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Retiring to a Hotel

Brassieres and Elder Women

An email arrives from TGB reader, Judith:

I am a 36B, take my bra off whenever I hit the door, feel dragged down by breasts when tired or hot, hate the bra pressure under my breasts, chafe in the summer, long for a comfy, modestly shapely bra at 75.

“Bet you and your readers would have a plethora of experiences and suggestions.”

When I was about 14, my mother took me to the Meier & Frank department store in downtown Portland, Oregon, to the bra department. There wasn't much reason for me to be there yet but do recall that in the mid-1950s, women and girls were not supposed to jiggle or bounce and it was time, my mother determined, to initiate me into the world of grownup underwear.

Within the intimate apparel department on an upper floor, brassieres were laid out flat on tables inside dividers that were labeled by size. My mother's breasts were modestly sized and as we walked among the field of bras toward the sales clerk behind a counter in the back, I remember being shocked at the expansive dimensions of D and E sizes. “Do women really come THAT big?” I asked.

Apparently I said this loudly enough for everyone in the department to hear. Chagrined, my mother grabbed my hand, pulled me quickly toward the sales clerk and asked – at top volume - “Do you have bras for beginners?”

Of course, all the shoppers again turned to look at us and now it was my turn to be embarrassed. It was many years until I appreciated my mother's retaliatory humor.

From day one, I hated that harness. It never fit right, always cut into my shoulders or ribs and even a year later when I was fully developed, I never filled out an A cup so my bras were always wrinkly. No stretchy materials yet in those days.

Fast forward 12 or 15 years. “Women's Lib.” Marches. Bra burning. It is in dispute whether any feminists actually burned their bras but the idea, then, was much discussed among my friends and it gave me a reason to stop wearing that garment that was so itchy and binding.

It was the end of my association with brassieres so I am uniquely unqualified to deal with Judith's question. The only additional, personal information I have is that I'm surprised at how saggy these tiny tits have become by age 70, but it's still not enough to stuff into even a small bra.

Looking around the web for information is discouraging. Almost every website related to elders and bras is concerned primarily with “adaptive” clothing, clothing for women with “special needs” or those who live in nursing homes – that is, bras that are easy to get into and out of for women with, for example, arthritis or for caregivers who help elders dress.

This is so pervasive I can only call it ageism – that bra sellers and those who write about the topic assume all women past a certain age are impaired. It's good these are available for people who need them but there are many more women with Judith's dilemma.

This story at a website called brawise assumes all old women of unstated age have a variety of ailments and trouble dressing themselves.

This one, although titled, Fashions for Elderly Women, speaks to people who shop for and dress elder women and not to women who wear the clothes. The language is really quite bizarre.

Another, targeting what the writer calls “mature gals,” was the most informative article about bras - which tells you all you need to know about the availability of good information online.

There appear to be two main online stores for these kinds of brassieres: Buck & Buck and Silvert's although the latter is labeled “disabled adaptive clothing.” As I said, it's discouraging.

At Yahoo!, someone asked when old women stop wearing bras as if it were a fait accompli to do so. This is the best answer from someone calling herself Mother Hen who directly addresses Judith's problem and also has a sense of humor about it:

”Every night from the time a girl starts wearing a bra, she is ready to abandon it. They are the most binding things I have ever been forced to wear. As I grew older, I found that they really [are] a necessary evil.

“While we are young, we may be able to get away without a bra and it's quite becoming to many people. But, when we get old, just sweating is enough to encourage any rational woman of age to wear a bra.

“I hope I have enlightened you on this subject. Now, I'm ready to rip mine off and let the flab fly free.”

Just in passing, I came across a number of histories of the brassiere. Wikipedia's is thorough with some wonderfully fun graphics and this one, less comprehensive, has some additional images that are worth seeing.

