Reprinted from Attitude 7, February 1996. This article originally included illustrations by Dave Mooring, which I don't (yet) have permission to reprint.
I remember my first bra clearly. My mother bought it for me. I arrived home from school one day and she dangled it at me, as if it were a hammock for a hamster. I was hopelessly embarrassed. It was white with little yellow flowers on it. It was a double A cup, and it was too small. This set a trend.
I was about ten years old at the time; the first girl in the class to wear a bra. This was, however, merely a small part of my dreadful existence as The Girl Who Was Prematurely Pubescent, which I will tell another day. Nevertheless, I was unable to deny the fact that I had these things on my chest. In retrospect, I suspect it was the closest I ever came to having perfect boobs. I didn't appreciate it at the time, though.
I didn't understand the complexities of bra fitting. I knew that my mother was a C cup, because she told me so. I think I assumed that all grown-ups were a C cup. What a C cup was, I didn't have the faintest idea. Bigger than a B cup, at any rate. I clearly remember schoolfriends telling me that there were exercises you should do if you wanted to have bigger breasts. They never bothered to mention what the exercises were if you wanted smaller ones. I certainly never did any of the relevant exercises. But they seemed to get bigger all by themselves. I don't suppose my chocolate habit helped, of course.
And, let's face it, big tits aren't fashionable. Especially big flubbery tits. It's all very well if you are a Hollywood stick insect with a double D cup that owes its buoyancy to a lethal dose of silicone. You can always tell from the shots in the tatty TV shows where they lie on sunloungers wearing a bikini made out of handkerchiefs. Real Tits™ would float somewhere around the armpits in such a situation.
And then, of course, there's the problem of attracting the opposite sex. When men are asked to name the qualities they are most looking for in breasts, they suggest all sorts of words. Admittedly, 'large' features prominently. But for some reason, 'droopy' isn't in there. And the number one adjective men are looking for in the breasts of their female partners?
Hmm. There are many words that could reasonably be used about my breasts. Perky isn't one of them. However, whilst doing research for this article, I did ask a gentleman friend for his opinion. "Well," he said, after giving the matter some thought. "On the whole, I think that your right breast is Perky..." I was considerably cheered.
Unfortunately, he then continued, "... and the left one is Pinky."
If you're reading this, and wondering if your breasts are perky or not, there is a simple, traditional way to tell -- the pencil test. This consists of placing a pencil under one breast and seeing if it stays there. If it falls away, your breast is perky. Of course, examinations like this must move with the times. You know you've got big tits when you realise that you still fail the pencil test even if you use a fully functional 486-DX with mini tower case.
As I grew older, and bigger, I discovered that it's actually phenomenally difficult to buy properly fitting bras. The fitting of bras is something that big women moan to each other about endlessly over our pints of beer. Even Marks and Spencer, who ought to know better, seem to have the idea that anything larger than a D cup is beyond the pale, and even D cups would be better served by severely functional body armour than fripperies in red satin.
Nevertheless, I went through a phase of buying bras from Marks and Spencer's. They have all the bras in order, with the smaller bras at the top and the larger bras at the bottom, with the smaller cup sizes on the left and the larger cup sizes on the right. I would furtively search through all the bras in the bottom right hand corner looking for the largest that they had. Of course, you don't need to try bras on at Marks and Spencer's. If you buy clothes that don't fit, you can always take them back and exchange them for clothes that do fit.
So I would buy the largest bra they had. I'd take it out of the packet in the shop while no-one was looking, to judge by eye that it was the right sort of size. And then I'd buy it, and take it home. It would be too small. And I couldn't take it back, because I knew that it was the largest size they had. The shame of explaining that I was returning something because the biggest size was too small was just too much for me.
Britain's largest bra manufacturer is Triumph. They advertise all over the place. "Triumph has the bra for the way you are." This is true. And, if you're the way I am, that bra is called Doreen. Doreen is made in a vast number of different sizes, wired and non-wired versions, and in more colours than a Dulux chart. It's Britain's top selling bra. For every leggy teenager in a Wonderbra, there are 40 women wearing a Doreen.
And most women wear bras that don't fit. It's the embarrassment. Again. The thought of going along to a posh shop and standing in a fitting room with one's tits hanging out while some 20 year old pulls a tape measure round you and reads off "47... no, hang on a minute, 48..." (louder) "Hey, Beryl, do we have any bras in a 48?" is rather more than most of us can stand.
