How to maximize bra value?
November 23, 2007 10:32 AM   Subscribe

What's the optimal bra lifespan/price combo?

My girlfriend wears a fairly large bra size - 38-40 D/DD. She's been buying the $10-12 bras at Target, but they wear out/stretch out in 6 months. She wants to know if there are ways to make them last longer, or if the more expensive bras (~$50) last 5 times as long.
posted by a robot made out of meat to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (31 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
if she's buying 10 dollar bras, there is no way those bras are actually doing anything that they should be doing. And she's probably also looking like she wears 10 dollar bras which, fashionably, is pretty lame.

Bras really only last 6 months before they become too stretched to offer the support and usability that one should expect from their undergarments. The expensive bras do not last longer but they do provide superior support, comfort, and a solid foundation for her other clothing. Her clothes will fit better, she will look better, and you, as her boyfriend, will drool over her more so than you already do.
posted by Stynxno at 10:40 AM on November 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

handwashing and line-drying do help them a lot. i've had $35-$40 bras last for years, although larger sizes probably do experience more wear and tear, simply because of the laws of physics.

she may want to go to a better department store and get fitted (it's free). if she's regularly stretching out her bras, she might be wearing the wrong size.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:40 AM on November 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

For $10-$12, there's no way she's getting the kind of support she needs- I imagine the bras she's buying are that stretchy cotton/satiny stuff? Those things bite the dust so fast, they're barely worth owning. Buying something with more structure and a less stretchy fabric (something like this; Prima Donna bras are great) will increase lifespan.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:41 AM on November 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

She should at least go to Victoria's Secret or some such store that specializes in lingerie, and get herself fitted. I'm betting she's wearing the wrong size, which is part of the wear and tear problem.

Also, nthing washing them in a mesh bag and hanging to dry.
posted by LN at 10:44 AM on November 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

She should at least go to Victoria's Secret or some such store that specializes in lingerie

The latter, yes, the former, HELL no. Victoria's Secret has little to no selection in larger sizes, and what they do have is built just like the stuff for smaller sizes. Waste of money and time.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:50 AM on November 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

She should be hand washing and line drying. Don't use detergent, or Woolite (both with increase the deterioration of the elastic). Dreft works well. Le Mystere, (Nordstrom carries them) is a great bra for larger sizes. They are very comfortable with great support. Once she is fitted, she can look at The Rack (if you have one) for more.

I have about 10-12 and rotate them. Some are almost a year old.
posted by 6:1 at 10:50 AM on November 23, 2007

I want to jump in and say try to go someplace else *other* than Victoria's Secret for a fitting. Especially with larger breasts. Victoria's Secret selection of choices and their construct of bras really do nothing above the B cup range in my opinion. I have had experiences of getting several different sizes given to me there and all of them incorrect in some way. I didn't get a bra that fit and made me look nice until I went to a professional lingerie store. And it's not all 100+ lingerie in places like that, hell, I wouldn't pay that much for a bra. There's choices in the 50-70 dollars range and trust me, it's worth it to invest enough does make a difference when there's extra boobage involved. Gone are the days when you feel like you have to pull up your straps or rearrange the girls during the day because it feels like they're trying to make an escape out of them. Add the extra bonus of your breast not looking like misshappen mounds, but actually like breasts under clothes. The last time I bought one they lasted about a year or a little more than a year, and I paid about 60-70. I was satisfied with that and someone who's kind of frugal I just thought of it as "I paid around 6 dollars a month to have my breasts look nice and save them from future saggage." I hand wash and use a specific lingerie wash/soak I got from the place I got my bras. Just pour a little in cold water, soak, rinse, and hang.

Even if she doesn't have a professional lingerie shop around her, I believe bridal shops sometimes have a lingerie section with someone who can handle something like that.
posted by kkokkodalk at 10:57 AM on November 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, it's a good thing to have more than one bra. Not just because you wear different styles for different articles of clothes, but one bra day in and day out makes it die a pretty quick death.
posted by kkokkodalk at 11:01 AM on November 23, 2007

Sorry for the in Canada, lingerie stores like La Senza cater to both regular and plus sizes. I didn't realize VS didn't do that.
posted by LN at 11:03 AM on November 23, 2007

Victoria's Secret is horrible. Their bras are overpriced and poorly constructed, and their customer service is appalling. If you have small enough breasts that you don't really need a bra, go ahead and knock yourself out there, and their undies are fine. But it's not an appropriate place for a D or DD-cup woman to buy a bra.