I hope some of you can be more helpful for Judith than I have been.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Pain


How about a soft, cotton sports bra? Dee

When I was 5, a pot of boiling water was spilled on me. My flannel shirt held the heat resulting in troublesome scarring. I was horrified as I matured to learn that breasts were IMPORTANT to men. Fortunately, the love of my life cared for the whole package. All my life, I made sure no one discovered my ugly secret. So imagine my horror 2 years ago when diagnosed with breast cancer. I was forced to deal with all sort of indignities - being flayed out on a table for various probes and tattoos. Today, after a lumpectomy, the loss of 3 lymph nodes and 34 radiation treatments, I feel lucky that I didn't let false modesty keep me from getting those annual mammograms. I had my first professional bra fitting by a lymphedema specialist after surgery. Finally, comfort. At 67, I think I will seek "support" for a few more years. I think it is an individual issue for every woman - do what works.

Sports bras aren't so bad. They are the only kind I've ever been willing to subject myself to. Being cheap there is not much variety in size -- even the largest are not really large enough around the rib cage or long enough in the shoulder straps to really fit me (small breasts relatively; big body) but they are not horrible.

All those scratchy, flimsy things, ferget it!

This is coincidental as I came in here to read the blogs dressed in a big floppy sweater, tights, Uggs, and no bra. I both wear and don't wear one depending on my mood. Given that I am what is called amply endowed (no blessing I assure you other than the health of said protuberances) which means I should by the 'rules' always wear a very heavy duty bra but I don't. I have however found a bra style at a cheap price that I totally love and wear when required after having spent years dreading bra shopping whenever one of mine would give up the ghost. So many have some padding even if the bigger cups which is obviously the last thing I want. This bra is cheap, made of a lightweight, silky feeling, comfortable fabric, does have an underwire (which I would prefer not to have but nigh unto impossible to find without) but it is a comfortable one. It's made by Hanes and I hate to have to tell people where but I found it at Walmart (which many consider the evil empire) but by golly they always have it, it's cheap, and I don't have to try one on when I need a new one as so far the style has stayed the same. I just go looking for the one with the underwire and no padding. It does have a little extra support right above the wire but nothing that binds. I am not fond of bras and some years (yes years) went without them totally as I could do it without anybody knowing at least if I wasn't walking fast; but with this one, I am happy to wear it generally-- except in the season of big sweaters and tights where nobody would know I don't have on one... I hope. Bras have often been uncomfortable for me before I found this model and just hope Hanes keeps making it. It's made in Indonesia, which I would prefer American made; but in this case, I have never found comfortable and unpadded American-made; so it's what it is as I will keep buying it when one wears out.

I too stopped wearing bras in 1966. Only when I became vastly overweight from my 36B, did my cyst laden breasts pull me back to a bra. Sports bras are the best, but you can't wear one of those with an evening gown. Victoria's Secret has some good ones, but they are really expensive. Ah well, I wear what I can find within my budget and am miserable.

Truly, about 17 years ago when I went in for a biopsy of an area in one breast, I determined that if surgery was necessary, both floppies would come off - totally!

Not since I left my 34Bs behind when I gained weight in my early 50s have I been comfortable in a bra - or without one, for that matter.

I laugh when I recall that neither of my grandmothers (or, of course, any of previous generations) ever wore a bra. One of them pronounced the word with a long a, the once that I heard her use the word "bra".

my lovely grandmother gave me breasts way earlier than the other girls so I've been in a bra since 6th grade! i do hate the bra so and have resorted to "shapewear" to harness the darlings. perhaps I could make a donation to those wishing for more :)

I am a big-breasted gal and have worn a bra since I was 11. Title Nine (stores in the Western US and online) have great sports bras and rate them by support - 1 to 5 barbells. Also found Chantelle bras fit great, comfortable, and lightweight. Both Title Nine (various brands) and Chantelle bras are expensive, but they seem to last forever.

I am so glad that this topic came up. I've had D cups since I developed and it has always been a challenge to find decent, non-underwired natural fabric -cotton, silk, minimizing. As to sports bras, I had to make my own until manufacturers realized large busted women exercised and tennissed and ran.
I find the Cacique line (100% cotton in incredible colours) excellent but they are no longer shipping to Canada. (Wnhy? they won't answer emails).
Thanks MerCyn, I will check out Title Nine.
PS And the first thing peeled from my body in the house is my bra.

Those interested in brassieres owe it to themselves to listen to what the late Selma Koch had to say.

