Monday, February 24, 2014

Skin Irritations and Bra Fit

Your skin is your largest organ and the skin over your breasts is some of the most sensitive on your whole body. Breast skin irritations range from serious allergic reactions to mild heat rashes. The right bra fit and materials can play a big part in looking after the health of your skin. NB. Any sudden or dramatic change to your breast skin should be seen immediately by a doctor.

How Bad Bra Fit Causes Skin Irritation
I have seen everything from rashes to deep gouges caused by ill-fitting bras and it's completely preventable. Here are the most common irritations and their causes:

Rash underneath the breasts and on the lower torso - this is usually caused by a loose band. When the band is too big for you the breasts are able to lie flat against your torso which means sweat gets trapped between your breasts and your body. Trapped moisture is always bad news because bacteria can spread there easily (yeast is all over our bodies and in the air so when it finds a good breeding ground it multiplies) and your breasts can rub against the skin of your body which worsens the irritation. Your breasts should be lifted completely away from your torso so that at least a layer of fabric lies between your breasts and your body.

Chafing and blistering between the breasts - this is caused by either a band that's too big or too small. More often than not this is the result of a band that is too big so the rigid ends of the wires in the center (the gore) rub against the soft breast tissue and jab into your sternum. Some of the worst cases I've seen are on women who were exercising in non-sports bra with bands that were way too big for them. Painful indentations and rubbing between your breasts can also be caused by a band that is too tight. Remember that bands can sometimes be too tight because your cups are too small so your band is partly being filled by your breast tissue which makes it tight.

Blood blisters and chafing in front of the armpit - this is either caused by your cups being too small or wearing the wrong style. If your straps rub against the skin around your armpit your first step is to ensure that your cups are big enough. If you have a lot of migrated breast tissue the straps can rub against your migrated tissue and cause rashes and blood blisters. Look for bras with a good side panel to encourage your breast tissue back into your cup and away from your armpit.

Material and Skin Irritation
Some women have allergies to synthetic materials, elastic and metal which can make bra shopping a nightmare. It's very hard to find a purely cotton bra or one with only plastic hardware especially over a D cup. Lots of women with allergies to synthetic materials use cotton liners to wear between their skin and the bra.

The most common irritations are caused by sweat when working out and this can be easily avoided by wearing the right sports bra. The Panache Sports Bra is a perfect example of a fabric that's perfect for the job. Most regular bras are a single layer of fabric so if you sweat the material saturates and then excess sweat just gets trapped against your skin which is bad news. The Panache Sports Bra is made up of several layers of fabric so that your sweat is drawn away from your skin (this is referred to as wicking). The fabric also has a larger than average weave so that air can circulate around your breasts as you work out. This is how a sports bra should be designed so that you don't suffocate your skin or encourage bacterial build up with trapped sweat.

Quick Tips for Healthy Breast Skin
1. Make sure you have dried off excess water from underneath your breasts after showering.
2. Never put on a damp or wet bra.
3. Itchy skin is usually dry skin. Moisturize with a chemical free oil like Jojoba or Almond.
4. Don't use an abrasive exfoliator on your breast skin. Use a gentle cloth or sponge in small circular motions so you don't strip the skin of essential oils.

If you have a skin irritation problem you think is caused or worsened by your bra then leave your question in the comments section xx

Monday, February 17, 2014

How Height Can Affect Your Bra Fit

This is a subject that comes up every week when I'm speaking to clients about their bra fit. A woman's height is so often a factor in her bra fit that I'm surprised there's so little information out there about the correlation between height and bra fit. I hope this post will help you narrow down which features your bra should have in relation to your height.

Height and Breast Root Position
Firstly we need to talk breast root position. This is something I've written about before in Breast Roots and Bra Fit. Whether you're tall, short or somewhere in the middle you can have a high-set, low-set or medium-set breast root and this will play a big part in which kind of bra wires work for you. This excerpt from my previous blog post summarizes breast root position and wire length:

"Breast Root Height
On average, full bust women find that their breast root is between 5 and 7 inches lower than their armpit. If the distance between your breast root base and your armpit is less than 5 inches you often find that bra wires poke into your armpit. If this is the case for you then you have high set breasts and will benefit from bras with short wires that don't rise as high into your armpit.

If your breast root is farther down your body than 7 inches you can experience spilling at the sides of your bra no matter which size you try. You need tall bras with long wires that run equal to (or higher than) the side of your breasts."

Tall Women and Strap Length
Tall women often find that their breast root is proportionally lower than an average 5ft 5" woman and so they need their bras to be long enough to reach their breast root. Their breasts aren't necessarily so tall that they need a really long wire to encase a deep/tall breast, instead they need a shallow to medium wire length on a bra with long straps that can lower the cups down to their breast root. This might sound simple but you'd be amazed at how few bra straps are long enough for a long torso.

