I have been working on a very exciting project and it is time to share the news. I am producing a limited collection of lingerie for the Dose Market in Chicago! This is the first time I am producing ready-to-wear lingerie, something that is quite different from making custom bras for individual clients. Pictured above is a sample of what I will be selling at the market on November 6. I call this the “15-Minute” set.
The 15-Minute set consists of a bralette with vertically seamed triangle stretch lace cups set into a half-inch silk band with an adjustable flat hook back and double quarter inch adjustable satin and elastic straps. The bralette is paired with matching stretch lace string bikini hipster panties that have a concealed cotton panel. I am currently making this same design in two colorways and I will share pictures of the different sets over the next few weeks leading up to the market.
Lingerie aficionados will understand why I have dubbed this the 15-Minute set. Given the design and fabrication, the bralette is not intended to be worn for an extended period of time for support and shaping. It is meant to be to be worn when you want to receive a little extra attention from someone at home. The thought being that it will not be on for long!
Given this particular design I am only making the set for A and B cups. In my view, once you go beyond those cup sizes, more support and shaping is necessary, even if it is only for 15 minutes. I do make the equivalent of the 15-Minute bra for C cups and larger that have the sheerness of lace and beauty of silk for custom clients. However, as you know from reading my blog entry on “The Best Fitting Bra” that is necessarily a different design!
I would definitely add the 15-Minute set to the list of bra wardrobe essentials. You should have at least one of these in your lingerie drawer.
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I am just going to come out and say it. I don’t like foam. Foam cups, that is.
To me, seamless molded foam cups give all women the same rounded shape. Not only is it boring but it is unrealistic and not a good look for everyone. In defense of manufacturers, it is much easier to fit a wider variety of breast shapes using foam cups. Any fit issues with the cup of the bra are disguised under the “foam dome”, as I call it, making it easier to sell more bras to a wider variety of shapes.
Foam is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of bras. It started in the early 60s with advances in knit fabric fabric technology. It was not long before the process to produce seamless molded foam cups was perfected in the mid-1970s. Seamless molded foam cups came at a time when women wanted a smooth look under the fitted knit clothing of the time.
I have never really liked the “foam dome”, I prefer the lightness and beauty of bras made from laces and silks compared to fabric wrapped around a sometimes weighty foam cup. There are more design possibilities with fabric bra cups (called “cut-and-sew” bras) as well, which from a designers perspective is much more interesting.
I completely understand that many women like the enhanced profile that can be achieved when the breasts are given a padded boost. However, I think a properly designed and fitted cut-and-sew bra should be the first step. Many women are surprised to find that when a bra fits properly and is put on the body correctly – scooping the breasts out of the armpit and into the cup – natural assets are enhanced. Also keep in mind that bra makers have several tools in the their design arsenal to help enhance breast size and shape without the use of any padding. Of course for a bigger boost strategically built in padding can do a lovely yet subtle job.
The other argument for foam comes from women who say they want foam to conceal their nipples and aereola. Well, I have found that a fitted cut and sew bra can also accomplish this – depending on the fabric choice of course – since the cup seam directly passes over the bust apex.
For those that still crave foam enhancement, you can still set yourself apart from the pre-molded crowd via foam that has been fitted to your contours. Yes, this is possible via a custom bra and occasionally I make bras using this method, especially when some extra support is called for via strapless styles. So while I don’t use foam as a rule, it does have its place in my set of tools to make the best bra for each client.
One of my close friends looked the About section of the Orange Lingerie Website and told me it was a little, well, thin. Ok, constructive criticism accepted. When my husband sheepishly agreed with her assessment, I knew I needed to share more about how I started making bras and why I started Orange.
It all started with learning to sew stretchy knit fabrics at age 9. I was the youngest one in the sewing classes hosted by the local Stretch-And-Sew shop in Eugene, Oregon. One of the early classes I took was on making your own lingerie. I ended up making all my own underwear and was hooked! Throughout my school years I made a large portion of my clothing and in doing so became very particular about the fit of my clothes.
