Sunday, 12 May 2013

Cleo "Meg" Review

Cleo by Panache has come out with a lot of new shapes lately, and I haven't really had time to keep up with them all. I decided to play catch-up and try out the Meg. It came in this bird print last season:

This season's coral/fuschia with white polka dots really appealed to me as it's so summery and cheerful, and I like polka dots.

I decided to brave ASOS US's confusing sizing system (which I've explained here) and ordered this bra in what they call a 30K, which is a 30H in normal UK sizing. 30H is the size I wear in most Cleo bras (Lucy, Marcie, Juna, Sadie, Molly, Olivia/Alexa/Sasha).

As you can see, the bra is beautiful but the shape just doesn't work for me. There's too much space right along the diagonal seam, but then the top section curves back in towards the body very tightly.

Too much space here...

Not enough space in the very top.
While a lot of top sections curve back in at an angle to the body, this one is practically perpendicular, designed to serve as the almost-flat top of a very rounded breast shape.  This shape clearly doesn't work for me because I have too much very firm tissue on the top that can't settle in with such a tight top edge.

HOWEVER, if you have soft boobs or less volume in the top, this bra will work brilliantly to provide the classic super-round Cleo shape. Think of it like a version of the Bravissimo Alana, designed to support the boobs from everywhere, even the top--except the Alana gives the perky, lifted green shape

while the Cleo Meg gives the super-rounded purple shape.

Unfortunately, this Cleo shape is a no-go for me, but I really think it has potential to serve other shapes very well. It's nice to see Cleo diversifying the cuts of their bras so different ones can work for different people.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

My Sports Bra Revolution (Guest Post)

This post is by a very special guest--my mother!

I started running when I was 14—40 years ago. I run because I feel wonderful afterward and sometimes even during. Since I was perhaps 21, when my breasts reached their permanent size, until only a few years ago, the lack of proper sports bras interfered with the pure freedom of running I remembered from the early years.
            I have tried many sports bras, and only a few of them have worked. But I have continued to run, wearing everything from underwire everyday bras to those officially called sports tops, which barely supported me. I have sometimes pressed my wrists against my breasts as I loped up my street in the early morning. I have put up with a lot of bouncing to be in shape. (As addictions go, I often say, exercise isn’t a bad one.)
            A world where engineers long ago invented bounce-free egg cartons, spaceships, and even baby strollers, someone ought to be able to come up with a sports bra that works. Lucky for us, a few are starting to hit the mark.
            I have concluded that a good sports bra is so rare because until recently, too few well-endowed women haven’t insisted. And, of course, many haven’t insisted because they didn’t find running very comfortable, the classic Catch-22 situation.
            I too have at times wondered if I shouldn’t run because I don’t look like Joan Benoit Samuelson. But no, that’s silly. Humans, thin, padded, and even overweight, were made for running through the savannahs. We can run without any bras, as women no doubt did for millenia, but in a world with every available technology, why should we?
            At any rate, I’ve always come back to running. Short of spending an entire day going up and down a mountain, which interferes with things like making a living at sea level, no other exercise comes close in terms of the joy and contentment it delivers for so little cost. Running is the perfect exercise, aerobically, financially, and practically.
            But a sports bra that holds the bottom of the breasts tight against the body is a piece of equipment I won’t do without. And most sports bras on the market fail to do this.

