Thursday 31 October 2013

Full Bust “Greatest Hits”: Bras I Hate & Love Gives Out Some Awards

A couple of clever readers have suggested that I do some sort of round-up of the best bras available and I thought it was a really great idea. I think it will be helpful for anyone who isn’t sure where to start with properly fitted bras or new knowledge of their shape, or for anyone struggling to build a basic collection. I’m trying to cover all the bases here. Let me know what I missed!

I’ve distinguished in some categories between bras that give a ‘purple shape’

and bras that give a ‘green shape’.

I’ve also tried to distinguish between bras for full-on-top boobs and full-on-bottom boobs wherever relevant. Bras I’ve honored for shapes other than my own are based on the experiences of bloggers, forum members, and friends with different shapes than mine. Bras lost points for things like crappy band construction and problems that plague almost everyone. (That’s why you don’t see the Cleo Lucy on here, even though it’s a personal favorite—the band is at a stupidly high angle and the gore is too wide for most people.) I also pretty much ignored bras with smaller cup size ranges because I just don’t have a personal experience of them. Please note that this list is based on fit and shape, NOT fashion. 

Best ‘purple shape’ balconette bra for full-on-top boobs: Cleo Marcie. 

This one wins over the Lucy, etc because the band is better constructed and more stable, and the gore is narrower. The Marcie is pretty much a miracle constructed with magic, and gives the roundest of round shapes without pushing your boobs into your armpits. It needs to come out in black and beige, like, yesterday.
Honorable mention: Panache Sienna. 

Despite the lovely shape, I couldn’t let this one win because it comes out in dismally few colors and even those colors are boring repeats of colors it’s already come out in. It also lost points for confusing sizing--you ned to go up a cup size in the Sienna! This one runs a full cup size small.

Best ‘purple shape’ balconette bra for full-on-bottom boobs: Cleo Meg (and, I’m hoping, the new Lily—a slightly altered but ostensibly similar design). 

This bra is different from the Marcie’s construction. The top edge curves in more steeply and there’s more space at the diagonal seam. It works well for full-on-bottom ladies who want a really round shape but experience gapping in the Marcie.

Best ‘green shape’ balconette bra for full-on-bottom boobs: Bravissimo Alana. 

This is one of those ‘old faithful’ bras that you can buy in a ton of cute or useful colors if it fits. It’s loved for its perky shape and firm support.
Sizing: Runs a little bit small. Go up if you’re between sizes. This one will not work for full-on-top boobs.

Best full-cup bra: Panache Jasmine. 

This bra exploded on the scene a couple seasons back and has been really popular. Its genius comes from the uplifting side panel, the supportive firm fabric on the bottom, and the stretch lace in the top. That stretch allows the Jasmine to work for loads of people who tend to be a tricky fit. It expands to deal with bountiful upper breast fullness that tends to overwhelm most full-cup bras. It stretches back in to deal with breast with less upper fullness who tend to experience gapping. It provides a good fit to those with asymmetrical boobs who may struggle to find ANYTHING that works for both sides.  See also: The new Envy and Clara bras are based on the Jasmine, though with little tweaks.


Honorable mention: Panache Andorra. 

This ancestor of Jasmine has the same stretchy lace in the top, but it’s not as crazy-well-loved as the Jasmine and is, I think, a little less supportive.

Best bra for a retro shape: Bravissimo Dotty Spot. 

This bra gives an extreme green shape, what I call “good pointy”. It’s a cult classic, beloved by a committed fan base. The shape is definitely not for everyone, but I couldn’t not mention it!
Sizing: Works better for those without too much upper fullness, but can work for various shapes.

Best bra for a round but minimized shape: Tutti Rouge Liliana. 

If you prefer to blend in rather than stand out, if you’re not at an emotionally stable place about having larger boobs, if you have to wear scrubs for work, if you have your eye on a drapy top, or if you just prefer a minimized look, try this one. 
Sizing: Go up a band size and a cup size. (E.g. If you normally wear a 30HH, try a 32HH.) Also, works better for shallower breasts.

