Gazongas, jugs, knockers, boobies, tits, jubblies, or in my house – breasticles. We have hundreds of words for them, so they’re clearly important. So why oh why, after years of Trinny and Suzannah and literally millions of trees being felled in the name of fashion and lifestyle magazines, do we still not know how to do right by them?
I’m not talking about checking for lumps ladies, although that’s also very important. Go and do that when you’ve finished reading this. Unless you’re in the office. Or on the train.
Nope – I’m talking about the life-changing power of a decent bra for anyone who has more than a couple of fried eggs down there.
As a larger lady who is somewhat on the short side, I think it’s realistic to say that I have the legs of a fairly squat rugby player. However, I was blessed with a more than adequate bosom which kind of evens things out. Back when I was single and searching for the right man, I remember turning in lonely desperation to the pages of Grazia and being advised that when preparing for a night out,I should choose between showing some thigh or opting for a low cut top. For me, the choice was always easy.
But it was, ironically, only when I got engaged that I realised I hadn’t been making the most of my assets. On the hunt for wedding undies, and clearly still influenced by years of watching Trinny hike people’s melons up to their shoulders whilst Suzannah strapped ‘em in, I headed to that sacred chapel of brassieres, supplier of over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders to the Queen no less – Rigby & Peller.
Now, this was back when I lived in London, had no kids and no mortgage, and a big fat wedding savings account, so I had some cash to splash. And boy did I need it. Seduced by the pretty lace and the frankly astounding feats of engineering on display, I ended up about £200 worse off. It wasn’t what I would call the most comfortable shopping experience of my life. After being ushered into a plush boxy changing room complete with velvet curtains and an upholstered stool, I was asked to strip to the waist so the assistant could measure me. But this kind of measuring didn’t involve a tape measure – oh no. She just stared at me. Front and back. Now, I don’t know if you have ever had another woman look at you whilst you’re half naked – I mean REALLY look, not just a quick glance in the changing rooms or a lustful appraisal in the throes of passion – but it was pretty unnerving. This was a PhD level study of my bumpy bits. I was somewhat relieved when she pottered off to find me some bras to try on, even though it did leave me standing alone half naked in a changing room like a bit of a lemon.
When she returned, apparently I had to learn a whole new way of putting on a bra. She made me bend over towards my toes whilst she scooped them in, did the bra up and then adjusted the straps (this is definitely a two-person operation by the way, not to be attempted alone). But then – oh the magnificence!!! This bra was one hell of a gravity-defying bit of mammary architecture! They were peachier than I had ever seen them! They were separated yet pushed in and out, and suspended a good three inches higher than their customary daytime position. I had just gained three inches more waist – the most slender part of my body. What’s that? £85? Do you take cash?
Not only that, but it turned out that I had been wearing the wrong size since I was 16. I had gone in thinking I was an awkward 38B, and exited a radiant 36D! When I returned home, my fiancée was almost as delighted with having snared a wife-to-be with a D-cup as he was with my resplendent décolletage. Which is bizarre really, because he’s a bloke, and he never talks to his mates about anything except F1 and cycling, but it seemed to make him happy. On our honeymoon in Paris, he naively took me into Galleries Lafayette and told me to choose anything I wanted in the lingerie section. He nearly had an aneurysm at the till when a bra with matching pants came to €185.
After that, I became a posh bra evangelist. I chucked away all of my M&S cheapies, filled my drawers with construction underwear, and made it my mission in life to convert my family and friends. I forced my Mum (Queen of the giant jubblies) into a Rigby and Peller shopping trip which saw her terrified into a cold sweat and wavering on the doorstep for a good ten minutes. Result? A happy mum with a newly elevated bosom. I dragged my best friend into a posh lingerie shop in York, and she never looked back. She converted her mum, who converted her sister. I am a veritable messiah of correctly-fitting underwear.
Pregnancy and childbirth cured me of my shyness in the dressing room, but another side-effect of having my daughter was that I went up to an E cup, and to be honest, I find this slightly embarrassing. Evie (now 6) has been known to wear one of my bras as a jaunty hat. A kitten could use one as a hammock. They could double as a catapult for cabbages. They are – literally – melon sized. I’m just relieved that we have a peculiar sizing system in the UK. If I lived in mainland Europe I would be a G cup.
But hey – I’m still buying good quality bras, and I still have traffic-stopping cleavage. I am living proof that big bras don’t need to be boring. I have learnt a huge amount since my good underwear obsession began, and true to my ongoing bra evangelism, here are my top tips just for you:
Get properly fitted. If you don’t have a Rigby & Peller near you or don’t want to splurge on an expensive bra, then John Lewis and Debenhams are also good for fitting. Some articles claim that an astonishing 80% of women are wearing the wrong size, and usually it’s too big across the back and at least one size too small in the cup. When you make the change, it will feel uncomfortably tight across your back, but the bra will soon adapt to you, and you’ll get used to being more firmly encased!
Never buy a bra without trying it on. I know this is a faff, but different brands size differently, small changes to your weight can affect your bust, and even the shape of the bra (full / plunging / balcony etc) will make a difference to the fit. You should always aim for the central panel at the front to sit flat against your breastbone, as this will separate them (avoiding the crepe-effect you see at the top of the cleavage in older women who have rammed them together). Your whole boob should fit inside the underwire – it shouldn’t dig in anywhere. Put your shoulders right back, have a jiggle, lean forwards and then stand up again to check that you don’t spill over top. Ideally you should only be able to do a new bra up on the loosest back setting- the other settings are mainly so that you can adjust it as it ages and starts to stretch.
Go for quality, not quantity. OK, so it makes me sound absolutely loaded to say that I’m happy to spend £100 on a bra (I’m not), but all my expensive ones have lasted 5 years or more in perfect condition, whereas all the fight goes out of a £30 bra within a year or so. I’ve never had an underwire pop out of a Prima Donna bra, or a shoulder strap adjustor fail. Cheaper bras tend to be a false economy, so if cash flow allows, just go for a few good quality pieces. A black one, a white one and a nude one will get you started. Spend as much as you can – they last for ages – and if you have a local independent lingerie shop, they might be a good first stop. Also, not all great bras cost £100, but you need to take advice from a professional to pick a really good quality cheaper one.
Look for the sheepdog panel (see pic below). It’s called that because it rounds them up and pushes them in – this magic side panel will have your boobs projecting forwards rather than having a rounded shape to the sides. Just give yourself some extra space when going round corners…
Check the strap widths. If you have a big cup size (D or above), you should look for something with wide shoulder straps and three hooks on the back fastening. Big doesn’t have to mean ugly though – there are some gorgeous designs out there for the more ample bust. If (like me) you have grande jubblies, take care with M&S. They have some of the most beautiful designs around, but I’ve personally never been able to find a really supportive bra with sensible straps in there.
Don’t throw them in the washing machine. No ladies – you need to love your undies. Buy some ‘Soak’ handwash liquid, and chuck some in the sink with your smalls every now and again. No scrubbing required, but it gently cleans and leaves them fresh and fragrant.
Buy the matching pants. Because life is short, and they will make you happy every time you wear them. So unless it’s a choice between pants and rent / food, always, always buy the matching pants.