When I sat down and to think about how to attack this post, there were a lot of fit-related words and phrases: egg-shaped, projected sternum, barrel-shaped, tapered ribs, flared ribs…the list can go on, really. I’m not going to use any of these words to describe the fit issue I’ll be covering today, and I’m not going to use any of these words not because they aren’t legitimate fit problems in and of themselves, but because, for me, it would be trying to show you a picture of a tree by only taking close up pictures of the branches and trying to piece them together.
Let me take a minute to break that down further and explain what I mean:
An egg-shaped chest as we discuss it only describes the shape of the front of the breastbone.
A projected sternum discusses only a sternum that sits farther forward than average in the center of the chest.
A barrel-shaped chest describes a general sense of roundness, but not much about the way things are angled.
Tapered ribs, or the v-shaped torso, is concerned mostly with the horizontal width of the torso, and describes an angle of the ribs from the armpit to the lower rib cage, but is a very 2-dimensional descriptor.
Flared Ribs describes the way a rib may stick out, but not where, and doesn’t take the entire shape of the rib cage into account.
And that’s the problem – none of these descriptors take my entire rib cage into account. So, rather than breaking this post down into several pictures of branches and trying to use those to form a tree, I’m going to zoom the lens out a little, and take a picture of the whole damn tree. In the interest of that, I am calling this bone structure issue the funnel-shaped chest. I don’t know if anyone has used that term before, but if they haven’t, I’m officially coining it as a legitimate thing.
I have a rib cage that is round, deep, and tapered. It means my sternum projects, that my back is large, round, and broad for my frame size, that my ribs are tapered not just from side to side, but also from front to back. It implies a rib shape that is either egg-shaped, barrel-shaped, or both. It may be more common on those of us with broader shoulders, but I don’t have enough data to confirm that with any degree of certainty.
Now, the problem with bone structure issues is that there is no bra that’s going to make them go away. There is no bra that’s magic for a chest shaped like a funnel. And, since we’re all snowflakes (heard this one before, ladies?), what the biggest problem for me is with my bone structure isn’t going to be the same for you. I’m hoping, though, that by discussing my bone structure issues in some depth, how they affect bra fit, how they change what I love and hate in a bra, and how I work around them as best I can, it might give someone else some insight into their bone structure who’s having fit problems that no one seems to be able to explain, or just a general understanding of how sometimes, when bra after bra doesn’t fit, it’s not the wrong size, and it’s not your boobs. Stop blaming your boobs. The culprit might be your bones.
Fit Problems Associated with the Funnel-shaped Chest
I promised in my last post that I would come back to this, so even though it’s probably the least obvious of potential issues, permit me to start with it.
I talked about weight distribution of breast tissue in my last post. For this post, let’s assume an even weight distribution. I’ve already established that I have a center heavy distribution, but let’s play make believe for a minute here and make an assumption of even distribution to simplify.
If my breast tissue was evenly distributed across the entire breast, on my rib cage, they would still act center heavy. In fact, I would have to have side-heavy breasts for them not to. At first read, that sounds illogical. After all, your boobs either have the most weight in the center, or they don’t, right? Right – I’m not arguing technical specifications. What we’re talking about here is functional bra fit.
And, functionally, on a funnel shaped rib cage, or a rib cage that is rounded in a less common way, the angle of the bones will ’tilt’ the breasts.
(Somehow my attempt at drawing this rib shape ended up looking like a baseball. You can see though – I hope, how, depending on the position of the breasts on this rib cage shape, the breasts might lean to one side or the other, following the shape of the bones.)
In my case, the ribs are angled in and down. My breasts, if high set, would likely lean outward, but where they sit on my chest (average, neither high nor low set), exactly where my sternum protrudes and my ribs start to angle in and down, causes my breasts to tilt inward toward one another. So, I would say this either creates an imitation of center fullness, or possibly (not being a scientist), might actually even promote the development of center heavy breasts over time. After all, your bones grow, but their basic structure doesn’t change much. If you were a broad shouldered kid, odds are good you’ll be a broad shouldered adult. If you’re ribs are funnel shaped as an adult, odds are good that they were also funnel shaped when you were a kid. So, hypothetically, it MIGHT actually be possible that as your breasts develop, if your ribs are forcing them to lean toward one another, they might potentially actually grow with a center heavy distribution because your ribs are encouraging an uneven weight distribution.
