One more way to extend the life of your bras

Extenders! (pun somewhat intended)

They are great for making bras with too-tight bands wearable, but we don’t normally put them on the list with things like hand-washing/drip drying, bra rotation (lets elastic rest), and proper storage (something I really don’t have space for). But beyond adding length to a too-tight band, they can also be used to reduce strain on hooks… and not just by making the band looser.

Heavy breasts can strain at the hooks/eyes of even loose bands- it’s a lot of weight for 2 or 3 hooks to bear. While I’d love to have 4-6 hooks on each bra, that just isn’t how most brands make them. So the hooks/eyes of even best-fitting and most well sewn of bras will take a beating. Lately, I’ve been alternating between wearing my bras with no extender and using extenders connecting the tightest and middle set of eyes to the hooks. This allows me to wear my bra on a different set of eyes each time I wear it, which takes a load off the loosest eyes.

Here’s how I wear my extender on the tightest set of eyes without adding band length:

tighthooksnolength

If I use the full length of the extender while still on the tightest set of eyes of the bra, I add about a centimeter of length to the band:

tighthookspluscolumn

I can also use the middle hooks without adding or subtracting length:2ndhooks

In the 2 months that I’ve owned it, I’ve worn this bra quite a bit… and thanks to my alternating which eyes I hook it on, the eyes are still in pretty good shape. You can see some minor pulling, but it’s a lot less than I’d expect for how often I wear this bra:

hooks

And for those with flared ribcages, you can use an extender to add bit length to the bottom bit of an otherwise well-fitting bra band:

flaredextender

Anyway, at $2-5 each (I bought a set of 3 3-hook extenders on eBay for $4.45 shipped!), extenders are a pretty smart way to both make too-tight bands wearable and preserve the life of your bras.

How to wear bras when you don’t have breasts

Before I begin, I’d like to reiterate a few very important points that I’ve made before:

1) Having breasts doesn’t make you a woman.

2) You don’t need breasts to be a woman.

3) Breasts are not innately sexual. 

This post is intended as a non-sexual guide to help anyone of any gender and sex navigate the bra and lingerie world without having breasts.

Since I wear a 30H/HH, this isn’t a fitting issue that I’ve experienced myself. And researching things like small-cup bras and breast forms was an entirely new world to me. But since this is an important subject to cover, I’m giving what advice I can! If you know of any good resources that I’ve missed, or have suggestions for how I can improve this post, please feel free to send me a message at questfortheperfectbra@gmail.com. 

Many transwomen and MAAB (male-assigned at birth) genderqueer people who wear bras don’t get implants- either by choice or by lack of funds. While there are plenty of articles on dealing with unwanted breast tissue (binding, reductions, etc), there’s aren’t that many readily available (non-fetishized) resources for measuring for and buying bras when you don’t have breasts. Whether you’d like to wear bras to create the illusion of more breast tissue or you simply enjoy lingerie, you deserve resources that can help you feel more comfortable and confident both in public and in the bedroom.

How to measure:

bra measurements

Since this bra will be fitting your body, you need to make sure you have a good fit. First measure your underbust (just below your breast tissue/pectoral muscle), exhaling. Remember to keep the measuring tape horizontal, while pulling it comfortably snug (if you have back fat, it’s okay if the tape cuts in a bit). If this measurement is odd, round up to the closest even number. Next, measure the fullest point of your bust horizontally (usually around the nipple)- my photo shows this measurement over breasts, but the same principles apply.

To get a starting size, subtract the underbust measurement from the bust measurement. A difference of 1″ is an A cup, a difference of 2″ is a B cup, etc. Your underbust measurement is the band size . So someone whose underbust is 27″ and bust is 30″ will have a starting size of 28B. A 34″ underbust and 35″ bust will yield a 34A.