Why you will be glad you did not come of age in the Twiggy-worshipping years

            My personal history with sports started early, when I didn’t need a good bra. Which might be why I continue in my quest to run. I can’t forget what it was like when it came so easily to me.
            When I started running in 1973 I wore a 32A bra. My friend Jane’s mother told a group of girls that Title IX, the 1972 federal education amendment, meant we could go out for the cross-country team. Jane and I both had brothers on the team; my brother said I should go for it. Soon I was doing workouts of 5 and 10 miles and racing uphill against boys. In the first meet, I beat a boy in the final sprint. I had unleashed a tigress within.
            I was 14. There were no sports bras. At all. But then, I hadn’t finished growing, and I was fairly skinny and flat-chested—come to think of it, not unlike the women modeling the cool and unsupportive sports bras in today’s Patagonia catalog. The kind of women I have finally learned I will never look like.
            When I was 15, I placed seventh in New Jersey in the girls’ mile. The next year, I suffered an injury, probably a stress fracture from unpadded men’s running shoes that we wore then (that’s another story for another blog). I stopped running for almost a year, then tried it again, but ultimately stopped team running. That coincided with very normal growth in my breasts. I come from a family of late bloomers. My breasts did most of their growing between age 17 and 22.
            Around the time I started running, some very negative messages started coming at me from some very trusted people, including my own beloved mother, my ballet teacher, and the ballet teacher’s husband. When I was 13, the otherwise nice ballet teacher’s husband had once gone around the dance rehearsal with a clipboard recording how many pounds each of us should lose. I should have walked out! 7 pounds? My short career as a dancer is another story, but this kind of scrutiny laid the groundwork for the attitude that a woman must work her body to fitting some imagined ideal.
            When I found running as a sport, though, I forgot about all that. I was just borne away on the pure high of competitiveness and endorphins. But in the greater culture, most girls my age longed to look very thin. This was an age of anorexia nervosa and bulimia, two problems I never had. This is relevant to sports bras because, back in the 1970s, when I was going through all this, the default attitude was that if you could not find clothing off-the-rack that made you look good, or if that fashionable stuff didn’t fit, that meant something was wrong with your body, rather than that the clothes were inadequate to reality.
            I told myself then that I too wanted to be very thin, but my real goal had more to do with feeling free and unselfconscious—the way I had felt at the top of my running form.
            When my breasts began to grow into their 36C size—or, as I learned a few years ago when my daughter took me to a proper bra fitting, 34DD or 32E—I wished they’d be a little smaller not so much because I wanted to go on the stage or screen—because I wanted to be an athlete and I didn’t think I could be a good athlete with a chest.

            In college, when I did go running for exercise, my regular underwire (as I wore by then) bras were all I had, but they chafed pretty terribly. I never would have considered running the kind of distances that it turned out my body is best suited to. I would have had to bandage my chest at the spots where it met the bra.
             I started to wish for a bra that would mummify movement like a roll of tight gauze, preventing me from bouncing. Well, the most popular sports bras that came out finally in the late 1970s claimed to do that. They said they would compress the breasts—not quite like binding them, but close. What they actually did was function like a large, loose-fitting bandage, as a friend of mine once remarked.
            It was a reasonable goal, to prevent breasts from bouncing too much. It’s one important element of freedom during sports, but it’s not the only one. More about that in a second.

Jogbra: Two jock straps sewn together

            I ran only sporadically while in college (1977-1981) and didn’t own a sports bra until the early 1980s, when my brother co-owned an athletic store. I bought the first Jogbra, whose inventors literally sewed together two jock straps in the design phase. Moving Comfort shelf bras, designed to compress, came next. 

Moving Comfort bra
I wore a number of those through the 1990s, after I’d borne and breastfed two daughters and was back to running on a daily basis.
            These early compression bras had nothing going for them other than compression and then only if you bought a small enough size. The bands underneath the breasts weren’t wide enough or strong enough to hold breasts close to the body. They didn’t eliminate bounce. Most of them still don’t. Take the Patagonia bras of yesterday and today.

Patagonia shelf bra

Finishing a race in a Patagonia shelf bra
            Sports bras really need to constrict. No bra will stop bouncing entirely. But good ones can hold the bounce close in and prevent the breasts from spilling out the bottom as you run.
            The first sports bra that really worked for me was a classic shelf/compression bra made with a special fabric with 30-percent spandex. It was called the Frog Bra. Title Nine Sports, a California catalog marketer, had it made for them for many years. (The catalog copy went something like this: “Leap without bouncing.... This bra got the highest rating from our largest-breasted testers and, believe us, they’ve tried every bra out there. One said, “It’s almost like not having breasts at all. Well, almost.”)

Frog Bra

            Title Nine discontinued the Frog Bra some years back, but I still have a size medium one kicking around the house. I tried it out the other day and found its magic had all been in the spandex, which by now has lost its punch. You can see from the design that this bra has nothing else going for it other than covering the breasts.

            Four years ago, I discovered this Freya Active bra that encapsulates, uses little elastic, and doesn’t chafe.
Freya Active

This bra is not a looker. But it has worked better than any other sports bra I’ve tried, and it has held up amazingly well over four years. 

In the pictures above, I’m finishing a 7-mile trail race, and I look like a happy woman, a real woman who isn’t wishing to be flat-chested. A woman who is proud of who she is.
            Yes, the seams show, and I’ve read buyer reviews blasting the company for that. Why? I don’t care about seams in a sport bra, not at all. I care about being able to run comfortably. This is sports, not fashion.
            When you examine the construction of this Freya bra, you can see it’s built on three factors: constructed, three-dimensional cages (for lack of a better word) for each breast, air circulation (the thick mesh fabric around the breasts), and tough straps that do not stretch when you move. 

