25 July 2007

What to do when the ladies are large

There are serious mixed messages in our society, specifically related to the female bust. While the rate of augmentations would suggest that larger breasts are becoming more common, the fashion industry does not seem to care! As a size 6, 5'5'', 34D/DD, professional female, I have spent hours trying to find clothes, work clothes in particular, that are cut to flatter my shape. With a larger chest, you risk button-gaping, too-short torso (when tucking in a shirt), and of course the cleavage issue-- none of which meet "professional" standards. Please don't get me started on suit jackets. Instead I've found a lot of things that make me look pregnant, require endless tailoring to add darts, etc. As much as I love looking good, I'm starting to settle into a boring fashion rut because I can't find anything flattering (that is also reasonably priced, pre-tailoring). Any suggestions? Thanks!

Though I only enjoy to a minor degree the frustration you've described, believe me when I say I have nothing but sympathy for you.

Well, that's not completely true.

You're 5'5", a size-6 and rock a 34D bosom -- professional clothing dilemma aside, you must know how fortunate you are that you get to look in the mirror every morning and see what most women - and men - would call the ideal female frame.

Now before I start in on work-appropriate, heaving-rack friendly, above-the-waist wardrobe components, I first encourage you to make sure your up-top underpinnings are the correct size and provide your girls with a sufficient amount of support. For those with a large C-cup and over, starting your day off with an ill-fitting bra can not only cause pain to the shoulders and lower back but more devastatingly, have you looking droopier, misshapen, dumpy, even (gasp) heavier than you really are.

If you're not sure if you have the right bra, I'd recommend heading over to the fine department store nearest you and hit up the nice woman in the "intimates" section with the tape measure around her neck. There's no pressure to buy that $84 Aubade t-shirt bra, but remember, for you larger-chested ladies, an inexpensive, thin-strapped demi-balconette with Chantilly trim is just not in your professional future. One of the few downsides of bigger breasts is that your day-to-day bras are not going to look as cute and strip-teasey as you might like. Please don't fight this.

Once you've locked-and-loaded the girls in a properly-fitting bra, let's discuss the kinds of tops you should avoid:

Anything with an empire-waist (you'll look bosomy and waist-less), a deep-plunge neckline (you might as well draw an arrow to your cleavage), and busy-in-front detailing (excessive ruffling, adornments, tuxedo-bibbing, or a billowy cowlneck will only add more volume to the area you're trying not to highlight) is off-limits. Additionally, anything emblazoned with a print that's made from a delicate, gauzy fabric (think single-ply cashmere or superfine merino wool) has to be left out, for the simple reason that design-distortion almost always occurs when a big chest meets thin, stretchy fabric.

With what does that leave you? Fewer options than most but let's not forget the second most important part of this equation -- your small waist.

The problem with trapeze/empire silhouettes on a frame like yours is that the only cling that takes place is the one at your chest, leaving everything from the bottom curve of your breast downward swimming under a tent of silk, linen, cotton or whatever fabric you happen to be wearing. The taut size-6 waist you've worked so hard to achieve will look to you and those around you two-to-four sizes bigger, depending on the thinness of the rest of your limbs (I've learned the neck, ankles and wrists are the most helpful predictors of a woman's overall shape).

So yes, once again, I advocate shirts, blouses, sweaters, shells and jackets that allow you to demonstrate in spite of your heavy chest you don't have a heavy mid-section.

I also propose simple necklines - scoop, square, boat, Mandarin, subtle-sweetheart, etc. - and incorporating your personal flair with accents farther away from your chest, an effect that can be achieved with a showpiece sleeve (think flutter, cap, tiered, or pouf) or unique hemline (think scalloped, piped or contrast-colored). I know the button-up shirt is every large-chested girl's worst enemy, but your only choices with this style are to either swear them off entirely or do as you mentioned in your question and visit your friendly tailor after purchasing the size that fits snugly, yet keyhole-free, across your girls. When it comes to button-ups - and for the most part, suit jackets as well - with proportions like yours, my dear, tailoring is the only option for a proper drape.

My last two cents are to go neutral up top (nothing says "look at me here!" like a bright color or wild print) and always opt for a slim, lower-rise fit from the waist-down. Were I you, I'd altogether avoid the wide-legged trousers, lampshade-shaped A-line skirts and high-waisted anything, because even if you stepped out at 5'9" in a pair of ASJINE wishlist 4-inchers, a large chest and a wide leg - and likewise, a large chest and a waistline hiked up to the ribcage - do not a size-6 look. The proof is in the pudding.

