Much to my dismay, I have found lately that my favorite Lane Bryant C-cup bras are too big. The band size is more or less OK, but I look in the mirror after putting my shirt on, and the cups are all dented in. Boo. 😦

(Before I go on, seriously, I cannot say enough good stuff about these bras. They are pricey, but at least among your general department-store selection of bras, they are by far the best I have found. They have 3 hooks instead of a flimsy 2, and a correspondingly wide band so your–OK, my–back fat doesn’t spill out. The straps are wide, smooth, and non-stretchy. The overall material is smooth, with just the right amount of stretch, and doesn’t snag. The fit is great–the band lies flat, no rolling or binding, absolutely no cup overflowage, the underwires never poke me, and I can wear them for hours and hours without any discomfort or indeed without even noticing I have them on. Furthermore, I’ve had 4 of these bras for close to a year, and none of them have jettisoned wires or fallen apart. The “binding” finishing off the top edge of one of them did come loose on one side, but it doesn’t affect the performance of the bra, and if I wanted to go to the trouble of tacking it back down it would be a 5-minute fix and good as new. In conclusion: Yay LB!)

So anyway, I have been looking for replacements, because I don’t want to resort to stuffing Kleenexes in there and I think in LB’s sizing I would really need a 36B (their bras run kind of generous IME), and they don’t sell that combination of cup and band size. Not that I blame them–and since you can easily find a 36 or 38B or C in any store, I would much rather they take up the inventory with very-hard-to-find larger sizes, which is what they do–although again these particular bras are so high-quality that I have really sort of been thinking that LB could get away with branching out to position its lingerie side as America’s go-to authority for bras throughout the full range of “typical” and hard-to-find sizes, small or large.

But the “Lane Bryant Bra Superstore for All” is not yet reality, so OK, fine. I’ve been looking around Meijer, Target, Kohl’s, JCPenney, etc. to see what I can find. And most of what I find is, you guessed it, 2-hook, flimsy, stretchy, sometimes scratchy, teeny-strapped wisps of fabric powerless to contain either my breasts or my back fat. If I get a B-cup, the overflowage is worse (and forget anything not labeled “full coverage”–they give me quadriboob the minute I put them on). If I get a C-cup and/or go up a band size, I either fall out the bottom or get the dented cups. And you would think bras this wimpy would at least be comfy and not pinch, but no.

Here’s the deal, mainstream bra manufacturers: I may have smallish boobs purely based on volume these days, but I am not an injection-molded high-tech polymer mannequin. I have a lot of squishy flesh that goes in various directions. My breasts have been heavy and saggy since I was 9, and that situation has not exactly reversed itself with time. I don’t think I am unlike many 31-year-old women in this respect. Especially considering that most of us have had one or more children at this point. What I am saying is, I need a fair amount of strength and support in both the fabric and construction of a bra. What I am really saying is, I need the exact same design as the LB bra, just in a smaller size. The change of one cup size does not suddenly eliminate the superiority of the third hook, strong fabric, or wider band.

Along the same lines, bras are not just decorative for me. Sure, they have aesthetic value, but most days I just want something that keeps me comfortable, since for me going braless is pretty uncomfortable, and doesn’t cause undue lumps and bumps under clothes. And I will say that I have gotten into lightly padded “t-shirt”-type bras recently, for reasons of what catalogs often delicately refer to as “discretion.” So for an everyday bra that meets all of these requirements, I’m thinking you could trade in the rhinestone decorations for, I don’t know, maybe straps wider than 3/8″ or an extra 1/4″ in the height of the band or a third hook or something. Oh, sorry, am I repeating myself? I mean, IMO and apparently in my husband’s opinion (the man went out to LB and picked these up for me while I was working one weekend), my favorite bras, though plain, are plenty attractive anyway.

So here are the workable candidates I have found so far:

1) Hanes underwire bra. I’m not totally sold on this one–the band is a little too stretchy, making me think that falling out the bottom of it is a possibility, but one band size down was too small. The cups also don’t have quite enough coverage, and the shape it creates is a little weird. But the fabric is comfortable and I got it in a cool charcoal color.

2) Playtex “Thank Goodness It Fits” “wire-free” (which usually to me means “useless”) bra. (D’oh! I see from the web site that it actually does come in underwire, but I only saw the wire-free one where I bought it.) This one actually fits very well, is quite comfortable, and looks pretty good. I will say one thing for modern bra design–most manufacturers have finally figured out that if you’re going to put lace or embellishments on something that sits next to customers’ skin all day, these features should at least not be constructed of the scratchiest, most irritating possible fabric. (Early ’90s Victoria’s Secret, I’m looking at you.) I haven’t yet worn it for a full day, so it could very well succumb to the fate of every other “wire-free” bra I’ve ever owned, including “industrial strength” versions like the 18-Hour Bra, which is to give out at about 10:00 a.m. by flopping over and letting your breasts partially spill out the top in a way that seems immune to correction or adjustment of any kind, ultimately rendering such bras less comfortable and functional than simply going braless. But I am optimistic about it for now. I think the pads give it some structure.

(UPDATE (5/12): I did wear this one all day yesterday, and it seemed to work quite well. No flopping over. I am very excited about this.)

I got this one in a 36 “Nearly C.” I am still a little suspicious of this “half-size” gimmick, but I have to say this size really did fit better than any of the B- or C-cup bras I tried on in other brands. Now if Playtex would (again) desist with their erroneous belief that being able to wear this line means that I am somehow “petite”–which I am so not–and even if I were “petite,” that this would automatically signal that I am willing to pay upwards of $20 or $30 for a garment whose only purpose is to look good (hello, cutesy double spaghetti straps, rhinestone-y plunging front closures, “wire-free” as a selling point, and flimsy fabrics), even though 99.99% of the people I come into contact with will never see it.

Another thing Playtex needs to desist with, incidentally, is their ridiculous “brownies are my enemy” ad campaign. I suppose the ad agency thought these commercials would feel positive and accessible to average and plus-sized women, because apparently far from being soul-sucking and taking up energy that could be used for actual productive activities like I always thought, dieting and body hatred are actually the leading fun, lighthearted recreational pastimes for big gals like us. Gah. (As you will have noted, however, this unfortunately was not enough to keep me from buying their product. It’s so hard to find a comfortable bra that fits these days that I chucked my moral objections and bought it anyway.)

I will also share at no additional charge that I did find a strapless bra this past December that I was happy with: this Lilyette model, which has some well-placed strong elastic inside so it has some hope of staying up and is actually comfortable. (But on a serious note, as I was looking for it on the Kohl’s web site I was disappointed to come across products from the Simply Vera line from Vera Wang being displayed on these models. Because promoting an aesthetic that is not only bone-thin but also suggests through its composition that the model is half-dead (link to About-face via is so helpful to women. It seems even worse to me because these products are being sold to a mass-market/catalog audience–the usual excuses made for high-fashion spreads that “models are just clothes hangers” or “it’s just art” do not really apply. For shame.)

So that’s the luck I’ve had so far. Any additional bra recommendations or commiseration from the 3 or 4 of you who are reading these days? 🙂

(off-topic final note: Thanks, WordPress and Firefox–we had a slight power flicker while I was typing this that caused the computer to reboot, and even though I never hit “Save” because I am an idiot, I don’t think I even lost a single word thanks to WordPress’s frequent auto-saves and Firefox’s feature that lets you restore an unexpectedly ended session.)