A Tale of Two Boobs; My Quest for a (Sustainable) Bra that Fits

by - Monday, October 19, 2020

 Before I had this baby, I asked if friends would write something for the blog while I was having a slow season with a newborn. Then, 2020 happened. I had a baby too. But, really, 2020 has been a huge hurdle for everything including this blog. I am lucky that friends will ask me if I know a good/ethical/eco-friendly/American option for all sorts of things. My wonderful friend Robin asked about bras, and I didn't have great answers for her. So she did the research herself, and she wrote this post which I LOVE. Thank you Robin! Check out this wonderfulness from her. 

This post by Robin King. 

Let’s talk about boobs.

Now before I lose some of you, hang in there with me (catch the pun?); most likely someone you know, or love, has boobs, or will one day have them. And since you love said people, you may be interested to know that in addition to being a miraculous life source for our young, boobs are also a great wellspring of angst, pain, and shame for many people.

Additionally, they come in all shapes and sizes; despite what nearly every bra ad would like you to believe. According to CUUP, “two thirds of women in the U.S. wear a D-cup or larger.”…. um excuse me? So, why are we marketed to as if everyone was a slight, flat chested Victoria’s Secret model? And WHY are bralettes all the rage? It feels as if marketers saw into the future and assumed we will forever be quarantined in our sweats with boobs flopping about.

Boobs (I am sorry; I can’t do “breasts”; just one of those words I can’t say without snickering) have always been a source of myriad emotions for me. I clearly remember my mom taking me aside one day in fifth grade and informing me it was now time for me to start wearing a bra. She, and both my grandmothers before her, happened to be quite well endowed. Which left me to wonder why, I as a younger sister, inherited my mothers bodaciousness, whilst Mother Nature had somehow overlooked my elder sister in that department.

From that day on, I knew that my boobs would not be going away. From knocking over a glass of water at restaurant as a horrified high schooler, to a super awkward male manager pointing to my exposed bra where a sad little button had failed to do it’s job at the end of a performance review (flash forward a few years and the same thing happened with a different boss; will I never learn?), a rather horrifying incident in Las Vegas involving my boobs and an acrobatic escape from a strapless bridesmaid dress (that was when it was a prerequisite that all bridesmaid dresses be both strapless and unattractive, and some shade of green) to standing arms midair in changing rooms willing a shirt or dress to fit over my boobs, I have no shortage of embarrassing boob stories.

Boobs have such a power; which when you think about it; they are kind of funny; (usually) two floppy things hanging off the front of people. And yet they are such a source of pain and stress for so many. Who really has the perfect boobs? I have had many gorgeous friends get implants, and equally gorgeous friends get reductions. A friend with a third nipple, another with a boob a full cup size smaller than the other (she demonstrated how she stuffed toilet paper in one side of her bra to compensate). All that to say, no matter how big or small, everyone with boobs has had to deal with something.

From the beginning of humanity, people have had to figure out what to do with boobs. Wikepedia (reliable source that it is), sums it up actually quite well; “The history of bras …is inextricably intertwined with the social history of the status of women, including the evolution of fashion and changing views of the female body. Women have used a variety of garments and devices to cover, restrain, reveal, or modify the appearance of their own breasts.” (Clearly, I am not the first to struggle with what to do with these flaps of tissue.)… “14th century BC Minoan civilization art depicted female athletes wearing bra or bikini-like garments. From the 14th century onward, the undergarments of wealthier women in the Western world were dominated by the corset.” And not just Western society; “The first historical reference to bras in India is found during the rule of King Harshavardhana (1st century AD). Sewn bras and blouses were very much in vogue during the Vijayanagara empire and the cities brimmed with tailors who specialized in tight fitting of these garments.

According to Life magazine, in 1889 “Herminie Cadolle of France invented the first modern bra. It appeared in a corset catalogue as a two-piece undergarment, which she originally called the corselet gorge, and later le bien-être (or "the well-being").”