The obvious solution is mail order. I got a mail order catalogue that came with detailed instructions for measuring oneself, and even offered to give you a free tape measure. I followed the instructions precisely. I ordered the bras. They arrived. They didn't look as nice as they had in the photo. Not surprising really, since the girl in the photo was about 18 years old and decidedly perky. I tried them on. They didn't fit. Perhaps I didn't measure myself properly. Perhaps the instructions were incomplete. Perhaps my breasts are a funny shape. At any rate, it didn't seem to work.
Something had to be done. I lamented my inability to purchase bras at work one day. The boss's secretary was listening. " 'Ere," she said. "You know what you should do -- you should do what I did and go to Rigby and Peller."
I had heard of Rigby and Peller, vaguely. I'd heard tales of Madonna buying her bras there, and the notion that you could spend astronomical amounts of money and end up with the perfect bra. The astronomical amounts of money worried me. And it would still involve the dreaded fitting room. And the tape measure. And the frenzied search for a large enough bra for me. "Nah," said Jan. "They're not like that at all. They don't have a tape measure in the place -- they just look at you and know immediately what size you are. 'Ang on a minute." And she rummaged through her handbag and produced a card. By Appointment to Her Majesty... Corsetières. Somehow, the notion of the Queen standing in the fitting room with her tits hanging out cheered me. I couldn't see the assistant shouting to Beryl to see if they had anything to fit in that case.
I was still rather concerned. But what if mine are beyond the pale? What if they don't have anything to fit? I'd die of shame.
"Don't be daft," said Jan. "There ain't nothing they haven't seen. Why, they've got cup sizes I never even heard of! You'll have no problem. They fitted me, for gawd's sake. Look!" I had to admit that Jan had been looking better recently. More elegant somehow, and with a better defined waist. I asked if she reckoned that this was down to her properly fitting bra. " 'Course it is," she replied. "You know what this is? It's a 38G." Our conversation was getting fairly animated by this time, and I looked around the office surreptitiously to see if any men had heard mention of the size. "Oh, don't worry," said Jan. "I'm so pleased I don't care who knows."
"But isn't it horribly expensive?" I enquired anxiously. "Well, it ain't cheap. But then, it's no more expensive than lots of places that aren't as good. This one" -- and she pointed to her bust -- "was £26." I didn't think this was a problem, but another of the women listening to us talk was horrified. She wouldn't have the slightest problem with the pencil test, and explained that she was in the habit of buying bras at £3.99 for two from Bonuscheap.
Forswearing the delights of Bonuscheap, I resolved to visit Rigby and Peller immediately, and explained to Jan that if I was late in the next day, could she please tell the boss I had an urgent appointment. I went home and told my previously mentioned gentleman friend that I was going to get my tits sorted. He looked stricken. "Do promise you won't chop anything off, won't you?"
So, carrying only an A-Z, I ventured forth into darkest Knightsbridge. Not an area in which I regularly go shopping. I had set myself a limit of £50 per bra, and preferably less, but I was still decidedly worried by the whole experience. The shop is an entire order of magnitude plusher than I'm used to, with such fripperies as fabric-covered light-pulls. I was met at the door by a helpful middle-aged woman who enquired in not much more than a whisper whether I was there for a fitting, and when I replied in the affirmative, ushered me into one of a wide assortment of fitting rooms. Feeling my grip on my credit cards slipping away, I was just about to take my shirt off when I saw what was decorating the room.
A signed photo of the Queen.
I looked at her bust line. Yes, it looked well-defined; it looked as if her bra fitted. But then, I'm not convinced she has the same order of magnitude of problem as I do. But who knows? Perhaps it's just because her foundation garments are all properly fitted at Rigby and Peller. Given that getting one's tits out in a fitting room is hopelessly embarrassing at the best of times, think how much worse it is in front of a signed photo of the Queen.
Nevertheless, I took off my clothes. My old bra looked distinctly shabby. And it didn't fit properly. I was just about to take it off when the assistant explained that they liked to see how the old bra fitted. She went off again to seek out some likely bras, having first enquired whether I preferred underwired or soft bras.
I mentioned a vague preference for soft bras, but said I'd be willing to try either. For those readers who don't know what an underwired bra is (I'm assuming you're in the 40% of the population who are men who do not habitually dress up in women's clothing), underwired bras are an obscure form of medieval torture device with bits of metal which are supposed to sit neatly under each breast but actually dig into an assortment of different bits of the body in ever-increasingly painful ways. I expressed this general thought to the assistant, and she explained that this was probably because I'd never had an underwired bra that fitted properly. Oh. I hadn't really thought of that.
The other major problem with underwired bras is the washing machine. Underwired bras and washing machines are completely inimical. A perfectly sound underwired bra goes into the washing machine, and two hours later you have a few strips of tatty fleshtone fabric and one bent piece of wire. As for the other bent piece of wire, it's gone into the bowels of the machine, where it proceeds to wreak ever greater amounts of havoc until one day the machine makes an appalling noise, spews dirty water all over your house, and refuses to work again until engineers have visited five times at a cost of £136.90. On the fifth visit, they fish out the bent piece of wire and accuse you of washing underwired bras in the machine.
So I tried on a number of soft bras. These were nice, but not a vast improvement over my old, shabby bra. She then brought me another soft bra. This was only soft in the sense that it didn't have any wires in it. It gave phenomenal uplift, in a masterpiece of civil engineering. Webbed, elasticated straps ran in all directions. It was fearsome. It looked like underwear Madonna might wear. It was a veritable over the shoulder boulder holder. I looked doubtful. "Perhaps madam was looking for something a little more... feminine?" the assistant asked. Perhaps, indeed. I wasn't hoping for a strappy number in black lace, but neither was I after a truss.
She brought an underwired bra in. I tried it on. It looked all right. It fitted. It didn't hurt much. I put my clothes back on. The effect was phenomenal. I tried to buy three, but she wouldn't let me. She explained that I'd need to wear it in before I could tell whether the fit was exactly right, and that underwired bras might not suit me. I admired myself in the mirror. It was very impressive. I read the label. It was a Triumph Doreen.
I bought that bra, and one of the soft ones for weekends. I wanted to wear the pneumatic bra straight away, but resisted the temptation. It seemed a little bit childish, like when you bought a new pair of Clarks Commandos with a compass in the heel. Incidentally, a compass in the heel of your shoe is actually a fat lot of use, but I digress. So I went off to work with my new bras in a little bag, and nipped into the toilets to change as soon as I arrived.
I went over to talk to Jan. "You did it, then? Let's have a look." There was a man listening to us, and he turned to look at me and his eyes moved inexorably to my bust. I didn't notice, but Anna-Maria doesn't miss a trick. "It looks really good," she said. "See Mark -- he's noticed -- he thinks it's nice as well." Poor Mark blushed to the very core of his soul, but when my back was turned, he whispered to Anna-Maria, "Is it a Wonderbra?" She cast him a withering look, and said "Of course it's not a bloody Wonderbra. If she was wearing a Wonderbra, she'd knock you out at fifty paces."
Jan chipped in, "Did they take your old bra? I wanted to wear the new one straight away, and they asked if I wanted my shabby old bra back. When I said no, they dropped it into a huge bag full of bras that had been left by customers. And you know what they said? Not a single one of them bras fitted."
I went home, and showed the gentleman friend the new look. "What do you think?" I said, to a man who had been unable to keep his eyes off my tits for the previous half hour.
"Oh, I'm not sure," he replied. "It does look impressive, but I liked you the way you were before."
I immediately discounted this as a freak result and ignored it. Lots of other people have given me compliments, including one or two who weren't even primed to do so. One woman who should have known better wondered if it was a Wonderbra, as well. Perhaps I should suggest the possibility of padded plunge bras in big sizes -- there's clearly a market for them.
Meanwhile, I've been given renewed confidence by the simple expedient of getting a bra that fits for the first time in my life. Or at least, the first time other than by sheer accident. Of course, it is a Doreen. I accept it's a winning formula, but do they have to call it Doreen? It just conjures up images of, well, elderly women with saggy boobs. Couldn't they update it, maybe change the name to Tiffany or Kayleigh?
And I have to hand wash it, because the machine growls whenever the new bra goes near it. And it looks like a hammock for capybaras. But this is a small price to pay.
Historical Note: Many things have changed since this article was written, a little over five years ago. My gentleman friend is now my husband, and we have two children. I could now fail the pencil test with a much faster processor than a 486. Triumph make much nicer bras in large sizes, and they are called Flaunt rather than Doreen. You can visit Triumph and Rigby and Peller online. But most importantly, a company called Bravissimo now sells, online, a wide range of beautiful bras for the better-endowed, and I recommend them whole-breastedly. You can even buy a padded plunge bra in a G cup.
© Alison Scott. Please don't reprint this without permission.
Return to Alison Scott's homepage
Return to the Kittywompus homepage