Freya Active design
This bra holds the breasts close enough to the body so that when I run, they run with me instead of bouncing crazily downward out of the bra in protest.
            Just a few days ago I visited Zoe and Co. and bought myself a new sports bra, also by Freya. This one’s underwire and comes in a snappy red color. I’ll never lose this in my drawer. I have high hopes for it. It fits very well and looks good under my T-shirt.

Freya Active sports bra

New Freya Active bra under T-shirt
            I’ve been running with a few Shock Absorber bras and tops. One (not shown) is the same model the blog master reviewed a few months ago. It’s a variation on a compression bra that works because of the second band and hooks mid-back, and the key is that the band must be very tight. I think of this as the best compression bra I’ve found, but I can’t wear it comfortably for more than a few hours.
            Another Shock Absorber bra I like, guardedly, is a full-body top that I have used for yoga and when running the hot weather. See the photo of me after a Fourth of July race. 

This has an inner constructed bra with two bands that hook, one low and one high. It takes ages to put on but works pretty well.
            One of my dark horse favorite bras combines the best of compression/shelf design with the best of encapsulation. It’s a humble, almost homely design by Royce. The band is much wider than most shelf bras, and that saves it. It covers the breasts all the way to that bone that sticks out below my neck. So I’m glad I got it in black for under black shirts, because it often peeks out. The Royce has strategic seams, creating that cage for breast movement during running, and two layers of fabric. 

I wore this bra for a different 7-mile trail race, that one on a hot August day. 

It worked well. In fact, I’m wearing it right now at my desk.

            One more thought. I avoided a bra for years that looked like a cross between a shiny corset and something you might wear after you broke your collarbone. I avoided it because my beloved Title Nine Sports catalog, which has sold it for years, named it the “Last Resort Bra.” I’ve learned that this bra is just called the Enell Sport. It was designed by a Montana hairdresser who, like me, wanted to run and found that most bras don’t work. It ranges in sizes from 00 to size 8. I would not buy it from Title Nine now that I have realized it sells only 0 to 4 and renamed them “XS” to “XL.” My 32E or 34DD size corresponds to size 1 in the Enell Sport.
            And I’ve ordered one—from Enell directly. I think I’m going to love it. I will let your blogmaster know.
            Running is a fine sport for the well-endowed. A bra that fits us is not the last resort, but the first.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Mass Review Of GG+ Cup Bras

This past weekend I took a trip to the bra store that originally fitted me into my correct size, Zoe and Co. There are two locations, one in Westerly, RI and the other in Concord, NH and if you’re anywhere near either of those places, I recommend a visit. Here's their website--they recommend making an appointment for fitting. The customer service is really impeccable. They check every bra for proper fit and write down your name and size so they can remember you next time you come in. Going there is always a wonderful experience. The prices are higher than online shopping, but in my opinion the excellent customer service is worth it if you can afford it.

I didn’t have my camera with me at the shop, but I tried a lot of bras and thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts on fit even without photos. Unless otherwise noted, all the bras I tried were a size 30H.

Fantasie Smoothing: There are two versions of this bra. The 4510 (Smoothing Molded T-Shirt Bra) is a true molded bra.
4510 (Smoothing Molded)

The 4500 (Smoothing Full Cup) is just plain fabric that is ‘molded’ into the shape of boobs, and thus seamless, but doesn’t have the stiffness or padding normally associated with a molded bra.
4500 (Smoothing Full Cup)
The non-padded Smoothing Full Cup gave quite a good shape, actually, though pretty low and somewhat minimized. Unfortunately, though, the cups go up very high and therefore I found it would lose a lot of practicality for the stuff I wear now, although it would work well with button-down shirts.

The padded 4510 also gives a good shape, but very different—quite ‘perky’ and with a lot of projection, which gets smaller in the tip of the cup so it isn’t too visually overwhelming. Not my favorite shape on myself—a little too in-your-face—but very attractive. However, since my boobs don’t have that much projection, the tips of the cups were empty even though a size down would have been small everywhere else. Since it’s a very stiff molding, it held its shape even with the empty area, but the whole thing just felt a bit like a contraption on me.

Both the 4510 and 4500 are a shade that is a bit too dark and too yellow-toned to be a perfect nude for me.