Oh dear ladies, give bras up -- its a cultural thing driven by men and marketeers. Free yourself from the manic driven need to wear a bra. I live without and feel I make the decisions about my body not others. -- barbara

I hope after you discuss this subject you will run a column on underpanties. I would like to know if there is some source of well-made "granny drawers" I am unaware of. I am looking for cotton, boy legs with no elastic, and (please god) enough of a rise for the top to be at my waist without the bottom riding up my crack. The ones I'm wearing now are so thin and poor quality.

As for bras, I wear sports bras. Mostly beige and gray, but I keep a couple blacks and whites available for certain blouses.

About bra burning, based on some research I did for a book: During the Miss America protest in 1968, feminists tossed curlers, girdles, high-heeled shoes, women's magazines, and the odd brassiere into a "freedom trash can," thus symbolically rejecting women's status as a sex object. The press reported that the demonstrators burned their bras but no one lit the trash can on fire. Our most famous bonfire was a media invention.
As Betty Friedan once said,if we wanted to burn anything, it was our girdles.
Another topic for you?

I've used Title 9 and spent a great deal of money on shipping to and fro. The only style that has worked (barely) for me (not large-chested) has been the Moving Comfort 3 Reasons. All of the others I've tried have been duds, especially the ones with molded cups, which invariably squish inward to look like egg-carton cups. A bra fitter at Dillard's told me the most important things for older women to look for is high side coverage and a firm band fit -- two qualities I've had trouble finding in combination.

I love the Barely There bras, available in department stores and even Fred Meyer. They come in small, medium, and large, and are soft and stretchy but shapely. I wrote about the panties issue on my blog.

For the first time since I was a teenager I have stopped wearing a bra when at home. However, embarrassment about nipples showing near my waist force me to wear one when I go out. I now buy T-strap bras that close in front. Although they are the most comfortable I have found, they still cut into me and I shed them the moment I return home.

About 40 years ago I did away with the girdle. Next to the corset, it was the cruelest garment to be inflicted on women. (Right along with Stiletto heels.)

Just think, these garments were supposed to be more comfortable than the corset. Our poor great grandmothers with their wasp waist fetish.

I have tried everything brawise over the years and look forward to the day when I don't have to wear one. At present, I have too much to let go.

Socks are the real issue for me. My spine doesn't bend the way it once did and getting socks on can be a chore. Dianne

Ah, the famous "Littlest Angels" bras of our pre-teen years!

I hadn't thought of it, but not having to wear a bra is another perk of working at home.

I hate them. When the straps aren't sliding off my shoulders the band is riding up.

Decades ago when my great-aunt visited us from Wales I was fascinated by her sleeveless undershirts. She called them "vests" and I want some.

I have made do with some sleeveless summer pullovers that serve as "liners" for most clothes.

I keep two-or-three bras for those occasions that need a bra.

I like my big boobs and I like wearing a bra. I've got large breasts (F cup) and when I don't wear a bra, my breasts get in the way. They will even get pinched. Ouch! I also sweat a lot more underneath my breasts when I'm not wearing a bra. I will even sleep in them quite comfortably.

I just resent that the good ones are so expensive. I also hate that I can' throw them in the washing machine.

I need good solid underpinning. I actually wear 2 sports bras, one on top of the other to ensure I won't bounce if I go to exercise. So the delicate, lacy things are not for the likes of me. That doesn't mean that support these days is all function and no fashion. Some of the new bras for big breasted women are great. (I'm going to look up Title Nine)

I think that if I don't wear good support my clothes won't look as good. I've only ever felt uncomfortable or restricted when a bra doesn't fit properly.

One of my life's most embarrassing moments:
Our family was eating dinner, all at the diningroom table. My mom mentions to my dad that she was going to take me to buy a bra the next day. My dad glanced toward me, looked back at my mom and said, "What for?"

I gained some weight in the past six years and never wear a bra around the house. In public, though, I am embarrassed that my nipples show, so I squeeze into a sports bra that is pure torture. I have considered just putting duct tape over the nipples, but figure they would show up under my t-shirts also...

Finding a saleslady who knows what she's doing has helped me tremendously. While visiting Richmond, VA recently I found one! (A bra saleslady) She knew what she was doing, she knew the brands and fit, and I feel so much more comfortable.
And yup, went up to the store manager's office and let them know how wonderful she is.