Best plunge bra for firm breasts: Panache Andorra Plunge. 

This one benefits from the same stretchy material as the full-cup, which makes it really comfortable and helps it fit stubbornly shaped firm boobs. It provides the best subtle cleavage I’ve experienced.

Best plunge for soft breasts: Cleo Molly. 

I’ve heard this from a few people. Many women with softer breast tissue find they fall into the center in a plunge bra. Anecdotally, the Cleo Molly is genius for fixing this issue.

Best padded plunge overall: Bravissimo Satine. 

This one works for a lot of different shapes. It fits my full-on-top boobs perfectly and also perfectly fits my friend who is full-on-bottom. It gives a really nice balanced shape.

Best plunge for higher cup sizes: Ewa Michalak PL bras. 

Ewa’s PL bras go up to higher sizes than British plunge bras, and the expert construction provides the necessary stability even for heavy boobs.

Best strapless: HAHAHAHAHAHA funny joke. Errbody needs to go back to the drawing board on this one. Hint: Vertical seams. For instance, I have my eye on the Curvy Kate strapless that is slowly inching towards production.

Best unpadded half cup: Ewa Michalak’s HM styles. 

There are not a lot of options for unpadded half cups out there, but of those available, the HM is the most stable. Half cups can sometimes get a little jiggly and weak in the center, but the HM’s gore tends to sit flat. Some HM styles require going up in the band. Check Bratabase to verify for individual styles.

Best padded half cup: Masquerade Coco. 

I know this seems obscure. The Rhea and Delphi by rights belong here, but I took points off because the Rhea’s padding is a little too stiff and the Delphi’s straps are too thick to be practical. So although the Coco seems a strange choice, I believe it combines the best features of Rhea and Delphi.



Honorable mention: Tutti Rouge Betty. 

Though new on the scene, this half-cup is a blogger favorite. I think it's Tutti Rouge's most versatile fit, and as such, probably their best bra so far. Go up a band size and a cup size in this one (if you normally wear a 32F, try a 34F). 

Best Swimwear in General: FREYA!!!!!!! Hands down, no one else can even compete.

Best padded Swimwear: Freya’s padded sweetheart cut
Lindy Hop
Best unpadded swimwear: Freya’s plunge cut. 

In particular, the Fever bikini is their best. The construction changes slightly starting with H cups but it is still great.

Best molded (purple shape): Freya Deco. 

This bra also wins the category for “Best Bra to Feel Normal if You’re Used to Victoria’s Secret”. It wins this category by a sweep because it’s one of the few bras to come in TONS of colors, it has a low gore, and it has a comfy band. Some full-on-bottom ladies may struggle with gapping in this style.
Honorable Mention: Curvy Kate Smoothie. 

I can’t let this one win because preliminary reports indicate that these bras have already shrunk a full cup size in the new colors since my positive review.

Best molded (green shape): Fantasie 4510 Smoothing Molded T-Shirt Bra. 

This one gives a lovely perky, projected shape. I think it’s pretty underrated.

Best for deep cups with narrow wires: Ewa Michalak S and SM, and Comexim.

Ewa Michalak S Bambino

Ewa Michalak SM Trefl
Comexim Green Velvet
Ewa Michalak’s S and SM bras offer tons of projection and suit deep boobs that don’t get along with shallow British styles. The narrow wires make them especially good for small-framed women who can’t wear wide wires, or for anyone with narrow breast roots. 
Comexim bras also win in the deep cup/narrow wire category, and are even narrower in the wires than Ewa Michalak.

Most attractive sports bra: Panache Sports Bra. 

This one definitely gives the best shape of any sports bra out there. It also comes in cute colors, and I like the use of underwire as well as the racerback clip. I recommend sizing down in the band to increase stability.

Most effective sports bra: Bravissimo Inspire. 

It’s a LITTLE less ugly than the Freya Sports bra, and it immobilizes the boobs. It’s underwired, so it keeps everything separated and in place.
Honorable Mention: Shock Absorber Max Sports Top. 

