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.

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8 thoughts on “The Monoculture of Molded Cups

  1. Liana says:

    I’m 32C/D (possibly should be 30D?) and the Gap is often the best option. I hate padded bras, so I only buy unlined fabric bras, all underwire. They’re hard to find but the Gap often has one style. They probably stop at 32D but their sizes run large.

    I think the popularity of molded bras is partly because they can look ok-ish even if they don’t fit right. I have one, bought in desperation, and I know my boobs don’t fill the cups entirely but it happens to look good around all the edges, so it doesn’t matter so much. I hate it nonetheless.

  2. Zack says:

    Strictly as a data point, my SO observes that she can’t wear most seamed bras because the seam runs right across and irritates her nipples.

  3. Seamed bras come in different shapes! That’s part of what’s great about them. Some have horizontal seams, some vertical, and some are lightly padded so you can’t feel the seams.

  4. Heather says:

    I went through the same realization recently, after going to a specialty store to get properly fitted, and trying on a seamed bra for the VERY FIRST TIME in my 19 years. It was an absolutely life changing experience. Before I realized how bad the “mainstream” American brands are (Maidenform, Playtex, Bali, etc.) I took a trip to Macy’s, as I was spilling out of my three year old 32Ds, and desperately needed new ones. I searched high and low for a seamed bra, and in some brands like Vanity Fair, I actually could not find a single bra that wasn’t molded in the entire store. I agree with Liana that it’s probably because it’s harder to tell if it doesn’t fit when it’s molded, so it’s easier to confuse people into thinking they are the right size. It’s the same reason I think plunge bras have become so popular, because the gore doesn’t come up high enough to get in the way of the massive cleavage/overspill that many women seem to think is how bras are supposed to fit, thanks to places like Victoria’s Secret using way too small cup sizes on their models to give that look.

    And it’s probably also cheaper to do molded cups, cause the company designs don’t have to consider seams and how they contribute to the support of the bra, instead just slapping a molded cup on it and calling it done. I also find it really funny that features like “wire-free” and “cushioned straps” are becoming such big selling points, which seems like an obvious compensation for women who are wearing the wrong size, causing all of the discomfort these features supposedly are correcting. It’s like we’re getting worse instead of better.

  5. I know just what you mean. I “got fitted” at Victoria’s Secret the other day as blogging experiment and the woman told me my bra was one size too small (I’m a 34HH, She measured me at 38DDD – three sizes too small) and that I needed a 40 band. Then she brought me a few “different styles” to see if one worked. They were ALL black, molded, tear-drop shaped bras.

    The same thing happened to my friend when I took her for a fitting. Big bands and LOTS of nude molded bras. I had to beg for a colored one or a non-molded one…

    I think those are better for small, shallow breasts but grading the pattern up just doesn’t work.

    The American bra system is really really bad.

  6. Terry says:

    Having gained a lot of weight over a couple of years, I realized I needed to be refitted for bras. I went to Bloomingdales and had a great experience. It helped that I was there on a weekday when no one else was shopping. I wore a 32B for a couple of decades, then went to a 34B for another decade. After the weight gain I jumped to a 34DD. I was surprised that I didn’t need a 36. I bought a fabulous Chantelle 3-part bra that fits the way a bra is supposed to [this I know, now]. I also got a serviceable Wacoal, which is my backup brand.

    But I smugly thought I could go to Macy’s and get a less expensive bra, now that I have my correct size. I, too, was appalled a the racks of molded cup bras. I get the “T-shirt” bra concept–smooth lines, seamless, no nipplage–but does EVERY bra have to be for t-shirts? And don’t they know that not everyone needs or wants that extra padding?

    When underwire bras became popular, I was very happy. Finally, a good selection of bras that didn’t ride up. But I was aware that for women who didn’t like underwires, looking for a bra was going to be an unrewarding experience. Fortunately for me, underwires were not a fad. I do hold out hope, though, that molded cups are.

  7. Ugh! I hate molded cup bras. I can’t wear them at all. My breasts are more… well… bullet-shaped than nice round globes. The end result is that even though I’m wearing a cup size that is way too small, the cups gap horribly at the top, and do weird things everywhere else. I’m not sure where people get the idea that they’re more likely to look okay-ish if they don’t fit right than fabric bras. It’s been my experience that a badly fitting molded cup bra is noticeable from across the room with my shirt on. Whereas with the fabric ones, even I didn’t realize that I was wearing the wrong size (because my size doesn’t exist in America) until stumbling upon your blog and following links to sites that tell you how to properly measure yourself. I’m a 38H that has been stuffing herself into a 38DD for years. My poor girls… First bit of money I get, I’m ordering myself a properly fitting bra.

  8. When fitting a friend several years ago (She is a 30 B) we went through the trouble of finding places that sold bras with smaller band sizes.

    We did eventually find that the reason you cannot find anything 32 and under is not because stores like Kohls and JCPenny do not carry them, but because they do not keep them in the same location.

    They usually have a small selection of the smaller band sizes in the Juniors or Girls sections as they expect that it will be mostly younger women that need the smaller band sizes.

    This also unfortunately means that the selection is very limited and is either very juvenile in design or are flat colors.

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