I Found Out Why the Marlborough Was So Terrible on Me

Background

Ever hear of the blog A Sophisticated Pair? It is the blog authored by one of the owners of an independent lingerie shop in North Carolina. The website is a generally good resource if you are an unusual size and have an interest in bra fit and the variations between brands. They are particularly well-known for their bra size calculator.

I have been feeling lately like my bra fit could be a bit better. Some of my bras were having issues like an uncomfortable band and the underwire not staying in place while lifting my arms. So I decided to try the calculator, selecting the “looser band” option. My size according to the calculator was a 30DD (!). I have been wearing a 32C. Since there’s very little in the way of good quality lingerie shops where I live I decided to just go with this recommendation, and ordered a bunch of bras in various brands (Panache, Affinitas Parfait, Simone Perle, Cleo, La Perla Studio) and sizes (30D, 30DD, 32C, 32D, 34B) from Bare Necessities. I chose only seamed bras because I wanted the ability to clone for my own purposes…and they are usually more visually appealing.

My biggest fit issue is that I have a full-on-bottom, slightly shallow shape. Rather than being full on top I “swoop.” (Linda the Bra Lady calls this shape “The Perky Point.”) I’ve had this shape since I was a young teenager, the only difference at 29 is that I have more volume.

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lindasonline.com

I often think this shape is why I seem to need bust darts to end closer to the apex than what is recommended…

Most bras seem to be made for a balanced or fuller on top figure. As Linda mentions in her “Perky Point” description, my biggest issue is that if the underwire and lower cup fits, the upper cup is too big. My best fitting underwire is a 36, but I can often make do with a 34 if the wire is lightweight enough (which means it has lots of flex) and the cup is generously sized. It isn’t a perfect solution – I usually need to adjust several times during the day – but overall the cups fit ok. My biggest issue was the underwire didn’t want to stay in place.

The order came the next day, so I tried all of them on. Most of them had the same problem – if the underwire fit, the upper cup was huge. The best was Panache Andorra 5675. I wasn’t surprised as I have heard Panache is one of the best brands if you need a wide underwire like I do. I ordered one in 30D and one in 30DD. The 30D cup was filled out completely at the upper edge, but the wiring and lower cup felt a little snug and I had great difficulty fastening it in the back. It also had a slightly pointy look. That one got sent back.

The 30DD lower cup and wire were perfect. The upper cup was a tiny bit large, particularly on my slightly smaller side. Fortunately with the stretch lace it isn’t too noticeable. The shape was very good – the best lift I have ever gotten, with a lot of pushing toward the center. The shape was defined, but not too pointy. I put on a tight t-shirt and while it was more defined than a t-shirt bra it was still a modern silhouette. (I think this must have been a first-ever for me when it comes to non-stretch diagonally seamed cups.) When I lifted my arms and put them back down again the underwire and band stayed right in place. However band was very snug on the last hook, and not the softest material. I had considered sending it back due to the band, but then I remembered reading on A Sophisticated Pair that bras need a break-in period and that many bras arrive to customers heavily starched and need to be washed a few times before wear. (I guess Panache is one of the worst offenders for this.) I washed it and wore it, but even with a back extender the band felt tight. I would have exchanged it for a 32D but they didn’t have any in stock. I didn’t consider it a dealbreaker because I bought it for the sole purpose of wearing it a few times to check the fit, then making a pattern from it.

At the end of the day I took it off, popped out the underwire, and decided to see what was going on with the cup that made it work so well for me. In case if you are unfamiliar with copying a bra without taking it apart, the short version is that after taking out the underwire you pin it against cardboard, then “connect the dots” created by the pinholes with a pen after you unpin it.

Both Volume 1 of The Bramaker’s Manual and the February/March 2002 Threads article “Clone a Favorite Bra” go into much more detail about how to do this. This method doesn’t work well for cups made out of stretchy fabrics – it is too difficult to pin evenly and get the correct size when the fabric keeps stretching – but it will work for cups that are backed with a non-stretch fabric. (The Panache Andorra 5675 has a stretch lace upper cup, non-stretch lower cup, and a non-stretch “floating” sling on the side.)

For bras with stretchy cups I always find it easier to cut one up. For this I usually search on eBay and buy one that is a hideous color but deeply discounted. (I prefer a new to old bra because you never know how stretched out of shape an old bra is.) It usually more expensive to do it this way than to buy a pattern, but it is completely worth it IMO in order to not to have to waste materials (and time) making one up and hoping it will fit. I also think it is easier to figure out what you prefer in terms of style, elastics, fabric stretch, band width, etc by studying RTW.

