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.
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.
Orange Lingerie Marlborough lower cup (paper) vs Panache Andorra 5675 lower cup (tracing paper outlined in pen). Same cup size. Notice how the apex of the Panache is much closer to the center front than the Marlborough, and how the depth of the Marlborough is shallower. Now I know why the Marlborough was so terrible! #bramaking
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!