Here below are a few styles - a starting point, mind you, not an exhaustive list - I hope will satisfy both your inclination toward professional modesty and your desire not to look like the middle-aged secretary who gave up her quest to find a heavy-chest-flattering wardrobe two decades ago.


Ania blouse by Antonio Melani ($128 at dillards.com)
Center-button blouse by United Bamboo ($166 at activeendeavors.com)*
Silk puff-sleeve top by August ($58 at macys.com)
Frilly sleeve top by Sara Berman ($119.90 at nordstrom.com)
Silk charmeuse wrap-top by BCBG Max Azria ($178 at nordstrom.com)

*I love this blouse, but I would recommend you try to find something with a more severe, less gradual shoulder-to-waist taper (remember, these are starting points!)


ataraxia said...

I enjoyed the post and thought most remarks were dead on and very helpful.

One thing: I (a 36D) *love* wide leg pants. I personally feel like it balances me out -- skinny and straight leg pants leave me feeling top-heavy. The important part to pulling off the big bust/wide leg look is that you need to make sure the fabric is close-fitting around the arms and waist so it accentuates your curves and doesn't make you look like a giant pillow case.

Johanna said...


very good point. I guess I was just so traumatized by that picture of Jessica Simpson in wide-legged jeans (and there was another one of Salma in a similar pair) that I summarily dismissed them. Thanks for the comprehensive explanation why that was short-sighted of me.


Johanna said...

one more thought...

I think what makes the difference between flattering and unflattering when it comes to a large-chested woman and wide-legged trousers (or an A-line skirt) is the length of her torso. If she has a naturally high waist AND large breasts (i.e. very little room between the large chest and large blouse of the pants), she's probably going to look bigger than she is. If on the other hand we're talking about a woman with a very long torso, where there is an ocean of stomach and hips between the ladies and the thighs, pants and skirts with wider silhouettes would not be nearly as problematic.

ataraxia said...

johanna --

i agree with your observation.

Since I would say that I'm about medium/average torso'd I do my best to elongate my mid-section. For example, with wide leg jeans I'll pick a top with a low-hip hitting hem...I know you said no empire waist but in this case I feel like this is something I might choose. Similarly, I wouldn't likely tuck in a shirt with higher waisted wide leg work trousers.

Anonymous said...

One bit of advice from my personal experience - as a curvy girl (who is also short), I find that three-button suits are best on me because they really showcase my waist. Most one-buttons just open around the boobs and then barely cinch where I'm smallest. So, for the most part, I stick with three-buttons or well-shaped two-buttons. A belt is also a brilliant thing.

Anonymous said...

I Have been waiting for this post for years! Thank you! As a 5'6'', size 6, 36D, I too have had the same struggles, and agree with the metioned assertions! As per looking stylish, modest, and professional, I have a few more recommendations:

1. Neckline- sometimes showing a bit if skin at the top of the neck is better than a complete crew neck. Why? People will be looking at your lovely clavicle/well bronzed and moisturized skin first, rather than the gigantic mounds you would normally see underneath a high-necked blouse. I feel infinitely less buxom with a bit of a scoopneck in my life.

2. An eye catching, chunkier necklace (note: not one of those long ones that hangs down to your ladies) draws the eye UP!

3. Pencil skirts are my livelihood- show a bit of skin where it doesn't look x-rated- your calves.

Not a fashion queen said...

I agree with anonymous, three button suits are just better suited for the well endowed. (I am 36DD and don't own a single one button jacket.)

In the same line as ataraxia I would go with a low hip hitting top if I am wearing A-line tops. I personally love the longer fitted tees that are out these days with a casual A-line skirt for summer. Granted this isn't a work look that the original poster is looking for, but cute none the less on the busty.

virgle Kent said...

I've been waiting for this post just so I can say....

"Throw some D's on that bia...."

ok. sorry. done.

Tk said...

I, too, rock the 34DD/size 8 with swimmer's shoulders and I live and die by well-chosen wide-leg pants and A-lines. Skinny jeans and pencil skirts tend to make me look top heavy unless carefully chosen. Kimono-style or puffy sleeves, as long as the torso nips in severely, work surprisingly well with the narrower bottoms, at least as long as "volume" remains a viable fashion trend.

