What bra does Joan Holloway wear?
May 27, 2013 7:55 AM   Subscribe

For my entire boob-having life I've been on the lookout for a suitable bra. It exists! But what is it?!

I'm fat, and I also have big boobs. Currently I go to a specialty store near me, though I have been to Intimacy, and shopped online at Bare Necessities and Her Room, and been to Lane Bryant more times than I can count. My favorite bra right now is the Goddess Alice, which does preeeeeetty well at giving me the front-and-center kinda-pointy look I want, but I think it could be better. I wear I 38L in it, and it can be uncomfortable by the end of the day, and requires a lot of adjusting. I have also gone up and down in band/cup sizes in this same exact bra. If it's tight enough to provide support, then it becomes painful where the boning is, and if it's loose enough to not do that, then it needs constant adjustment for the band to at its correct place (parallel to the front of the bra).

I'd love a bra gives my boobs the same shape as Christina Hendricks's on Mad Men this season. They're out front, and they're well supported. I get it, she's a babe and is not fat so it's not like a bra will make ME look like HER! That's just the shape I'm going for, and got laughed out of a Lane Bryant for asking about. "No one makes bras like that!," they said. But someone must, because there it is!

Thank you for your help!
posted by masquesoporfavor to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (37 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Don't know what she wears but this site may help you find what you're looking for. It's got the most specific info I've seen on various bras and how they fit.
posted by leslies at 8:04 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've been thinking about trying this one or these. I suspect it's that crossover style that is part of the trick.
posted by theredpen at 8:05 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know the answer, but the ladies over at A Bra That Fits might. Once you find the answer, also check out Bra Swap to see if anyone has one they want to part with for free to low cost. Bratabase is a good resource too.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:05 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and it sounds like they're wearing the fugly long-line bras in my second link, Google says.
posted by theredpen at 8:08 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Fit is all. I once treated a girlfriend to a corsetiere fitting at Rigby & Peller. She had always had trouble with bra fitting. It turned out that she had been wearing 38D bras all her life yet all the problems were solved when she discovered she was in fact a 32H. Uk sizes of course. Maybe such an investment would help.
posted by BenPens at 8:12 AM on May 27, 2013

I also googled "plus size bullet bra" -- sorry if you've already done this.
posted by theredpen at 8:13 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recently ordered a retro-ish Playtex bra and it does the front-and-center-and-pointy thing quite nicely. It's also pretty darn comfortable.
posted by erst at 8:20 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Ugh that Playtex one looks awesome but doesn't go big enough :(
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:28 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also came to recommend A Bra That Fits on reddit - there is a ton of expertise and resources over there from a bunch of people who have things like 'bra fit blogs'. They can help! (Also, i seriously don't think you'd want to wear a 1960s era bra)
posted by Kololo at 8:34 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, if 38L is the right size for you, I think you might run into problems - even the better bra companies that have a good range of sizes don't often go to an L cup. (What Katie Did makes vintage reproduction bullet bras, but only to a G cup.)

A good resource for bra fit questions, especially for the large-breasted, is the Thirty-Two D community on LJ. Some people there have been posting about their experiences ordering lingerie from some Polish companies, which turns out to be quite the adventure in some cases because of language barriers and customs issues - but they have a wider variety of sizes.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:34 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Right before my reduction I discovered Fantasie bras and I really liked them, but have limited experience so YMMV. Their "Salsa" bra looks like a possibility. Here's a review.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:40 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

A key word you want to search for is a "conical bra." Now, typically, these bras actually had an insert in the tip of the cone to give that pointed shape you're after (so that the cup fabric didn't simply collapse). I have yet to find modern reproductions that have this feature, which is why you're (we're) never quite going to achieve that same Joan silhouette (Mad Men is likely using either vintage or custom-made undergarments).
posted by amelioration at 8:43 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: If you're posting a comment that contains a prediction of its own deletion, that's a "don't post it in the first place" sort of situation. You can reach the mods at the contact form if you need to talk about something.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:43 AM on May 27, 2013

Ah, and a bit more information on what to look for, seaming/construction wise, to get the look you want, can be found here. I've had the best luck by searching for things in my proper size, and then assessing the placement of the seams, rather than looking by shape, and hoping to find my size (as an H cup, I feel you on this one).
posted by amelioration at 8:48 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might want to try the long-line bras mentioned above. The additional support from below can make a big difference.
posted by elizardbits at 8:58 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

(And a note about the Thirty-Two D community - many of the posts are locked so they can only be read by members. To read those you'd need to create a livejournal account and then request membership in the community by sending a message to the moderator. )
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:00 AM on May 27, 2013

Does your specialty store do fittings and tailoring? I'm not sure I have Joan Holloway's bra, but I went to the kind of store where you're topless in front of an old lady and she eyeballs your boobs and picks out great bras for you--and the store also does some minor tailoring on site to give a custom fit. In my case, the Elomi brand has been a really comfortable, supportive fit for my 44E boobage.
posted by TwoStride at 9:09 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am a 34H and my favorite bras are from Fantasie. They give my ladies perfect front-and-center definition as well as excellent support. Oh, and there are plenty that come in sexy lacy styles.

