Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sweater girl

Today was the final straw! As I walked to a screening I could feel my underwire protruding from my bra and poking me in the armpit. So, after the film I went straight to Myer, where I first asked one of the floor staff to recommend me some bras, and then asked a bra fitter to finesse the sizing.

Unsurprisingly, given some of the stuff I've been reading online, the staffer recommended balconette-style bras. These have wide, shallow cups and straps that sit on the edge of the shoulders rather than closer to the neck. It means I can choose a cup size that ordinarily would be too large, but would get the extra room in the back.

The bras the staffer recommended fitted me perfectly in the cup, which surprised me because they were D-cups. I have worn a C-cup since my early twenties. However, they were still too tight and flesh-squishing in the back. I was considering wearing them with a bra strap extender, but the bra fitter pooh-poohed this idea.

She was a no-nonsense older lady who reminded me of Miss Blankenship, Bert Cooper's elderly secretary from Mad Men who was assigned to Don because he would never try to seduce her.

"It's a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are."

This is the bra she recommended and that I have bought: Barely There by Berlei. This is their standard T-shirt bra.

It's actually the same style as the bra I was wearing, but I had the older version with daggy wide 'comfort' straps.

Berlei has listened to its customers, who want thin, modern straps that will look okay with singlets, or peeping out from a neckline.

When this style first came out, I recall trying it on and then doing Austin Powers fembot pewpewpew boob-thrusts because the effect was so comically prosthetic. Back then, padded bras were for teenagers with no boobs. Moulded 'T-shirt bras' that provided a Barbie-smooth silhouette and camouflaged nipple show-through were a novel idea.

But of course, they are now the dominant bra construction, and it's difficult to find non-moulded bras. I came to really like the look of a T-shirt bra, and I bought several Berlei Barely Theres because I liked the cleavage they gave me.

Anyway, the floor staffer had given me an 18C and quite liked the look of it, but Miss Blankenship was dissatisfied and got me a 16DD. Yep. Not a D. A double-D. I thought there was no way I would fill out those cups, but I did.

As I noted last year, pop culture associates D-cups and DD-cups with massive, sexpot norgs. To cite just a few songs:

Kanye West: "Girls go wild and pull ya Ds out"
Frank Ocean: "Double-D, big full breasts on my baby"
A$ap Rocky: "Bad bitch, double-D, poppin' E"
Ludacris: "Ludacris fill cups like double-Ds"
3oh!3: "Tight jeans, double-Ds makin' me go (whistle)"

Today I happen to be wearing a tight cream angora sweater, and with my new DDs I feel like Jayne Mansfield or something.

Jayne Mansfield with Dan Dailey in The Wayward Bus (1957).

But I'm still not sure I'm wearing the right size bra. The back is tighter than I'd prefer, although I know it's going to stretch with wear. More worryingly, it sits higher at the armpits than any bra I've previously worn. It's not digging in, exactly, but I'm more aware of it than I feel I should be.

Do you remember how it felt to first wear a bra when you never had before? You were constantly aware of this new, unfamiliar feeling. But gradually, you stopping 'noticing' your bra. It just felt like your clothes. I wonder if I will stop noticing the way this bra fits, or if it will continue to bother me, in which case I can conclude it 'doesn't fit'?

I feel particularly troubled that when I sit down at my desk, the fat pad on my torso bunches up and exerts upwards pressure on the underwire, whose outer edges them splay away from my body into the insides of my upper arms. That probably happened with my last bra too, but I can only feel it now because DD underwire is taller than C underwire.

And, more importantly, this is something a bra fitter would never pick up because women always try on bras while standing up. Like a drill sergeant, Miss Blankenship made me lift my arms above my head, and then bend at the waist, to see how the bra behaved with my movement, and she was satisfied with this one. But she never asked me to sit down.

I worry that I've wasted $54.95, which for me is a vast amount of money to spend on clothes. The rest of my entire outfit probably cost that much, including my shoes.


Gidgetknits said...

I've become fascinated by bras and their fit. I'm actually most comfortable in the 40s/50s style. Not everyone is the same shape and the 'fashionable' style of today feels wrong on me. There was a great blog post on it here: Great post about your experience!

Mel said...

Yes, it's fascinating how the fashionable silhouettes created by underwear can change even in our own lifetimes. Today I'm also wearing a vintage slip that's cut to be worn over a bullet bra. It looks sadly deflated over a modern T-shirt bra.

As I note in my book, all forms of underwear have in common a claim to create a natural, feminine shape even though the human body just can't look like that without tailoring, boning and padding.

The straight-fronted Edwardian corset is one of the most unnatural garments ever invented (modern biomechanical studies with replica corsets have noted how terrible they are for your back) yet 1900s fashion magazines called them "health corsets" compared to wasp-waisted predecessors, and wrote about the "elegant", "upright" carriage they created.

Here I don't want to wax teleological about how outmoded garments are always 'worse' than our own: rather I think of fashion as cyclical. However I want to highlight that naturalism is always a claim we make of underwear, even when it's patently false.

We also bring all sorts of associations with the past, and with the pop culture of the past, to our co-option of past styles that are new to us. Note how I thought of Jayne Mansfield as a 'sweater girl' icon even though her silhouette is very different to mine.

Alex said...

Hey Mel, I recently got fitted for a maternity bra, which is a whole other level of hell. Maternity bras have no underwire, and I am (thanks to pregnancy)a size 14F. Yes, F.

If you're an F and you have no underwire, you get horrific mono-boob. And all the maternity bras in that size are frilly and beige. Even the $90 ones. Hideous.

Karin said...

Hi Mel ... I'm a new reader, and found your blog after enjoying 'Out of Shape'. Thanks for that!

I just wanted to give three cheers for professional bra fitting. I managed to spend about thirty years wearing ill-fitting bras, as I come from a family of rather flat-chested women so assumed (d'uh) I should also be in a B cup (or at a squeeze a C). At the age of 43 I hauled myself into Lin & Barrett, where they took one look at me and handed me a DD. Bliss! Both to finally have underwear that fit, and to realise I naturally have assets many women have surgery to get ;-) It's changed my attitude to dressing - I now think of myself as 'curvy' and enjoy retro fashion. I don't begrudge spending $55 (or whatever) on a bra at all ... I see it as an investment in looking good.

Keep up the good work ;-) Karin