone.
I wish I could afford more than two, so it wouldn’t be disaster when my washing gets caught in the rain, but they were both 100+ so.
Personally, I want to know what the hell the store bra buyers are thinking by putting padding in bras for people with big boobs! Seriously? The last thing I want is to make them look any bigger. Hell, I’d like to pretend they didn’t exist, but they make it really tough. If only I could find somewhere selling bras my size (32E) that don’t look like they were either made for a grandma or someone way more femme than me.
This! All of this!
The International Hot Chicks With Large Racks Society really needs to exist.
After I was professionally fitted for a bra and finally found a bra that was actually my size (32G), not padded (!), and actually sexy (!!!), it was a total body self-confidence revelation. If you’re in/near Atlanta, I highly recommend getting fitted at Intimacy– they don’t use tape measurers, and they’re really really supportive. (Pun intended.)
I do all my bra shopping from the sale section of figleaves.com– they’re based in the UK but ship internationally, they sell fantastic bras in sizes up to JJ-cup, and I can regularly find bras for $20 or $30. They also do swimwear, and they have a pretty good return policy so you can send things back in exchange for a different size. If you sign up for their email list, they’ll send you even more discount alerts and coupon codes.
For sports bras, I have 2 of the “Champion Powerback Underwire Sports Bra 1964” bras, and they’re AMAZING. So cheap, so comfortable, and so supportive, without feeling like it’s crushing my chest or creating a river of boob sweat. Way better than my $100 Freya wireless sports bra– I can go running and do yoga and capoeira (which involves handstands and cartwheels), no problem.
I still haven’t found a good strapless bra though (or just a good discrete nude bra that will survive dancing in a strapless dress), and I really can’t afford another $100 bra right now. :/
This is AWESOME!! I too found bras a constant source of discomfort and stress until I finally got fitted and found out that I’m not that 36DD I thought I was but rather a 32G. Changed. My. Life. I was skeptical at first because I thought “32’s are tiny stick girls” and I’m nooooootttttt a tiny stick girl. But I have a small ribcage, narrow shoulders and every bra ever had poked into my armpit. Getting the small band stopped that problem. I’ll definitely be checking out these stores, but I’ll say that Wacoal as a brand has been good to me. They tend to not have as many pretty colors in my size, but they do have my go-to comfort bra. You can buy from their website or through other stores.
Knowing that I’m not alone with my smaller stature and huge titties is awesome.
Wacoal has this great sports bra that I bought for like $25 or $30. It has underwire (great for support, ugh NEVER wear a sports bra without underwire) and super-powerful squishy elastic that makes my 34DDDs look like A or B cups (great for trans or masculine folk!). Right after I bought it I was amazed because I could do jumping jacks! And running! Without being in terrible pain! Bottom line is that sports bra is fantastic.
(Also, never buy sports bras whose sizes are just “S,” “M,” or “L”. They suck so so so so bad!)
Interestingly, while I am the same bra size as you, my experience is exactly the opposite. I must have fewer nerve endings in some part of my boobs than just about everybody, because the generic-size sports bras (which I wear all the time, not just while doing sports) have never bothered me. On the other hand, I can’t think of anything worse than an underwire sports bra. I hate hate hate underwire. It is always weird and usually uncomfortable. One of the reasons that I wear sports bras all the time is to avoid underwire. Maybe all the nerve endings that were supposed to be in one part of my boobs ended up in another.
I also differ from the OP in that of all my “normal” bras, my strapless one is definitely the most comfortable. It’s the only one where the underwire doesn’t hurt the skin under my boobs and the part that goes between the boobs doesn’t cut my skin (and yes, all my non-sports bras were professionally fitted).
thank you stef this is always an issue close to my heart, BUT… how come all bras for big boobs are SO MUCH COVERAGE? like, obviously i need more coverage than the little bralets at target, but i’m also kind of slutty and some of these bras go up higher than the necklines on my party clothes! there really should be a middle ground between my nipples popping out and my collarbones being creeped up on, ya know?
if you’re a DD Calvin Klein has one or two bras that solve this issue, but I pretty much have to buy online. Department stores never stock the higher sizes. I also like elle mcpherson bras for this reason (they go higher than DD), but they’re pricier.