My dozen or so padded push-ups — the only type of brassieres I bought — really weren’t working for my small- to moderate-sized breasts. They added a desired height and heft, but nary a one of them provided a workday’s — or an evening out’s — worth of comfort. They rode up my shoulder blades, stabbed me in the armpits. Time and again, I’d wind up having to reposition a breast, like, truly, tugging and popping its underside back inside a bra cup.
Knowing my pain, the Facebook sistren answered, mostly with their own complaints but also with some advice:
“Took mine off in Burlington one day,” wrote Leisa, a childhood friend from Arkansas. “#freethesisters,” she signed off.
“Sports bras,” wrote another childhood friend, Gina in Georgia. They became her choice years ago.
“Wireless,” wrote Sharon, my Texas sister-in-law.
“Get a fitting,” suggested Peggy in New York, along with several others in that thread of 43 commenters.
Comfort is the central issue for me and my female friends — even if some of today’s teenagers and top celebrities have their own reasons for a full-on bra rebellion. To set their breasts free and upend what they see as an anti-female social norm, they’re saying “take it off” and are actually doing that. (By the way, Oct. 13 is national No Bra Day, an event launched to heighten awareness of breast cancer.)
Not that women and teens are bucking bras en masse. The 42-year-old Victoria’s Secret chain has 11.1 million followers on Twitter. Newer kid on the block Third Love, an online merchant that started six years ago, promises 78 bra sizes plus comfort. With more than 527,000 likes on its Facebook page, it provides an online guide for measuring yourself — and gives you 60 days to wash, wear and, if you don’t like it, return the product you purchased.
Me? I took to heart New Yorker Peggy’s suggestion that I get a fitting. During a midsummer’s cross-country trip, I stopped at a lingerie shop in Roanoke, wearing what, at the time, was my newest purchase — a pretty thing of black lace, underlain in beige.
Inside the dressing room, I raised my shirt to show Megan Giltner, 31, owner and bra-fitter-in-chief at Derriere de Soie, what she was working with.
“Look at that,” I grunted.
The bottom of my right breast was peeping out from under the bra cup. Again. “Why does it do that?” I asked.
“We’ll get you figured out,” she said, wrapping a tape measure around my chest, just under my breasts.
“36D,” she said.
“Huh?!” That’s what I said, surprised by her pronouncement.
I’d graduated to an A cup right after I was finished with training bras — my ample-busted older sister had referred to my trainers as beanshooters — betting that my itty-bitties would never amount to much.
In my 20s, I graduated to a B cup, but just barely. Then, around my mid-40s — when stuff on my body was moving every which way — I moved to a C cup. I’d crossed my fingers that the C would make a bra feel less tight on my widening torso, even if my actual breast couldn’t really fill that cup.
So, yes, I tripped on Giltner’s measurement: “Really? 36D?”
“Sizing has changed a lot,” said Giltner, who has been in the bra business for about five years. “Be right back.”
She breezed to the other side of the curtained dressing room, returning a couple minutes later with a soft thing of sexy, black mesh. It felt like butter on my body. “But I need boost, padding,” I told her.
She dashed out and in again, with two more options. One, a blandish but nice-enough beige get-up; the other, a lacy red piece with just enough padding to suit me.
“It’s fire. And I love it,” I said, staring in the mirror. That red bra fit way better than what I was used to.
Giltner told me why: “When you have a mammogram, they wrestle all your breast tissue into one place.” Good bras offer the same accommodations but without having to push, pull and tug a breast into place, she said. The red lace bra offered that.
The ill-fitting bra I’d worn into her shop had “a lot of play in the band,” she said. “It’s moving up and down, side to side, which means chafing.” Plus, too much of my underarm flesh spilled over the bands of that old bra.
According to, among others, the “sexperts” at the University of California at Santa Barbara, ancient women in some societies used to bind their breasts with unspecified wrappings. Women in other societies wore nothing at all to hold in their breasts but felt free letting them flop, even in public, however they may. (There are indigenous cultures where that remains the norm.)
A French woman and an American woman are credited with creating the modern bra around the turn of the 20th century. As a part of the bra’s devolution, a dude gets credited with creating the padded bra back in the 1940s. The hoisting, shaping and reshaping of the breasts — among other female parts — has just kept rolling along since then.
In the mid-20th century, male marketeers fetishized the busty figures of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Giltner suggested. They persuaded many a gullible sister that the tragic starlet’s top-heavy hourglass figure — corseted and cinched — was the feminine ideal.
Days earlier, as part of research for her businesses — she owns a second store in Charlottesville — Giltner had tried on a vintage Maidenform long-line brassiere that was supposed to give that Marilyn Monroe effect. It hurt like hell, she said, even though, according to the label, it was Giltner’s size. She waved her hand as if to say “anyhow …” to that foolishness.
So, if we’re going to bow to the social norm of bra-wearing — and, sure, some of our sisters aren’t bowing at all — let’s do it the right way. A real grown woman snaps on the proper size, not just any luscious design available for purchase at her favorite discount department stores. She seeks comfort. She gets another bra-fitting as her body changes, whether from weight gain or nursing babies or illness or for other reasons.
That’s what the bra guru advised as I left her boutique, girded in a very expensive but feel-good bra. (French-made, it’s available online for about half of the 100 bucks I paid in-store, I’ve since discovered.)
“Best bra. Ever.” That’s what I said to myself. I vowed to hand-wash that fancy bra and crossed my fingers that the feeling it gave me — of not being all tied and tangled up across the chest — will last.