Martel, try the Vermont Country Store.

I got myself two knit tank tops called Underware from Victoria's Secret in the smallest size I could wear comfortably. It gives me little shaping (who cares)but is heavy enough to keep me from jiggling and they are really, really comfy.

Yes, bras are definitely problematic no matter what our size. I'm a 32-B and just try finding something that isn't flimsy or shiny (or both) in that size! I hate-hate-hate paying $50+ for a bra but that's what a decent one costs if you're less than a "standard" size.

I took a look at some of the website links in this post, and someone really needs to notify these folks that MOST of us older women probably still manage to put on our own bra (we probably still shop for it, too) if we don't have a major disability. If my fingers are a little reluctant on some winter mornings, I just fasten it in front and turn it around.

Some might benefit by doing what my husband does to reduce friction on his nipples when he runs: apply bandaids. I have no idea how comfortable they are, but they seem to work for him (I think he uses teflon-pad ones.) I don't use them because I want the lift of a bra.
Really, what I would like to see in a bra is a halter-style with a wide strap about the neck. Come to think of it: Why don't I take one of my Title Nine bras to modify into halter style?!!!
Ronni--Know any bra designers/manufacturers who could benefit from our input?

I hate to admit it, but I shop for bras at Walmart. I can get very light bras there that do not bother me to wear. I'm not very busty, but I do need some support.

What an uplifting discussion! I've only had my left side since '85, and it does kiss my waist, but I've always hated & detested the binding feel of bras. Now that I've been retired six years, I rarely wear one and dress in layers to disguise the lop-sidedness. Had to wear one yesterday because I was dropping by my old college, but just about ripped it off beforehand behind the cat food aisle in Walmart because it was riding up and mucho annoying! The soft, close-in-the-front, no wire, no pads Walmart type suffices when absolutely necessary. On to undies!?

From Friday night through Sunday evening I wear T shirts and jeans. The bras I wear during the week are old and I just throw them out. I'll get down to one black one and one white one, and that's it. Lace and wires are just for undressing and appearing sexy to men. It's like pantyhose: let men wear them.

The words comfortable and bra do not go together in a sentence. I'm a small person with 34DD's, a gimpy shoulder and arthritic thumbs. I find sports bras with extra strength labels are all that work for me, but, because they are donned and removed over the head, it's getting painful for me to struggle with them. I appreciate this topic sooo much, Ronni, as I thought I was the only one suffering. By the end of the day my droopies are pulling at my sore shoulders. I go without sometimes, but am self conscious in public. I appreciate the hints about brands to try. Would somebody pu-leez take mercy on we saggy old babes with too much endowment and come up with support and comfort or is this an impossible dream? C'mon, American engineering ingenuity!! I'd pay a big price for guaranteed comfort.

Thanks to all of you for your stories and suggestions. I will work my way through the bra recommendations. Title Nine catalogue came today, so I will start there. Comforting to know that I am not alone with my good old breasts and bras.

I feel odd adding to this discussion as I am not yet an elder. But I want to recommend something that may seem a little absurd at first - if the other ones recommended don't suit - and that is a "sleep bra" for nursing mothers.

This is, like a sports bra, a "one size fits several" type bra, but it's even stretchier and lighter-weight fabric. If you need a modesty bra because your shirt is thin, or if you need a lot of support, this is NOT your bra. But if you just need a thin layer of fabric, something to help with the sweat issue that arises when flesh sits on flesh, and a little bit of minor support, it might be perfect.

(The ones I use, being sleep bras, don't have the "clip" straps that daytime nursing bras do - they're just designed to be pulled aside. AS long as you don't pull them aside, they sit where you'd expect a bra to, and I find them remarkably comfortable.)

I need a god, supportive bra that's comfortable and finally found one by Olga. I watch for sales and stock up. Some of the misery many write about is caused by low-cost bras. Cheap fabric (poly) doesn't breathe, they are made with fewer pieces so the fit suffers.

And I second the love for sports bras.

To the women who say "no one can tell I'm not wearing a bra"; yes, I can.

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