I didn’t give the category to this one because I feel the lack of underwire can cause breasts to rub against each other unless you wear another bra underneath. However, this one will completely eliminate bounce.

That's all I've got for now... Did your favorite make the cut? If I missed something important, let me know in the comments!

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Fantasie 'Esme' Review

The Fantasie Esme’s claim to fame is its ‘center-pull straps’—essentially, the location of the straps has been modified so they are closer together in the back. This is useful for women with narrow shoulders who find straps usually slide off. It’s also a nice alternative to having straps sit in the exact same place every day. The Esme is also part of a small group of molded Fantasie bras which are, in my opinion, rather underrated and under-reviewed. So when I got a chance to try the Esme in a store, I snapped a couple photos so I could review it.

Like the Fantasie Smoothing (4520), the Esme is MOLDED but NOT PADDED. The concept of this confused me before I had tried it, but it essentially just means that the fabric itself has been molded into a seamless shape. A molded AND padded bra would have foam as well as fabric molded into the shape; however, although they’re often synonymous, padding doesn’t need to be part of a molded bra.

I tried the Esme in a 30H. I’d say it runs fairly true to size, though a little larger in the cups than Bravissimo balconettes.

Like the Smoothing 4520, it came up a little bit higher than I’d like in the cups (which was the ultimate reason I didn’t buy it). I tend to wear some fairly low-cut tops, though, so if you wear tops with more coverage, this won’t be an issue. It also won’t be an issue if you’re considering this bra, as I was, as something to wear under button-down shirts for work.

I loved the feeling of the modified straps. Since most straps sit in the same tender groove on my shoulders, I loved the fact that these were pulled in closer to my neck. This is what it looked like from the back:

The shape from the side was quite good:

 I often have a knee-jerk fear that Fantasie bras will be pointy, but frankly this is undeserved. Though they do still produce some clunkers like the Belle full-cup, they also make a lot of really nice basic bras that give nice shapes. The Esme is similar to the unpadded Smoothing 4520 in its somewhat minimized, nicely rounded shape. The padded Smoothing T-Shirt Bra (4510) gives a different, but still lovely, shape—perky and projected. Another benefit of these bras is that they reliably come out in basic colors. I know, it seems odd that I get excited by boring black and beige bras, but I feel like a lot of brands have gone too far in the other direction, while Fantasie still understands that plenty of customers need something practical or have simple tastes.

If you’re looking for a seamless bra, and especially if you have problems with wide straps falling off your shoulders, give the Esme a try. It’s one of Fantasie’s ‘good ones.’

Monday 28 October 2013

Panache "Envy" Review

I've been eager to try Panache's new Envy bra. Being based on their extremely successful Jasmine bra, I figured it would be a good one. However, I heard initial reports that it was different from the Jasmine, so I was worried it wouldn't deliver. However, this weekend I got the chance to try the Envy in a store and I was blown away by how great it is. I haven't tried the Jasmine (shameful, I know) so I can't report back on the differences, but I can say that this is a great bra that I'd highly recommend.

Here's the front view. Like the Jasmine and its ancestor, the Andorra, the Envy has a modified full-cup construction with a side support panel and stretchy upper section.

The combination of the uplifting side support and the stretch in the top means that these bras don't suffer from the problems that regular full-cup bras have. However, I still get a very slightly pointed shape in the Andorra full cup. That was NOT the case in the Envy:

This is one of the best shapes I've ever seen--held close to the chest and extremely rounded. At first I couldn't believe the shape I was seeing, so I did some bouncing around, but it seems like this is the real deal.

I tried the Envy in a 30HH and 32H. The cups run true to the size I currently need in Panache, Freya, Curvy Kate, Bravissimo and Cleo bras (though I can still wear a 30H in Cleo Marcie), so I would say the cups are true to size. The band felt a little firm to me in the 30, as I'm more of a 32 now. I would say the band is also true to size and is made of a lovely high-quality material like the Andorra rather than the typical crappy mesh.

