Shapes?! Lengths?! MM?! Style?! How do I actually choose my underwire??
Are you a home sewist? An indie designer? A new brand? How do you choose your wire? First things first, you might want to find out what shape you need. Doing a breast root trace will give you a clearer idea of your shape/client’s shape/fit model’s shape.
From the breast root trace, you can lay various underwires overtop to see if once sprung open (stretch the underarm part of the wire outwards) they match the shape of the trace. Wires are usually around 15mm in core sizes, upwards of 50mm in large cup sizes.
As for determining style of underwire, there are plunge wires, balcony wires, half cup/strapless wires…these all have a different wire profile suited for the bra that you will design. Shapes of wires are not interchangeable. Just because you want a shorter wire for your bra, does not mean that it may be the right shape. If you imagine an X-Y axis (a grid of sorts) the lowest point of the wire, we call it the balance point (BP), should be resting on X, and the centre front (CF) tip resting on Y. This shape then needs to be sympathetic to the shape of your cradle for a good and comfortable fit. You don't want to drastically 'rotate' the wire in order to fit it into your bra.
Wires come in a variety of lengths! Every size is different, every shape is different…but there is a theme to them. Wires grade up in size, just like our bra patterns. The ‘rules’ are different for each brand, and some ‘rules’ seem more common by region. I can only comment on what happens in the UK as that is where my training is from.
One thing that IS important to remember if you are building a brand for yourself - once you’ve chosen a ‘root shape’ for your wire, it’s probably a good idea to stick with it. Wires are designed as ‘families’ with shapes that are similar to each other, just different lengths and styles, like higher/lower centre fronts and underarms. As customers come back to purchase again from you, if you’ve switched to a wider or narrower underwire profile, they’re going to know, and your brand might not work for them anymore. Anyone that did try your brand, and the wires didn’t work for them, probably won’t be back to see what’s new.
In an earlier blog post I covered Core & Plus Size Grading, and just lightly touched on wire grading. In the UK, core size bras (usually A - D/DD cups) will grade their wires by 21mm. This means that each wire size is 21mm different from each other, so little bit longer and a little bit wider. I've included a photo in Underwires 102 of a graded nest of wires.
In what the UK calls plus size bras (DD+ cups) wires traditionally grade by 16mm. So not quite as much as core sizes, but from a 32F to a 38F, that wire is 48mm (4.8cm!) longer.
The above information is what is commonly found in the UK. Please note that the styles you buy, or the ‘rules’ in your region or company may use different or proprietary grading increments.
Lastly, when you’re selecting your underwires, it’s important to make sure that the wire is going to fit into your bra! You want to make sure that the wire fits, and that you have room for wire play, anywhere from 11 to 16mm is industry standard. This is room for the wire to move within the channeling. Too much or too little wire play may result in the wire popping out.
Looking for more information about underwires?
There was a blog post I came across yesterday that stirred-up quite a debate. A young Hollywood actress, who recently had a breast reduction, was criticised in the media for her choice.
When I first saw the headline, and then the post, I was upset. I had felt that people who didn’t know this woman were judging her and shaming her for her choice. Many others felt the same way, commenting their concerns towards the author. The article did share some of the same concerns that I have about poor education surrounding bra fit, as well as sizing information shared from surgeons.
The author of the blog had advocated for properly fitted bras, and I am too a huge advocate for wearing properly fitted bras, so much so that it’s become a part of my life, as I’ve focused my education and career around it. A good fitting bra literally changed my life.
But I can relate to this young actress, at the age of 17, I considered a breast reduction, and had a consultation with a surgeon. Only out of sheer fear did I not proceed. I am completely terrified of needles and the idea of willingly allowing surgery on my body was just too much for me to handle at that time. The whole process also seemed too quick, or easy, and I was scared to make such a lasting decision at 17. There were real risks, scarring and weeks of healing. All I had to do was say "yes" and I'd have been on the 1-year plus wait for the surgery. That's a lot for a 17-year old girl to take in.
I was active during high school, a member of the track & field club and even competed (only once!) at the provincial level as a sprinter. My breasts were out of control. I was buying both 38DD and 40DD from Wonderbra, and it was miles too loose around the back. I reckon I was likely a 34/36FF. It was because of some of these issues that I had investigated this option.
My relationship towards my breasts changed when I finally was properly fitted, and began to buy bras that were imported from Europe. As a young woman in Canada, there were no other options to find a 36G or H in traditional retail stores. These bras cost a small fortune to a student, that in the end I had to get a job at the shop so that I could get a small discount on these necessities. The change in size and structure of the bra was incredibly painful for the first week to ten days. I had felt bruised and raw from the pressure of the bra on my frame, but looking in the mirror, and knowing how a good bra fit, I knew that I had to push through. If I hadn’t, I’d likely still be in that horrible Wonderbra, in another life, doing a job that I didn’t love.
