Today I had a really nice experience. Last night the underwire snapped on my last decent bra, so I went down to The Little Big Bra Shop in Adam and Eve Street, Market Harborough, an independent and relatively new business, and had a proper fitting.
When I was skinny, I rarely wore a bra and I had my very first fitting at the age of 32 when Boy the Elder was still being cooked. For the last few years though, having put on weight and had two children, foundation garments have come into regular usage.
I’m not very good in shops. I don’t like trying on clothes, and the harsh lighting makes me irritable and badly behaved. And I don’t like being measured and messed about with as it just reminds me that I’m wobbly and my chosen underwear won’t look like it does on the models..
I walked into The Little Big Bra Shop and asked for a fitting. A charming and diffident woman showed me to the changing room and asked me what sort of thing I wanted as I took my top layers off. She took a quick measurement across my back, stared at me for a second, then came back with a bra which fitted perfectly. She then brought a couple of others to try for style and colour.
What was really nice was that she treated the bra like any other item of apparel, checking that the colour suited me and that the style was flattering as well as being supportive and comfortable. I chose a beautiful pinkish-red bra that is, without question, the most comfortable I have ever worn and a pair of matching pants. It cost me £24, which is more than I normally spend, but by crikey it’s worth every penny.
“Do you want to keep it on?” she asked, smiling. “Absolutely!” I answered, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t be arrested in the street and be required to explain why I was carrying a grey and shapeless undergarment in my handbag. On the other hand, I was quite keen to be run over so that my gorgeous new underwear would be seen to pass muster.
It is absolutely essential to have a well fitting and comfortable bra. Breasts become more and more subject to gravity as we get older and our skin gets less elastic – a saggy bust does no-one any favours. A decent bra will also improve your posture because it naturally holds your back and shoulders in the right position and, consequently, will make you look slimmer.
Size is another important factor. Today I discovered that I have been wearing a bra with a cup two sizes too small and one size too big around the ribs. Women with large breasts really must have adequate support in order to cope with the extra weight at the front of their bodies. Wide straps are essential as well as good structure from the sides and underneath. Heavy breasted women can start to develop a dip in their shoulders and invariably suffer from back problems in later life if they don’t wear a properly fitted and appropriate bra for their size and shape.
Cup shape plays a crucial role in how you look in your clothes. If the cup is too tight at the top, it can form an unsightly crease and bulge known as ‘double busting’ which doesn’t look nice and can be most uncomfortable. Small breasted women can achieve a lovely, natural looking shape with a carefully fitted bra.
It is also important to put your bra on correctly. You should lean slightly forward so that your breasts drop into the cup. Once on, you should slip your hand under your arm and pull your breast forward into the cup. Apparently a lot of women wander around with their boobs under their armpits. Who knew?
Oh – I nearly forgot laundering. Unless the bra states otherwise, you really should hand wash it if you want it to last. Machine washing soon causes the material to stretch and weaken and the colour will fade, no matter how expensive your washing powder.
The modern day bra is a relatively recent invention. Women have historically used corsetry to change and support their bodies and these corsets simply pushed the breasts upwards. There were some garments which were suspended from the neck and attached to the corset with suspenders (garters) which must have been fiendishly uncomfortable.
Breast shape and size have also been subject to fashion over the centuries. Breasts have been pushed up, flattened out and lumped together, and it is easy to see why feminist reformers saw the management of their breasts as political as well as practical. The desire of women to be released from the social and physical strictures of their corsets played a big part in the development of the bra.
World War 1 can be said to be partly responsible for the bra. Many women took on men’s work, as the men were all abroad being pointlessly slaughtered, and gender roles and ensuing social attitudes began to change. Women were no longer pretty things mincing stiffly about in suffocating and unhealthy whalebone, they were drivers and factory workers and labourers who needed comfort and freedom.
Although the prototype of the modern bra had been created in 1907, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the ‘brassiere’ started to be commercially manufactured and generally known as a ‘bra’. The manufacture of new materials such as Lycra and Elastene have had a major impact on the comfort of bras, as well as many other garments, and this has allowed the flourishing of styles and designs with which to enhance or modify breast shape.
I walked out of the The Little Big Bra Shop feeling like a different woman. I was more comfortable for a start and I felt ever so slightly taller and thinner. I was also thrilled to be told I had bigger bosoms than I thought I had, although there is the danger that if I lose some weight, I might lose those as well. Oh well, you can’t have everything.