It wasn’t until, World War I when a metal shortage prompted the U.S. War Industries Board to ask Americans to stop buying corsets in 1917, that the use of corsets dramatically declined coinciding with the modern bra emerging.

Bras have evolved over the years from the bullet bras of the 1940s, to (finally!) in 1977 the first sports bra (originally dubbed “jockbra” because, shocker, it was made from two jockstraps sewn together) to the Wonderbras of the 1990s (interestingly enough, Wonderbra was invented in 1964 but it took close to 30 years for society to decide cleavage was essential)… and here we are. A 7.2 billion dollar industry with me on the hunt for a bra that will support my boobs and Mother Earth.

As you can see, bras are kind of a big deal in keeping these puppies at bay, particularly when you have an abundance of them. I wish I could traipse carefree through a field of wildflowers, wearing nothing but a thin strappy flowy dress, not bothering with such a silly contraption as a bra, but alas, I am doomed to wear a bra. Every day. For the rest of my life. Or until the robots think of something better.

Paramount in my search; I have to have an underwire. I know, I know, there are more and more companies out there convincing my large chested friends that you don’t have to have an underwire for support, but, I need them. And -good news!, -there are a growing number of options for wireless and smaller sized options, so I won’t cover those; what I am interested in is the rest of us (congrats my smaller chested friends; I envy your options!*).

For sake of simplicity, I focused on everyday bras, excluding strapless, sports, maternity, etc.

Other than an underwire, what do I want from a bra? To fit. To feel comfortable. To make me feel a tiny bit sexy; I don’t want to feel like a matron in a dowdy nude bra that could double as a helmet, and at the same time, I don’t need something looking screaming Girls Gone Wild (is that even a thing anymore? Not worth Googling). I consider myself fairly active and daily chase two tiny humans around, so it would have to keep up with that, and hopefully avoid boob spillage. Something that lasts and doesn’t fall apart like the flimsy lace of optimistic youth. A well-made bra should net you at least 100 wears, according to Carrie Hauser, professional bra fitter for Nordstrom.

Something affordable; Bustle reports that consumers spend on average anywhere from $30 - $300 on bras, with $50 the average spent on a bra. Clearly my expectations will need to change on what ‘affordable’ entails.

The “fit” part is tricky. Remember when I mentioned boobs come in all shapes and sizes? They truly do. And most of us aren’t doing a great job of getting a good fit; according to CUUP, 80% of women aren’t wearing the right size. Was I one of them? That seemed to be a good place to start in my quest, so, first objective; find my size. 

According to NICO’s bra fitting advice, a good bra should not ride up at the back, the straps should not dig into your shoulders, nor should they fall off of them, your cups should not be baggy, nor should your boobs fall out of them (thank you for the reminder!). And the underwire should not be uncomfortable or poking out of the bra (and yes, I have had this happen, and no, they don’t go back in once they have been pulled out, in case you were wondering). 

First, I went the good old measurement route; NICO’s guide involved a little math converting to their size with CM measurements (like the rest of the world). ThirdLove has you fill out a questionnaire and provide your email address to get their recommendation. CUUP has recommendations on what needs to fit and calculating your size, size charts, and compare your size other brands, in addition to virtual appointments (more on that later). After comparing back and forth between the measurements in centimeters and inches, watching videos and tutorials, I landed on, indeed, a different size than I had ever worn. 34F/34DDD. I had been wearing 36DD. When I called and told my mom my new size, ever the practical nurse, she announced cheerily; “Well, now you qualify for a breast reduction!” Thanks, Mom.

Armed with my new size, my quest for an “Earth Friendly” brand began in earnest. After much thought, I landed on the following requirements;

· Sustainable

· Ethical work conditions

· Size inclusiveness (beyond basic size options)


Nico “At the core of everything we do at NICO is a strong respect for the people we work with, and the environment we work within. NICO is committed to upholding and cultivating ethical and sustainable transparency in the fashion industry.” This Australian company uses plant dyed organic cotton, Lenzing model (made from sustainably sourced beechwood trees) and recycled cotton.” 

