(…and other lost causes)
If you have a generous bosom, odds are your shirts don’t fit.
I don’t mean spandex T-shirts that can stretch over the Taj Mahal. I mean dress(ish) shirts with actual buttons and a collar that you could actually wear to a job interview, or Cousin Sally’s sixth wedding. The bigger your bust, the harder it is to find a blouse that stays decently buttoned without pulling across your breasts – unless it’s a vast tent that drowns the rest of your torso in enough excess fabric to conceal an Alsatian.
As you already know, the fashion industry mostly consists of people who think all women are built like 10-year-old boys, maybe with plums in their breast pockets. If you look at the average “women’s” shirt, you’ll find that its anatomy is basically the same as a man’s shirt: flat front and back. You might get curved seams, usually only at the sides, if someone wants you to think it’s extra-feminine.
Spoiler alert: your breasts don’t grow out of your sides, so curving the side seams do exactly nothing toward fitting them. If there isn’t a seam or dart that actually touches the peak of your puppies, that shirt will NEVER fit you correctly.
Allow your Aunt Kitty to illustrate. Meet Amelia, my unrealistic dress form. She is shaped like no woman ever, but she’ll do to demonstrate how bust fit works.
Amelia has a fairly generous bust, disproportionately tiny waist, and moderate hips. By measurements, she’s something like a DD cup. But because of the huge bust-to-hip ratio, you will really be able to see how cup size in shirts work.
For instance, here is a shirt mock-up made to her supposed size, but with no shaping other than at the side seams (I left the sleeves off, so you get an unobstructed view of the torso). This is essentially an A-cup equivalent.
Does this look familiar? The shirt gapes open over the fullest part of the chest, and because she’s rigid, I can’t even pull it closed (if she was squishy, like human breasts, you’d be able to force the buttons closed, until they popped off and flew across the room). The area below the bust is super-boxy, and completely hides the fact that she has a magnificent waist.
From the side, you can see pull lines pointing to where the bust is desperately trying to steal some fabric to cover itself, and the pulling actually causes even the back waist to ride up and get all weird and wrinkly over the butt. If you’re a D cup or larger, you’ve been there.
Now, here’s a different shirt, but note that this one has actual seams running over the middle of both the front and back panels; it’s drafted to a B cup:
I picked the pattern size according to Amelia’s BUST size, meaning it fits pretty well there. But now it’s baggy and loose at the waist, hips, and back, though it’s a huge improvement over the no-shaping-at-all shirt.
Now, for illustration purposes, look at the exact same B-cup shirt pattern, but this time, I used the size intended for her WAIST measurement instead of the bust. This one fits better over the waist and hips, but you can’t get it closed over the chest.
Finally, look at the same design, but with a DD cup size. Ladies, this is how your shirts are supposed to fit.
Why don’t all the clothing manufacturers make clothes this way, with actual shaping seams that travel over the actual bits of you that stick out and need actual shaping? Would it kill them to offer tops in different cup sizes?
In fact, it just might. It took me three times as long to cut and sew together the pink shirts (with the extra seams that go over the bust and back shoulders) than the red one with only side seams. Not only do clothes made with built-in shaping usually need more pattern pieces, the pieces themselves are more complex and the seams are more curved, making them much harder to stabilize and stitch accurately.
As an indie designer who still does all my own sewing, I’m willing to take the extra time and care – but if I were a mass-manufacturing giant who makes millions of each piece, the cost would be drastically higher, especially if the target market just wanted low-priced fast fashion. Maybe high enough to drive me out of the business altogether.
Even for me, making each size in multiple cup sizes means investing many times the amount of time and materials for any given design, and carrying around three or four times as much inventory when we go to events (and we only have so much storage space!). I sort of understand why not many people offer this option.
Still, as a woman who has NEVER (never, never, never, ever) found a shirt that fit until I started sewing for myself, I’m finally planning on giving it a go. So, this is my design project for the upcoming season – fitted button-down shirts for every bosom! I’ll try to document my progress in the next blog.
Obviously, real bodies have fit issues other than just bust-related. We’ve got wide or narrow hips, flat or protruding bums, long and short waists, wide or skinny biceps, square or sloping shoulders, and a hundred more variations. Any and all of those can look marvellous if you fit them right, and as Amelia proves, the most idealized figure can look dumpy if the fit is wrong.
The next time you have a frustrating shopping experience, try and remember that it’s not your body that’s at fault, but an industry that prioritized cheap mass production and absurd standards over you, their customer. And also that when we prove that we want diversely shaped, properly made clothing and are willing to pay what it’s worth, maybe (just maybe) the industry will decide it’s worth making.