Partially Adjustable Left: the straps can only be adjusted as far as the ring Fully Adjustable Right: the straps can be adjusted all the way forward or back
Many bra straps are too short even when extended to their longest position. Bras that are bad for women with short torsos or high-set breasts are usually a good starting point for long torsos, even partially adjustable straps can be long enough when fully extended. NB Partially adjustable straps refer to bra straps where the slider cannot adjust over part of the strap either because of a design - lace pattern overly, for example - or because there is a ring separating the adjustable part from the non adjustable part - the non adjustable part is usually a wider strap portion for comfort.

If you are a tall woman with average or short height breasts then you need to find styles with a short to medium wire with a long strap. Here are some recommendations:

Cleo Bras - good for full all round and top heavy breasts. Lucy is good for side heavy and bottom heavy breasts.
Cleo bras have long, fully adjustable straps. The cup shapes are good for full all round, top heavy and side heavy breasts

Claudette has very long straps and the Dessous shape is good for wide set breasts, side heavy breasts and shallow breasts. Dessous has a short wire too.
Dessous by Claudette has long, fully adjustable straps. The cups are good for side heavy, wide set and shallow breasts

Jasmine, Gem, Tango and Envy are good styles for medium to tall breasts (ones that require a longer wire to encase a taller breast) that need longer straps.

These styles have medium to long wires on long straps which are good for medium to tall breasts on long torsos

Boobs Take Up More Space on Short Bodies
Imagine a 34G volume bust (34 inches around the body and a projection of around 8 inches away from the body). This volume of bust on a long torso is a very different fit to the same volume on a short torso. This is because the surface area that 34G breasts take up on a short torso is proportionally greater than the surface area on a long torso. The short torso woman with a 34G bust might find that bras jab her in the armpit more than the long torso 34G woman. When the shorter woman sits down her breasts are closer to her stomach than the taller woman so a bra with a band might flip up or cut into her stomach whereas it may not on a longer torso.

A surprising pattern has emerged through our size consultations. The same under bust and over bust measurements on women of different heights can alter their cup size by as much as three cup sizes depending on her height. It seems that for every inch you are under 5ft 4" your cup size is one volume larger than that of a woman over 5ft 5" with the same raw measurements.

If you have a short body or simply a short torso look for bandless bras with medium length wires. Fully adjustable straps are essential for short women. Check out my post on bras good for short torsos for some style suggestions.

Strap Position on the Shoulder and Height
Lots of bras have straps set too far apart for short women (and women with narrow or sloping shoulders). Besides making the straps slip off your shoulders more easily, straps that are too far apart for your body can buckle the cup shape. As you pull the straps closer in so that they sit on your shoulders it alters the shape of the cup and can cause gaping where the cups start to buckle. Short women benefit from bras with straps designed for narrow or sloping shoulders.

Left: Cleo bras have wide set straps that are ideal for average to wide frames. Right: Dessous has closer set straps ideal for smaller frames (and sloping or narrow shoulders)
At the other end of the spectrum tall women can find that bras with straps set too close together rest on the soft tissue close to their neck and this can cause pain because the pressure is on nerves that run up the side of the neck. Choosing the right strap position for your height can make a huge difference to your comfort.

I hope these height related fit tips help you narrow down what you need from a bra. If you have any questions please let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to get you answers! xx

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Gap Between Thin and Plus Size

I rarely write posts purely about bodies because, as you all know, my focus is boobs no matter which bodies they live on. For a long time though something has been niggling away at the back of my mind then last week 2 things happened that made up my mind about writing this post. As a size US 8/10 (UK 12-14) I have never identified as a skinny person, apart from maybe when I was 9 and my haircut and knees were the biggest parts of me. I developed hips and boobs as a teenager and they've stayed consistently prominent throughout my adult years. Considering I have some major curves going on I've never identified as a Plus Sized person either. I don't need to seek Plus Size retailers to find clothes that fit and I don't encounter many of the physical or emotional situations that I read about from Plus Sized women. So if I'm not skinny or plus sized, what am I in the realms of social discussion? Apparently I, like the millions of other women, don't warrant discussion because I don't fit neatly into either of the two body boxes.

Last week there was a news piece doing the social media rounds about a school girl who started a petition to encourage Disney to create a plus sized princess. I think this is a great idea for more diverse representation from an iconic company, however, this kind of thing happens a lot where the two options seem to be 'thin' or 'plus sized' which bypasses the millions of women who don't identify as either. I don't look at a Disney princess and think "Yeah, I have those kind of proportions" but I also wouldn't see a plus size character and identify any more closely. Very rarely do we see people petitioning for a middle ground and I'm not really sure why.

With her defined tummy, hips and thighs Robyn Lawley is very relatable for lots of middle-sized women but she is almost constantly referred to as Plus Sized because the fashion industry only allows for 2 groups of size.

A topic that has been well discussed is the definition of Plus Size models. Robyn Lawley is a prolific model who at a size US 12 (UK 16) is considered Plus Size by the fashion industry but she's also over 6ft and proportionally akin to a size 10, 5ft 9 woman. I understand that the fashion industry is polarized into thin and plus size but Robyn looks proportionally like lots of us middle-sizers (bar the exquisite eyebrows perhaps!) but we're not allowed to have her as an ambassador because she gets allocated to Plus Sized where we don't identify.