That properly fitting bra did change my life though. I slowly became more comfortable and confident with my body. I felt supported physically and was not fighting with my bra so much throughout the day. The straps were not slipping, the band was not riding up, my breasts were not trying to escape from the bottom. My clothes fit better, as did my seatbelt! My wires were also not breaking, so I was no longer replacing my bras, but building a collection. I finally felt sexy, being able to get the colours I wanted with bottoms to match in beautiful and luxurious fabrics. Something that was never available to me, even in a 40DD.
These days, I still have a love-hate relationship with my breasts. I’m more confident in my figure now than I ever was in my youth, but most days, my breasts hurt. I now regularly sleep in a Bravissimo sleep top in order to contain them. I find without a sleep bra, my tender or swollen breasts (more so during certain times of the month) get in the way, or my skin is pinched, or my long hair gets trapped or wrapped around them.
I’m a lingerie designer, and I’ve spent the last year and a half working with some of the largest lingerie retailers for big cups in Europe. I still struggle to find bras that are comfortable for my squishy frame and fussy brain. Wires that poke and dig, or flimsy laces that don’t support, bands that cut or dig, as well as shoulder straps that are too short, or even fold in half and bunch up, are just some of my fit issues.
I’m not certain that I’d have a breast reduction at this stage in my life. I know I’m not at my healthy body weight. There was a period in my life where I had nearly reached my goal weight, and I was able to fit into a 32F in a brand that had a smaller fit. I can only imagine how someone may feel if they were happy with the rest of their body and their weight if their breasts were causing them a lot of physical, mental or emotional grief. I would also encourage anyone considering surgery to try to find the best fitting bra that they can, and attempt to reach their goal weight, if they are drastically far from it. Surgery isn’t the only choice, but for some it’s necessary for their body or mind, and shouldn’t be criticised by others.
The article also criticises the sizing of the young woman, before and after her surgery. They go as far to suggest that she wasn’t wearing a properly fitted bra. We all know that brands fit differently - and we all know that not everyone, including surgeons, are up to speed on bra fit education. It is frustrating, because as a bra fitter, I have seen the disappointment so many times on women’s faces when they realise that their after-surgery size is still a large cup.
It’s been in my experience, a great number of times, that women post-surgery are usually not too far off from their pre-surgery size. A great deal of breast tissue can be removed, but I have found that the width of the breast root, has stayed relatively similar for a large number of these women, instead the depth of the breast has been reduced. If I had infinite resources, this would actually be a strong lead for my next round of studies, like pursuing my Masters degree.
I’ve had women in tears where they were a 36H prior to surgery, and still require a 36FF post-surgery, when their doctor had told them they’d now be a C cup. It’s disheartening because these women have very much tied their bra size to something emotional, and a surgeon, has led them astray. The opposite can also be true. Many women with smaller busts having enhancement surgery, believing they’re a 36A or B, and then get fitted post-surgery in 30G, where the style options are radically different from what they were expecting.
But with that said, I can't think of a single woman that told me she had regretted her decision. Of course, post-surgery, these women will still struggle with finding well-fitting bras, but many have been released from they physical, emotional and mental issues surrounding their breasts.
In general, so much more needs to be done to educate women about bra fitting. There also needs to be increased access to more sizes in retail stores around the world (I’m looking at you North America) and they have to be available at all price points.
I believe so passionately in that last statement, that it’s my life’s mission. That is the goal I am working towards, and I hope to be able to make a difference in the lives of women, so that they too can experience a good fitting bra. I really do believe a good fitting bra can change your life, I feel that I’m living proof!
Share - have you had a breast surgery, or ever considered it?
What’s all this stuff about narrow Polish underwires?
Well, there are some very interesting (and highly accurate!) ideas coming from Polish brands like Comexim and Ewa Michalak in terms of wires. The UK has been a leader in intimates design since the industrial revolution, and seems to be the country pushing a broader range of sizes into the mainstream commercial marketplace. Like finding G cups at ASDA, aka Wal-Mart to all my North American friends.
With the increase of small band and large cup combinations, it’s possible to use wires that are too big, or should be described as too wide, for sizes over a GG or H cup. Wires get proportionally bigger, so a little bit taller and a little bit wider with each size, and when we keep going up to very large cup sizes, these wires just seem highly inappropriate for someone in a 28, 30, 32 or 34 inch band. You'll notice this when the wires seem to take up 2/3 of the bra and the wings are about 1/3...and you wonder if you have breasts under your arms and around the back...
