28 Jan 2008
What to look for next time you buy a bra - a quick guide
Fundamentally, there are only half a dozen criteria for finding a great, supportive bra, so take this list with you the next time you go shopping:
* Cups with 3-4 sections.
* Full cups that cover the top part of the breast.
* Tough fabric with little stretch.
* Wide shoulder straps.
* Underwires and/or side boning.
* A deep back band with three hooks.
* Balconnet styles.
* Bras that come in sizes bigger than your own.
In more detail:
Sections. Count the number of sections in the cup to see how supportive the bra is going to be. You should be looking at a 3- or even 4-section cup for maximum support. The absolute best bra I've seen, but don't own, is this one by Freya. At $80, this would be a serious investment for me, but this bra has a three-section lower cup, plus a top section - at four sections, it should offer fantastic support. It also has an underwire, which I like.
Full cups. IE: a cup that covers the top part of the breast, as in this wireless bra by Miss Mary of Sweden. Cup shapes other than full cup leave you at risk of either falling out or packing yourself in too tight and flattening your breasts rather than uplifting them - sadly this means that mature women generally have to live without demi-cup styles or deep-plunge style bras. In particular, demi-cup bras do not have a large enough underwire to support larger breasts effectively.
Sturdy fabric. Many canny bra manufacturers make the top section and straps from lace, to give the design some visual lightness and make it less like 'corsetry', but the lower sections should be made from tough fabric with little stretch.
Wide shoulder straps. Although bra straps are only designed to carry 10 per cent of the weight of your breasts, they need to be firm and not too stretchy to do even that much. Look for straps half an inch wide or more and pass on any that you can stretch very far - bra elastic should be firm and resistant.
Underwires. All designers will tell you that to be truly supportive, a bra needs an underwire, but I feel it is largely a matter of preference. Underwires do give a more rounded shape to the breast, as in the Jewels bra by Pour Moi (left) but if you find underwires uncomfortable, there are many well-designed bras that don't have them. The Doreen design by Triumph - the best-selling bra in the UK - does not have an underwire, and nor do some designs by Miss Mary of Sweden. If you buy a bra without an underwire, look out for side boning to give the bra some structure.
A deep bra band. The bra band should be about 2.5 inches deep between the breasts, have the cups set into it, and should have at least three hooks at the back. The bra band does the major support job of the bra, so this part of the bra is crucial. This Empreinte bra by Thalia disguises the sturdy bra band very effectively with lace.
Side boning. Especially important if the bra has no underwire, such as the Doreen bra by Triumph - vertical boning under the armpit prevents the side strap from rolling. Side boning, and quite deep sides of 2.5in or more will help prevent 'fat back'. If fat back is a real problem for you, consider a bra with deeper sides, or even a mid-line or long-line bra, which will give you a tiny midriff. In black or red, this kind of bra is really quite sexy.
Some deep-sided bras also come in front-fastening, which makes them a lot easier to put on, such as this front-loader from Glamorise. Front-fastening means you can undo the bra a notch or two if you wear a low-cut top, so it gives you some flexibility with necklines, but note that the straps on a front-fastener are not generally adjustable so you must be very careful to get the right size.
Balconnet styles. Balconnet styles suit most women and are especially useful for larger chests. They also enable you to wear a lowish, scooped neckline in place of a plunge top. Panache's balconnet bra gets rave reviews from buyers, while this pink 'Passion' balconnet bra by Ballet offers tremendous support without losing any femininity in the process.
Size. Look to see if the bra you fancy comes in sizes bigger than your size - if it's designed to support watermelons, it should deal with your honeydews with relative ease.