I have worse issues with bras than most people, because I wear a freakish size. (I'm not freakishly big, but I have a freakishly small ribcage.) Your gf's size is not that odd, so she should have more options than I do. But I look for lingerie boutiques that have a lot of services for women who have had mastectomies. Other lingerie boutiques often specialize in lacy little things, which are awesome but not going to do the trick for those of us who need a lot of support. If there isn't a suitable bra store in your area, Nordstrom's is pretty good.

Hand-washing is definitely best, but if she can't bring herself to do that, get a mesh lingerie bag and wash your bras on the delicate cycle. I would never put a bra in the dryer. Also, she can buy them on the tighter side, and then they'll still fit when they've stretched out a bit. If you take care of them, I think you can realistically get two years out of a bra, although obviously it depends on how often you wear and wash each one.
posted by craichead at 11:09 AM on November 23, 2007

Everyone else has given brilliant advice already (hand washing, mesh bag, less stretchy fabric etc.) but i especially agree with those who say your gf should get fitted -- 38/40 D/DD sounds suspiciously like a wrong bra size; i suspect your girlfriend may be closer to a 34/36 E/F. A lot of women have their band size too large and their cup size too small, and if she wears a dress size less than 20 I wouldn't think she would be a 38/40. That's a rough guide, but for reference i'm a size 18 and a 36G.

To answer your question about quality, yes, more expensive bras are generally better quality, but NOT from big mall shops! As ThePinkSuperhero said Prima Donna is great, there's also Miss Mandalay (cute and functional), Fantasie (lacy or great everyday stuff) or Aubade (French luxury), which are all great quality.
posted by ukdanae at 11:38 AM on November 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Go get fitted at Nordstrom and buy the Wacol brand," says my wife. "Great for big boobed women."
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:14 PM on November 23, 2007

First, make sure she gets fitted! I wore a bra 2 sizes too big and was laughed at when I told the sales woman my bra size. Bras are suppose to only last 6 months, but I have had mine for about 2-3 years now, and it is just starting to get that annoying squeaky sound. I bought mine at Victoria's Secret, and yeah the price was high ($40-$45) but I wear it almost every day and so obviously it has lasted for a while. I use a mesh bag and I lay it flat to dry. I never put it in the dryer either.

Anyway, my theory on buying bras is that you get what you pay for. If you want to save money, find another item to save on. Bras are very important, and worth the money to make a person feel comfortable and good about themselves.
posted by slc228 at 12:14 PM on November 23, 2007

Mrs. jeffamaphone is spot on. Nordstrom's is awesome, they more or less assume you want to be fitted/advised, so there's no awkward having to proclaim ignorance. Wacoal makes a great bra, and they manage to keep a pretty look even in the bigger sizes.
posted by donnagirl at 12:56 PM on November 23, 2007

Tell her this: Cheap bras are no bargain at all. I used to wear the cheap stuff from the sales table at La Senza, which rarely fit properly. This summer, I was wandering disconsolately at The Bay when I was approached by the (free!) fitter who offered to help. I now have several bras which fit me perfectly. No more crap bras EVER. You will never look as good and wear them as long as a good bra.

1) Being properly fitted is a revelation. Go even once to a good shop that offers the services of a fitter. No, you won't get groped unless you are comfortable with that. My fitter gave me verbal directions on how to adjust the bra and I was fine. I've shopped for bras on my own since and stll get a perfect fit.

2) Get to know the brands and styles that fit you, know your measurements, then cruise brick and mortar and online sales to get the good stuff for a good price. I never pay full price for my bras, but wait for the sales.

3) Ideally, a bra should be handwashed and hung dry after each wearing, but if you air it at night, you might get away with 2 days wear. Don't push it beyond that: sweat, dirt and skin cells kill fabric.
posted by maudlin at 1:08 PM on November 23, 2007

ms. nobeagle gets several years out of the $10-20 bra's that she drives into the US to get from Target. However, she's previously been properly fitted (as everyone is suggesting), so once your GF gets fitted, she might be able to still get some better wear from the cheapies.

Also, her bras are only washed in the delicate cycle (which is usually bras only), and they always get hung up to dry.
posted by nobeagle at 1:12 PM on November 23, 2007

Oh, and based on how many women misgauge their size, I'd like to predict right now that your girlfriend will get a great fit from a 38E or a 36F. Most women get a band size that is too large, and are surprised by their true cup size. Cup size is relative to the band measurement and is not an absolute size. A 32D bra has cups that are significantly smaller in volume than a 38D bra.
posted by maudlin at 1:15 PM on November 23, 2007

Well first off, I've found plenty of cheap bras that look just fine and fit okay. But for something that's going to last comfortably and be the best fit I'd recommend department stores having lingerie sales. They usually have a wide enough selection and the bras are mid-range quality. If she wants to go to a store specializing in lingerie that would probably be even better but they can be hard to find.