Bonus: if you need even more vavoom, wear TWO bras at once. The bottom one should be slightly padded to push your tats up. This is especially great for when you are wearing a cleavage-y top. Yes, I know, this sounds ridiculous but my husband's eyes popped out of his face the one time I did this.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:11 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: HAH I guess I could have just asked you directly, joan_holloway!

TwoStride--The place near me does fittings, and Intimacy is supposed to be The Best Ever, and even after both of those things everything didn't feel great. Honestly, I am thinking maybe just being fat is the problem. When I sit down and when I stand up my body has two different shapes, and I guess I just need to always yank the back band down when I stand. Boo.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:13 AM on May 27, 2013

Chubby and big-boobed lady here: you want some Cleo by Panache bras, but NOT the lacy, insubstantial ones... the ones which are solid fabric for 100% of the bra, like this one. They feel infinitely more SUBSTANTIAL than any other bras I've worn, and I always feel like the prow of an effing ship (in a good way!) when I wear them.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:28 AM on May 27, 2013

When I sit down and when I stand up my body has two different shapes, and I guess I just need to always yank the back band down when I stand.

A long-line bra can help with that, as long as you're okay with having Perfectly Correct Posture at all times, including when sitting (and if you watch enough Mad Men, you'll notice that Joan has Perfectly Correct Posture at all times unless she's in a nightgown or bathrobe or something). It's probably not going to be terribly comfortable, though.
posted by erst at 9:39 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a great site: www.venusianglow.com
It does seem like the Polish stores have better options for nice contours in larger cup sizes, including this one - their site in in English and notes that they will sew custom sizes if yours is not in stock (I don't have experience ordering from them but have been thinking about it - and the exchange rate is pretty favorable).

This article seems to back up what others have said - the Mad Men ladies wear vintage and reproduction girdles and longline bras, and they're not super comfortable!
posted by blu_stocking at 9:45 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I used to wear longline bras all the time (because I am a weirdo) and I recognized the shape on Joan when I saw Mad Men. The ones I used to get were these. It is basically like wearing a corset. I'm a little bit short in the torso, though, so it didn't push up my bust the way I thought it might. If you are longer in that area, it might do so for you. But it definitely gave the pointed, front and center shape.
posted by Ouisch at 10:00 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

First of all, make sure you're actually getting the right size bra. Venusian*Glow's Bra Matrix bra-fitting instructions blew my mind. Getting into the right size will do wonders for getting a fit that's "out front and well-supported." (I know this was true for me.)

I know you said you'd had a fitting done, but you still might want to double-check their results by doing some measuring yourself (or maybe have a friend or family member help you). I've been measured completely wrong so many times that I'm deeply suspicious of any store fittings now.

Second, it definitely sounds like a longline bra might be helpful in terms of getting the band to stay in its proper place as you stand up and sit down.

Venusian*Glow has a bunch of suggestions for online stores that sell decent larger-sized bras. Hopefully that will give you a good starting point for the search!
posted by snowmentality at 10:26 AM on May 27, 2013

This post should keep you busy. I reduced my band size and increased my cup size, and bras feel better, and I look better.
posted by theora55 at 10:58 AM on May 27, 2013

At Macy's recently I found a super-reasonably priced bra called Exquisite Fully, which I've got in a DD. It's a longline bra with soft cups - the support comes from the corset part, so the cup fabric is thin and stretchy and super natural-feeling. The corset is stretchy too, and the bottom of it hits my waist and compresses it in a flattering way. In a form-fitting dress I could be a fifties pinup, but this is also a bra that looks great under just about everything if you've got bigger girls and want a conical shape rather than a rounded look. In this bra, you'll never have to worry about monoboob again!

