It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman of a certain chest size will always be in a want of a well-fitting bra. This axiom is never truer than when said woman is in need of a new sports bra.
According to the various saleswomen who have wrapped tape measures around my chest over the years, I wear either a 32H or 34G. Even on a good day I don’t have a wide selection of lingerie to choose from. So try to imagine the effort it requires to find a sports bra that is both supportive and comfortable as I pound around a track with the grace of a hippopotamus.
I long ago learned that Victoria would be sharing none of her secrets with me. In a society obsessed with breasts, there are surprisingly few options for the truly busty woman who prefers to buy a bra in a store, as experts always recommend. Most retailers apparently believe they have done their service to big chests if they stock DD cups. Untrained salespeople invariably throw the largest size they have at me—in my many years of bra shopping, I have become accustomed to being measured, and to discovering that my measurements just happen to coincide with the largest bra carried at that particular store.
I have given up on pretty bras. I have given up on tank tops. But I refuse to believe that I can’t find an industrial-sized bra that will allow me to run on a track.
At least once a year, every women’s magazine in America will run a story on the best sports bras, and, yes, they always include a section for larger women. But whenever I try to find one of those bras in a local shop, you would think I lived in Antarctica instead of a major metropolis. Of course, anything can be ordered online, but Internet shopping involves as much research as a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and enough orders and returns to make the most even-tempered person throw a tantrum.
Last year, after a long and frustrating search, I finally came up with an answer: two bras, one on top of the other. Not pretty. Not comfortable. But workable. This year, I found to my horror that the manufacturer has stopped making those bras, and apparently I was the last woman to discover this unwelcome development because any leftovers had already been snatched up on eBay.
Still, I am a hopeful person by nature. I polled my Facebook friends who are runners, and—fortified with some salt, grease, and caffeine—I made my way to a specialty running store where Facebook promised I would find success.
I was greeted by a nice woman who measured me and brought in a bra to use as a reference point. After I put it on, she looked at the straps, the coverage, and the support—and then brought in five more. She told me in which order to try them on and to call her to look at each one, so she could check the straps, etc. My hopes started to rise. This woman knew what she was doing and was clearly confident that she could find a bra for me.
I tried on the first one. It fit well and was comfortable. I could imagine wearing it to work under t-shirts. But when I did some running in place, it was simply not supportive enough. The same was true with the second one.
The third made me sweat just trying to get it on. I finally fastened the hooks in the front and pushed the bra around until I could pull it up again and slip the straps on my shoulders. The comfort level had moved down a few notches, but despite its discomfort, it was no more supportive. The fourth bra was on sale, so of course it didn’t fit. The fifth, a racer back, didn’t work either.
My salesperson shook her head: “We’ll have to get the major guns.” She came back with something that looked like an instrument of torture during the Inquisition, with lots of hooks and eyes. I fumbled with them all. It certainly fit more snugly than anything else I’d tried on; I actually found breathing a bit of a challenge. I called the salesperson back in. She nodded. “Okay. Try it out.”
I ran in place. And I was still bouncing.
I looked at her. She looked at me. Then she said the one thing I have always feared: “There is no bra in this store that will fit you.” She walked out of the dressing room. I put my clothes on. As I was leaving the store, she apologized: “This has never happened before.” I was unfittable.
I went home and resigned myself to ordering hundreds of bras online until I found one that fit, and then ordering hundreds of the one that fit so I would never be so humiliated again.
But after a few hours, I decided to give the stores one more try. This time I refused any help; I was going to succeed or fail in the privacy of a dressing room with no witnesses. Finally, with twenty-two losers hanging off every wall hook, lying across the chair, and draping over the doorknob, I found a combination that will do: two bras, made by two different companies, worn one on top of the other. They’re not pretty. And there’s always the chance that I’ll dislocate my shoulder as I try to get them on. But they work.
Still, it shouldn’t be this hard. It’s a bra, after all. Not a soul mate.
Faye Jones, dean of learning resources at Nashville State Community College, writes the Jolly Librarian blog for the college’s Mayfield Library. She earned her doctorate in nineteenth-century literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.