Victoria's Secret doesn't have much for big busted women. The one bra I got from there cost me 55 dollars and it didn't last that much longer than anything else. I'm sure not putting bras in the drier helps quite a bit, but ultimately all bras are going to show some wear and tear over time. And I'm not convinced that the more expensive ones last longer.
posted by purelibertine at 1:40 PM on November 23, 2007

ukdanae: A lot of women have their band size too large and their cup size too small, and if she wears a dress size less than 20 I wouldn't think she would be a 38/40.

I've worn nothing smaller than a size 36 bra since I was in HS and wore US size 12 -- two kids and 40 pounds later, I wear a size 38 with cup sizing varying depending on the style. (I've got a large ribcage.) My teenager has a couple of size 38 bras, because that's the size that fit in the style she wanted, and she wears a size 14US.

Nthing the "get properly fitted" (most larger department stores will have fitters, as do decent lingerie stores). And yeah, 6 months is about all you can expect out of a cheap bra, especially if it gets worn every day and then just gets dumped in the washer and dryer. Have at least two bras, alternate daily, air out between wearings, machine wash, delicate cycle, hang to dry. They'll last a lot longer.
posted by jlkr at 1:49 PM on November 23, 2007

Nth-ing the suggestion to get fitted at a lingerie store or Nordstrom's. Also, it looks like you're in Chicago; I go to Filene's Basement to get fantabulous deals on Wacoal bras (which are awesome). At Nordstroms, Wacoal runs about $50 per bra, while at Filene's I regularly get the same bra for around $20.
posted by iminurmefi at 1:54 PM on November 23, 2007

If she is a 38 or larger band have her check Lane Bryant (or a freestanding Cacique store if there is one in your area). I got a lot of my bras there, and they were pretty durable. I'm bad, too, I just toss them in the washer and dryer with everything else. Still no problems with them.

Their style selection blows once you hit about an F cup (at least in the Lane Bryants, I can't speak for the Cachique stores as I've seen them but never been in one), but for a smaller size they'll have quite a bit, in patterns/colors to rival most of the cute non-plus lingerie shops.

I have a few of their "plunge" style bras. Nice for V-necks, and if you get the convertible one it's a quick fix to change it to a halter bra if you're good with a needle and thread. (not sure about anyone else, but finding a good halter bra was the bane of my existence for a long time.. I just had to give up and DIY it.
posted by Kellydamnit at 2:06 PM on November 23, 2007

jlkr - you're absolutely right, I forgot to mention that sizes often change after pregnancy and the sizes will vary with body shape. My numbers are just based on my own experience fitting women, but are mainly there to emphasize that she should get fitted to be sure.
posted by ukdanae at 2:10 PM on November 23, 2007

oh, and they have a few of the basic styles buy-one get-one-free this weekend.
posted by Kellydamnit at 2:11 PM on November 23, 2007

Long, answer following which probably gives TMI about my underwear ...

I used to buy cheap bras and found that the first thing I wanted to do when I got home was get out of my bra, and, like many women, I have perfected the Houdini straitjacket trick of removing my bra without needing to take off my top. The bras lost what little stretch and support they had within a short space of time and were very uncomfortable.

But just over a month ago I got fitted for a bra at Rigby & Peller in London. I went in wearing what I thought was my proper size of 38C and came out wearing a 32E. No tape measure was used in the fitting, it was all done by sight. (They make a point of emphasising that their bra fittings involve the saleslady seeing the customer topless, so it's not for the modest.)

The bra I bought from there was eye-wateringly expensive (bra & panties, total cost £97, which is US$200). But the lingerie is beautifully made and compared with my Marks & Spencer underwear, the quality of the Rigby & Peller bra is far better than M&S.

Unfortunately I can't afford to be buying $200 sets of underwear, so I bought a few bras in M&S, which are around the £15-£20 ($30-$40) pricerange. And in M&S bras I need a 34E, go figure.

The difference a well-fitting bra has made to the way my clothes fit cannot be emphasised enough. I no longer have the sideways booby spread I used to get with cheap bras.

