A few weeks ago, I was nearly incapacitated by extreme shoulder pain. I was unable to lift my left arm to even shoulder height, every time I had to twist a dial or turn a knob, fire shot up my arm, and I was reduced to removing my coat through a series of shrugging motions. I had once torn the rotator cuff on my opposite arm and the pain was similar but without an obvious explanation. I went to bed one night fine and woke up the next day to Shoulder Hell. This went on for nearly a week as I tried various tricks to alleviate/source/explain what was going on while my left shoulder showed no improvement and my right one started throwing out cries of its own. And then I remembered; I had bought new bras.
I’ve been a big boobie-haver since middle school. My breasts were large when I was skinny. They were larger when I was fatter. I’m familiar with back pain and weird sleeping positions and bra-related rashes. I resigned myself long ago to never wearing fitted button-up shirts or buying reasonably priced bras. In short, my boobs mean that I suffer a bit just for having them and occasionally fantasize about having some sort of magical breast reduction surgery that doesn’t involved cutting, pain, or recovery time. But this was the first occasion I’ve ever felt incapacitated by them.
Let’s back up a bit. I recently lost a sizeable amount of weight. Enough weight, in fact, that I was falling out of my old bras. During the course of any day, I’d have to disappear into the bathroom to tuck them back into the bra cups. I needed to be careful when I bent over or I’d lose the whole shebang. Finally, I caved to the miserable under-the-shirt situation and took myself to Lane Bryant, whose deep-V plunge bra had been my jam for years.
“I need to be measured for some new bras,” I told the nice saleslady. “OK,” she said, and then pulled out a tape measure in the front of the store, loosely wrapped it around my breasts — again, out on the floor of the store — and pronounced me a 42, or maybe a 44, triple D. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Oh, yes,” she said. And I was sent off into the dressing room to try on various 42 or maybe 44 sized bras. “Do you think this fits right?” I asked her, throwing open the door to the changing room and tugging at the bra strap. “Oh yes,” she said, and then sold me four new bras.
The shooting pain started within 24 hours. It seems my 42 or 44 sized bras were not right for me, and I was stuck with four new, not-exactly-cheap-even-on-sale deep plunge bras. Oh, and fiery, fiery, shooting pain. Did I mention that yet?
Coincidentally, that same week Jezebel.com happened to run a piece about bra fittings. I pored through the comments looking for suggestions for a full-figured gal such as myself and stopped on a post about Intimacy Bras. “They’re really expensive,” the commenter warned, “but they’re the best bra fitters around.” In desperation, I grabbed ahold of my credit card and waved it around. “I don’t care how pricey they are,” I told my credit card bill, “anything to end this hell!”
Intimacy doesn’t have many store fronts. They seem to exist, mostly, in expensive shopping malls where consumers don’t blink at spending a hundred bucks on a bra. I am not one of those consumers, but for this situation, I was willing to pretend to be one. I booked a bra fitting — the fittings are free but appointments are requested — at my local high end shopping emporium and rubbed tiger balm on my shoulder.
On the day of, I brought my mother — a small boobie having, no bra wearing woman — along with me for moral support. We were escorted into a lush changing room. “We do holistic bra fittings,” the saleswoman explained. Holistic isn’t a word I normally associate with bras, so I was perplexed by the description but it basically meant I undressed to the waist in front of this very nice woman who looks at stranger’s naked breasts for a living. She pointed out the flaws in the bra I had on — the brand new “of course it fits” Lane Bryant bra. The band, which is supposed to do the actual supporting of the breast tissue, was riding up my back, forcing the shoulder straps to do all the work and therefore transferring the weight onto my shoulders. The cups were the wrong size; I spilled out under, over, and around.
“OK,” she said, and left the room to get some bras to try on. Both my mother and I looked at each other in confusion. The sales woman hadn’t even attempted to measure me. If someone with a tape measure could get my size so wrong, how could this woman even guess at what was the right size?
Let this piece stand to show I really know nothing about fitting bras.
My saleswoman returned with a dozen beautiful bras. Just lovely things with lace and bows and decorative details that aren’t usually found in Oh My God, Your Boobs Are Huge sizes. And even though she hadn’t as much as touched a tape measure, every single one she brought into the room fit. My boobs didn’t fall out, over, or around the cups. The band was a straight line across my back. When I mentioned that the band felt tight, she pointed out it felt tight because all the bands on my other bras didn’t do any supporting. She showed me how to properly position my breasts in the cups and how to tell if they were big enough. Pro-tip, the underwire should rest on your torso, not actually on the breast. We slid a t-shirt over one of the bras to see how I looked in clothes, and the difference was glaringly obvious. My breasts hovered at breast height, my back was straighter, and I could lift my arms up. My mother swore my rack even looked smaller. Oh, and that triple D cup size I was sold? I was really fit into a G cup.
The warning about the prices turned out to be entirely true. The cheapest bra in my size was $98, and many of them hovered in the $120 range. The saleswoman didn’t hard sell anything, and she was polite and understanding when I expressed some concern about the prices. Intimacy offers lifetime bra care — should the straps fray or the band need adjusting, you can bring the bra back to the store, where for a small fee, they’ll adjust the issue. With some months of weight loss still to come, this was the kind of assurance I needed to make this kind of investment.
I went home that day with a couple of new bras and explicit care instructions. Don’t wear the same bra two days in a row. Hand wash with baby detergent only. Never put in the dryer. Within a few days, the lingering shoulder soreness went away. My upper back doesn’t hurt. And my breasts look great. This is the first time in memory I can say that I’m not suffering from upper back soreness.
I’m not going to hedge around the fact that their bras are a serious investment. Women who are in more conventional sizes maybe be able to find their sizes online cheaper, but for me, bras in my range start in the $60 range and most are found in the $100+ department. But for me, and lots of other women, the proper fitting and help in choosing at least an initial bra is worth the investment that’s worth the cash outlay. This is one investment I’d make all over again.
Oh, and my mother, the small breasted, bra hater? She was so impressed by my experience she got fitted and walked out with new bras herself.