After college I started working in finance and I had no free time to sew my clothes so I started buying more clothing off the rack. Despite having relatively “normal” anatomy, I found I had to have most everything altered to fit to my standard.
This fit problem grew as my love of all things athletic grew. As I became more physically developed after taking up CrossFit in 2004, less and less fit me or could even be altered to fit me. I am still sad when I think about the Stella McCartney jackets that fit in the shoulder but were enormous everywhere else and any fitting would ruin the style. Anyway, at this point I moved on to custom clothing.
As it turns out, the switch to custom was very liberating. I was always pretty specific about what I wanted but now I did not have to shop around to try to find the closest thing and deal with fit issues, I could select what I wanted up front. And I could have it made to fit. Finally – jackets and shirts that fit me properly!
So what about bras? Well, a side effect of becoming physically developed through exercise is that your pectoralis major muscles (pecs) and latissimi dorsi (lats) become quite large. The bra back needs to be shaped so that it does not cut into the lats. On the pec side of things, well, larger pecs lead to a wider breast diameter (read: larger wire size needed). Pair all this with less overall body fat leading to a smaller breast volume and well, no bra fits!
As a long time lover of lingerie, I had many lovely pieces I could no longer wear. At first I thought I had a great excuse to shop for more but I could not find anything that fit me properly.
I actually ended up buying foam bras so the poor fit of the cups was hidden under the camouflage of foam but I don’t like foam bras. I don’t want my breasts to look like a molded foam cup. I like laces and silks. So following the custom made route, I looked for bra makers but I found no one who would make a bra that was fitted specifically to me unless I wanted to make multiple trips to France and pay around $800 for the bra as well. Oh there is also a waiting list too. Yikes!
This was the final straw. I decided to do something about it. I was sure that I was not the only woman who had a problem finding bras that fit. I quit my Wall Street job. I got right back into sewing and pattern making. I studied the specifics of fitting bras to real women of all shapes and sizes. I studied high quality fabrication techniques for bras and lingerie. I opened Orange and found I was not the only one who needed to have a bra custom made to her dimensions. There are a lot of us out there!
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After calls from two different brides who each wanted strapless bras for weddings later this month, I realized that many women have never commissioned a custom garment and likely have no idea what to expect. I suppose, first of all, I should be clear that it takes four to six weeks to make a custom bra for a new client. And if you want strapless we need to add another two to four weeks.
In terms of the process, it is a pretty straightforward. There are four main components: consultation, measurement, fitting and finally delivery of the finished bra (everyone’s favorite part!).
When I first meet with a client I need to first know the bra’s intended use. Is this bra intended to be worn under your wedding dress or are you really looking for an everyday basic bra? There is a pretty big difference between the two! A silk and lace bra is beautiful but may not work under your everyday clothes.
The bra’s purpose drives the next set of decisions: the style, fabric and trim choices. I cannot tell you how much fun it is to play with the fabric and trim swatch cards and place lace over fabrics for different effects. Yes, I am always ready with recommendations and I am very fast with the sketch pad, but in the end it is the client’s choice. This is definitely one of the best parts of having something custom made.
Once we establish purpose and fabrics, we can measure. The measurement process involves the traditional tape measure and some not-so-traditional measuring – trying on a variety of cup sizes, measuring the space, if any, between the breasts, and measuring the diameter of the breasts for the correct wire size.
Unlike the bras in the stores, the bra cups I use for fitting have little variation in size and shape from one cup to the next so I can fit anyone of any size. Between a C cup and a D cup? No problem. I probably have a cup that comes close. I see what each cup variation looks like on you and then I know how to make a cup to fit you precisely. It goes without saying that it is absolutely key for me to get the proper measurements since I use them to draft your pattern.
As a side note on measuring, I would love to have you measure yourself, report back to me, and then I would make a bra, that would just not work. You see, everyone has their own idea of where and how to measure their body. Take the ribcage: should be an easy one, right? Well, I had one bra store “specialist” measure my ribcage and she was more than 3” off because she thought it was ok to let the measuring tape descend down my back at an angle to the floor. Fail! By the way, the act of measuring yourself distorts the results. Think about it – you are twisting and turning to see the measuring tape and your body distorts while doing so.
Most clients require two fittings before the final bra is complete. During a fitting, you will try on a basted version of the bra. This mock up of the bra is made in the selected fabric and has an underwire and fastenings but is usually without the trimmings. You try it on and I assess the fit and note any necessary adjustments. I then go back and adjust the pattern and the mock up for any additional fittings.
Delivering the finished bra is the most rewarding part of the process. When a woman puts on a bra that I have made, casts aside the bra she wore to the appointment and wears her new Orange bra out of the studio – well, that is a great moment for everyone! Don’t you want to find out what it feels like to be that woman?
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As a CrossFit athlete and a bra maker, I admit I am troubled by the bra top the female athletes will be required to wear to compete at the CrossFit games. The uniform looks much like the sports bra in the picture above. This compression style bra with thin straps is really only good for the smaller breasted among us and certainly not for an activity as demanding as CrossFit. Anyway, I decided to channel my concern into an educational post on sports bras and where they fit into the bra wardrobe.
The Sports Bra Challenge
For active women, sports bras are an essential part of their bra wardrobe. Sports bras need to provide more support than a standard bra given the additional motion of the breasts during exercise. The breasts do not just move up and down, they also move from side to side (in a figure 8 actually) during exercise. The sports bra must provide support and limit this breast movement while not being overly restrictive, chafing or cutting into the body while the body moves vigorously. In all, a pretty tall order for a bra. None of active women I have met with have found exactly what they are looking for in a sports bra but they all know what they are looking for and have lots of suggestions for bra makers!
There are two primary types of sports bras, compression and encapsulation. Compression is the most common. It is constructed to press the breasts against the chest wall to limit their movement. The snugness extends to the “shelf” which is a wide band of elastic that sits just under the breasts. The plus to this style is is simplicity and versatility. You just pull on this bra and get to work and these bras look great on their own. This type of bra is frequently built into full length tank tops, allowing the athlete to have support in a single garment. Of course, there are minuses. The biggest minus is what upsets me about the CrossFit Games uniform – it only supports smaller breasted women. Another negative is it tends to produce a pancake “uniboob” which is less than flattering. The fit can be tricky for this style too. If it is too loose, there is no support and if it is too tight it can make breathing uncomfortable. There is another option.
The second primary type of sports bra is the encapsulation bra. Just like the name implies, this style of bra encapsulates each breast separately via individual cups. The cups may or may not have underwires. By having separate cups constructed to limit the movement of each breast separately, this type of bra provides superior support versus the compression style and it works for many more sizes as well. This style also has the benefit of maintaining the shape of your breasts (it is not pressing them down against your chest) so your body looks more proportional. The disadvantage of this type of bra is that it is difficult to wear on its own since it has a more traditional bra-like appearance with a rear hook and eye closure. Of course, I don’t have any issues with that since it gives me a chance to acquire another layer of clothing.
Regardless of the type of sports bra you choose you want to be very sure that the the straps are fairly wide so they do not dig into the shoulders. I also like the straps to crisscross the back to allow the shoulder blades to be free. You also want to be sure the bra is made from a moisture wicking fabric. This type of fabric has been treated to pull moisture away from the skin and push it through to the outer surface of the fabric where it spreads the moisture out to a larger surface area so it can quickly evaporate so you stay as dry and cool as possible.
Your Bra Wardrobe
In terms of how many sports bras you need in your wardrobe, you should have one for each day of the week that you exercise, so three days of workouts each week means you need three sports bras. To extend the life of your sports bras, you should follow the same bra care as is recommended for regular bras. See my post on “Bra Care and Maintenance” if you need a refresher.
For the CrossFit athletes – I say alter the sponsor’s compression sports bra, making it loose enough that you can get your preferred sports bra underneath it! Sneaky, yes. But athletic competition is about getting the job done regardless of the obstacle. Contact me if you want some help with this. I am more than happy to help!
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When building the ideal bra wardrobe, we need to start at the beginning with the first type of bra everyone must have, the everyday bra. This is the bra that you can reach for each day without even thinking about it. You know it will work with your outfit and will not show underneath your clothes. You can wear this bra all day without even noticing you have it on.
Let’s talk about the fit, style and color that put this bra into the every day category. You can get a refresher on fit from “The Best Fitting Bra” post. Needless to say fit is the first requirement for every bra. For the every day bra, you should place a premium on support and comfort. This is a bra that you are going to have on most days, all day long so it really needs to hold everything in place and it must do so comfortably. A supportive bra that is not comfortable is not a bra you ever want to wear!
In terms of the style, the everyday bra provides good coverage of the breasts so they remain securely in place and you don’t have to worry about any unintended exposure. The degree of coverage recommended is a function of your body type and personal preference. Smaller breasted women may prefer less coverage on top of the breasts and some exposed cleavage, while larger breasted women may want to conceal cleavage and have the feeling of security that full enclosure of the breast tissue provides. The point is that the style of the basic bra keeps your breasts covered and enclosed. The cups of this bra may be seamless pre-molded foam for maximum invisibility under close fitting clothing, but cross cup seamed cups are fine under most garments as well with the bonus of offering more style variation choices.
The color of the every day bra is close to the color of your skin. This allows the bra to go under pale colors and whites without being on show. Yes, there is a place for showy bras in your wardrobe but for most of us that is not an everyday look. While I recommend a skin color for every day wear, if your wardrobe is all dark colors you can select nearly any color you want (a solid bright white being the only color that should be selected with care since white nearly always shows under clothing).
Turning to fabrics, the everyday bra does not have to be from a solid beige stretch fabric (think beige foam cup bra), it can be made from lace or even silk. For summer, you may even want a bra made from moisture wicking fabric to keep your body dry. You are also not locked into a solid color. A subtle pattern of neutrals is a possibility. The everyday bra does not need to be boring!
While I am using the word “everyday” to describe this bra, I certainly do not recommend you wear the same bra every day. You can review my post on “Bra Care & Maintenance” to see why this is not a good idea. I recommend a minimum of 5 everyday bras since they should be washed after wearing once (maximally twice) and I am guessing that no one really wants to wash a bra every night. If you want to go longer than a week without doing your hand washing, get more of these bras to add to your drawer. If you enjoy doing your hand washing more often, you can get away with fewer of these.
Since I am hard at work on a sports bra design, and they are an important part of my bra wardrobe, that is the next bra up for discussion as part of creating the ideal bra wardrobe.
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One of my clients just asked me how many bras they should own. Such a great question! Of course, the answer is more than just a number, because all bras are not created equal. The answer to how many bras you should own is a combination of a number of bras and the type of bras you should own to give yourself maximum flexibility. The answer also needs to take into account your clothing wardrobe and your lifestyle. Given that there is a lot of material to cover to properly address this question, I’ll be answering this question in a series of posts over the next month or so. I’ll discuss each type of bra, its purpose, its distinguishing characteristics and what to look for when selecting one. As part of each post, I will provide a recommendation on the number of bras for the given type. Finally, we will wrap up with a summary of the ideal bra wardrobe.
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If you want your bras to perform at their best and last as long as possible, you need to wash your bra after wearing it once, or maximally twice. Think about it: the bra is worn directly against your body so it collects body oils and skin cells. Elastic, a key component of the bra band and straps, does not respond well to either substance. When these materials get into the elastic its ability to stretch and contract is decreased. It takes a proper wash to remove these substances so the elastic can go back to doing its job. If you wear your bras twice before washing, you need to give the bra a day off in between wearings. The elastic needs time to recover and go back to a neutral position.
So how do you wash a bra? Let’s start with what you do not do: do not put your bra in the washing machine. I know you want to because it is so easy. Do not do it! Remember there are wires encased under each bra cup. Those wires do important support work in your bra. They need to keep their shape and stay right where they are. In the washer (yes even in the delicate cycle), the water pressure and the pressure of clothing around the bra (even in the lingerie bag) could cause the wire to twist and lose its shape. Think about your other clothes too. Those bra hooks can catch on whatever else you have in the washer or the lingerie bag (even if you fasten them before you put them in the wash).
What about the dryer, you ask? I’ll be blunt: the dryer will ruin the elastic. I don’t care what temperature you use. Elastic is key to the bra’s function, and, as outlined above, elastic needs to be cared for properly.
All of this means one thing: hand washing and air-drying are key to cleaning the bra. To wash a bra, use lukewarm water and a gentle detergent. Gentle is the operative word. I like Eucalan or Soak since they are available in handy travel packets.
Let the bras (separated by color, of course) soak for approximately 30 minutes to allow the soap and water to work their cleaning magic. Rinse the soap from the bras in lukewarm water. To gently extract the excess water from a bra without squeezing it, lay the bra inside a towel and gently press down on the towel. Then lay the bra on a towel to dry. This soak-and-press technique is actually quite easy and does not require much active time at all.
If you follow these care instructions, a high quality bra that is worn twice a week will last between six and nine months. Regardless of care, there will come a time when a wash will not be able to resurrect the bra’s elastic and that is when the bra’s useful life is over.
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We all know what a great fitting bra feels like; the best ones are like an extension of your body, almost weightless, and unnoticeable. What makes a bra fit perfectly? It is actually a combination of things. At its simplest, the best fitting bra completely encapsulates the breast tissue, bringing it out from under the arm and off the rib cage so the breasts are lifted to a front facing position. It does all of this while lying flat against the body with no wrinkles or ripples – in the bra or on the body.
For a bra to achieve perfect fit as a whole, each part of the bra must do its job. So let’s take a look at each part of the bra and how it should fit.
The cups fully enclose the breast and are contoured to the individual wearer’s shape. Yes, there are degrees of coverage on the top of the breast, but the bottom portion of the cup must contain the breast entirely.
If the cups are too large, the breasts are not fully supported and will sag into the open spaces and the bra will look baggy. While this may be comfortable, the constant pull of gravity on the tissue surrounding the breasts leads to unattractive things in the future, not to mention what this does to the body’s overall profile right now. And there’s more bad news: ill fitting cups can also allow the apex of the breast to point outward rather than straight ahead, also unattractive.
If the cups are too small, in addition to discomfort, the bra will not lie flat on the body – it will be rippled and the wearer’s body may be too as it squeezes out from underneath the bra.
The bridge spans the space between the breasts, lying flat against the body and putting the cups and underwires in precise position to hold and support the breasts. If the bridge is too wide, the cups are too far apart and the bra will stand away from the body, creating a sort of uni-cup that does not hold or support the breasts effectively. On the other hand, if the bridge is too small, the breasts are pinched together. The bridge is so important to the overall fit of the bra that a major part of my measurement process is spent on determining the bridge shape and size.
From my Anatomy of a Bra post, you now know that the band of a bra is key to supporting the breasts. If the band is not wide enough to handle the pressure from supporting the breasts there are two ill effects. The first effect is that the job of supporting the breasts will be transferred to the straps, which can cause shoulder and even arm pain. The second effect is that the torso will flare out over the top of the band, which is an unattractive profile, even under clothing. While fashion bras almost universally have small bra bands, only small the small breasted can make do with one. Most women require a larger band to support their breasts.
The band should not be too tight or too loose but it should be snug. If the band is too loose, the bra can move around which usually means the breasts pull the back of the band up as they sag down in front. This may be comfortable, but the bra is clearly not doing its job. A band that is too tight will be uncomfortable and will pull the entire bra too tightly against the body leading to the body protruding around the bra.
The wires sit directly under the breasts, against the body and match the diameter of the breasts. This fit allows the wires to do their job of spreading the stress of breast support into the band. If wires are too small, they will dig into the breast tissue which is painful. If they are too large, they will dig into the body. If the wires don’t fit correctly, they can also shift and twist. As you can imagine, ill fitting wires make for a long, uncomfortable day.
Because wires only made in a few lengths with a standard curve, it is difficult to find a good match off the rack. For my clients, I cut the wires to the proper size and reshape them as necessary to match client dimensions.
Ideally bra straps should extend in a line from just outside the apex of the breast toward the mid point of the shoulder, however, many women prefer to wear their straps further out on the shoulder. So long as the back band is parallel to the floor and the bra cups are at the correct height for the wearer, this is not a problem.
Straps should not slide, move around or dig in to the shoulder or anywhere else. The wearer should barely notice they are there. If the straps dig into the shoulders, beyond the pain, over time a permanent divot can develop in that area.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, straps don’t support the breasts – they just maintain the position of the band and cups. This is why a properly crafted strapless bra can do all the work of a well-fitting regular bra, but the strapless bra has to fit impeccably.
As you probably knew even before you read this, the best fitting bra is very hard to find. Every body is different and manufacturers only produce bras in a limited range of sellable sizes scaled from a single fit model. This is precisely why I became so interested in making custom bras. I believe the only way to get a bra that truly fits and supports is to have one made for your unique body.
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I use a telephone every day and I never really have understood how it works. Similarly I think most women have ever really examined their bras in order to understand what they are made of and how they work – this, despite daily wear. While some of the parts of the bra and their function are obvious (the cups contain the breasts), others are not (the band supports the cups, not the straps). To demystify the bra itself, what follows is an overview of its components and their respective functions.
The cups are the part of the bra that holds the breasts. The most obvious role of the cups is to contain and support the breasts. To do this, the cups must harness the breast tissue into one place and direct it all where we want it to go – forward and up, defying gravity.
For the best contour, I believe the cups should be sewn to fit the individual’s shape. Pre-molded foam cups do not conform to an individual’s shape – instead they force their shape on the individual. It is a truly different experience wearing a sewn cup vs a foam cup, and wearing a sewn cup fitted to your exact dimensions is a particularly luxurious experience.
The band refers to the part of the bra that wraps around your body. It may be news to you that the band, not the straps, is primarily responsible for supporting the cups.
Unlikely as it sounds, consider this: underneath the cups (so underneath your breasts) are wires (the underwires). The wires take the pressure of the breasts in the cups and spread it out over their entire length and their surroundings, primarily into the band. If the band is insufficiently wide for your size (e.g. too narrow under the arm and around the back), you will not get the necessary support from your bra since there is not enough surface area in the band to absorb the wire transfer of pressure from the cups.
You may wonder about bras without underwires. Admittedly, it is possible to get some breast support from a bra that does not have underwires, but not nearly as much as wired bras, and the band must be quite wide in order to do so. Of course, if you don’t plan on wearing the bra for an extended period of time or are not wearing a bra for support, you can skip the wires. The other wire exceptions are women who are nursing or who just had surgery to the area.
The bridge of the bra is the center front area between the cups. The bridge provides separation of the breasts, putting the breasts in proper position to ease into the cups. If the bridge does not match the spacing between your breasts, the bra will not sit flat against your body. The bridges in store-bought bras rarely match up with an individual’s breast spacing.
The frame is the cup holder of the bra. Surprisingly, frames are actually optional! For frameless bras, the cups are joined directly to the band and to the bridge. So long as they are well designed and constructed, frameless and full frame bras will provide equivalent support. Please note that you cannot simply omit the frame from a full frame pattern and get the same results
It varies by style but generally the straps of the bra extend from the top corner of the bra cup, go up and over the shoulder, and join to the back of the bra. If your shoulders show strap marks that implies the straps are supporting the cups, and that is not how it is supposed to be! The role of the straps is to hold the bra cups and band in the proper position on the body. If the bra is strapless, the band must be built to hold itself in the correct position on the body.
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