For button-ups, find a store that's designed for curvy women such as Bravissimo, where I am an "8; really curvy" instead of a "dammit, I still can't button this 14".

The important thing is to not pick bottoms that flare before the mid-hip - they should fall straight from your widest bottom part. Look for wide-leg pants that are tight around the ass; wide, low-slung waist bands; skirts no longer than bottom of the knee; skirts and dresses with a flat panel of at least 3+ inches drop under the natural waist before any flare, pleating, or rouching. Done right, it gives you an excellent 50's housewife tiny waist.

And I can't believe you declined to expound upon the wrap blouse! I own... oh... 4 wrap dresses, 2 sleeveless wrap blouses, 5 long sleeve wrap blouses, and, I think, 4 faux-wrap sweaters. They almost all expose too much chest but I just wear a lot of pretty camisoles. (And slip the cami into my day bag on the way to after work appertifs)

Jessica's pants aren't fugly because they're wide-leg, they're fugly because they look like a wrinkled, high-waisted, faux linen romper I wore at age 7.

Johanna said...


Your comment is *exactly* why I welcome reader input with such fervence. I honestly had no idea stores like the one you mentioned even existed! Now I can tack that on - or the concept of body-specific stores - to future posts involving these kind of figure-flattering questions.

And on the wrap front, I didn't go into the benefits of this style in great detail, simply because I've done it on so many occasions in the past that I started to get "yeah, yeah, we know, you LOVE the wrap dress/top/etc. - got anything else?" type comments. But you're right, they are incredibly flattering to larger chested women with smaller waists.

Tk said...

Sadly Bravissimo is UK-only and I haven't found anything too similar back in the States. I know Lands End does custom blouses from your own measurements and body type from $49 but I haven't tried them as Lands' End does rather skew frumpy. Please report back if anyone decides to investigate further.
Lands' End Custom Blouses

And mostly you've talked up the wrap dress, the wrap blouse and sweater are different. *cough*

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of the great recommendations! I've spent a good portion of my day online shopping in search of more pieces that will flatter and have had a few great finds already!

Really appreciate the post.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the email ask for Professional clothes? Not one of the links you posted would fit into that category, although the readers comments seem like they know what they are talking about. I think your confusing business and business casual.

Johanna said...


true, the first two and the last one - the wrap top - could not pass muster in a suit-only kind of office, but the third and fourth certainly could, underneath a suit jacket. Remember, the recommendations were starting points; from what I could tell in this reader's e-mail (I only posted an excerpt of it), she did not work in an office where the expectation was to wear a suit every day, and to be honest, the only offices I know of in the city that strictly abide by that kind of dress-code are law and lobbying firms and maybe a small handful of others. If you walk up and down ConnAve, most women are wearing skirts and tops, trousers and blouses, etc. I should have been more careful in defining "professional" and will be more aware of that in the future.


Meg said...

I'm 5'10 and wear a 34D bra (though I'm more like a D and a half). That's AFTER a breast reduction. Before, I was squeezing into a 40DDD bra because that was the largest I could find in any store to try on.

Finding clothes is definitely easier now, but it is very true that there are fewer options. I feel sorry for some women who get huge implants, because I'm sure not all of them know what they are getting into when it comes to shopping. Padding can be removed when you want to wear the cute empire waist top - implants can't.

At my previous size, baggy t-shirts was pretty much my normal wear. At my current size (which isn't huge for my size, just for some clothes), knits are great, as are wrap dresses - anything that comes in at the waist. One of the worst things about having big breasts is that a lot of styles make one look fat.

Oh, and I am in love with hook-up shirts (instead of button-ups). It's still hard to find ones with enough room in the right places and not the wrong places, but they are a lot more forgiving than button ups.

Jackets with lower-set buttons also can work great.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I'm a 5'2" 105 lb woman with 34DDs. I know, I look ridiculous. I love clothes, but I hate shopping.

I'd echo what the other ladies have said--high necked shirts (especially anything turtleneck like) only draw more attention to gigantic knockers. It's best to go for a scoopneck, or if your office environment allows for it--a tiny bit of cleavage. I find lower cut shirts to actually have minimizing qualities.