And, more importantly, the bra isn't uncomfortable. I suspect much of the discomfort of my old bras was that, being large-breasted and wearing the wrong size, the lack of proper support meant that my breasts ached by the end of the day. It's after 10pm here now, I've had a bra on all day that fits right, and it's perfectly comfortable.

So, in answer to your question - $10 Target bras are a waste of money. I see you're in Chicago, so (assuming your girlfriend is too), I'd suggest this place, which is at 900 N Michigan Avenue. They appear to know what they're talking about, and they operate the Rigby & Peller method of fitting. (Heh, I typed 'titting' there first, thank God for live preview.)
posted by essexjan at 2:16 PM on November 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

You get what you pay for with bras. VS and Target aren't quality bras for us larger busted women. You want to support them, for comfort and health concerns. Again, I'd suggest Nordstrom for fitting for Le Mystere (they actually end up molding to *you*!). And only hand washing/line drying.
posted by 6:1 at 2:20 PM on November 23, 2007

Echoing all of the advice to get properly fitted - she doesn't have to buy anything from the place she gets fitted. I was wearing a 38D when I finally got fitted at Nordstrom's, and found out I was really a 34F. It's made a HUGE difference, and my back doesn't hurt as much as it used to.

Larger cup sizes should be made in a different way than smaller cup bras for more support. They will have less-stretchy material, probably a few more seams. Better support all around. Most of the cheap bras construct the larger cups the exact same way as the smaller cups, and you get less support and they stretch out faster. I'll pay a lot more for a bra now, usually in the $80 range or more, but my back is worth it. So are my boobs.

But bras do stretch out. A well-constructed bra will last longer and fit better than a $10 Target bra, but they won't last much longer than 6-8 months anyway if you're wearing it almost every day.
posted by rhapsodie at 3:04 PM on November 23, 2007

Another note on fittings: don't blindly stick to one size once you find out it works in one brand. Pay attention to how it sits on you, and then seek that out no matter what the tag says. I'm a 32A in some brands, a 32B in others, and sometimes a 34A or B, too, but all my bras fit exactly the same. Remember that cuts and cup spacing vary between manufacturers just like they do for any other item of clothing.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:39 PM on November 23, 2007

Like essexjan said, if you're in Chicago, treat your girlfriend to a bra fitting at Intimacy (Oprah's bra fitter). I went in wearing a 36D Wacoal (fitted at a suburban lingerie store) and came out with two $60 bras in 34G. (Yes, really. I had no idea bra letters went up so high. And no, I'm not freakishly large.) The fitters at Intimacy don't need to see you naked, just in the bra you came in wearing. They don't use a tape measure, just eyeball you, go off somewhere, and come back with a selection of really nice, comfortable bras. Oh, and after mumblety-mumble years of wearing a bra, I learned that you should buy a bra that fits on the loosest hooks, so that you can tighten it up as the elastic inevitably stretches out.
posted by Joleta at 7:56 PM on November 23, 2007

Intimacy in Chicago actually screwed up my bra fitting. They successfully diagnosed my problem as needing a band size smaller than the smallest they carried, and they do free alterations for people who need a size smaller than 32, which is super. But they put me in a cup size or two smaller than I needed, something that I didn't realize until I went to Bravissimo in London, where they actually had bras in my size on the rack, so I could try them on. I don't know if they only had trouble fitting me because my sub-32 back size means that their usual fitting method doesn't work, but I was kind of disappointed. They're not cheap, even by not-cheap bra standards, and I think it's reasonable to expect to walk away with a bra that fits.
posted by craichead at 11:10 PM on November 23, 2007

I am a former cheap Target bra buyer. No more.

Like commenters above, I ended up going down a couple band sizes and up a few cup sizes. It means I'm not going to find my size at Target, so I've ended up buying all my lacythings online lately. You're lucky to have some more options since you're in a big city.

I'm a big fan of Figleaves. Not only do they have bras that come in larger sizes, those bras were designed to actually fit those larger sizes. (Target's DD bras? Quite disappointing.) They've also got a great section on bra fitting if you're too shy to show the goods to a lingerie store employee.

Figleaves is running a great sale right now and they do free returns. They ship from Detroit, so I'd think you'd the shipping to Chicago would be pretty speedy.
posted by katieinshoes at 8:58 AM on November 24, 2007

Nthing Nordstrom's fitting -- and then once you have your bra, you should handwash it with Forever New

My bras last for years this way.
posted by chickaboo at 1:37 PM on November 26, 2007

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