Skip to main content

Finding Comfort: Bras Provide Support and Empowerment

Dec 30, 2022 ● By Carrie Jackson
A woman sitting on her porch in a wicker chair laughing while petting her dog.

Photo Credit: Caroline Knopf

From a sports bandeau to a lacy underwire, the modern bra has evolved since its patent in 1893. More than just shapewear, a proper bra protects breast tissue, offers comfort and support and keeps the girls in place. Besides their physical benefits, bras can help give women body confidence that translates into an overall feeling of assurance and peace of mind. Many factors go into choosing the right bra, including proper fit, adequate coverage, and social and environmental responsibility.

Ultimately, maximum comfort and support begins with the right fit. Studies estimate that more than 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size. Dr. Angie Skokos, founder of Chiro Care Clinic, in Addison and Westmont, says a properly fitting bra is essential, and provides more than just comfort. “A tight-fitting bra causes compression of the nerves, which can lead to numbness, pain and other issues in the overall area. This will not only affect the woman’s physique, but can also create a sense of self-consciousness,” she explains. Tight bras around the ribcage can also alter breathing, as well as cause back and neck pain. Conversely, too large a bra doesn’t provide the proper support, leading to potential tenderness and swelling in the breasts. If a bra band fits correctly and is firm, the weight of the bust will be evenly distributed and the major muscle groups in the back, neck and shoulders won’t be put under any strain.

While the choices of sizes and styles can be overwhelming, specialty shops such as Busted Bra Shop can help people make an informed purchase. The retailer maintains six locations in Chicago, the Detroit area and Ann Arbor, Michigan, each staffed with expertly trained bra fitters. Owner Lee Padgett, who founded the store in 2013 after not being able to find a bra retailer in her area, strives to make proper fitting bras accessible to everyone. “A bra is a basic accessory that most women wear every day, like a pair of socks. The taboo stigma our society has about lingerie is sad and harmful,” she says.

Part personal shopper and part confidante, a bra fitter can help take the guesswork out of lingerie shopping. In addition to a detailed understanding of how different bras are made, they are trained to be sensitive to nuances and body language. “Our fitters recognize that picking out a bra is a deeply personal experience. They work with the client to explore different cuts and styles while finding a bra that best fits their individual frame. They take measurements, analyze posture, look for pinching and access the client’s overall comfort level,” Padgett explains.

Busted Bra carries a large variety, including underwires, bralettes, sports bras, strapless and backless bras, molded cup bras and nursing bras. Their collection ranges in band sizes from 28 to 56 and cup sizes A through P. “The emotional and physical effects of an ill-fitting bra are myriad. When women don’t feel comfortable with the shape of their breasts, they’re prone to slump or arch their shoulders, which will have a big effect on how the back muscles affect their posture,” Padgett explains.

She stresses that it is especially imperative for teens and young women to have a positive experience with their first bra. “At a time when they are receiving mixed messages about their development, it’s important that the bra fitter ensures that her concerns are being heard and that her opinion is the most important one in the room.”

Even a properly fitting bra might not provide the coverage a woman wants, leading them to be self-conscious and embarrassed. Haunted by an adolescent photo with her nipples showing through her shirt, Becky Connelly searched for a bra that would hide her nipples without adding bulk, but couldn’t find one that met her needs. Frustrated, she decided to make her own nipple-concealing bralette, and Non-Disclosure Apparel was launched in 2022 to give other women options, as well.

Non-Disclosure’s patented line of bralettes are free of padding, foam and underwire, but instead have a discreet concealing petal permanently centered inside the cups for nipple coverage. They are stretchy, soft, forgiving and made of 92 percent nylon and 8 percent Spandex, so they don’t lose their shape. The bralettes come in four sizes from junior to large to fit D cups. “These are the perfect first bra for teens and tweens, who are especially self-conscious about their breast development. We get letters from parents thanking us for creating a bra that helps their daughters feel more confident in school and other activities,” says Connelly.

Not all women have equal access to bras, and an astounding number go to waste while countless women are in need. The Bra Recyclers, an Arizona-based social enterprise, works to reuse and recycle bras that would otherwise go to a landfill and distribute them to women without access to one. “An estimated 11 billion pounds of underwear go to the landfill every day, largely from retail returns and overstock. Our mission is to inspire retailers and consumers to make more informed choices and extend the lifecycle of their preloved and new underwear,” says founder Elaine Birks-Mitchell.

Since its inception in 2008, the organization has donated more than 4 million bras to over 120 nonprofits around the world that support women and girls in need, including those escaping human trafficking and domestic violence. “Women often flee to shelters from abusive situations without basic clothing, and that includes bras. Our partner organizations distribute to women in 29 states and eight countries, including places in Africa where girls are not allowed to go to school without a bra. Having access to a bra can help give them a boost on their path to self-sufficiency, while at the same time saving the bras from the landfill,” Birks-Mitchell explains.

Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.