What these Polish brands seem to have caught on to, is that the wires should be narrower. The breast doesn’t grow wider and wider and wider on the body as it gets bigger in the cup, at a point, things just stop. Just because you’re a 32J and your best friend is a 32F, doesn’t mean your breasts start wrapping around your underarm over to your back - they just get fuller and more projected. These Polish brands are designing their own wires and making the cups deeper, not wider, to get the cup depth that they need.
Here's a 'clone' I had made of a wire from an Ewa Michalak bra. You can see the dramatic shape on the right, where under the arm the wire comes straight up. This is a narrow shaped wire in a large cup size (EU 85HH). **note, yes, I did mirror the image because I took it the wrong way. I prefer to look at the 'right' side of my projects!**
With more and more bra fit discussion happening online, such as the Reddit, A Bra That Fits thread, and Bratabase, women are finding out more about their shape and learning if they do have narrow roots, and these narrow-rooted women are singing the praises of the narrow underwires from the Polish brands.
Well, why can’t more brands just get on with making bras with narrow wires then?
In my very casual and frank bra designer voice, I don’t know *exactly* why, but I have some ideas. Developing your own underwires is a bit of a pain in the boob. We’re working to precise measurements each and every day in our jobs, to the millimetre, and more. When developing my own patterns on the computer, I’m working to tolerances of .3mm. Yes POINT 3 MILLIMETRES. So, the width of just a couple of hairs. So, back to developing underwires...
You’re probably best to do a bit of research, a few bra fittings, and a few root traces (which I wrote just to go with this sentence), and figure out what shape of underwire you need. Then draw it on CAD, grade it and send off your bra wire blueprints to your bra wire factory to see if they can manufacture some samples with pretty much no deviation from your CAD submission.
Then from that, you need to draft your pattern. So, if you’re Big Bra Company XYZ, chances are you have tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of bra patterns that you can use for new block patterns. How much fun will it be if you change the width/shape of your underwires? That's a lot of cradles to sort out. Can you catch my drift?
Another issue when we’re making wires is the dreadful minimums. It’s a lot of work to produce bra componentry, so they don’t want to fire up the machines unless you’re making a big commitment to volumes. I’ve not yet found a factory to custom-build me my underwires in quantities less than 500 - 1,000 pairs. Yup, pairs. Can’t tell you that I’m off and out and about to make 500 bras…in one size, but there’s the one advantage to cross-grading! I can use those wires in a few different sizes, yay! My final university collection proposed 78 different sizes of bras...and I'd require 15 different sizes of underwires to commercially produce my collection. I honestly couldn't tell you what I'd do with 7,500 pairs of wires if a half-pallet showed up at my door.
All I’m guessing, is that it’s not a simple change to just ‘switch’ to making narrow wires.
The other thing we have to keep in mind, is that not everyone has narrow roots. There are some people that a lot of these bras in these sizes work just fine for! I'm having a discussion on a bra-making Facebook thread today about finding bras with a wide base and shallow cup for someone post-surgery.
I did come across an article this week about Katherine Hamilton Intimates (honestly, no relation) developing a narrower underwire for their large cup bras. It’s only a matter of time before we see more brands adopt this as a unique selling point.
Looking for even more information about underwires? See post Underwires 101.
There’s been a lot of discussion online about breast roots. Do you have wide roots, narrow roots, short roots, long roots? It all sounds interesting, but what is a breast root?!
The breast root is the inframammary fold. It’s basically where your breast attaches to your torso. The advantage to figuring out your breast root shape is to identify which wire shapes or styles might work best for you. This is extremely helpful if you are making your own bras and can select your wires, but even having an understanding of your root shape may help you in selecting ready-to-wear bras based on other people’s feedback.
So, how on Earth do you determine your breast root?!
The easiest thing to use is a flexi-curve ruler. It’s a bendy ruler that you would use for drawing or drafting, and it has come in handy when I’ve made paper patterns.
With the flexi-ruler, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve ‘bent’ it in a bit. I have two of them (a short one and a long one) and they are rather stiff when you first purchase them.
If you have large or pendulous breasts, you may also find it helpful to round up an assistant so that you don’t warp the shape when you remove the ruler from under the breast. You can lift up your breast while the helper moves away the ruler.
So, with your flexi-curve ruler, place it underneath your breast and mould it into the shape of your root. Easy as that!