Now, I don’t know if that’s true. Someone very adept at adolescent growth and development would have to break down that hypothesis for validity. I am in no way qualified. But, I can imagine it making a kind of sense.
In any case, whether it’s true or not, ribs that tilt in and down on an angle will encourage breasts to lean toward one another and require a bra with extra depth in the middle. Most bras will push the boobs up and out, into the armpits, but the boobs will drift back to their natural position over time and you’ll find yourself readjusting. Scoop and swoop may effectively push your boobs almost entirely out of the cups, requiring you to then push the tissue back outward so they will be fully encased.
And, the opposite would also be true – that if your ribs are angled upward where your breasts sit, it might encourage them to naturally drift toward your armpits and act as if they are heavier on the sides, regardless of actual distribution of breast tissue.
Band Size and Tension
This is one that actually became most apparent when I started wearing sports bras, so I’m going to use sports bras to describe the phenomenon, though it does actually happen with all bras (which I will get back to very shortly.)
Because I just can’t get behind a sports bra with underwires (which I will also explain shortly), for a long while my sports bra of choice is the Shock Absorber 4490.
The Shock Absorber has two sets of hooks and eyes. Two at the underbust, and two a bit higher up. Ideally, for this bra, I would want a 30 band at the bottom set of hooks, and a 34 at the top set. That’s not possible, so my only option is to go with a 32 band and size up in the cup so I can fasten the upper set. Of course, that does kind of harm the level of support a bit, but I’m not much of an athlete, and don’t do a lot of super high-impact exercise, so I make it work. I don’t really have a choice, since I’ve yet to come across a sports bra that actually is larger at the top set of hooks and smaller at the bottom. I’ve also tried using an extender on the top set of hooks. It helps enough to make 30s wearable, but only for about 30 minutes before I want to claw my way out of them with desperate abandon.
This can also happen to V-shaped ladies, absolutely, but since my ribs are tapered from front to back as well, the overall depth of my chest makes the upper part of my chest MUCH bigger than the underbust.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to talk about overbust measurement. That’s not relevant in terms of bra fit, but is a good illustration point of the issue.
My overbust measures a hair over 38 inches. My underbust measures 30.5. When I was a bit thinner, my underbust measured 29.5 inches. My overbust measurement at that time was the same hair over 38 inches. That means halfway between those two measurements, I probably measure in the ballpark of 34 inches. (can not confirm: boobs in the way. 🙂 )
Now, lets go back to regular bras. They only have one band. That band varies in width. Sometimes it’s two hooks, sometimes three, my Parfait Charlotte is 4 hooks. That might not seem hugely relevant, until you know that on a funnel-shaped chest the underbust grows larger as you work your way up toward the shoulders. What this means on a regular bra is that my underbust measures at least an inch smaller at the bottom set of hooks than it does at the top set of hooks.
The typical answer for this is to adjust the band tension. Wear the bra on the looser hooks on the top, and on the tighter hooks on the bottom (or alter the bra to create the same effect). Here’s the trouble: about a quarter inch or so below the underbust I measure another half inch smaller, which means altering band tension doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to preventing the bra from drifting down to the smallest area on my torso.
My underbust is angled rather than vertical: a funnel rather than a cylinder. Gravity exists. Since gravity exists, the band will make it’s home in the smallest area. It is, therefore, impossible for meto get any bra to sit exactly in the inframammary fold. I have to settle for slightly lower. There is literally no other alternative.
I have tried literally every band solution to this. At one point I would size down to as snug a band as I could breathe in. I worked on the assumption that accepting where the band WILL fit, versus where the band SHOULD fit, is how I should measure. This would be the popular advice, because we like a firm band in proper fitting circles. It’s also the wrong advice for this rib shape (well, to be fair, it might be perfectly reasonable advice if you have some squish on the ribs, but I’m all bone).
Why is it wrong to go for a very snug fit if your ribs are funnel shaped? Because it encourages chafing and sliding. Since your bra is not sitting where it ought to, the snugger band paired with the larger upper underbust actually forces the band down even farther than it will naturally sit in a band that isn’t quite as snug. When you do the opposite then, and size up one, sizing the bra for the largest part of your underbust, the bra will still drift down, but not as much, because it’s holding comfortably at the upper hooks. Even if the lower band is looser, as long as your boobs are supported and your band isn’t riding up, there’s no reason you have to have a bra exactly at your measurements. I’ve found through experimentation that I wear 32s most of the time, and sometimes wear 34s. In spite of my under 31 inch underbust measurement, the top of the band measures at least 31 inches, likely more(depending on the width of the band), and that is the number I need to work with. Ideally, I like a stretched band about 33 inches, give or take a half inch. They’re comfortable, breathable, and they give me the best support, which means I am predominantly buying 32s and, also am buying 34s.
A too-snug band that drifts down can also cause digging straps. It’s easy to assume you have a longer upper torso (and I did assume that for a bit. I thought because my back was deep and broad, and my shoulders sat relatively far back from my sternum, I needed longer straps. Not so.). Because a firmer band encourages my bra to drift down more than a slightly looser band, it also causes the straps to feel short, because the band is artificially elongating my torso by being forced down. This causes the straps to dig. Take the same bra in a sister size up, and 9 times out of 10 the straps feel just fine.
There are already blogs out there that have covered altering band tension. Widecurves covers it (here:http://widecurves.com/its-your-bra-band-tension/). The alteration would be the opposite in this case, where you actually WANT an uneven band tension, with the lower hooks firmer and the top looser, so it would be the same thing, but in reverse. Since the basic concept is already covered, I won’t go into it in further detail. I find I don’t really fuss much about band tension other than to say – it’s a real thing that may be useful to play with if you have this shape.
I’m sort of inadvertently adjusting the band tension to suit my needs every time I narrow a bra gore (which I talked about in a previous post) I narrow my gores more significantly at the bottom of the gore than the top. Since I’m pinching more fabric at the bottom of the gore than the top, I don’t need to do a special alteration for band tension. The gore alteration does double duty in both narrowing the gore for my center heavy boobs, and in adjusting the band tension for my funnel shaped torso. (In retrospect, maybe I should buy a 34 band shock absorber and try a band tension alteration to increase the tension at the bottom set of hooks. Food for thought, I suppose.)
“Tall” Root and Downward Drifting Band.
This should almost be a part of the previous section, since I already half covered it. Above, I talked about how wearing a snugger band can cause the band to drift down more than necessary, but that even in a great fit, the band may still drift. This depends entirely on your unique rib structure, but is true for me.
Because my ribs at the underbust are still on the ‘angled’ plane of the funnel, the bra slides down. Not a lot, but enough. Another side effect of this is that it makes the breast root appear taller than it is. I have an average root for the most part, one that has a very thin layer of tissue creeping slightly higher than average, but not by much. So I would say average, but leaning towards a tall root. But, because the bra sits a tiny bit lower than it should, and because my breastbone sits so far forward, it makes my breasts appear tall. It means I always need an open upper cup as if I was Full on Top (and in fact, I thought I was full on top for a long time, in part because of this). Most full cup bras cut into the top of my breasts. Full on Bottom styles, even if they’re quite tall, are unsuitable because they cut into the top of my breasts, even though I do need the lower depth. So, a funnel-shaped chest, can, and often does, push a bra down making an average breast root appear tall, and a short root may appear closer to average.
The next problem you can run into with a funnel-shaped rib cage is underwire pain. I have a habit of joking that Panache is my nemesis. That is directly related to the wires they use in most of their bras. Panache often uses a very firm, flat underwire. This gives great support, but is extremely unforgiving to rib shape issues. Actually, I’m in the minority that really loves the soft wires Freya uses. And, while it might not sound like it makes sense immediately, they give me better support.
That’s right, the flimsy wires Freya uses, that so many ladies complain about, give me better support than firmer wires.
Confused? Don’t be. It actually makes perfect sense. Let’s do a comparison (it’ll be a verbal comparison. I don’t own any Panache, so can’t offer a visual comparison.)
So, here we go, I have this funnel shaped chest and I pick up a Panache bra. Actually, let’s pick a bra almost everyone knows, Cleo by Panache – Marcie. I wanted to love Marcie. It should be a great shape for my boobs. It has Panache’s firm, flat wires, so is completely unwearable. I can say this with certainty as I’ve tried it in multiple sizes.
The gore stabs my sternum, the wires stab and chafe against my underbust, the straps dig painfully into my shoulders. Changing sizes doesn’t help. After 30 minutes of wear, the bra is so painful I feel like I’m going to take it off and find that I’m bleeding.
But, why would something so simple as a firm underwire cause that? The answer is actually really simple: a firm underwire does not bend enough to anchor to a tapered and dramatically curved rib cage. A more standard rib cage doesn’t have this issue, the wire only needs mild flexibility to sit flush against the ribs, but when the sternum sticks out, when the front of the ribs dips in, when the back is curved… all of these things put together mean that wires have to be quite flexible to mold around the rounded, heavily angled shape of the rib cage.
Now, let’s take a Freya. Any unlined style will work for me, really. The wires are soft. In fact, they’re so soft they can be very easily bent and moulded when necessary – like clay. A lot of ladies find that really unsupportive, but imagine that difference on funnel-shaped ribs for a moment. Imagine you have an orange (or whatever. Anything round.), try wrapping a metal ruler around it. It’s somewhat flexible, but too thick for the top and bottom of the ruler to quite fit, and you can’t wrap it around the entire orange at once, just a small curve at a time. Now try wrapping a cloth measuring tape around that same orange. Now you can wrap the tape all the way around and it fits snugly. Now, that’s a dramatic analogy, granted, but it produces a solid visual of the difference. Freya supports me better because it curves around my entire rib cage, because the wires are thin enough that they don’t stab into my inwardly angled rib cage. Panache, while it’s possible to bend the wires with a bit of Herculean strength, will never bend as much or as accurately, as Freya.
Evedyn wires are soft enough that they offer my projected sternum some reprieve, where Panache expects my sternum to not be so far forward, and has wires firm enough that it thinks it can force my breastbone into submission. (It has yet to win this fight. 🙂 )
Wires will completely break a bra that would otherwise be close to perfect for me. The answer would be to remove the stiff wires and transplant wires that are softer, but I have yet to feel that industrious (I suspect the time is coming. lol.)
Visual guide to Funnel-Shaped ribs
Now, I can’t show you this rib structure well while wearing a bra, because the bra conceals the worst parts of the issue (the band makes my bones just look like pudge. Don’t get me wrong, I have my fair share of pudge, but the part of my ribs you need to see most is the part that would usually be covered by the band, so bear with my hand bra as best you can. I have no other way of properly showing bone structure that would normally be hidden by the bra band). I’ve done my best, but the pics aren’t brilliant. I’ve removed background to increase contrast so you can get a better look at what’s going on.
Hopefully that gives you ladies some insight into how bone structure can affect bra fit. The answer for bone structure issues are never easy. They’re never straight-forward, and they’re not one size fits all. But, if you’ve gotten a lot of advice that SHOULD work, if your bra fit issues have stumped the experts, if you’re feeling like you must have freakish boobs for bra fit to be THIS HARD…stop. Step back a minute. Stop taking pictures of branches and get a good look at the shape of the entire trunk, then decide if the source of the “problem” is your boobs at all, or if your bone structure might need to be factored into the equation.
I think that basically wraps up what I immediately wanted to say about bone structure. I didn’t need a third post, yay! I don’t have any immediate plans for posts going forward, unless you ladies make some suggestions. Someone mentioned maybe writing up a post on projection. This has been discussed by others, but I can definitely do a ‘simplified/for dummies’ type of run down on the subject if you’d like me to. I feel like it’s been talked about enough that it would be a bit redundant, but you tell me. Or, I don’t know, if you have something you’re not sure about, suggest it as a topic. It might not be something I have experience enough to write about, but if I do feel adept enough at the subject to talk about it, I’ll definitely consider it. Unless you ask questions, we won’t know if I have answers, so propose some topics to me. Throw some things at me that you just don’t understand. Let’s see if anything sticks.