A Better Way for Full Bust Bra Fit? A Shadow Bra Industry

The right bra changes our lives. It lets us play sports–and life–unselfconsciously. It gives an emotional lift at least as great as its physical lift. No wonder a properly fitting bra stirs more passion in the hearts of busty women than any other piece of clothing.

With so many busty women delighting in the intricacies of good fit, it seems like a Perfect Fit for All must be just around the corner. But then there are the rude awakenings.


When I took a friend swimsuit shopping last summer, the Cleo Lucille molded balconnet looked absolutely adorable on her. However, the 34G was a little too big and the 34F gave her a slight quadraboob, so we asked for the 34FF. “It doesn’t come in that size,” the saleswoman told us. I wondered if Panache had done something unusual with its sizing in this style, but a quick internet search showed it hadn’t.


Renee Lowry used to be a bra fitter for a plus-sized retailer. Anytime her company didn’t carry a customer’s size–especially in smaller bands with large cups–she’d send the customer to a different retailer known for its wider selection. Finally, Renee decided she’d like to work for the other retailer instead. She’d referred so many customers to them that they already knew her name, so of course the interview process went well–until Renee told them that she likes to educate her customers. Her interviewer visibly flinched. “Oh no!” she said. “We want our customers to believe in the magic!”

(Along the same lines, in Butterfly Collection’s recent post about how to change the lingerie industry, Claire recalls a well-established retailer who told her that she “should stop giving out free fitting advice because only bra fitters should have that knowledge”.)


It’s easy to feel disillusioned when passion for proper fit crashes into the hard wall of retail practices. I hold back from giving fitting advice because I dread the inevitable “Where should I go to buy a bra?” It shouldn’t be such a difficult question to answer in New York City.

Fortunately, other women don’t shy away from the challenge. For the past few years, I’ve been hearing about what I think of as a “shadow bra industry” where individuals take the place of brick and mortar stores and meet privately with customers or hold events and classes. There are women venturing out on their own (or as part of a franchise) to help other women in ways that physical stores and online retailers can’t.

I’ll be writing about some of these ventures in upcoming posts.

Off the Rack ~ Busty Dressing with Dolman Sleeves Part II

Like Darlene, I mostly avoid dolman sleeves. Sure, they mean there’s more room for boobs, but they usually have a weird boxy shape that completely swallows your figure. Even on rail-thin ladies, I am not a fan. Even with the gorgeous red cocktail dress from Saint Bustier that Darlene shared in her post, I just don’t understand the point. What’s the appeal of webbed armpits??


I tried the same three dolman-sleeve tops that Darlene included in her post, and my opinion remains unchanged. Of course, Darlene and I have different proportions and heights, so what looks good on her naturally may not work on me, but I still had to laugh at how terrible I think these garments look on me compared to her.

First, the snuggly sweater:


Look, Ma, no waist! This sweater is super soft, but I was super not-a-fan of the tighter hem hitting me at just the right spot so the folded over bits on the side blossomed out right at my waist—and turned it from my smallest part to my biggest. It was even worse if my arms weren’t glued to my sides:


What is happening at my biceps??

It’s not as bad if I strike a sassier pose, but I certainly wouldn’t be standing around like this all day—and I still don’t like that webbed armpit!


Next up is the Rock Cotton tunic, but again I wasn’t happy:


This tunic was shockingly long. I thought maybe it just looked long on Darlene because she’s more petite, and that it might be true tunic-length on me, but it’s definitely long enough to be a dress. In fact, it would probably look cute with black tights and a pair of moto boots…that is, if it didn’t swallow my waist again.

Like the sweater, the fabric here is a dream. It’s really soft and stretchy, and I like the goth tie-dye look of the print. But it was very tight on my hips, which made te top half billow out even more, a look I did not appreciate. If the whole thing were loose, I could probably wear it with a wide belt, but as it is, the proportions just don’t work for me.

