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No Man's Land: Buying and filling a Bra

There's no two ways about it: if you're going to look female you've got to have a bustline. Unless you're fortunate enough to grow your own, you'll need some way of simulating breasts. Either way you're almost certainly going to need a bra or two in your feminine wardrobe. If you have breasts or breast forms, you'll need one to hold them up; if you've got enough up front to make some cleavage, you'll need one to help lift and shape.

Buying a bra generally involves three problems: determining the right size, selecting a suitable style and actually going and buying one.

Filling your bra is another matter entirely. Assuming for the moment that your cleavage is not a naturally occurring phenomenon, there are a number of ways to produce a pleasing, convincing bust.

We'll tackle each of these step by step:

Determining your size

Bras are sized by both chest measurement (in inches) and cup size (in letters); thus, a 38B bra is designed to fit a person who is 38" around the chest with a B cup. We'll get to cup size in a minute.

By the way, when you go shopping, youll find that many bras will be labelled in three systems of sizing: US, UK and European. We're talking about the US system here. But we digress.

Measure your chest without your top on. It's easiest if you have a friend help. A cloth measuring tape is best. Make very sure you keep the tape horizontal and position it just under the bottom of your breasts (or where your breasts will be), as shown here.

Add another two inches to the measurement, to account for the extra tissue that most women have at the sides of their breasts that men don't have. The extra space allows you to simulate this with your breast forms for a more realistic shape.

As a crossdresser, you have the luxury of determining how big you want your breasts to be. The size of your breasts is determined by the cup size, and that is determined by the difference in your bust and chest measurements, like this:

If Bust is larger than chest by 0.5" 1" 2" 3" 4" 5" 5.5"
Your Bra cup size is AA A B C D DD F

The Size Charts are a convenient all-in-one guide to bra sizing that takes both these measurements into account.

For a natural look, resist the temptation to make your breasts unnaturally large. Proportion is the key. Your age is also a factor: younger women tend to have proportionally larger breasts than older ones.

Bra sizing, unfortunately, is not an exact science. One 38B may fit you perfectly, while another, even from the same manufacturer (or even in the same style!) may not. Trying it on is the only sure way to know your bra will fit.

Bra Size Charts

  CHEST (under bust) ->

INCHES 26.5 - 27.5 28.5 - 29.5 30.5 - 31.5 32.5 - 33.5 34.5 - 35.5 36.5 - 37.5 38.5 - 39.5 40.5 - 41.5
32.5-33 A 32              
33.5-34 B 32 AA 34            
34.5-35 C 32 A 34            
35.5-36   B 34 AA 36          
36.5-37   C 34 A 36          
37.5-38   D 34 B 36          
38.5-39     C 36 A 38        
39.5-40     D 36 B 38        
40.5-41     DD 36 C 36        
41.5-42     DDD 36 D 36 B 40      
42.5- 43       DD 36 C 40      
43.5-44       DDD 38 D 40 B 42    
44.5-45         DD 40 C 42    
45.5-46         DDD 40 D 42 B 44  
46.5-47           DD 42 C 44  
47.5-48           DDD 42 D 44  
48.5-49             DD 44 C 46
49.5- 50             DDD 44 D 46
50.5-51               DD 46

Choosing a style

Bras come in almost every conceivable style, size, shape, fabric and price range, to accommodate the tremendous variety in feminine shape and taste. Your needs will be determined very much by your choice of breast form and the extent to which your overall shape needs adjustment.

Underwire bra

Soft-cup bra

Long-line bra

Underwire bras give good support to breast forms and come in almost every size and fabric. Some have moulded cups to give a definite shape. Sized wrongly, though, the underwires can be uncomfortable

Soft-cup bras work well for self-adhesive forms, but some styles will provide good support for non-adhesive ones as well.. They rely on clever shaping and stitching of the cups to provide support.

Long-line bras come in underwire and soft-cup styles and extend well below the bustline to help shape your figure.