I personally don't need validation from a slew of social media memes to help me define who I am. I am fortunate to feel very proud of my body and the person it houses so it's not for my own identification that I raise this question. However, lots of girls and women don't fall into the category of thin or plus sized and their fit and esteem issues are just as valid. It would be great if we didn't have such polarized 'categories' of bodies but it's naive not to recognize that 'thin' and 'plus size' have very visible representation in social media, retail and traditional media so where do you look if you don't fit neatly into either camp?

Elomi (left) is a predominantly Plus Size brand with most bands starting a 34. Cleo (right) is a predominantly Full Bust brand with most bands starting at a 28. The shaping needs of these two categories can be quite different.

The second occurrence that prompted this post was an article I read about finding good bra fit which said "if you have big boobs then you need a plus size bra and there are lots of brands to choose from, like Elomi". Yes, Elomi is a great plus size specialty brand, one that we are delighted to carry, but not all women with big boobs are plus sized!

When Paul and I created Butterfly Collection the lack of understanding around boob and body size was painfully apparent. The term Full Bust (meaning a 28-38 band size with a D-K+ cup) was almost unheard of when we began speaking to brands and customers alike. People kept trying to lump us in the Plus Sized category because they didn't know what else to do with us. And that's the problem for me. It's just lazy to ignore that body size and shape is far more diverse than just thin or plus size and the fact that a term like full bust is so hard for people to grasp shows the lack of language and understanding around body diversity.

It's because of this stereotypical idea that big boobs live on big bodies that I wanted to raise this subject. If you aren't a plus size woman but you also don't fit into the 'shapes' of Victoria's Secret, strapless tops and thigh gaps then it can be difficult to know where to look for retail help and social empathy and I hope we can change that by changing our language around body shapes.
Kat Dennings, Christina Hendricks and Mindy Kaling are all public figures who I can identify with on a physical level and they've all been labeled as plus size at some point by a polarized 'thin' or 'plus size' rhetoric

If you identify as a Plus Sized woman then there are a huge number of blogs, stores, public figures, resources and shows that identify as Plus Size and so are easy to seek out. If you're a size 8, 32G with big hips, no bum and a trim waist then finding people, blogs, stores and advice that empathize is a little trickier. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Does it matter if there isn't a mass representation and language around middle-sizers? Am I underestimating the representation that already exists? Let me know what you think xx

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bra Fit Tips for Side Heavy Breasts

A huge number of women find that their breasts are heaviest and fullest at the side of their breasts (the side nearest your armpit). This is a completely normal distribution of breast tissue that women of all breasts sizes experience. For women with large breasts this side heavy breast tissue can cause a couple of bra fit issues:

1) The breasts can look very spread out and chafe against your arms.
2) You can find that you get empty cup near the center of your bra.

Why Your Breasts Spread Out in Bras
You may think that big boobs always look spread out and this is due in part to some bad fitting techniques. Lots of stores and boutiques default to putting large busted women into Minimizing Bras which spread out the bust. The shape of these bras moves the tissue even further under the armpit to lessen the forward projection of the bust. This might sound like it will make you look smaller but in fact the added width to your upper body can draw more attention to your bust and make it look bigger than it is.

Side heavy breasts don't need to be pushed farther apart, in fact they benefit from being firmly supported at the sides.  A tall and firm side panel in a bra will narrow the profile of your bust and stop your breasts spreading out which can cause excessive chafing against your arms as you walk.

Bras that spread out the breasts can cause the empty tissue near the center of your bra. With the majority of the weight being pushed sideways it skews the shape of the cup so that you end up with cup that has no breast tissue in it. 

What to Avoid and What to Look For
Avoid bras with a horizontal seam that goes right from the outer edge of the bra to the center gore. This kind of shape is great for full or wide breasts but doesn't offer enough support to side heavy breasts. Molded cups (bras without seams) can also cause your breasts to spread out. Remember, it's seams that give shape to a bra. Molded cups have lots of uses but if you're trying to stop your breasts spreading out you need the help of seams.

Look for bras with a tall side panel that runs directly down from the strap. This reinforcing panel scoops the breast tissue away from the sides and cushions the tissue. By bringing the side breast tissue closer in on the body you will most likely find that you don't get empty cup at the center. This is because the distribution of breast tissue is being spread out more evenly throughout the cup. If you have very soft breast tissue you can still get gaping at the center. To stop this look for bras with a wide, tall gore and/or a bra with a stretch fabric upper cup.

Here are some of our favourite bras for supporting side heavy breasts:

Gem by Freya has a supportive side panel and is shaped well for women with short torsos and/or narrow shoulders

Jasmine by Panache Superbra is a 4-part bra that has a side panel dedicated to moving breast tissue away from the armpit. This bra is also good for soft breasts as it has a stretch lace upper cup

Envy by Panache Superbra is based on the success of Jasmine. The tall side panel gives firm support. The stretch lace upper cup rounds the shape of the bust.

Lucy by Cleo is one of our best-sellers for supporting side heavy breasts. The rounded side seam gives a beautiful shape.
If you have any questions about fit for side heavy breasts then let us know in the comments section and we'll be happy to help you figure out your best fit. xx