Once again, though, a crooked elbow and a cocked hip make all the difference:


Finally, we have the cropped blazer, which I actually quite like!




This one highlights my waist instead of hiding it: The bottom button hits right at my waist’s smallest point, the flared opening creates an arrow pointing right at my waist, and the sleeves stop at my waist. The jacket is conspiring to make me look thinner instead of boxier!

Something about the way the stiffer, tailored fabric lays in the armpit region also keeps it from bunching up on the front side of my armpit.

Still, I think a normal-sleeved cropped jacket with a peplum would be similar but slightly cuter.


Like the Diva jacket from Heart of Haute—hello lovely!

So, conclusion: Big boobs don’t really affect how flattering a dolman top is…because they’re not very flattering on any shape, in my opinion! (Sorry, Darlene.)


Busty Dressing with Dolman Sleeves

Each of us has a personal set of cardinal rules for D+ dressing, and for many years mine has included “No dolman sleeves.” Dolman sleeves fit a large chest, but is the fit worth looking like a lollipop? I dismissed anything like the top below whenever I browsed store racks.


Last year, however, a few dolmans slipped into my wardrobe. One was the purple jacket I included at the end of my fall roundup of busty blazers and coats; another was a super snuggly sweater that I found for super cheap on Black Friday; and the third was the Rock Cotton tunic that I lived in while on vacation.batwings for the bustyNO ONE has complimented the purple jacket or the snuggly sweater on me, leading me to believe that dolmans truly are off limits (I refuse to abandon my snuggly sweater, however). I wonder if it has something to do with my height or average-to-short torso? After all, Sarah over at Stackdd is quite a bit taller and longer, and she has written about her great success with dolman tops (also here) and sweaters. To test my theory, I shipped the items to Leah, who also has a long torso. She’s going to take pictures of herself in them and give us her take on dolman sleeves this Friday!

In studying these photos, I realize that all dolmans are not created equal. Here are my observations:

  1. Length matters. If a big balloon of fabric is going to hide the top half of a torso, don’t end things suddenly. Keep going. I look leaner in the sweater (it’s all relative!) and the tunic than I do in the blazer because the hems fall below my hips.
  2. Knits trump wovens. Drapey fabrics give a little definition where they skim the body. Stiff fabrics stand out from the body.
  3. Contrast helps. The dark sleeves in the tunic distinguish my arms from my waist.

My friend Renee Lowry of Braology added her own insight on the subject with the help of this handy napkin diagram.extreme batwingIn her experience, the most flattering dolman sleeve tops are ones where the sleeves don’t take over the waist completely (blue lines) but instead allow for some fit and structure (red lines).

A representative for Saint Bustie, also weighed in on the subject in a recent email exchange:

Dolman sleeves can look super stylish, but it’s wise to choose carefully. Most importantly, don’t wear them to try and hide anything. To wear them well–particularly but not exclusively with big boobs–avoid dolman sleeves with too much volume or draping. Be ultra careful if you have broad shoulders–big bust or no!–as they can make you look somewhat triangular.  At the end of the day though, it’s how you wear it that really counts. Accessorize well and wear with confidence, and you will look fabulous!

One of her favorite dolman sleeve dresses at the moment is the Lauren Dress, seen below in garnet red, which also comes in black, blue and ivory white.


Finally, Angie at YouLookFab has a great overview on dolman sleeves, including this specific pointer for petite, full busted or strong shouldered women: keep the volume [under the arms] fairly subtle. And as one commenter pointed out, if you fall in love with a top that’s too voluminous, it can be a pretty simple alteration to narrow the sleeves and waist.

It looks like I won’t be snubbing every dolman sleeve top that I see in stores anymore! Instead, I’ll be experimenting with these new discoveries and looking for more.