Oh, Ouisch provided the link to the exact thing I'm talking about.
posted by cartoonella at 11:58 AM on May 27, 2013

You might want to check out the Triumph Doreen, which was actually introduced in 1967 and has been in production ever since. I only see it listed up to a 38K, but I don't know if UK sizes differ at all. I've also never worn one (I'm not of a size that needs substantial bra engineering) but it certainly looks like the sort of projection you're looking for.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:16 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, you can totally get a Triumph Doreen in bigger sizes. I've picked up quite a few in 42J (42I US) and they're pretty much all I wear because they're like feats of architectural design and civil engineering.

Search eBay with "triumph doreen [your size]" and you'll usually find several for pretty darn cheap. And the world is amazing.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:40 PM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

"No one makes bras like that!," they said. But someone must, because there it is!

You've gotten some decent recommendations, and I'm not going to say that no one makes them like that, because I'm sure that's not quite true, but Mad Men's costume designer, Janie Bryant, is putting Christina Hendricks in vintage foundation garments and that is why she looks like that as Joan Holloway. Long-line bras, girdles, and actual vintage and reproduction vintage costumes, designed the way they were ca. 1960s.
posted by asciident at 1:53 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I second this suggestion to decrease the band and increase the cup size. Especially if you find yourself yanking down the back of your bra partway through the day-- that definitely means the band may be too big.

And, ahem, don't feel weirded out by the option of throwing a little padding insert into a bra if your boobs tend to spread under your arms and/or aren't super perky on their own. Sometimes a bra alone can't keep everything forward.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:45 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I remember the Goddess bra! I wore them all through highschool. I second Panache if you can get them in your size - I was an L while I was nursing (UK sizing) and it's a nightmare for bra shopping. I think US sizing runs smaller on that end of the alphabet though? But the Cleo range gave me ridic boobs (to quote my partner "I'd say they gave you the boobs you had when you were 16, but I don't think they were that perky then either") - I did sacrifice comfort and had to stop wearing them after a car crash + seatbelt + underwire fractured my sternum.

Royce are an old-school brand that might have what you're looking for but remember that oldschool fabrics don't have the same give - that's part of the uplift but not comfortable by modern standards.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:28 PM on May 27, 2013

For the Joan Holloway super-supported look I suggest wearing a retro waist cincher or similar retro shapewear - not Spanx, the real vintage look with metal boning and hook & eye fastenings. In addition to giving you that defined hourglass shape and firm silhouette under clothes, they can really push your boobs up and out no matter what bra you are wearing.

The actresses on Mad Men wear Rago shapewear according to an interview I read with costume designer Janie Bryant. I can personally vouch for the Rago 21 waist cincher - it gives an amazing shape.
posted by RubyScarlet at 5:57 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

36G here. My go to for all my lingerie needs since 1984 has been Nordstrom's. Even at my poorest, I saved up for one good bra a year from them and now I do a thrice-yearly trip. Even though I know my size, I get measured each time and make sure I try on at least five or six different styles. (I'm small-waisted so I like my girls high and at attention for my preferred silhouette.) I find the European brands give me a lot more lift than the American brands.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 11:20 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe try the survey at True&Co and let an algorithm find your perfect bra?
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 1:56 AM on May 29, 2013

Cleo bras push up the boobs in probably more than a modern way than you're after, although I think they occasionally do more long-line styles. I see someone's already recommended the Doreen, and I too am annoyed that What Katie Did stops at a G (I'm a H).

I really like the Panache Andorra, which you can get quite cheaply on eBay or Amazon on occasion. There's a great blog called, IIRC, Bras I Hate, which goes into a lot of detail about how seaming and construction makes a difference, and I tried it based on the posts there.
posted by mippy at 9:58 AM on May 30, 2013

I'm not sure what your bra budget is, but you could try contacting a lingerie or corset maker to see if they could make you a bespoke bullet bra. Unfortunately, I can't recommend such a person or company, but etsy would probably be a good place to start. It might be more expensive, but I bet the quality and fit would be worth it if you found the right person.

I know it's tough for you larger chested ladies. I wear a 36D-DD, and even I struggle at times. Good luck!
posted by moxie_milquetoast at 10:06 AM on June 6, 2013

Also, I can vouch for Fantasie bras as well! My favorite bra in the whole world is their smoothing t-shirt bra, which does have incredible lift and a sort... softened bullet bra effect. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it's available in your cup size. I do find Fantasie cups to run a little on the roomy side. Even though it's a long shot, if you ever run across this bra, it might be worth trying in a smaller-than-usual cup size. I get mine at the Intimacy store in Chicago.
posted by moxie_milquetoast at 10:19 AM on June 6, 2013

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