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Plus Size Bra

Bras were invented at the turn of the 20th century, and were not originally conceived of as necessary support clothing, but as purely decorative lingerie. Invented by a male French designer, the purpose of the brassiere was to inflame men's desire, not to mold women's breasts. However, the greater world of fashion embraced the bra as a method of creating nearly any profile they wanted in order to shape their clothes, regardless of whether women's natural shapes conformed. Thus, the bras of the '20's flattened the breasts into fashionable boyishness; the '40's saw the assertive character of fashion
produced a more shapely profile, and the high fashion, conical bras of the '50's fashioned a bust so aggressive that many women were probably relived to ditch their bras completely in the '60s and return to a more normal way of life. But you can't stop a good thing, and even in the '60s, women understood that the right brassiere could turn a so-so figure into a thing of real beauty.

But this is a history of the look of the bra: in fact, many women have also discovered that the right bra not only makes them look great in their clothes; for women with larger breasts, a correctly fitting bra can reduce or eliminate back or shoulder pain as it supports the weight of the breasts and corrects postural problems that might otherwise occur. Although it was suggested in jest some years ago on the mega-hit TV show Seinfeld, older or overweight men might also benefit from the support of a bra-like foundation garment, which could straighten the shoulders, prevent slumping and provide support to pectoral muscles that have run to fat. Only the strange and pervading belief that the brassiere is a garment purely related to the sexual character of the female body has stopped the development of a bra for men.

In some instances, it is true that bras can be uniquely sexual: nursing and maternity bras make life easier for the woman who is expecting a baby and the one who has already delivered. The right maternity bra provides additional support that can make a real difference in the energy level and comfort of a pregnant woman. Maternity bras are also designed to prevent future back problems, contributing to the increased health and well-being of modern mothers. Nursing bras are made to allow women to breastfeed without having to remove unwieldy underclothing. With more than three-quarters of American women also working, practical clothes that allow them to care for their children without requiring additional work free up women to accomplish more than ever. Particularly for plus size women who may require additional support during pregnancy and nursing, bras that take into considerations the realities of women's lives contribute to the overall well-being of mothers everywhere.

Fitting a bra was once done by an expert saleswoman in the semi-privacy of a ladies' fitting room. With most bras now being bought off the rack, women tend to choose their own bras, with the result that many women are wearing bras that don't fit right. The bra must fit in three areas: it must be big enough to fit snugly around the chest without being tight; the shoulder straps must be long enough to support the breasts without riding up, and must be wide enough (in the case of larger breasts) to avoid putting excess pressure on the skin of the shoulders. Finally, the cup size must be right or the visual profile will be compromised. The biggest mistakes most women make when choosing a brassiere is to pick one that is too small either in circumference, strap length or cup size. It's an easy mistake to make, because most brassiere manufacturers have ignored the size of actual women to conform to the "ideal"; a model size that fewer than 5% of women can fit.

Since most women do buy their bras off the rack, it's important to know as much as possible about your size as you can before arriving at the store or shopping online. Using a measuring tape, measure the circumference of your chest at its widest point – around the fullest part of your breasts. That measurement will give you the general size of the bra you'll want to try on. Bras tend to come in sizes ranging from 32 to 38 inches – a narrow and unforgiving range, especially since bra sizes increase in two inch increments, leaving many of us "between sizes". But if you look for brands geared towards the plus-sized market, you're much more likely to find your size, and plus sized bra manufacturers are also more likely to have an attractive range of brassieres in a wider variety of sizes.

The importance of wearing a brassiere whose circumference fits you cannot be overstated. If the circumference is too narrow, the bra will ride up when you raise your arms, and the band of elastic at the bottom of the bra will cut into your skin. If you've ever worn a pair of leather shoes that were too tight, you have approximated the annoyance of an ill-fitting bra. A bra that's too big in circumference will be loose and floppy: aim for a close, snug fit with no hint of tightness.

Cup size is tougher to gauge unless you're actually spending some time trying things on. The "cup" was conceived as based on an actual kitchen measuring cup, which tells you how peculiar things get when male fashion designers attempt to calculate the dimensions of the female body. Is it because they conceptualize the breast as a container for milk? Who knows! But here's a starter's guide for judging cup size.

An "A" cup is your basically flat, often pre-teen breast that requires nothing more than a layer of cloth between the nipple and the world.
The "B" cup would be closest to a single, 8-ounce cup measure;
the "C" cup would be two, and
the "D" cup would be roughly around the size of three cups.

Some companies create their own bra sizes: Junonia, carrying cup sizes up to F, even gives customers precise instructions for finding their cup size with a measuring tape. Much of the time, the only way to know for sure if you have the right cup size is to try on the bra before you buy it. Even then, like all women's clothing, bras vary in size by brand and even by style: you may be a B cup in some bras and a C cup in others. Some may not fit you at all, even when they claim to be your size! So try them on, and when you find a brand and style that feel great, buy as many as you can afford, because the next time you get to the store, that style will be gone forever and you'll have to start over.

Other considerations include comfort, structure and fabric. Bras come either with or without added "support" in the form of an underwire that creates a boned foundation under each breast. If you're looking to maximize your breasts or are interested in achieving a "Sex in the City" type bustline, you will want a bra with an underwire. If you're more interested in being comfortable or in minimizing your bust, look for bras that don't have underwire. Bras like the Wonderbra have built a reputation on giving women bustlines that Mother Nature never dreamed of: pushing up, squeezing together and generally shoving the breasts a few inches higher than they normally sit gives a woman's clothes a whole new outline. For women who aren't used to underwires, such bras can be uncomfortable, but some women wouldn't be caught without these shape-defining foundation garments.

If you're just looking for a truly comfortable bra, or if you want something you can wear jogging or to the gym, a sports bra is the answer. Shaped with a tank-top like back, a wider band of fabric and very subtle cups, sports bras provide great support without pushing or prodding your natural shape in any particular direction. Wider shoulder straps provide more support than ordinary bras and are easier on the delicate skin of the shoulders. Being worn as gym apparel, these excellent bras have also acquired a sexy panache that many agree outweighs the more overt lace confections worn for purposes of seduction. Sports bras come in a number of sizes and brands, tend to be more forgiving than other bras, and are available in all sorts of colors.

The final consideration when choosing a bra is the fabric. When you wear an item next to your skin all day, comfort is going to be a major consideration. Lace bras are pretty, but if you have sensitive skin, they can be unbearably scratchy. Satin bras can be pretty and elegant, and the smoothness is easy on the skin. Many of them can be machine-washed. You may find sheer cotton bridal lingerie at specialty wedding stores, but you'll probably do better in quality and price if you look for bras in plus size clothing stores. Cotton bras without lace are harder to find, but many women can't do without them, since they feel great, don't have to be handwashed and come in a range of colors and styles.

You won't find plus sized bras among the push up, padded, strapless and demi bras at Victoria's Secret: that company hasn’t yet figured out how to make clothing for normal sized women. You can find lovely plus sized bras—invisible strap bras, soft cup designs, shelf and strapless bras, minimizer type sports bras, backless models and bra and panty sets-- in stores like Ulla Popkin, Avenue, Junonia and Zatique. (Zatique has some of the sexiest camisoles you will ever see). For terrific bras at discount, or bras that are downright cheap because of great sales, check out Jessica London, too. Look for bras like the Glamorise, the Playtex 18 Hour bra, or the Bali bra. Brands like Goddess Bra, Leading Lady, Champion and Just My Size are also made for full figured women. Don't make the mistake of thinking that plus sized lingerie and underwear won't be gorgeous: these companies know that big and beautiful go hand in hand, and they aim to please.

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