Nico offers two styles of underwire bras; Underwire Bra; The Basics and Daybreak Underwire Bra . The only difference I could find between the two (other than color selections) was that Daybreak was in collaboration with Well Made Clothes, which I opted for as it was on sale (embracing my Dutch roots); “As part of an exclusive collaboration with Well Made Clothes, Daybreak is a range that celebrates femininity in its natural form. Based on NICO's classic Underwire Bra, cut for maximum support with comfort in mind.”

It sounded so promising…. And somewhere between Australia and Seattle, the package was lost. I had a lovely interaction with their help desk in the midst of the crazy COVID times, they were so helpful. I opened a case with USPS and had nearly lost hope, when, nearly a month later, it randomly showed up on my doorstep. I excitedly tore open the package (compostable!) and there was my bra, complete with a soft and practical reusable washing bag (clever packaging idea). I was elated. I haven’t bought a new bra since before my firstborn… who just turned five. Okay, so that involved two pregnancies and two years of breastfeeding which require a whole separate set of accoutrements. And to my credit, I had some nice bras to begin with.

I put on the soft “dusk pink” bra. Comfortable? Yes. Coverage? Um...not exactly what I was looking for. I likened it to a getting a floral herbal tea when you need the full blown quad shot whipped coffee in all it’s jittery glory. The debate continues; can you have comfort? Support? Beauty all at the same time? Was I asking too much?

After all the effort getting the bra, I wasn’t about to return it (I don’t think I could have given I got mine on discount). Plus the environmental impact of shipping it back across the world just didn’t seem to justify it. At best, I now had a comfortable lounging bra. And we all know, we have had plenty of time to lounge as of late.


Launched in 2018 as a “direct to consumer brand” CUUP has quickly become a big brand in the world of bras; “This full-coverage bra does not have molded cups, but it does include a 3D spacer fabric that gives it support and molding.”

They tick the box of size inclusive; sizes go up to 38G, demonstrating an effort to go beyond basic sizes and provide real coverage for real women. Models are show in different bra sizes depending on the size you select; yay technology and cultural progress!

I had read on several blogs and posts about CUUP’s sustainability measures, and was surprised to find nothing on their website regarding sustainability. I sent an inquiry to CUUP’s PR department and received a response six weeks later stating;

‘At CUUP, we care deeply about our environment. We do everything we can to be sustainable, while still making high quality products that support you. We source materials that are eco-responsible, will perform the tough job of holding up your boobs, have longevity and feel great while you’re wearing them.

The bamboo gussets in our underwear are sustainable, healthy, and naturally quick dry without any added chemical treatments. Our incredibly soft modal is made from wood pulp, and our packaging and shipping services are getting increasingly more eco-friendly as we grow and options become available to us.

We also care deeply about the ethics of our brand and our employees. We follow a 12-point system that prohibits forced labor, unfair compensation, harassment and discrimination.

We are excited to share we'll be offering fully sustainable packaging before the end of the year [2020]. You can also expect further verbiage and information on our site regarding our sustainability and ethical measures.”

CUUP offers five bra styles in four colors, all with underwires; The Balconette, The Demi, The Plunge, The Scoop, and The Triangle. Based on the descriptions, I was uncertain what style to order, so I sent an inquiry to their support and received a fairly scripted response on the styles, and decided to go with their best seller, The Demi ($68); “Semi-Translucent 3D Cups; The definition and nipple control of your favorite t-shirt bra without padding; no foam here. Easy shaping, made lighter. Breathable; Made from our signature semi-transparent stretch power-mesh—optimal support in a single, airy layer. Reinvented Security; The familiar concealing effect lining, recreated with breathable 3D fabric. Wear it with almost anything.”

I was surprised how quick the CUUP bra arrived. It came in a beautiful box (necessary inside of the shipping box from a sustainable standpoint? Not certain, but it is such a lovely box, doubtful many of them go straight into the trash or recycle bin).

