Pop-Culture | Posted by Becka W on 07/5/2011

The Enigma of the Bra

a dress not exactly made for a bra

a dress not exactly made for a bra

Fashion is pain, and pain is beauty. Right?

I complimented a friend on a new sundress recently, and she thanked me and then showed me her clever solution to the dress’ lacy strap area – she put a scarf on to hide her bra peeking through. As cute as the ensemble was, there was that voice at the back of my head saying – why? Why does my friend have to have a whole other accessory in order to accomplish wearing a dress?

We all have outfits like this. I have 3 or 4 gorgeous dresses where a tank top is required underneath to ensure classy cleavage. 3 pairs of adorable heels where I need to make sure I’m wearing a band-aid on my heel. They’re small little sacrifices – the daily grind of being a modern young woman. But I couldn’t help but wonder – why can’t designers keep in mind things like bra straps? Different chest sizes? No two women are built exactly the same; and some clothes look better on certain people than others. I understand that. But it often feels as though we’re struggling to fit a certain body type – not only in our own body image and what magazines tell us; but into the clothes that society makes and promotes as ideal.

The bra alone is an enigma, it seems, to many fashion designers. There is a long history of bras (available at Jezebel) and bra patents; different ways to enhance or reduce or support our two favorite ladies. But somehow, fashion designers can’t seem to take bra straps into account when they design fashion dresses – because they only think of stick-thin models that need less support for their chests.

This, of course, isn’t the fault of the designers, or of the models, or of us. It’s a system, industry-wide issue. We should compliment brands or designers who get it right consistently, and speak our displeasure out loud to those who don’t. It’s up to us to change our wardrobe!

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  • Polly @ at 11:19 am, July 5th, 2011

    I totally agree with this article. Designers are constantly pandering to the trend of models being waif-like and assuming that the everyday woman looks like that too. As a woman with a generous bra size, I have to pay more to get a bra that fits and also tends to have very ugly, thick straps. These are impossible to hide on many styles of top or dress. I wish that things would change because I’m sick of flashing my less-than-glamorous bra straps, and I’m not in any position to go strapless! I don’t feel like clothing and bra manufacturers are listening to consumers like me, because I’m not their ‘ideal’.

  • Sara @ at 1:54 pm, July 5th, 2011

    It’s a good thing you weren’t around in the 19th Century, when there was far more than just a bra problem to worry about when it came to fashion. (Think crinoline slips, girdles, and neckties that strangled.) People put up with these things- male AND female- because they enjoy the look. Sometimes it serves as a form of self-expression, other times it’s a form of art. If some people can die for their art, I don’t think adding an extra article of clothing will hurt.

    If you don’t like it, don’t wear it. Otherwise it really isn’t a big deal.

  • Nicole @ at 5:34 pm, July 5th, 2011

    This retort isn’t meant to be confrontational, but to Sara who ended her comment, “If you don’t like it, don’t wear it. Otherwise it really isn’t a big deal,” …isn’t it a big deal, though, because she does like it (it being the clothes). Her concern isn’t based solely on the wear of the clothes, but the contortion and creative uses of undergarments involved in making those clothes functional. -Easily, I can agree with everything you said in your comment prior to the end, however. Time and fashion has not been easy on women. By no means does fashion, now, hamper women anymore than it has in the past.

  • Annie @ at 5:40 pm, July 5th, 2011

    I always get sort of irritated when someone points out that they can see my bra strap and I need to cover it up. It’s just like… most teenage and adult women wear bras, why is it such a big deal to be reminded of this by a bra strap? I wish everyone would just get over it, and let me wear my tops without worrying about having to put on a cardigan or have my bra straps perfectly hidden all the time.

  • Catherine @ at 9:01 pm, July 5th, 2011

    The boob-size problem goes the other way too. I have to get dresses that most would consider plus size, and many of them are made for women with GINORMOUS boobs. Someone should tell the designers it does not always work like that. I’ve had to put a sad amount of nice dresses back because they’re far too, er, generous in the chest area.

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 10:02 pm, July 5th, 2011

    There was a contestant on ANTM a few cycles ago who was a 30G or something like that, and although she didn’t look crazy big, it was an issue with clothes she was modeling regarding her thick bra straps.

    I don’t like the look of the bra strap sticking out of a spaghetti-sleeved dress, but I’m an Orthodox Jew and I only wear sleeves that cover my shoulders, so it’s not an issue for me. (Which is probably why I can’t appreciate the look.)

  • Kristen A @ at 3:41 am, July 6th, 2011

    Just curious, but when everybody is referencing designers, are you talking about people who make the patterns for regular clothing companies ie American Eagle, Ann Taylor, etc. or high fashion designers such as Yojhi Yamamoto, Prada, etc?

    I work as a model (and previously in a high end prom/bridal boutique) and I have a very small chest size (30.5″ bust which is about a 30A) and I can vouch for runway fashions definitely being geared for the more typical model measurements, however these looks are almost always made solely for the runway, half of the ready to wear collection doesn’t make it to boutique shelves.

    I understand that even in standard ready to wear women with larger chests definitely have a horrible time finding clothing that fits properly everywhere. Alterations to every piece of clothing you buy is also not an option, as that would be tacking on prices to almost double the original cost of some items.

    However what I think we’re forgetting is that clothing is made based on a standard pattern that will fit the majority of women in the demographic it caters to, and oftentimes cutting more fabric to implement better measurements would raise the cost of clothing (every yard counts) on both ends. I know it’s not easy, try being 5’11″, slender and unable to drop $200 on the pants I know will fit the right way. It’s extremely frustrating searching for the styles and colors I want while also needing a 36″ inseam.

    Trust me, I feel your pain even if it’s in a different area, but knowing a lot of freshly graduated designers and working with them has shown me the business side of fashion, and unfortunately not everything can be custom made for our individual measurements. However, for those special pieces that are worth the price, alterations can make a world of a difference.

  • Katherine C. @ at 10:47 pm, July 6th, 2011

    Well, I’m still pissed that in American culture, it isn’t even legal for women to go around with bare chests in the summer. I certainly don’t even try to hide my bra straps. People can deal (unless I’m going into certain kinds of neighborhoods, in which case, I dress to respect, because clothing/modesty rules are different when it comes to religion).

    I have a very small chest and I don’t even wear bras half the time, OR shave my armpits OR wear makeup OR straighten my hair, and SOMEHOW I still manage to look good (or at least I think so!)

  • Emily R. @ at 11:17 pm, July 8th, 2011

    To be honest, despite my larger chest, I just go bra-less a lot. There is absolute no reason for me to wear one. I find them uncomfortable and my chest is not so large that I won’t get back problems if I don’t have support.

    This has been a problem between my mother and I who thinks it is inappropriate for me to not wear one (maybe because the difference is noticeable). It’s also been a problem at my school! I’ve literally had a teacher comment on the fact I wasn’t wearing a bra. It was mortifying. Quite frankly, I don’t want to talk about my underwear with any of these people.

    And even more frankly, if you find the sight of my clothed and bra-less chest to be inappropriate or offensive you can kiss my ass.

    /rant over

  • icefox @ at 7:57 am, July 13th, 2011

    Guys, designers aren’t catering to skinny models all the time. I barely have anything on my chest (I’m like AAA or something) and it doesn’t mean I just can’t wear a bra if I have a bra-exposing top. Sure, I can wear a dress with built-in cups without a bra.
    The waif-like models out there have the same problems; it’s not like they can be bare-chested under their shirts all the time.

  • Hope @ at 10:41 am, July 13th, 2011

    There is definitely some issues with women’s clothing…Take my school uniform for instance. The regular polos are men’s (supposed to be unisex) sizes, which is fine–I buy a size smaller. However, for club polos you can buy women’s sizes. While yes the female version obviously fits me better, it also turned out to be sheer O-O UM HELLO girls are the ones with bras to hide, you ding-a-ling. The company seriously did not think that through.

    I don’t understand sheer shirts/dresses…I mean unless it’s lace or something I don’t see how sheerness is necessary for the design; it’s just a pain in the ass for girls.

    And shoes! Uncomfortable heels? Try uncomfortable flats. I usually avoid heels because of their discomfort, but I’ve literally gotten blisters on the back of my heels from flats. They fit fine at the store, then I actually wear them out for the first time and after a couple hours they dig into the back of my heels and it hurts!… which is stupid because the whole point of wearing them was to not have to deal with the pain of heels :/

    I usually hide my bra straps, but if it’s a tank, I’ll just ignore it if it slides a little because it’s just too troublesome. Yes, I am wearing a bra cuz I need the support—nbd. Get over it >.>

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