Fantasie 0993 (Classic Specialty Full Cup): 

Another beige bra from Fantasie, this one with seams. This oldie-but-not-goodie is similar to the Belle, but uglier and, if possible, even WORSE in terms of shape. I’ve never seen my boobs so pointy and flattened. Kinda like a spade shape:

I can’t think of anyone who would seek this shape. I’m officially renaming it the Fantasie Ugh-Get-It-Off-Of-Me.

Masquerade Coco: 

This one in a 30H was a perfect fit on me. My fitter was basically in raptures over it. The gore sat perfectly, the cups perfectly hugged my boobs. I’d say this bra fits pretty much identically to the Delphi (also like the Rhea, but Coco and Delphi have thinner padding) and is a good alternative to the Delphi for those looking to avoid its massive foamy straps. I would have gotten this one except I’ve finally learned that I will not really wear a padded bra; which is a shame as this one is beautiful.

Panache Fern:

 I tried this on in two colors without any hopes that it would work for me, as it’s the dreaded full-cup shape.

However, the Fern is nicer than some others with the same seam pattern. The shape was not stellar on me, but not nearly as bad as the Tango full-cup or a Fantasie full-cup. This is the sort of bra that I might have bought in high school before I was so picky about shape.

Panache Tango II Full Cup: I already knew that I hated this bra, but I tried it one more time for kicks. UGH UGH UGH. This bra is one of the bras that depresses me most.

To start off, the band runs really tight and the cups have absolutely no flexibility or stretch in them, so putting it on is like being suctioned into a cardboard bodice.

Secondly, the shape is just a huge ‘no’ for my boobs. Because they’re full on top, there isn’t any way that I’m going to get a natural ‘curve back in’ at the top (which happens for boobs with less upper fullness, as there’s less tissue there) which combined with the flat lift of the bottom would give a decent shape. Instead, the tissue at the top is flattened into a ski slope and my boobs become a behemoth-ish downward-pointing triangle. 0 out of 10 stars, would not recommend. I wouldn’t even necessarily recommend the Tango Full Cup to people who don’t have upper fullness (even though it will sometimes look better on them than it does on me) just because there are so many bras that will be nicer than this one on just about everyone.

The one exception is if you try on the Tango Full Cup in a store and the shape is nice on you; then you’re in luck, because it comes in zillions of colors and Panache obsessively brings out new versions of it every season. Tango Luxe! Tango Spirit! Tango Two Tone! Idina! Tango Accenti! Ugh smother me with a sock. I wish they’d give this much attention to their best bras, like the Andorra and Sienna.

Panache Tango II Plunge

I tried this one again just so I could nail down my impressions for the blog. It’s a LOT better in terms of shape than the Full Cup, and I like how flat the gore sits and how little cleavage it shows. But the cups just have too much depth to them for me, without having enough space to compensate everywhere else (especially in the top), which results in a pointy shape. I would say this one can definitely work for some shapes though.

Cleo Maddie

Cleo’s new molded bra that goes up to an H. Don’t get too excited, though. Sadly, this is no true H; the 30H was at least two cup sizes too small for me. Size UP in this one! It runs much smaller than the Juna etc. I’d recommend two sizes up from your size in Juna.

Curvy Kate Tempt Me

I knew this wouldn’t fit me in a 30H, because it’s the same cut as the Elegance, which was absurdly tiny on me in a cup size bigger. However, the Tempt Me does run a little bit bigger in the cups than the Elegance; I could probably fit a 30J in it, whereas I’d need a nonexistent 30JJ to fit in the Elegance. Of course, this is always going to be a bra that shows loads of cleavage, it has very little space in the bottom (even for me, who has very little boob tissue there), and it’s kind of an odd shape with tons of bra in the upper corners. But good for showing tons of cleavage in deep V-necks—just make sure you size up.

Curvy Kate Wild

Another bra with this same shape, but ran just slightly larger than the Tempt Me. To my surprise, I hardly got quad-boob in this one, although the cleavage levels were far greater than necessary for any event in my life. But if I really wanted show-stopping cleavage (no, thanks—I don’t) this would be perfect in a 30HH. I’m not a cleavage person, but if you are, I’d recommend the Wild over the Tempt Me for a better fit (and it’s cute!).

Cleo Darcy

No surprises here, this fits just like the Juna, Rihanna, Ellie, Sadie, etc etc.

Royce Charlotte Soft Cup: 

I tried a wireless bra for the heck of it. The shape, of course, was heinous—sort of like an upside-down elf shoe—

…but I was interested to note that the cups actually did separate my boobs, so if I was living alone in a dark cave with no mirrors, I could comfortably wear this to bed. The band runs pretty tight on this one.