Other variations on the basic bra include:

the push-up: works best if you have something to push up! Don't despair; you can tape your bustline to develop some cleavage. Add a pair of breast forms in a good push-up for some pretty spectacular results!

the strapless: relies on a snug fit, boning and fabric that grips the skin for support. Designed for wearing under wide-shouldered or strapless dresses.

the padded: add anywhere from one to three cup sizes. Some come with insertable pads to vary the degree. Others are water-filled or can be inflated to the desired size.

the "no-bra:" these look like two stick-on underwired cups. They'll curve and push up whatever you already have and may work with bust enhancers, but can't support a full breast form.

the halter: a single strap around the back of the neck supports both cups; best under similarly-styled tops or dresses.

the plunge: offers a deep décolletage for those low-cut necklines.

the front-closing: good for a low neckline, but also a smooth back under knits or T-shirts.

the cross-strap or T-back: these bras work with dresses with narrow backs or under spandex jogging tops.

the low-back: these bras come in halter or strapless styles and some can leave your entire back bare for those sexy evening fashions.

the sport bra: these give comfort and secure support without binding. Most are designed to minimise movement.

the convertible: essentially a low-back bra with detachable straps, this can be worn in several ways, including conventional, halter and strapless.

So, does it fit?

A properly fitted bra supports you and/or your breast forms comfortably. You should be able to walk, run and even dance with confidence that everything will stay put. Some movement is natural and even desirable, but wild flailing and bouncing is definitely out.

  • When standing relaxed, breasts normally fall halfway between the shoulder and the elbow, with the outside side of the breast slightly inside or outside your body line as viewed from the front. Lengthen or shorten your bra straps as required.
  • Your bra should not feel tight or constricting. Most back-closing styles have several hook positions and adjustable straps to help achieve an exact fit. It may be helpful to buy the next larger size. Bra extenders lengthen the back, but may compromise proper fit and proportion at the front.
  • Breasts should fill your bra cups snugly. Cups that are too small will push your breast forms up and out, occasionally with embarrassing consequences. Cups that are too large let everything flop around uncomfortably (the wild flailing and bouncing we mentioned earlier). Adjusting shoulder straps can sometimes help.
  • Your breast forms should stay put. They will be most secure in a full-cup bra (where the cups nearly completely cover the breast), less so in a low-cut or push-up and least in a strapless. Medium- to full-support bras will be most comfortable.
  • Your bra shouldn't ride up or down. The band should be horizontal all the way around. Make sure shoulder straps are properly adjusted. Sometimes a different size or style or advice from a trained fitter can help.
  • Shoulder straps that dig into you point to too-narrow straps, poor strap adjustment or the wrong size or style of bra. A bra with wider straps or one with the straps set wider apart can sometimes help. We tend to need much longer shoulder straps than regular women; some bras simply don't lengthen enough. Look for a different style.

Making breast forms

Few crossdressers have enough up front to produce convincing female cleavage without assistance. Most of us rely on padding or other means of simulating a bustline. There are many ways of making breast forms, and a number of things to consider should you opt to buy a pair.

Here are some popular and inexpensive techniques for making your own breast forms.

A handful of rice or birdseed tied not too tightly in the toe of a nylon stocking works well, but is a little lumpy when hugging.

Water-filled balloons work well, but are fraught with hazard. If you insist on trying them, buy the very largest balloons you can find, and fill them loosely for a comfortable, natural form. Tightly-filled balloons are unnaturally round and hard and slide around inside most bras. Don't plan on storing them, as the chlorine in the water causes the rubber to deteriorate.

Freezer pack gel: The freezer packs you buy for your picnic cooler contain a gel that is an excellent filler. Take two heavy freezer bags and put half a cup of gel (more or less according to desired size) in the bottom corner of each. Tie off securely but without compressing the gel into the corner. Fold over and tie again for security. Trim off the excess and you'll have soft, teardrop-shaped breast forms that are surprisingly effective and durable. The corner point can be worn upwards or to the side, whichever gives the most natural shape with your bra. Thaw before wearing...

Homemade forms like these have the advantages of being cheap, easily replaced and easily adjusted. Their drawbacks include their fragility (many a crossdresser has had to flee the dance floor when she sprang a leak) and their usually poor fit.

Padded bras can give a natural bustline, but consider wearing them with a slightly smaller form than usual. They're usually designed to enhance a small bust, not to augment an already ample one.

Buying breast forms

There are many different types of commercial breast forms ranging in price from $50 a pair to $500 each side.

Fake Boobs: these are the toys you buy at joke shops as gags. Usually oversized, hard and uncomfortable, they are cheap. We recommend you don't bother; carefully-made homemade forms work, fit and look better.

