The financial burden of having bigger breasts
“Since the eighth grade, I grew a cup size every year until college,” Lindsay Handsome, a tax accountant who now considers her bra size to be a 32H, said in an interview. “I would go to Target and buy bras that were really big for me, and then eventually it was like, ‘Well, I guess I can’t do this anymore.’ Then I went to Nordstrom, and someone measured me. I was a 32DDD at that point, and the only option for me were grandma bras that were really fucking expensive.”
How expensive? The minimum was $60 for a single bra, which Handsome says were so large and matronly that she ended up wearing them as swimsuit tops.
Appearances aside, many people in America — and the world — probably relate to Handsome’s story of reaching a bra size for which spending $60 or more on a bra is standard.
That’s because, unlike clothing, for which a larger size doesn’t immediately cost more, larger bras come with an increased financial burden. Bras with cup sizes above a DD and various band measurements are often much harder to find and more expensive than your 32As or 32Bs and 36Cs.
On the Nordstrom website, there are about 550 options for people who wear a 34A, with the cheapest option going for $11.98. For 34Gs, there are 195 options, with the cheapest option $32.98. On the Macy’s website, the cheapest 34A bra is going for $7.98. Meanwhile, the cheapest 34G that isn’t a minimizer or nursing bra is in the $30 range. On Asos, a haven for size-inclusive lingerie, the cheapest 34A bra sells (on sale) for $8.50, while the cheapest 34G is $23.
This realization that bigger boobs equals more money spent on bras struck Christine Cho, a body positivity activist who frequently documents her own troubles in finding a good bra, when she noticed how many of her friends were buying their everyday bras for much less than her.
“I think when I started seeing brands like Aerie and Forever 21 selling bras and bralettes for so cheap and realizing I was paying quadruple what my friends were, that’s when I realized how unfair things were,” Cho said in an interview.
For Cho, a 44G, those lacy bralettes just aren’t an option. Same goes for Handsome. “It sucks not to be able to walk into Target and find something that fits,” Handsome said. “Why do I have to pay $60 to $80 for just the very thing that other girls pay $10 for?”
Now, before we all go about trying to blame a rigged system for this injustice, there are a few reasons you need to consider for why larger bras really are more expensive.
The reasons for these higher prices
Given the skill that making a larger bra entails, an expensive bra usually means that a lot of work has gone into this high-quality garment.
According to Cora Harrington, who runs the lingerie blog the Lingerie Addict, making a larger bra really does entail a lot more work at every stage, from production to manufacturing to development. “It can take three years of [research and development] to make a new bra in a larger cup size, and companies have no way of knowing if that bra will be a success until it’s actually available in the market,” Harrington said in an interview. “Bras in higher cup sizes, because they have to do more ‘work’ (that is, support a heavier weight), also have to be made with stronger and higher quality materials. A flimsy wire or mesh that’s suitable for a smaller cup size is simply inadequate for a larger one.”
Curvy Kate, a lingerie brand that has bra up to a K-cup size, agrees.
“When we’re talking about making bras in sizes like 34Gs and 32Hs, these tend to be specialist products,” Chantelle Crabb, Curvy Kate’s communications manager, said via email. “They are specifically designed to support larger sizes and therefore require an extensive design process and rigorous testing to make sure do their job properly. Also, these larger sizes need stronger hardware such as wires, hooks and eyes and strap adjusters, as the breast weight is more. Larger sizes require more fabric to make each bra. All of these factors are reasons why larger [or] specialist bras cost more. You’re paying for quality.”
Bras really are, from start to finish, a laborious thing to make. It takes skill and an attention to quality and strength — especially for a larger bust — that many of us may take for granted.
“Bras are highly precise, incredibly technical garments requiring specialized labor and equipment,” Harrington explained. “Someone has to sit down and stitch the bra together, and a bra with more parts (such as a cut-and-sew instead of a contour cup) is going to take more time and work to construct.”
So it’s not like the bra industry is trying to rip you off. They’re really not.
Tips for avoiding high-priced bras
If you don’t want to spend $70 on a DD bra you wear every day, the internet is the way to go.
Handsome’s favorite bra, found on Figleaves, is currently discounted at $15. In addition to Figleaves, there’s online retailers like Asos, Bare Necessities, HerRoom and Bravissimo, all of which have a large selection of bras in cup sizes DD and up on sale. Additionally, there’s department stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s, whose online stores have their fair share of sales as well.
On top of just internet snooping, Harrington noted that bras tend to get major sales throughout the year, which is a reassuring thing to hear.
“The great thing about lingerie, especially bras, is that they never really go out of style,” Harrington said. “A bra from last season or two seasons ago is perfectly fine; no one’s going to care that you’re wearing a pattern, print or color from last year. Lingerie sales tend to cluster around January and July; that’s when boutiques and department stores are clearing out last season’s merchandise to make room for next season.”
But although the internet certainly gives people with a larger bust line more options, there are some drawbacks.
“In the U.K. I have had a nearly impossible time trying to find a strapless bra that fits or finding bras my size that are actually in store for me to try on,” Cho said. “I am so sick of being told I can order things online! And then if a store happens to have the size, I’ll try it on and find the quality isn’t great or it’s not very supportive. It’s very frustrating.”
For Handsome, the system still feels rigged against her. “It takes so much effort,” Handsome said. “I had to go through the struggle of ordering 30 bras and then waiting two weeks to try any on. Then you do and have to go through the process of sending some back, and so on. I’m tired of having so much effort into it.”
What could change so bigger bras become cheaper?
For Harrington, she’s unsure that the system can really change. The reason why people with smaller busts have more access to cheaper bras now is because those cheaper bras are more cheaply made, like bralettes that offer little support. Cheap production equals a cheap price. “The changes happening now to make bras cheaper involve less structured and detailed patterns, which are less expensive to develop and less expensive to sew, i.e. the bralette,” Harrington said.
And big-busted people aren’t looking for lower quality bras, most certainly. They deserve support. But with our current bra market in mind, Curvy Kate does see a possible opportunity to lower the price of bras with larger cup sizes: Make bra fittings — and sizes — more exact.
“I think it boils down to bra fitting,” Crabb said. “Curvy Kate carried out a survey on professionally bra-fitted women and found that 34G was the most common size. If more women were wearing the correct bra size there would be a much higher demand for larger sizes and, in turn, this would probably drive prices down. Once more women start wearing the correct size the industry will have to take note and provide what women want.”
Handsome has another idea. “I think a very rich woman with larger breasts needs to invest in technology or production and help us out. Like, I will take anything. We just want to not spend $50 regularly on a bra, even though I still really do love my bras.”