Now that you have measurements and a starting size, you can begin to figure out what bra size(s) you should try:

If you’re not intending to use breast forms or stuffing:

Since there isn’t much tissue to support and no extra materials to hold in place, you may find yourself more comfortable in a looser band. Every time you go up a band, you should also go down a cup size.  And vice-versa. This is because cup sizes are proportional- a 38DD is much bigger than a 28DD, and a 28DD has the same cup volume as a 38AA. The relation between differently sized bras with the same volume cups is known as “sister sizing”.

So if your starting size is a 32C, you might try a 34B or 36A. If you measure as a 28D, you may be able to wear a 30C or 32B… maybe even a 34A, in brands where the band runs snug. And if you measure as a 24C, you could wear a 26B or 28A.

Some caveats:

  • If you measure as an A cup, you may not have much room to move up in the band– some brands do offer AA and AAA cups, but they may not be available in many band sizes.
  • Bands smaller than 28 are quite difficult to find (though a number of Polish brands make them, they are usually custom orders and, the sizing isn’t terribly consistent).
  • Most importantly, sizing is a bit different between brands, and often even between styles (and colours) within brands.

Stuffing:

Since the bra will need to hold the stuffing firmly in place, you’ll want a snug band. Your starting band size is a good place to start. But while the band size may not need adjusting, your raw measurements won’t allow enough space in the cups, so you’ll have to adjust the cup size as needed. To make sure you have the right size, it’s best to try on the bra with the stuffing you plan on using. Again, every bra will fit differently, so it’s important to find a good fit based on how it feels on your body- not just the size on the tag!

If you’re only looking to add a little bit of volume, “cookies” (foam ovals covered in fabric) and “chicken cutlets” (silicone inserts) are a subtle way to add about 1-2 cup sizes. If you want more volume, you can layer cookies and cutlets or combine cutlets/cookies with a heavily padded bra. The cutlets seem to only come in clear and beige, while cookies are available in a wider range of colours (and can potentially be dyed). Braza seems to have a good selection of cutlets!

Here are some cookies (black and pale beige) as well as almost-cutlets (these are liquid-filled rather than solid silicone):

cookies

I don’t suggest stuffing with socks or other fabric, as it will be lumpy and hard. I’ve also heard of filling plastic baggies with hair gel and sealing them with duct tape, but that sounds like a huge mess waiting to happen.

Some bras come with pockets sewn in to hold padding (and bras for breast forms are sewn with pockets to hold the forms). If you can’t find an affordable bra with pockets but have decent sewing skills, you could consider adding pockets, as they will keep the padding much more secure!

Breast forms:

I know next to nothing about breast forms, so I can’t give too much advice. One thing that stood out to me from my research is that it’s quite difficult to find non-apricot coloured breast forms. Amoena does make a few in a slightly darker tone, but unfortunately, the “standard” colour is a sort of medium-caucasian. This is an issue with bras, too (beige is frequently named “nude”), but not quite to this extent. After a few hours of searching, I did manage to find a few places that sell more than just one or two medium skin tones, but the results weren’t particularly heartening.

A snug band will do the best job of keeping your breast forms in place. But since each company has a slightly different method for sizing their breast forms, it’s best to start with their sizing chart and find a good fit from there. You may need to go down a few band sizes and up a few cup sizes from what they suggest in order to have a sturdy and supportive bra. If you can, get your bust measurement while wearing the pocketed bra they suggest for your breast form size.

Using your underbust measurement and bust measurement (with forms), you can figure out your bra size. Subtract the underbust (ribcage) measurement from the bust measurement. Each inch of difference is about equivalent to a cup size. A difference of 1″ is an A cup, 2″ = B, … 6″ = E (UK size), etc. UK sizes run: A, B, C, D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, H, HH, J, JJ, K, KK, etc. Your underbust measurement is your band size. For example, a ribcage of 30″ and a bust of 40″ should be around a size 30GG. If you want a slightly looser band, try going up a band size and down a cup size – a 32G should fit like a 30GG, but with a slightly looser band. If the calculation is overwhelming, you can try a bra-size calculator like this one!

Of course, since each bra fits differently, you may need to try a handful of sizes before you find a good fit. Plus, many of these sizes may not be available with pockets– so you may find that you need to sew in your own.

