Last week my second-favourite bra finally gave in and had to be consigned to the rubbish bin. Isn’t it the most INFURIATING thing when that happens? And obviously really tragic, too, for the orphan knickers that are left behind. Unable to be worn as part of a set any more – and everyone knows matching lingerie is one of life’s greatest but simplest pleasures – they are left to languish at the back of the knicker drawer, waiting for an opportunity to be useful again. The lucky ones are those that are comfortable as well as pretty, because they get a shot at being worn to bed or the gym, but the fiddly, little ones? The sexy ones? They’ll never make it on their own, they have to sit and wait for the day you decide to go braless, which is probably never if you’re bigger than a C cup. And of course, it’s not just one pair that suffers, because anyone with half a brain always buys two or three pairs of knickers for every bra. It’s devastating.
The garment is question suffered the same fate that awaits all underwired bras. You know when the wire comes out of the inside of the cup and stabs you in the sternum? It doesn’t matter how expensive they are, how carefully you wash them or how tenderly you fold them away, it gets them all eventually, and then you end up with all these perfectly lovely knickers that don’t have a matching top. Obviously this isn’t a problem if you’re not completely anal about this sort of thing and don’t really give a crap whether your socks match, let alone your underwear, but for borderline control freaks it can be a real shitter.
Anyway, before they perish and disintegrate on you, bras are wonderful things. Never has a piece of clothing so practical had so much emphasis on the way it looks. They are essential – without them girls worldwide would be totally unable to ever run for a bus, and we’d all be riddled with stretch marks, but they are also probably amongst the most coveted and beautiful of all garments. If you’ve ever bought anything very posh (or been lucky enough to receive it as a present) then you’ll know the thrill of unpacking the box, all flimsy tissue paper, luxurious fabrics and thick, embossed tags.
Even when you’re only just getting into them – literally – bras are enchanting things, even though everyone’s first ones are invariably the same – horrible, cotton and white. I remember being taken to go and get my first ever when I was thirteen, even though it was blindingly obvious to everyone, including me, that I didn’t need one. We had to go to the aisle in Marks & Spencer for parents of young girls who didn’t have any boobs but felt compelled to buy their underdeveloped offspring a token bralet so their didn’t get laughed at in the locker room. Unfortunately it turned out I wasn’t a late bloomer after all, just destined to always be a bit of a let-down in that department (although I remember when I was eleven reading in a girls’ magazine that boobs don’t really stop developing until you’re 21. I optimistically carried this with me all the way through my teenage years, hoping against hope that for once the writers of Mizz weren’t chatting total shit. Of course I was disappointed; I’m the same cup size now at 23 as I was at fourteen.) Despite their indispensability though, we are not very good at wearing them. Many of us don’t wear the correct bra size, and because tits fluctuate a lot and bras are quite expensive (the best part of fifty quid a go, once you’ve bought the accompanying knickers, more if you’re plus size), we don’t replace them as often as we should.
Everywhere you look, women are squeezing into or falling out of ill-fitting bras that are probably doing their bodies more harm than good. In addition to not providing the correct support, an ill-fitting bra can ruin an entire outfit. For instance, many women buy bras with back sizes that are too small, which leaves unsightly welts and, in extreme cases, a sort of muffin top around the back. Gross. A larger back size doesn’t mean you’re fat or ‘big-boned’, it just means you’re slightly broader. It really isn’t a big deal; Angelina Jolie wears a 36C, and I’d throw my own grandmother into a pit of snakes to have a figure like hers. Some women also do up their straps too tightly (often to compensate for too big cups), which leaves shoulders looking like legs of lamb trussed up in string.
The other big problem is cup size. It is never nice to see girls who’ve bought a bra too small (sometimes deliberately) so their chest looks like an enormous, swollen pair of blancmanges wobbling around all over the shop. Neither is it nice (or flattering) when someone’s got a bra too large on and their tits are just rolling around in it like two marbles in a tin can. We think these things are obvious, but my old housemate Jools – usually quite a sensible person by all accounts – was astonished to discover that she was wearing a bra three cup sizes too small on one house shopping trip. I don’t know if she was just being spectacularly dim on this occasion, but if Jools could get it that wrong then how many other people are wandering around wrapped in the same lunacy?
The solution is to get measured every six months and to also ensure that you buy bras that fit you properly in the first place. I recommend you go to a specialist underwear store rather than entrusting the comfort of your waps to one of the jokers in La Senza. This doesn’t mean necessarily seeking the truth amongst the chandeliers and shag pile of Rigby & Peller, the Queen’s knicker emporium of choice (although I did speak to some of their salespeople once when they were showing at Somerset House and they do really seem to be on the ball – I asked what the biggest size they stocked was and it’s a LL! A double ell! That’s bigger than my head!). I’ve talked before about asking the ladies in Bravissimo even if you don’t measure up to their D+ only merchandise, so don’t be scared to go in even if you don’t think anything will fit. If you are one of these people who doesn’t like standing around in your underwear in front of professional breast-wranglers you need to get over it immediately. I guarantee these birds have seen stomaches doughier than yours, so just man up and get on with it; better bras – and nicer looking jugs – await!