Anyway…after I traced the Andorra I measured it:

  • The lower cup is 3.5″ deep, from wire to apex.
  • The upper cup edge is roughly 5.5″ across and 2″ high. Since it stretches this was difficult to measure. (I measured the height directly above the apex.) The upper cup is not very rounded above the apex, which is exactly how I am shaped. It looks like the lace is slightly eased into the cross cup seam.
  • The cross-cup width (that’s the seam horizontally across the bust) is 8″.
  • The apex is close-set – about 3.25″ from the center front. The floating side sling pushes everything forward too. I have a small but closely set bust—a little over 7″ from apex to apex while braless—and find myself moving princess seams and darts toward the center front more often than not. I think this is a big reason why this bra seemed to work with rather than against me.
  • The underwire is very similar to a size 36 Bra Essentials lightweight classic underwire in shape, width, and length (just 1/4″ shorter), and similar to the 36 full coverage wire in feel.

Then I compared it to size 32D of my disastrous Marlborough pattern. (The 32D cup is the sister size to my second 34C Marlborough.) I was very curious to know WTF went so horribly wrong with this pattern. The Marlborough is printed (with seam allowances trimmed) and the tracing paper Panache is outlined in black pen.

As you can see the Panache Andorra has MUCH more cup volume and depth closer to the center front. That’s just what my close-set, bottom-heavy bust needs. The Marlborough fullness is closer to the armpit. This misplaced fullness is probably why I have trouble filling out the apex on a lot of bras, and why a lot of seamed bras had a minimizing yet pointy look.

Then I compared the band. I didn’t copy the Panache band yet onto paper, so I trimmed the seam allowances off of the Marlborough and placed them against the Panache band.

As I noted in my Instagram caption, the Marlborough is higher at the sides and lower at the center front.

I guess I have closure now!

24 thoughts on “I Found Out Why the Marlborough Was So Terrible on Me

  1. I have two Panache Andorra bras, and I love how they fit (I’m more of a teardrop shape, according to Linda the Bra Lady). Unfortunately, I find the band stretches out on them quite quickly, though, compared to other bras. I’ve been watching your bra-making endeavours with interest – I hope to make my own some day, and your blog is a fantastic resource, so thank you!

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  2. That’s fascinating, both the process for comparison (and bra-pattern making) and bust fitting. I guess I’d always assumed that breasts were all pretty much the same shape, just different sizes and it was the body that affected different fitting.

    On a side note, I LOVE Panache sports bras. Well fitted, great support. I haven’t yet tried any of their everyday bras.

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    1. In the US it is the land of seamless foam t-shirt bras made so popular by Victoria’s Secret. They have the added effect of concealing a lot of fit issues while making everyone look the same. I stuck to wireless foam cups for years because I only thought of underwires as insanely uncomfortable torture devices, not realizing it was things like the bridge shape and wire width causing the issue rather than the firmness of the wire. (I was also too poor then to experiment with different brands like I can now.)

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      1. It’s amazing how critical a good fitting bra is to having a good day, isn’t it?! And once we discover the fit for us, don’t you feel like breaking out in song, “A whole new world, is open to me… and my freakin amazing new bra!” 😀

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    1. It is such a close-fitting garment and has a big effect on garment fit! If something isn’t right with one it bugs me all day long. By making my own I can have a much more interesting version for less than half the price. They are also good “filler” projects when I don’t feel like working on something big.

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    1. It saves me time when it comes to new patterns – I can use it as a block of sorts to get a general idea of whether it will fit (and flatter) or not.

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  3. This makes sense. If you are more bottom heavy then naturally you need more volume in your lower cup. The Marlborough worked really well for me straight out of the box but my breasts are very malleable so they go where you put them.

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  4. Another excellent study and report. I respect and appreciate the work you do here and all that you’re sharing around bras. It’s incredibly enlightening.

    Though I respectfully disagree that the fullness is misplaced. The pattern just wasn’t designed with your bust line in mind. Mine is built with fullness in the armpit and I really appreciate knowing there’s a pattern with that design out there.

    No pattern will ever fit any of us without adjusting. If it does, it’s just luck of the draw that we happen to be built like the designer’s block. If we want a perfect fit, best bet is to draft ourselves, it works out to be the same time investment as modifying someone else’s.

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  5. Fascinating. Will read in detail later (you know I love this stuff). Just want to say that I’ve restrained myself from suggesting to you that you might want to try a 30D-DD for quite some time. It’s actually a very compact size (despite everyone’s reflexive belief that it’s huge!). You are a narrow person so I always thought that 32 seemed a bit loose…

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    1. I don’t know if a 30 band is for me or not. I wore it again today after a second wash and while it was more comfortable than the first time, it still needs a back extender for me to make it through the day. I had a hard enough time fastening this band on the last hook – cannot even imagine how it would have been trying hook a 28! I have hopes the band will do what other people say it will and stretch out and soften a bit with continued wear. The larger wire and cup size definitely works though.

