I think I’ve already told you how much I love the sales. Having recently returned from Hong Kong, I’m sure it’s because I’m Chinese and thus genetically predisposed to consume. Another reason I love the sales is that they offer the chance to buy clothes you would normally not be able to afford, or pricier, more luxe versions of wardrobe basics. I love how if you plan, you often find great bargains, but also clothes and accessories that have true staying power.
Something I always mean to update is my bra drawer because mark downs are often up to 80% off and let’s face it, bra styles do not date as quickly. Except it’s something that I put off for five years until this summer. No, bra shopping hasn’t been top of my list either. Mostly, because it turns out we would all rather be shoe shopping instead. Not many of us wake up on a Saturday morning thinking, “yippee, the chance to spend all afternoon in a small changing room revealing my greying underwear to a complete stranger?”
So we don’t. We grab the first bra we think fits (funny how most of the nation’s women believe they will forever remain a size 34B) and head to the till. Odd really, given that women today are much more informed than they’ve ever been before. Except when it comes to bras it turns out that most of us are wearing entirely the wrong size, style and cut of bra.
I discovered recently that I had been wearing the wrong bra for years. But when you’ve always been known as the flat chested one (especially after the birth of two children), it’s hard to think you might ever be a 30E, because it turns out my boobs are wider than they are fuller. Actually, it also turns out that I’m also a 32C, because depending on which brand you are wearing, the size can vary tremendously.
What I discovered on speaking to several bra gurus this summer is that the most common mistake is wearing too large a band and too small a cup. Getting the band size right is crucial because it should offer 80% of a bra’s support along with 10% support from straps and 10% from the cups.
What else did I learn? That we should start wearing a new bra on the biggest fitting, moving it in gradually to a smaller fitting every three months. Women should also be having a proper bra fitting every year. Did you hear that? I felt quite smug going once every two years, but that put me in my place. But really, it’s worth making the effort because wearing the right bra can have a profound effect on how you feel (invincible and supported) and how the rest of your outfit looks.
Sandra Drake, Chantelle’s bra expert says “Many women also don’t understand cup size: their breasts are quite small but it’s not to do with the volume but it’s rather width of your breast tissue. So you may think you have very small breasts but actually, you sit quite wide, with no natural cleavage.” Drake stresses the importance of knowing where the wires should finish when you put your bra on. “When you press it, you should feel it is on your rib cage and not on your breast tissue.”
Kelly Dunmore at Rigby and Peller thinks it’s important to ask yourself the following. “’Where do you want your bust to go? And what do you want it to look like?’ To be pushed together or pushed up? Learn whether it’s a full cup, half cup, balcony, plunge or sweetheart (aka t-shirt bra ) that suits your breast shape. ”
From a fashion point of view, you also need to ask the right questions, advises Annabel Hodin, the personal stylist. Think about sort of clothes you are going to be wearing – arrive prepared. Hodin counsels taking your own t-shirt or evening top with you to avoid ending up with what she calls “satellite dishes” under anything.
The five things to look for when you’re trying a bra are the fit under the band (you should only be able to get two fingers beneath it and it should sit horizontally at the back and not ride up). Secondly the centre piece should sit flat on the sternum irrespective of how large your breasts are. Thirdly, your side wire should not sit on your breast tissue, there should be no double boobing (your breast tissue spilling out) and finally, straps should not dig in. Dunmore would add a sixth rule. “If it still doesn’t feel great, you can park the five facts in the bin as you just won’t wear this bra”.
How you put on a bra is also going to affect the way it looks under your clothes. Who actually puts their bra on the correct way? Which, for the record is by placing your arms in the straps, adjusting them so they rest on your shoulders before bending forward and letting your breasts fall in to the cup. Pull your boobs (and side/under boob fat) into the cups as well. You will be really surprised at how much better (and fuller) they look.
So how long should we keep bras for? Certainly not as long as we are hanging on to them. For many women that’s as long as four years because we like their design rather than because they are still functional. “ There’s also the thinking…..I might be able to get back to into that size one day. The general consensus is that we should get fitted every 9-12 months and should be changing our bras each year. Clearly, looking after them will make sure they last longer. Which means washing them every couple of days by hand. If you must put them in the washing machine stick them in a lingerie bag or pillow case on a delicate cycle and never tumble dry them. And don’t use biological power as it is very harsh and discolours them.
“One of the best ways of knowing if your bra doesn’t fit is if you put your hands up in the air and the centre piece or the back strap comes away from the body”, says Drake. She is also incredulous that anyone might do sport without wearing a sports bra. “They are essential whether you are a big or small cup”.
They say that a sports bra should never see its first birthday. If you are doing sports three or four times a week, you should have two or three bras. So many women are trying to tone everything else up but if they aren’t wearing the right support, their breasts are getting saggier and once you lose the elasticity, there’s nothing but a boob job to get that back.
One of the most interesting things I learnt though was how menopause affects your breasts. It’s very important to get measured then because most women go up one and a half dress sizes and their breasts ache because of changes to their glandular tissue. “Women who have had a mastectomy should avoid wires anywhere near their scars” says Drake. Toral Shah, a scientist and chef who had a mastectomy eight years ago found that most post mastectomy bras were supportive but very unappealing. “Triumph’s magic wire technology and Chantelle’s great fit yet pretty styles were a savior on my cancer journey”.
Ready to go and get fitted? So what should the perfect bra wardrobe look like? In my head, it’s wispy bits of nothingness from Carine Gilson and triangular bras from Eres. The bra experts believe we should aim for eight bras: two for every day, two uber comfy ones when you’re lounging about at home, a couple of sports bras as well as a handful of sexier, evening ones.