When I initially put it on, it felt tight. I was hesitant since I have always worn a 36 and this was a 34 (exact measurement I did several times). I then read later that it’s supposed to feel tight at first, and indeed after wearing it for a while, it did feel like a better fit. Same problem though; since one boob is bigger than the other, it occasionally has to be re reigned in (aka flopped back into the bra). The feel of it otherwise is nice, although they are all slightly sheer and no other designs other than color. And again, mainly for day use and not much beyond.

I scheduled a virtual appointment with CUUP to see if I had measured myself correctly. When I scheduled my appointment, the soonest they had was over a week out on a weekend for the twenty minute appointment. After showing my measurements via Zoom, my bra consultant confirmed I had measured the correct size, but when I mentioned the spillage, she suggested I might go up a size to accommodate the larger boob, or trying a sister size (going up in band size). I asked about the return policy; she mentioned that if it had been worn a day or so, I could return it, but I didn’t feel like I could with a clear conscious, and sadly, didn’t want to spend another $68 on another bra (although, nice that all the bras are the same price). I definitely felt like this had better support than the NICO bra. And a nice dark color, although a bit sheer.


Weeks into my research, a contender entered at the last minute. Since I had been searching high and low for bras, ThirdLove kept popping up in advertising (thanks Big Brother), but I hadn’t seen it in any of the blogs or research on ethical/sustainable bras. I decided to try a different tactic, a did a direct search to see if they were ethical, and lo and behold, Public Goods has them listed under inclusive and sustainable; using organic cotton and they partner with Support the Girls to donate thousands of bras to women in need; which probably has to do with their generous 60 day return policy. 

Thirdlove also has an inspirational story behind their manufacturing partner; women owned and run with her daughters driven by “quality, efficiency, design and sustainability.” An extra bonus in a male dominated industry.

I found this interesting as all this information was available on their website, while CUUP which was repeatedly listed as an ethical company, had nothing on their website mentioning sustainability; fingers crossed they are able to update their website as promised, as that is a big selling point those interested in lessening their eco footprint.

I wanted to see if Thirdlove Agreed on my sizing; after providing my email address, I was asked a series of questions about my current bra size, brand, fit, in addition to the shape of my boobs (9 Shapes to Choose From!). An encouraging factoid popped up after I selected “Asymmetrical”;

“Did you know? 40% of women have breasts that differ in size, ranging from a slight asymmetry to an entire cup size difference.”

I was surprised I was recommended to stick with the 34F sizing even after I selected asymmetric and that my current size had spillage (same result as when I selected a different shape and reported no spillage with current bra). I decided to go with my gut, and overflowing boobs, and order a 34G (I am just whizzing through the alphabet; look at me go!).

Thirdlove has twenty-one styles (including a nursing bra); nineteen of which have underwires. AND 13 colors to choose from! Of those, the 24/7™ Classic T-Shirt Bra was recommended for my size. The 24/7™ Perfect Coverage Bra, 24/7™ Classic Uplift Plunge Bra, and 24/7™ Lace Contour Plunge Bra were additional suggestions. They are apparently quite serious about giving full 24/7 support for someone of my size; no rest for my bras!

 I opted for the 24/7™ Perfect Coverage Bra, ($55) in “Fig” color. “A slightly fuller coverage version of the bra that started it all. The 24/7™ Perfect Coverage Bra’s signature cups are designed with hybrid memory foam that does double duty, providing softness inside and support outside. It forms to your unique shape and creates a smooth silhouette, no matter what you’re wearing. The straps are lined with supple memory foam so they stay put and never dig in, and the ballet back design ensures your straps will truly never slip. You’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.”

Long story short, I initially ordered a “Final Few” (AKA Sale!) bra, and after six weeks, and contacting Thirdlove three times on status, was told it was no longer available and was issued a refund. I ordered another bra, which was shipped quite quickly, and after receiving a notification it was out for delivery, was returned to Thirdlove as, my fault, the outdated zipcode was autofilled when I made the replacement order. So, a third order, and finally, my bra arrived, over two months after my initial order; third time’s a charm with Thirdlove!