      You’re right, our culture has this thing about D and DD being huge cup sizes that need industrial-quality support (“I’m a D cup, there is no way I can go braless!”), but when I look around at the general public I’m definitely at the smaller end of the spectrum. I wonder what the average cup size would be if everyone wore something even remotely close to their properly fitted size?

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      1. Anne, I’ve worn a number of Panache bras over the years; their workout bras are great for women with large, heavy breasts, like myself. However, I have always had to size up in the band with Panache. You may want to make a longer back extender and see if that improves your comfort.

        Like you, I have a narrow torso; but I wear a G cup (or 4D’s). My under bust measurement is 30.5, and in most RTW bras I wear a 32 band, the exception being Panache. FWIW, I do like my bands on the snug side. I offer this information in support of the suggestion that you may be a 30D or 30DD, as your torso appears narrower than 30 inches at your under bust.

        The dissection and study of the Panache vs. Marlborough bras was very enlightening. I am planning on making a bra for my daughter – I just measured her for underwires yesterday. She has an interesting combination of being fuller on bottom – ‘perky point’ – but also fullness that extends to the axilla. And she is petite. I am wondering if the Marlborough might be the bra for her if I add depth to the lower

        Regarding underwires, have you tried the plastic underwires that Bramaker’s Supply sells? Do you have a preference between the metal and plastic?

        Thanks for posting your analysis, Anne. It is going to help me quite a bit in fitting my daughter. And I am especially happy for you that you got closure on the Marlborough fit issue!

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      2. I am one of those rare unicorns for which +4 actually does work. My underbust is 28.5″. Depending on the brand, style, and shaping of the cup I wear either a C or D. I tried on dozens of brands and for the vast majority of them, the 32 band works best. Most of them measure 24″ I tried 30 bands and no matter what the brand the wires dug in, the elastic rubbed, and when I took them off I could see dents in my sides. And it would also result in the straps being too far apart. My 32 bands seem to measure between 22″ and 24″ unstretched, so considering it has to stretch to at least 28″ while I’m standing and 30″ while seated I don’t consider that to be oversized. I think it has a lot to do with the shape of my ribcage, which seems to be more cylindrical in shape than the average person’s. (It also looks very V-shaped from the back.) It seems like that band cuts in because it thinks I should be flat where my ribs are still curving around. I also often have to take a tuck from the center front bridge to get the cups in the right position, which also reduces the size of the band.

        I have tried the plastic BMS wires. They are pretty much the same as the Bra Essentials plastic underwires. They’re good if you cannot tolerate the stiffness of metal but need a little more structure than what wirefree provides. I prefer metal because it is thinner and gives far more structure. It was always a struggle getting plastic wires through the channeling, and as soon as you stretch the band they splay outward, flattening the cup.

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  6. Panache is great–*if*–you aren’t petite. I tried a couple (the Andorra was one) that would have been perfect if the wires hadn’t been poking me in the chin. I do agree with you on the way the apex works and needing it closer to the center. When I’m scooped and swooped, everything is pretty front and center, but it doesn’t stay that way very well.

    Out of curiousity, do you feel that your home sewing version of plush back elastic is more plush than the Panache version? Because that is one thing about buying bras I hate–it’s like I can feel every. single. stitch. on the elastic and it rubs my skin raw…especially that spot where the straps meet the cups.

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    1. I read a lot of reviews where petites complained about the Andorra being too high at the sides. I’m not petite at all (about 5’9″) so it isn’t an issue for me. When I swoop and scoop with the Andorra everything stays in place, whereas with the Marlborough it just made really weird bulges and empty space.

      There is a LOT of variation in what sort of elastics are available for the home market, and sadly many of them are of lesser quality than what you would find in RTW. On this Panache bra I find the lower edge of the bottom elastic a little rough (I think I mentioned that in my post), though it is starting to soften up after two washes and two wears.

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  7. just found aout about your blog, and I’m so glad I did! just started bra-sewing (started with a watson), and this article made things really clear. I’m totally a perky point!
    One thing I’ve noticed with the available bra patterns out there is that they all seem to have quite a deep bridge between the cup, while I prefer half bands or dbriges…any recommendations? Or maybe that is something that can be easily modify on a pattern…I’m going to take some time and read more of your posts as I’m sure I’ll find countless useful tips!

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    1. I recommend getting Volume 1 of The Bramaker’s Manual. In addition to all sorts of useful fitting and construction advice I know she covers how to convert from full to demi.

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  8. I just finished making my first Marlborough and had so much excess fabric in the top of the cups while the bottom fit perfectly! If read your post before I bought the pattern but had hoped I wouldn’t have the same issue, turns out I do. Thankfully I ran in the powerbar seam and now it is wearable though far from perfect. I’m going to have to work on it and see what solutions I can come up with. Hopefully without forking out for another pattern with this shocking Aussie dollar!

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