Your root at the centre front begins where your breast attaches to your body. The root under the arm can be a bit more difficult to spot on some women, but it will be where the breast tissue ends. The idea is that the underwire of your bra follows the shape of your root. You don’t want the wire sitting on breast tissue, so make sure the ruler is capturing the shape of the tissue to the end. You want to capture the entire shape of the root, so if you have larger (not longer, lol) breasts, invest in the longer ruler.
It can be made a bit easier to make a small mark on your body with a pen or eyeliner pencil to mark where you believe your breast root ends and begins. This can make for a good check in the mirror before you begin. When I’m taking breast root traces of other women, I will use my fingers on the ruler to make a note of where the root ends and begins. When I place the ruler on a sheet of paper, I will have the model grab a pencil and mark the trace between where my fingers are positioned on the ruler to get the most accurate length. Four hands are better than two.
I then scan my trace and pop it into Adobe Illustrator to draw over top to darken it up and take measurements. You don't have to do this, but if you have your flexi-curve ruler with measurements, give it a measure. You can then line up your wires overtop to find the right shape for the breast root - or have a bit of a better idea of what you're looking for if you're shopping online.
I’m writing you this article from my temporary home in Nothern Germany where I don’t have a proper stash of supplies, it's currently all in the UK while I sort out my life, so I don’t have a photo of wires laying over top of the root. You’ll have to imagine it. Lay the wires over top of the shape to find one that seems to be the closest, and keep in mind you’ll want to splay the wire open a bit at the underarm. The tension on the band and cradle will force the cup and wire to widen a bit when the bra is put on, so do calculate that into your trace.
My friend Lyzzy Beswick has a great image of the root trace and a wire overtop over here on her Bra Underwires 101 on The Lingerie Addict.
I hope you find this helpful in your quest to find your perfect underwire fit!
A few weeks ago I was part of a heated discussion (or what felt like one) on a Facebook bra-makers group about underwires, and in particular, this discussion was about cross-grading and sister sizing and how wires are sized.
To make a long story longer, here’s pretty much everything I know about underwires in a ‘short’ little blog post. Laughs. This has now become a series of posts. Watch for Underwires 102, 103 and 104!
How are wires sized?
Underwire sizes can be confusing for the home sewist. 32, 34, 36, 38, 40…these sound like band sizes, not wire sizes…? Well, that’s because they are! Wire sizes are based on the sizes of B cups…so a 32 wire is the size of a 32B bra, 34 is a 34B, 36 is a 36B, and so on.
So how does this work for all the other sizes of bras? Well, that comes down to what we call in the industry, ‘cross-grading’ or what you may know as sister sizing.
A 34B bra is the equivalent in cup volume to both a 36A and 32C. The chart below shows wire sizes with their UK cross-grade equivalents. Yes, their UK equivalents. This is important to note as many regions have their own size systems. The UK uses many double letters as the cups get progressively larger, so we see D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, H, HH, and so on.
This UK wire chart shows the wire size required for each bra size. In small cups & bands, wires start at a size 30 - the depths of the cups will be different, the smallest sizes being the shallowest in depth. Ready-made wires available for home sewists will only go to a size 60. Brands that utilize these larger cup and band sizes will design and manufacture their own underwires.
In Europe, sizes follow the alphabet with D, E, F, G, H, I, and J cups available.
In North America, sizes can be a bit more erratic. We see some brands use D, DD, DDD, F, G, H, and others D, DD, DDD, G, H and others D, DD, DDD, DDDD, DDDDD…D's until your eyes fall out.
Standard ready-made wires come in a whole range of sizes, from sizes 30 to 60. Wires start at a 30, for even the smallest of cup sizes. The width of the breast root for a small bust and small frame will be similar enough to a woman with a deeper cup, the deeper cup size being just that. Deeper and more projected. The base of the breast is still a similar width. At the other end, a 60 wire is a very long and wide wire. It’s not necessarily going to be suitable in shape for those needing such a large wire, instead the wearer needing something with that width and shorter, or a narrow wire for increased cup projection.
At the end of the day, there is no consistency with bra sizing. There is no standard, and each company can do as they choose. It makes it frustrating for us as shoppers, but it does give us variety!
So that's it for Underwires 101. Stay tuned for 102 where we'll discuss these popular 'new' narrow wires from Poland!
Educating women on the benefits of proper fitting bras is important to Kim. Designing lingerie that complements the fuller figure, and is comfortable, on-trend and beautifully constructed is her mission.
We are in charge of our bodies, and we make the decisions that are right for us, with no judgement. Kimtimates supports those who make their own choices about their own bodies. #yourbodyyourchoice #mybodymychoice