Treasure Chest: these are a full chest/breast form, available through some mail-order places like Frederick's of Hollywood. Rumour has it they are not worth the money.

Bust enhancers: these are small crescent-shaped pads of latex or soft plastic that fit under your breast to lift up what you already have. The better ones are silicone-filled. They work best with a firm-fitting bra. They're available via the Internet, through television shopping networks or at lingerie or mastectomy stores. $30-$100 a pair.

Swim forms: these are fairly sturdy to withstand the physical and chemical rigours of swimming. These usually form a full breast, hollowed out behind to fit your chest. They work well with most bras or swimsuits that offer at least medium support. They're made of soft rubber; some are silicone-filled. They're usually transparent to match skin colour under a wet swimsuit. This means they can look odd under very sheer tops; solve this by making covers from the feet of old pantyhose. Look for them on the Internet, at specialty lingerie stores or mastectomy stores. Typically $40-$90 each side.

Silicone-filled: designed to match the weight, softness and movement of a real breast, these are the cadillacs of breast forms in quality, comfort and price. They are medical prosthetic devices that substitute for a mastectomy patient's missing breast. A variety of styles and sizes are available to match differing breast sizes and shapes. Attachable nipples are available, along with cloth covers for comfort. Available at mastectomy stores, or via the Internet. Typically $350-$500 each side. Some mastectomy stores will sell returned or exchanged forms for considerably less don't hesitate to ask!

Attachable: Many breast forms are available in attachable styles. Most come with small patches attach to your chest with special adhesive and the breast forms attach to these with a Velcro-like material. (No, it's not as painful as it sounds!) Properly attached, they can be secure enough to allow you to go braless. They're invaluable under a strapless or backless dress! Another type, the Luxa Contact by Amoena (also called the "Post-It Boob") has a special adhesive on the back of the form which sticks directly to your skin, then comes away leaving no residue of any kind. The Luxa Contact is secure enough to be self-adhesive but is not self-supporting. Even a snug-fitting top or a sundress with a built-in bra will hold them in place, though.

Where to shop

Actually getting out and buying a bra for the first time is an interesting experience. A little planning can go a long way to making that trip a fun and productive one.

Catalogue or on-line shopping: This is the easiest method for the timid, but proper, comfortable, natural-looking fit requires some trial and error. It usually involves ordering a number of bras around your size, then returning those that don't fit. Read the fine print to make sure they can be returned; some undergarments can't. Sears has a very wide range of styles, including many large sizes. Most on-line (Internet) shopping sites are American; don't forget about the exchange rate! Follow their measuring instructions carefully.

Thrift stores (Value Village, Salvation Army etc.): These usually have a rather limited selection, usually of fancy items. Most items will not have size tags, so finding (or learning) your size can be difficult. Trying on is possible.

Low-cost department stores (Wal-Mart, Zellers, etc.): These stores' prices are usually reasonable, but staff is not always helpful so you need to know exactly what you want. The open-air layout may be intimidating. Stores are least crowded early or late in the day, most crowded on weekends. To avoid crowds, avoid sale days. Trying on is rarely an option unless you're comfortable shopping en femme.

Department stores (Sears, The Bay etc.): prices are higher, but selection is usually good. Most make a point of stocking every size in every style. Department layout tends to be more enclosed. Staff tend to be more helpful, but you need to know your size. Few department stores will allow you into the fitting rooms unless you're en femme, although you can sometimes discreetly try on your prospect in the men's fitting rooms.

Lingerie specialty stores (La Senza, Petticoat Box etc.): These are nice, well laid out stores that carry a wide range of sizes and styles. Some, like La Senza and Victoria's Secret carry only their own brands. Staff are usually helpful and not bothered about why you're buying this stuff. Some stores will take appointments and will allow trying on at those times; others are less accepting of crossdressers. If in doubt, phone and ask to speak with the manager.

Mastectomy stores: These stores cater to mastectomy (breast cancer) patients and therefore carry styles designed specifically to work with breast forms. They may also carry specially-designed swimwear and other lingerie. They will take appointments and take the time to fit you properly. Staff are qualified fitters and have the expertise to fit a bra for breast forms, though not all may have worked with a crossdresser before. Expect to pay a premium price; you're shopping in a specialty store and receiving expert service.

Lend money to a bad debtor and he will hate you.