Here are a few online shops that sell and explain sizing for breast forms:

Amoena – A brand that makes breast forms, bras, and swimwear (designed as post-mastectomy bras). Most items are available in “ivory”, though some are available in both “ivory” and “tawny”.

Braza – No colour options beyond beige, but the breast forms are on the cheaper end.

The Breast Form Store – Breast forms (many different brands), bras, lingerie, wigs, makeup, etc.

  • TW: misgendering and sexualization. The website is specifically for crossdressers and transgender individuals– I’m not thrilled that they lump those two categories, and they refer to transwomen as “transgendered male”. I think they mean “trans maab person”, but it’s uncomfortable to read. The sexualized descriptions of many of the items on their website is also a bit uncomfortable. However, it does seem like a generally safe space.
  • They have a page on fitting for breast forms and bras. A few things that jumped out at me. 1) They add 4 or 5 inches to the band measurement, which I would caution you about doing. Unless the band does run tight (which is the case with some bras made for breast forms), wearing a bra with a too-loose band won’t do the best job of holding your forms in place. 2) They suggest wearing your bra on the middle hooks right off the bat. But as you wear a bra, the band will stretch over time. If you’d like to prolong the life of your bra, I suggest buying one that fits on the loosest hooks (and buying a bra extender ($2-5) if you’re worried about weight fluctuations). 3) Their bit about cup size seems rather irrelevant, as they already acknowledge that a 38C is smaller in the cup than a 40C. Plus, breast forms are usually sized by cup volume rather than letters (since the cup letters are meaningless without a band size). Anyway, DD isn’t huge or “asking to be noticed”…
  • Not a great selection in terms of skin tones, but they do have many sizes.

Magic Curves – Pale is still the “standard”, black is “chocolate”, and there isn’t much in terms of sizing… but they do have 4 skin tones to choose from, which is the best I’ve found so far.

Park Mastectomy – Their fit advice is questionable, but they do have a page of breast forms available in “dark tones”.

Important caveat: some bras built to hold breast forms are made with extremely snug bands- and since bra sizing isn’t a terribly standardized thing, it’s always good to check the measurements of the bra if possible!

How to shop for bras:

32AAA

Camille demi-cup bra (Image via Lula Lu)

Trying things on is the best bet for getting a well-fitted bra. But many sizes are difficult to find in stores, and bra stores or lingerie sections of department stores aren’t always the most welcoming places. If you can find a trans*-friendly bra store or have a friend go shopping with you, it will certainly make things less scary.

Alternatively, you can shop online. Be prepared: the first few you try may not fit. I recommend sticking with one bra that you like and trying sizes until you find your fit for that bra. Some stores, like Nordstrom, offer free shipping both ways, which makes this process a LOT easier. You can buy bras cheaply on eBay, but you usually can’t return them, so make sure you know which size to order first.

A few recommended online shops that carry small band/small cup bras:

Cleo by Panache – this well-know full-bust brand will be adding C and D cups in 28-38 bands in their AW2014 collection

The Little Bra Company – carries sizes 28-38A, 28-36B, and 28-34C

Little Women – carries sizes 28-40 AAA-B

Lula Lu -carries sizes 32-36AAA, 30-38AA/A, 32-36B, and 32-34C

A few recommended online shops that carry large band/small cup bras:

Bigger Bras – carries AA cups up to a 44 band, A cups up to a 50 band, and B cups up to a 58 band.

Simply Be -carries A cups up to a 54 band

Leading Lady – carries A cups up to a 50 band

Little Women – carries sizes 28-40 AAA-B (yup, it made BOTH lists)

For pocketed bras (to hold breast forms), check out the breast forms links in the previous section.

Don’t be afraid to branch out!

Lingerie can be a lot of fun! Corsets (underbust or overbust with stuffing) are a great way to experiment with curves and they look great, with or without breasts. For less of a fitting challenge, pasties, bralettes, and harnesses are always an option. And stockings and garter belts are a beautiful and (often more comfortable) alternative to tights or hold-ups.