I'm really impressed by this new offering by Panache. Because of the stretchy upper cups, it will work well for both full-on-top and full-on-bottom types--it works to combat both cutting in AND gapping. I'm really glad to see Panache beefing up their collections (which have been a bit weak in recent seasons) with such a well-constructed bra.

Monday 21 October 2013

Tutorial: Shortening a Bra Band

When it comes to bra fitting, I have a philosophy of independence. I want myself and all women to know their shape and what fits them without needing to rely on commercial interests for that advice. I also want myself and all women to be free from the sometimes tiny constraints of the full-bust market--that is, I want us to be able to work with what is available, even when it is not good, to move  past the limitations of the market so we can get what we need. That is why I am an advocate of knowing how to sew--sewing is power, and if you know how, your bra world opens up to include models that wouldn't otherwise work for you. Sewing and alteration enable us to improve fit faster than the glacially slow evolutions of the brands themselves.

For those of us who wear smaller band sizes, we often find ourselves frustrated that the bras we want don't go up to high enough cup sizes. You need to go up a cup size to keep the same volume when you go down a band size, but most bras cut off at a certain cup size across the board. So a brand will claim "We can't make this bra above a G cup", when actually, the 38G that is produced has the same cup volume as the 30J they refuse to manufacture.

I've heard a lot of people cautioning that taking in a band can be disruptive to the fit of a bra. However, I disagree. Think about it--within most brands, the cups are usually not 'scaled' from size to size--that is, the cups will be identical across the sister sizes. All you do when you take in a band is remove the length that has been added. There are, of course, inconsistencies that will arise with home alterations; however, in a general sense, there is no reason you should not be able to alter a band--even many sizes--and still get a good fit. The only real sticking point comes if the point where the strap hit the band is significantly changed. If you find this is the case, you may actually like the results--it's nice once in awhile to have your bra straps sit somewhere slightly different--or you can take in fabric on both sides of the strap to even out the position. I did not find this to be an issue.

I'm a huge fan of Freya's padded half-cup shape, as seen in my review of the Patsy. However, I've been unimpressed with their lack of speed and enthusiasm in expanding the cup sizes for this shape, so I decided Freya's padded half-cup would be a good model to use for this post.

In this tutorial, I'll show you how I turned a 38FF Freya Daphne padded half-cup into a 32H. Since I modeled the alteration after a bra with the same shape, I was able to be quite confident that it would work for me. If you are altering a bra that you haven't tried in the correct band size, be aware that cups can seem bigger when you try on a loose-banded bra, so make sure the bra you are altering has enough room in the cups. You should also model your alteration after a bra with similar cup width and similar level of stretch in the band; otherwise the results may be different than you would like.

I did this alteration on a machine, since it's much faster. However, this alteration can also be performed by hand--you just need to use a small enough stitch to hold in the mesh.

This is an alteration that likely can be removed without damaging the bra. As always, though, alterations are performed at your own risk.

Here's the fit of the 38FF Daphne before alteration:

As you can see, it is massively too big in the band and rides up; the cups are therefore not supportive.

To begin, I compared the bands of my 38FF Daphne and 32H Patsy to mark how much material needed to be taken in.

I then folded the band over itself and pinned it in place. At this point, you should double-check against the bra you're using as a model to make sure the band has the proper length.

My next step was simply to sew this fold in place, all the way around so the stitching forms a rectangle. The most important areas to secure are the horizontal seams that will actually hold the alteration in place, but the vertical seams add strength and keep everything in place. I used a small stitch to secure the mesh material, and I used a dark thread so it is visible for the tutorial.

That's all! I didn't cut any material out, but simply folded it inside so it does not show when the bra is worn. With this strategy, it actually helped that I was taking in a band so many sizes too large--there was enough material that the fold can lie completely flat. If you are taking in just one band size, you may find the fold a bit bulge-y and want to do it the other way, so it is on the outside, for comfort.

Here's the fit of the altered Daphne: