Guide to Sports Bras
So, there you are, MTF grrl, running down a flight of stairs, and you realize suddenly that the injectable estradiol is doing its magic. There are jiggly bits where there were no jiggly bits before! Or perhaps you have just acquired a swell new set of buzzums courtesy of PharmaCorp, Inc. And though it looked cool on Charlie’s Angels, to you it feels just a little uncomfortable to let gravity do its work.
Conversely, perhaps you, FTM boy, feel that the jiggly bits are just a little too darn jiggly for their own good. You want those suckers flattened and maybe even gone one day.
So both of you are lurking in the lingerie section, both feeling a little bit perplexed about where to go from here, and both sure of only one thing: no way in hell you’re going to let one of those middle-aged bra salesladies come near you!
The American Council on Exercise offers the following pearl of wisdom: fit is crucial when it comes to picking a sports bra. Wowza! Next they’ll be telling us that eating sensibly and exercising is good for us. Apparently there are a lot of breast-having people out there who are suffering in silence with an ill-fitting bra. Now, personally, I can never make heads or tails of those bra fitting guides. There seems to be some weird alchemical formula behind it which is possibly meant to work only on The Perfect Rack or something. I always end up picking either the Medieval Constriction Special and nearly dislocating my shoulder trying to struggle out of it, or I get the roomy Where’s The Tits? number which makes me contemplate reaching for the Kleenex box for some emergency augmentation. For folks who don’t have the so-called ideal set of snoobs, picking a bra can be an excruciating exercise. Compounding this messy situation is the fact that bra size can change with surgery, hormonal supplementation, menstrual cycle (if you’re still having one), and weight loss or gain.
The chief problem for many MTFs in terms of fit is that their chest/back measurement is often large compared to their cup size, whether because of additional muscle or just a larger ribcage. Trying to find a 40A is a total pain. MTFs may also have to deal with rapid alterations to their measurements; MTFs who are supplementing estogens post-orchidectomy will often experience relatively speedy breast growth, for example. Stores and brands which cater to athletic women sometimes have a frustrating paradox: they assume that their clientele are all lean whippet runner types. Everlast, for example, according to a 200 lb. female powerlifter friend of mine, is a no go for anyone with upper body size.
FTMs may have a better time of it depending on their original size, but any FTM supplementing androgens and weight training may also experience some difficulty with finding a bra to accommodate their expanding chest girth, especially if they’re following the Mistress’ advice on how to get hyuuge! Bra manufacturers seem to assume that anyone with breasts is just basically shaped like two sandbags hung on chicken wire; additional back muscle is verboten.
Here are some basic fit tips.
1. Sports bras come in a couple of types. The first type is a compression bra. The principle behind this is just like the principle behind the old Ace bandage: squish those things flat. This works well for smaller breasts and may be ideal for FTMs who want visual diminishment of breasts. Compression bras in larger sizes are also a good choice for MTFs with large chest measurements but smaller cup measurements. Compression styles tend to be a bit more forgiving in the band size, and will often have a bit of extra stretch around the ribcage.
The second type of sports bras, which conjures up images of the industrial bras your great-auhntie Madge used to wear, is known as the harness type encapsulation bra. This sounds like a side project at NASA, maybe with little capital letters on the side: MAMMARY CONTAINMENT UNIT. It’s a little more involved, and is good for larger breasts, C cup and over, since it provides individual support for each breast.
2. For what it’s worth, here’s the formula for assessing bra size. Like I said, I’ve never found this one to work (ends up too small for me) but it might be good for you. Measure around your ribcage, just under your breasts (I’ve also seen it suggested that one should measure above the breasts but that never made sense to me). Add 5 inches to it. If it’s an odd number, add 1 to make it an even number. That measurement is the band size. So if you’ve measured 30″ around your ribcage, then added 5, plus 1 to round up to the nearest even number, then you have a band size of 36.
Then, to find the cup size, measure around the chest at the widest point of the breast. Subtract the first measurement (band size) from second measurement (cup size) and you’ll get the cup differential.
Up to 1″ larger = A cup
Up to 2″ larger = B cup
Up to 3″ larger = C cup
Up to 4″ larger = D cup
Up to 5″ larger = DD or E cup
Up to 6″ larger = F cup
Up to 7″ larger = Consider an adult entertainment career.
3. Look for bras with wider straps. This is de rigeur on most sports bras anyway. I personally like the racerback style, where the straps connect at the upper back, because they’ll stay put no matter what. MTFs with larger chest sizes should also look for a forgiving elastic on the bottom band, ideally relatively wide and fabric covered. By the way, nobody has yet come up with a good way to get in and out of a compression sports bra, since they usually don’t have the zip or clasp closure of encapsulation bras. Locker rooms around the world rumble with the grunting of people who are trussed up like turkeys in their Jockey for Hers, elastic suddenly assuming the tensile strength of suspension-bridge steel, elbows mashed into craniums as the victims attempt to free themselves.
4. When fitting a bra, try as best you can to see how it’ll hold up under your chosen activity. Jump around, bend over, wave your arms. Nothing should spill out around the sides or top, chafe anywhere, or ride up. If the back rides up, try a smaller band size and/or a larger cup size.
5. Remember that bras also vary by style. If you find one that fits, I suggest you buy a few at once. Since many of you will be online shopping and/or mail ordering, I suggest you check out the return policy of the company closely before buying, just in case.
6. MTFs with a large band size and smaller cup size can also try using bra extenders. These will only work on bras which have the usual hook and clasp closure (although handy transchicks can get creative with the sewing machine and probably come up with some good variations). They’re little pieces of fabric with hooks and clasps which extend the back of the bra. Check the lingerie supply store and see what you find.
A surprising find by Raverdyke, who was indeed the aforementioned 40A for a while, was a plain cotton XL compression bra at Wal-Mart. Now, whatever your feelings on the labour policies of Wal-Mart, they often carry exercise clothing in larger sizes, which means bigger MTF grrls can often find something which fits. The larger your size, the more likely you are to find it in a discount-y type store. More expensive stores usually go by the policy of never being too rich or too thin.
Other useful links:
Athleta has a guide to sports bra fit.
Lisa Sorrentino reviews sports bras for runners
X-Chrom carries a huge variety of sports bras in a large selection of sizes. Check out their extra size selection for bras to fit larger band sizes, and their basic structure selection for smaller cup compression designs. They also carry special needs bras for anyone undergoing breast augmentation, reduction, and chest surgery in general.
Title IX Sports lets you select by both bra type and cup size. Many bras, especially compression types, come in more vague “S, M, L, XL” type sizes which give a lot of fit leeway for hard-to-fit sizes.