One of the most common results of being involved in the lingerie industry is having friends, family and (sometimes) complete strangers vent their frustrations about shopping for underwear. Never has such a small garment known such apparent hate and frustration. The interesting thing is that after airing a host of complaints, most people then end up uttering more or less the same phrase: "I just want to find a bra that supports me, feels comfortable, and looks nice. Is that so much to ask?"
Now, it would be easy to monologue about the virtues of a well-fitting underband or the architectural merits of laminated cups, but this would be missing the point. How is it that when it comes to large cup sizes, the underwear industry struggles to produce garments responding to such fundamental criteria?
The perhaps controversial response is this: we don't have it worked out yet.
Whilst breast support of various shapes and forms has existed for centuries, the "bra business" as we know it has been moulded over the last hundred years or so taking a series of sharp deviations, each one at odds with the last. In this relatively short time the "ideal" breast shape has been in a constant flux, migrating between pushed down, lifted up, separated, brought together, pointed, conical, rounded... even the "natural" shape referenced today is an oxymoron, as every previous style was at it's time considered to be natural. Cup sizing came into regular use by the 1930s and the alphabetical system became the industry standard, with A, B, C and D cups as commonplace.
Once established as a profitable business, it is possibly proof of the influence of a patriarchal, media-based view of breasts that the underwear industry didn't open up to the so-called-niche market that is fuller cup, casting larger breasted women as out of the norm. In fact, most lingerie brands and retailers didn't see necessary to diversify into bigger cups until only twenty years ago or so.
One of the unforeseen effects of Playboy et all on popular culture has been the creation of the "DD myth", and that this size represents very large, pendulous breasts. This has lead to a generation of women either feeling freakish when they are sized well above this, or with dissociated views of what cup sizes actually look like in real-breast form ("but how can I be a DD cup, my boobs aren't even that big").
The identification of such a potentially profitable sector has lead to heavy promotion over the past 20 years, with the overriding media message that most women are wearing the wrong size bra (we've all heard that one ad-nauseum). After all, it is good for bra sellers to have the opportunity to fit a customer personally, educate her on correct fitting technique, and in the process convert a sale and secure (hopefully) brand loyalty.
At the same time, the fast growth of the Fuller Cup sector meant standardisation of sizing in different countries was inexistent, creating increasing confusion for the larger cupped customer. A lady might buy an FF cup from one brand but wear a G in another. The fitting consultant became a necessary assistant who could help customers navigate the minefield of the lingerie department.
The interesting thing to note is at that stage in history a relatively small number of large corporations controlled the majority of the lingerie market (and do to this day). The notion of what a good "fit" should be was largely dictated by those brands, in order to promote the way their product achieved leverage. As brands competed to hoist increasingly challenging cup sizes, emphasis was placed on the methods that would achieve the firmest lift, the sturdiest side support, and the least movement (in other words, the current view of a "natural" fit). In turn, they would train the fitting consultants, who in turn themselves educate the customer. Over time, the standards set by those few have become norms within the industry.
For the customer, the uncomfortable side effect of this race for fit became the retail experience so bemoaned today. That having large breasts will inevitably result in a session focussed on how to most successfully tame them into submission. Personal style and taste is often compromised, as customers are told that what they want simply isn't possible in their size.
To date, some variation has been achieved in the look and feel of the bras offered to larger cup sizes, and all would agree there is now colour and an array of fabrics on offer - a definite step in the right direction. The scope of change between brands is very limited however, in that they all toe the line between key elements necessary to achieve the golden fit of today. No one would disagree that in order to gain maximum uplift a tight, wide underband will create the strongest foundation, removing pressure from the shoulders. Speaking of those shoulders, to achieve distributed pressure that won't dig in you'll need wider straps. And if you're looking to reduce jiggle to a minimum and create a forward-projected shape, you'll need firm or reinforced fabrics seamed in a set way to achieve accurate coverage and support.
It is only by stepping back from this current set of values, and understanding the evolving nature of desirable bra shapes and support, that one can understand that this fit won't be the only or even the best one. It will simply be the best fit in order to achieve that specific set of support goals. In fact, a change is already happening within the zeitgeist of breast shapes: bralettes, initially seen as a trend, now make up a firm percentage of core sales in A to D sizes and are here to stay. Women are moving towards lighter support that allows for some movement of the breast tissue. This feels much more modern compared to the push-up bras of 15 years ago.
Where does this leave us at the DD+ end? Now that brands have attained technical excellence at achieving one singular shape, it is obvious that the way forward is to listen again to what the customers actually want, instead of telling them what they need. Fit will mutate once again, and the styling restraints currently imposed simply won't be there. This will allow for variation in cut, finish and coverage like never before. So do hang in there ladies, because what's on offer to you is about to get much, much more exciting.