Off the Rack ~ Introducing Miss Candyfloss (a Review of the Odette Dress)

I’ve long admired the brand Miss Candyfloss, especially after seeing a few reviews on the Miss Victory Violet website. It’s a vintage reproduction brand that’s inspired mostly by styles of the 1940s. Some of the garments are totally era-accurate, while others have a more modern twist (such as the many jumpsuits they make). If you’re looking to cosplay as Peggy Carter (from Marvel’s Captain America and the Agent Carter TV show—the new season of which premiered this week!), this is the brand to buy.


Ms. Carter in Season 2, Episode 1. I wish you could see the amazing pants and wide belt she’s wearing, but this was the best outfit photo I could find.

However, prices are a little high and the brand is located in Sweden (with manufacturing in Transylvania), so the Euro exchange rate is usually not in my favor, I’d be limited to under $200 per order to avoid US customs fees, and shipping is expensive. Occasionally, a piece will pop up on ModCloth.com, but those are few and far between. I’ve been scouring eBay for the last year, but the brand rarely shows up there either. It seemed I would be limited to admiring the clothes from afar.

But then I got really lucky, and was given the opportunity to shop through a pre-sale offered by a US-based sellers’ group—at a heavy discount, no less! The first two times I opted into the pre-sale, there was a 4-quantity minimum for each garment, so only the most popular items ended up being available. But I was able to purchase my number one coveted item—the signature Odette dress in navy blue.


The Odette dress is Miss Candyfloss’s most signature, well-known item, appearing for sale on several other European retail sites. It features a pleated bust, high collar, cap sleeves, zipper up the back, and full flared skirt, and ranges in size from XS all the way to 5X. It also comes in a long-sleeve version called Vedette. A combination of polyester, viscose, and lycra, the fabric is soft and not too heavy, so it’s appropriate for all seasons.

I wore Odette to a wedding last week, and went full vintage (well, vintage reproduction) with brown low-heeled Oxfords, pearls, and red lips. I’m so in love with this dress, and it’s amaaaaaazingly boob-friendly. Let’s get to the (many) photos, and then I’ll discuss fit. (I thought it looked really swell with my custom Etsy coat that I reviewed last year, so I included a bunch of poses with that as well.)

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Miss Candyfloss’s size chart puts me between medium and large for bust, and between small and medium for waist. As such, I’d say I’m probably a medium, but of course that size was sold out. Luckily, I was advised that this particular item is stretchy and very forgiving, so I would be safe to size down to a small.

Readers, it fits like a glove. It holds in my midsection just a little, like built-in light shapewear, and there’s more than enough room for my boobs thanks to the pleating. However, I would probably go with medium if I were to buy the same dress in another color. I think a medium would be a better fit for my shoulders, and the pleating on the bust wouldn’t be pulled as flat as it is here.

However, even in the small I felt perfectly comfortable, and could eat, drink, and dance to my heart’s content. In fact, after the wedding when everyone changed into street clothes for the after-party, I kept my dress on instead. It was more comfortable than the jeans I’d brought with me!

I was so taken with this dress when it first arrived that I immediately had to have more from Miss Candyfloss. Sadly, my number two most coveted item, the navy Margit top, didn’t have enough interest to be included in the pre-sale. But then the jumpsuit version popped up on eBay as the “ModCloth Ship Off the Bold Block” suit for a mere $30. So I bought the jumpsuit, took it apart, and added a new zipper to the back, leaving myself with a crop top and offering the pants to a seamstress friend. It ended up being even cheaper than buying the real shirt!

ModCloth's "Ship Off the Bold Block” jumpsuit

ModCloth’s “Ship Off the Bold Block” jumpsuit

My altered top.

My altered top.

The fabric content is different than the Odette. I don’t remember exactly what it is since the care tag was attached to the pants, but there’s significantly less stretch. In this case, medium was definitely the right choice, as a size down would have been way too tight around my waist and very difficult to pull over my shoulders. The boobs are just about perfect. So I’ll definitely be sticking to size medium going forward. In fact, just recently the minimum order quantity was done away with and there was another pre-sale, so I bought two more dresses and two tops, including a—GASP—button-up blouse. I can’t wait to report back!