When it finally did arrive, I took it out of the box, and by the sheer size, and foam cups, it did feel like a mail order bra, based on the fact I could fit both of my children’s heads in the cups. Because the cup size was bigger than the other two, it fit extremely close to my armpits, almost feeling like a shirt, which made me wonder if it was a little too big; the pictre of the bra on the model shows it extending further down, so I suspect that is the case. My conclusion is that I probably am in between “normal” sizes, as with so many other women (why is this still a problem when fashion is marketed mainly to women??).


After a lot of research, and time (thanks COVID!), I am encouraged that larger underwire bras indeed do exist in the sustainability relm . Not a lot, but options. The fit was so wildly different on all three bras; one turned out to be great for lounging, another for more every day use, and the third for providing FULL full coverage.

Affordable? Depends on what affordable is. $68 for a bra is a splurge in my opinion; however, since the average spent on a bra is $50, it’s not terribly beyond that. How many bras do you need? Is a savings account devoted to bras required? One minimalist blogger says two (sounds like Rick Steves’ ultra optimistic packing list); she also recommends replacing every two years, which involves ethical implications, another says eight is sufficient, another recommends four. Will three last me? I have to admit, I am hanging onto my other bras; just in case J.

The Nico bra didn’t fulfill all my expectations. While cute and comfortable, I can’t wear it with anything where the lines would show (form fitting), as my slightly larger boob doesn’t fit into it, and occasionally flops out when I bend over. And if I bought for retail price, $89 AUD ($57 USD roughly), more affordable than some, but still not cheap. And nice when you want something comfortable to wear around the house, as many of us continue to spend more time working and generally being at home.

The CUUP bra I am liking more as I wear it, and it is quite comfortable, although, I do still have issues with one boob spilling out.

ThirdLove fits the best, but is less comfortable in the arm pits, and the foam cups makes me feel matronly just looking at it.

Coming out of all of this; months of research, waiting, testing, and debating, I wonder if I am at a better place having purchased three bras for around $160 when I could have popped down to Nordstrom Rack and found 5-6 decent bras for that price (from the sale rack, naturally), and been able to try them on, had a variety to chose from, and had it instantly. Plus, this was after the luxury of having hours and hours to research, and the means and access to do it. It was worth it to me, as I sincerely wanted to know, and hopefully, this research will help others make a more informed decision.

That’s the problem; sustainable clothing is still so far off from ease, most of us opt for the easy decision. It should be easy to make the right choice. But it’s not. We as a world have not made it a priority. And here I am with one bra that definitely doesn’t fit, another I can only wear with certain shirts, and a third that is less than comfortable on my armpits. I was surprised with the amount of effort, research, money, and time that went into this quest. Some of it can be blamed on COVID, and I think, a lot of the blame is on us; consumers. If consumers demanded sourcing transparency, sustainability, fair trade, etc. the companies would evolve. And some are; but very few. And that’s on us.

Which comes down to anything sustainable; is it truly worth the time, effort and money? I guess that’s up to each of us.

*For those of you who aren’t blessed from bodacious boobies, there are quite a few options for ethical bras; here are a few to get you started Pact, Boody, and Naja(plus a Google search of “Ethical Bras” renders quite a few blogs on the topic). 

-The Very Good Bra in Australia claims to be biodegradable; a worm farm eaten in 8 weeks (what??)… $98 AUD, no underwire, however promises the bra is “very supportive” 

- Reformation has one $78 bra with an underwire that only has about 4-5 sizes available (depending on which of the 3 colors you choose)

 Tomboyx gender and size inclusive 

-Luvahuva in the UK makes custom made (!) bras; the dream of a tailored bra is a reality at last!

Thank you so much Robin! I hope this is helpful for everyone! If you want more information about green and ethical fashion, check out our Little Green Dress Page

A Tale of Two Boobs; My Quest for a (Sustainable) Bra that Fits

You May Also Like



Get Our Latest Posts Via Email - It's Free

Enter your email address: