Thanks, everyone, for your comments and emails this week. My headache is much better, if lingering, and I think that life may resume with some degree of normalcy by the middle of next week.
In the meanwhile - and I so appreciate your patience - here are a couple of additional bra-fitter answers.
Yay! I love this series! I've always worn 36 or 38 bands, but then my sis mentioned she wears a 34 and when I looked up my under-bust measurements, I'm 34 inches too. For years I think I wore 38s because I didn't want a tight band to give me horrible back fat bumps! These days I'm wearing 36s... but should I try a smaller band? How tight is right? And is there any way to avoid the back fat issue? Help!
Hi Gillian, I'm so pleased you like the series! You want the band of your bra to be snug enough to secure the bra to your body. This gives optimal support, better lift and takes pressure off your shoulders. The back of your bra should sit parallel to the ground, anchored under your shoulder blades. Symptoms of a too lose band include heavy pressure on the shoulders (the band should be taking most of the weight of your bust), the need to constantly re-adjust the bra by pulling the band down, and the scenario in which the band arcs up rather than sitting straight across your back.
There are competing methods of measuring band size. The department store/big brand method is to take your raw under bust measurement and add a whopping 4 to 6 inches. This will likely result in a band that's too big (this measurement system is encouraged as it puts most women within the standard A-DD bra sizes that department stores / Victoria's Secret churn out). The current wave of bra fitters encourage you to add zero inches to your under bust measurement. Personally I vacillate between adding zero and adding about 2 inches. I'd suggest trying on a 34 band (remembering that as you go down in the band you will have to go up in the cup in order to get the same cup volume) to see how it feels. You should be able to breathe comfortably and should not feel any pain, but it should feel snug!
I'm going to interrupt my answer to go on a small rant: Many bra bands are getting stretchier and are being cut looser! I have been fitting for over 10 years (eek!) and I have noticed this change both personally and when fitting clients. When I started bra fitting I wore a 32 band (and was often chided by my co-workers for my love of super snug bands). These days I am 20 lbs heavier and usually need a 30 band to feel secure. In the olden days I would add 2 to 4 inches to a snug under bust measurement to get a starting size for my customer. These days I add 0 to 2. I don't think that this is vanity sizing (see the Linda The Bra Lady snafu) as most women I fit are initially shocked and/or appalled when they hear they fit a 34F instead of a 38C. I would love to find out why bands have changed, as it's "outsizing" many women (i.e. 28 bands now find they need 26) and divorcing many women from their formerly favourite bra styles and companies!
Ed. note: I couldn't agree with this more! Bands are going super stretchy - even in the pricey brands...
Bra fitting is not exact, and I believe personal comfort should play a role. I prefer my bands quite snug, while others may want a slightly easier fit. The level of snugness depends on breast size, personal preference/experience and "squishability." Often a full-busted woman will want a tight band due to the weight of her breasts, whereas a smaller busted woman may feel better in a slightly easier band. A woman who's just been resized from wearing a 40 band to a 30 band may feel more comfortable compromising with a 32 if she's having trouble adjusting to her new size. Finally, many women with more padding around their ribs can easily wear a very snug band, whereas a woman with a very bony ribcage may feel discomfort in something very tight.
Other ed. note: I LOVE a tighter band, as y'all know. I think I may have gained my original perspective on this from Veronica, though it's definitely my natural preference. I do think that some people are acclimators and others are (no offense) "fussy". Some peeps grow to love a snug band - esp. when the boobs are large and projectile on a proportionately small frame. Others are just never gonna get with it. Chalk it up to basic sensitivity.
Now for the dreaded "back fat!" First off, this is the least favourite phrase of many a bra-fitter. I don't mean to scold or to go on a hippy-dippy, kumbaya, you-are-beautiful-no-matter-what-they-say trip, but all women indent where there bra wraps around their bodies. Our skin isn't rigid and rock-solid, otherwise we wouldn't be able to move. This means the bra band will press into skin of even the slenderest supermodel. Also, today's fashion is not very forgiving. It's all drapey jersey and tissue thin t shirts.
But... back fat can be mitigated. First off, wearing a too-loose band will actually exacerbate the problem. A too-loose band will ride up to the place where we tend to carry more padding, and as the band creeps up throughout the day, it will push this padding up with it. A snugger band will sit at the place where we have less softness and it will stay there. Next, a broader band - or a band made of stretch lace - will usually cut in less. Finally, in a good bra you'll look so good from the front that no one will pay much attention to the back!
Other, other Ed. note: OMG - I totally agree with that final sentence!!
I'm intrigued to know a bit more about being a bra-fitter. Did you always want to become one? Are there special perks? (No pun intended!) And since you fit people over multiple occasions, do you find that you see changes in the size and shape of their breasts over various fittings? So many blogs talk about how breast-shape changes over time. I'm curious to know if you observe this in your work?
Ahoy Anon, I'm flattered by your intrigue! I kind of fell into bra fitting. I became enamored of lingerie as soon as I was able to wear bras, however I soon blossomed to a size that was very hard to find and that was usually restricted to boring beige monstrosities.The place I work was actually the first store I shopped in where I could not only find bras in my size, but could find bras that fit me! I applied for a job soon after my first purchase.
While I was excited to work with all the beautiful things I was actually very nervous to work with all the lovely people because I tend to be quite shy. After a little time I became more confident and grew to love the fact that being smushed in a little change room with a stranger could give me the opportunity to help someone (in a small way) and sometimes even have a interesting encounter (bonding over a favourite tv show, ranting about what bras are missing or even discussing personal philosophies). Most of the fitters I know have both a keen sense of aesthetics and a strong desire to help women. Also, many fitters are multi-talented and are working on small businesses, PhDs, bands or books when they are not fitting.
Like any job, bra fitting is not always hunky dory. Many women carry a lot of self-hate about their bodies, which can make a fitter feel helpless and drained (I understand and sympathize with this self hate, I just wish there was some way to ease this). Some women have unrealistic expectations (i.e. they need a low back, strapless, plunging bra... and they wear a H cup) and some refuse to consider advice and expertise (a woman with sloping shoulders is going to have trouble keeping the straps up on a demi bra, that's just how it is...).
There are the typical customer service complaints from those who feel they can insult or mistreat service workers. Finally, it's frustrating not being able to control the size ranges and style offerings available. Although fitters and store owners can (and do!) complain to bra manufacturers, those manufacturers don't usually listen!
As to perks, I'm sure they depend on the particular store. Most stores will give fitters some sort of discount. Fitters often get a sneak peek at upcoming styles when sales reps visit. Personally, I have had the chance to travel on buying trips, wear-test bras (so we know whether to bring them in to the store) and have received gift bras from companies hoping to promote their brand.
I don't feel that breast shape drastically changes over time. Some women will loose a bit of top fullness over time (I've noticed this with age and weight fluctuations), but most changes are in size and firmness. Generally a customer with close-set, full-on-top breasts will retain roughly the same shape. With age her breasts may sit a little lower, and may be a bit softer, but they will generally stay the same. Size and firmness changes through weight loss, weight gain, nursing and menopause. It also can change with hormonal fluctuations (birth control pills), breast tissue migration (pockets of "armpit fat" are often breast tissue that has been rearranged due to ill-fitting wires), and relationship status (this sounds screwy, but many women have noticed their breasts are a bit fuller when they are receiving more amorous attention).