Do I believe that any wireless bra can give a nice shape? Not really—maybe a molded one—but it’s interesting to know that you actually can get separation without wires.

Curvy Kate Princess

I’ve reviewed this one before, and it’s a bra I have a thorny history with. The new purple color is beautiful, though. I tried it in a 30H, which I know is always one size too small for me in Curvy Kate balconettes, but this one was actually bigger than the old red Princess in the same cup size. So the Princess, like the Cleo Lucy, has actually gotten a little bit bigger over the years, which is good for those who need just a smidge more space in the cups. It’s not by any stretch a full cup size bigger, though.

Curvy Kate Daily Boost

Again, I knew the 30H they brought me was going to be one cup size too small, but all I really wanted to verify by trying this one was that it gives the same shape as the unpadded balconettes. It does. So this one is kind of a no-go for me; Curvy Kate’s bras with this shape just don’t make my boobs round enough or lifted enough for my tastes. It’s definitely a comfy bra though. Try it out if you like Curvy Kate’s unpadded balconettes and crave some padding.

Masquerade Deity

This is a newish padded plunge. It’s structured similarly to the Cleo Molly, but a little different; it gives a more rounded shape from the side than the Molly right off the bat. The satin material is gorgeous and luxurious. Padded means “not for me”, but I’d highly recommend this bra for those who like padding. I’d say it’s similar to the Bravissimo Satine but runs a cup size bigger.

Curvy Kate Gia

Again, these balconettes aren’t for me, and again it was a size too small, but even from that I was pretty impressed. The shape it gives is actually nicer than the other Curvy Kate balconettes I’ve tried. Pretty similar, but nicer. However, I’m not crazy about the thick material on the lower cup; it makes a really bulky seam across the boobs. But I guess it’s a good compromise between padded and non-padded.

Freya Fever bikini: My mom offered to buy this for me and I wasn’t about to refuse because this one looks CRACKERJACK on me in a 32GG. Better than the Siren bikini, because there isn’t that little bit of wrinkling along the seam. The gores on these plunges sit so unbelievably flat against my chest. The band on the Fever is tighter than the Siren or Cha Cha.

A real photo of me in it, since I own it now!
I also tried on the Fever bikini in a 30H, but I found that the structure is changed in this size (most of Freya’s plunge bikinis only go up to GG, but the Fever theoretically goes up higher; however, it’s an altered structure). The 30H had the straps placed closer to the middle and designed so that the top edge of the cups would hold the boobs in more. In my size range, this alteration isn’t necessary, and it’s not as cute as the normal plunge (it’s more practical/‘sporty’ looking). But the different design for bigger cups still fit well and gave a great shape, so it’s not a deal breaker; I just prefer the 32GG for that reason. I also didn’t note a huge departure in band size between the 30 and 32 just because there is so much Lycra involved.

I’ve been wearing my Fever bikini as a bra for the four days straight because frankly, no one is currently selling a bra that fits me as well as this bikini, much less one that gives SUCH a wonderful shape and is SO comfortable. I’m in love. 

Ruby Pink/Keia Simone: A big surprise from this one! I tried it in a 32GG and actually bought it.

I gotta say that I felt pretty suspicious of this one at first because it is so different from the kind of bra that usually works for me. It’s cut the same way as the Tango Plunge, with an altered full-cup construction in which the bottom sections still do not come up to meet the strap, but are angled diagonally instead of straight across. Not a seam structure that’s ever worked for me, except in the Andorra Plunge, which has side support. Plus, I’ve tried Ruby Pink/Keia bras before and they all failed on me, though I hadn’t tried one with this structure (the ones I tried before were proper balconettes). Finally, the vast top section is not something I’m used to. But despite the odds, this bra seems to work really well on me. The shape is what I look for: round and compressed. I’m not sure yet if the shape will change over the course of a day; the top section is made of mesh that has a good bit of stretch, but no elastic. I find that the use of a fabric that can distort, but doesn’t have any stretch to snap back to shape, can result in a bra whose shape declines over the course of the day—starts the day round, ends the day pointy. That’s a concern that time will reveal. But the thing I was so excited about was that this nude bra that finally MIGHT be my long-awaited well-fitting nude bra is actually CUTE! It has pom-poms and glitter. POM-POMS AND GLITTER. This is the kind of bra I’m waiting for from Cleo; only time will tell if it can meet that standard with wear. Full review to come.