The Monoculture of Molded Cups

Recently, I took my friend shopping to find her a bra that fits, and I’m appalled at the general state of American bras. It has been 13 years since I went bra shopping myself, so while I knew it was bad, I didn’t know it was THAT bad. (As discussed in my previous post, I resized myself in 2000 and I’ve been ordering bras from England ever since.)

My friend is not an unusual size! I measured her at 32DD – she’d been wearing a 34C, which isn’t too far off, but was definitely too small. 34C is equivalent in volume to a 32D, so she was only one cup volume off. Still, the center front, also known as the gore, on her 34C would not lay flat; she could easily stick a finger through the gap. That usually means that the cup is too small. The solution in American stores is to size up the band, not the cup, because we have such a small range of cup sizes. Sizing up in the band does increase the cup volume, because cup size is relative to band size, but it doesn’t solve the problem of a floating gore. It’ll just create different problems, such as the band riding up and forcing the wearer to shorten the straps in order to get any support.

We went to the mall to visit JC Penney, Frederick’s, and Kohl’s, and good god the selection was awful. Molded bras as far as the eye can see! I had to really dig to find bras made of fabric, not molded foam, and a lot of those were full-cup matronly styles which don’t work for my friend. Every single molded bra was terrible; she is full on bottom, so even when the cup volume was mostly correct, the top of the bra gaped badly. I don’t understand why molded bras are so popular! It seems like they’d fit only a small number of women who happen to have breasts that are already the shape of the molded cups.

Also, there were zero bras in a 32 band, let alone 32DD. I may have seen one 32A, but that was it. Kohl’s doesn’t even carry anything in a 32. ARGH. There are so many people who need 32, 30, and 28 bands! I wear a 32, and there are lots of people smaller than me. By far the most common bands were 34, 36, 38, and 40. You could find 42 and 44 in the “full figured” section, but even those are rare.

I would have loved to put her in a 32DD, but it was nonexistent, and she doesn’t have a Nordstrom nearby. We even considered going to (sigh) Victoria’s Secret on the theory that they might go down to 32, but we were pretty tired at the end and it was on the other side of town. She did find one bra in 34D that fits pretty well; the center front is flush against her ribcage, which none of the other couple dozen bras were. It’s a proper seamed bra, not a molded cup, so it conforms to her shape and there’s no weird gap at the top. It’s boring and beige and not pretty like a lot of the molded cup bras, which have attractive false corset seams and exciting colors and trims, but it fits, which makes all the difference. Still: ONE BRA out of more than two dozen. How does that make sense?

Seriously, this should not be that hard.

In which I chronicle the state of the American bra industry

Spoilers: it’s bad.

I mean, I knew it was bad. I’ve known it was bad since 2000, when I found an English bra calculator online and decided to stop putting up with the awful matronly “minimizer” bras in 34DDD that I could only find at distant outlet shops and made me feel dowdy and terrible. I don’t remember what caused me to look online in the first place, but I do remember being shocked at two things: my new size (30G), and finding multiple bras in my size. Bras in exciting colors! Not white or beige! Heady with all the options, I went for the one that was most unlike anything I’d ever worn: a super sexy plunge bra in gold. It had flames on it, people.

Hang on, I think I still have it. Lemme see if I can dig it out for you.


...but why pads?When I tried it on, it was a revelation in fit. Up until that point, I had no idea that bras could fit and feel good. It stayed put all day, without the band riding up. I didn’t have to shorten the straps so much that they dug in painfully. Most surprising of all, the center front was perfectly flat. All my other bras stuck out a good three inches at the center front. I didn’t know that a flat CF was even possible.

Since that first proper bra thirteen years ago, I haven’t set foot in an American bra shop. (With the exception of Nordstrom, but they are expensive and even though they carry British bras, their range isn’t great. I’ve been all of twice, I think.) I’ve done all my lingerie shopping online, first through Maple Drive and then through Bravissimo. I’ve learned a lot about style and fit, and what works and what doesn’t for my particular shape. (More on that in another post.)

Recently, I took a friend shopping to find her a bra. This was my first real experience trying to find a bra that fits in brick and mortar stores in over a decade. As I said at the top, I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was this bad. I’ll tell that story in my next post.