Raise your hand if you felt personally victimised by Miu Miu’s micro mini skirt and barely there, matching top? The girls that can fit it, fit it, and the girls that don’t…just have to deal with societal body standards while navigating a world where it seems clothes are getting smaller by the day.
With designers giving the same excuses for decades — large breasts don’t fit sample sizes, clothes don't hang well on them — big boobs and high fashion repel each other season after season. Even though pop culture has embraced curvier figures (which comes with its own set of problems à la the Kardashians), the reality is that not enough designers are making clothes that comfortably fit chest sizes above a 10B. And that trickles down into the clothes that are mass-produced for the public.
I remember standing in a dressing room on the verge of tears as I tried to coax my DD breasts into a size FR 40 (my standard size) Jacquemus crop top. That moment could easily have been my villain origin story. Slightly sweaty from struggling into and out of a top that should have fit, my first thought was: You need to lose weight so your boobs will shrink.
"Shopping in-store is a no-go for me," says Dionne Bayayi, who wears a G cup. "Sizing is scarce, hence my preference to shop online. Some retailers actually charge more for my size because it’s not considered the norm," she says. The average bra size in Australia is 14C and 12D, so this is likely the reality for many people.
The irony is that breasts were very much a focal point on many a Spring/Summer '22 runway. From Y/Project’s naked dresses to Schiaparelli’s gilded nipples, breasts are enjoying a main character moment. To the dismay of big-chested fashion fans, however, that often means a whole lot of tiny straps, built-in bras with little to no support and flimsy materials that only people with small breasts can afford to wear. I love Christopher Esber’s bust-emphasising cutouts and Nensi Dojaka’s mixing of lingerie and tailoring but it feels like designers are excluding big boobs from the conversation — inadvertently or not.
As a woman with a fuller bust, I can always tell when a piece of clothing hasn’t been made with people like me in mind. I usually have to go up several sizes to accommodate my boobs (which, admittedly, impacts my self-esteem) and that leads to an awkward fit in certain areas, or what I like to call the boob shuffle: constantly adjusting your breasts so they are sitting in the right place.
"Proof that fashion isn’t made for big biddies" is the title of @vaninileon’s viral TikTok in which she tries on a series of trending styles including super crops, pin tops and under-boob cutouts, all of which lead to disappointment and a lot of nip-slip potential. The TikTok hashtag #bigchestproblems has over 68 million results, highlighting everything from the impossibility of finding a trendy and supportive bikini top to the reality of wearing a slinky cardigan without a bra.
So how do these ideals still find their way into fashion when the body positivity movement is seemingly thriving? With big-breasted, curvy models like Precious Lee, Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser gracing several couture runways and magazine covers, there's been quite the illusion of progress.
Out of exhaustion and a lack of clothes that fit, I’ve invested a lot of time in googling all the different ways I can conceal my breasts rather than displaying them. Spaghetti straps à la the Y2K era? The It Girl look doesn't quite work when you need to wear a supportive bra with thick straps underneath.
When British Vogue controversially declared the death of the cleavage in 2016, people were up in arms. Twitter users variously told the magazine to eff off and leave women’s bodies alone, while one pointed out that "breasts are always in style". Even in my early 30s, I’m still unlearning many of the negative associations of having larger breasts that I picked up as a teenager; I can only imagine what that Vogue article did to set back the minds of young women once again.
"It makes me nervous that fashion is spending so much time referencing periods that birthed the same unhealthy beauty standards we are now beginning to heal from," says slow fashion designer Leaundra Lewis, who handcrafts made-to-order clothing for bodies of all sizes.
Lewis' brand WILDCHILD celebrates every kind of body through pieces crafted with comfort and style in mind. She believes that fashion shouldn’t leave people feeling rejected or undesirable because of the size of their boobs and that there should be a space carved out for every body type.
"Certain bodies are definitely sexualised more than others," says influencer and designer Fumi Egbon, who displays her brand Fumi The Label on a wide range of body types and breast sizes. Fumi says that the use of thinner models by big-name designers and high fashion brands perpetuates the idea that those bodies are better. "I guess it works against us," she says.
Remember my Selfridges fitting room moment? And how I told myself that I was the problem? I ended up getting the Jacquemus top and yes, I did have to alter it to suit my breasts. Even though I feel like I'm always one spiralling moment away from convincing myself to get a breast reduction so that the clothes I love fit me better, I remind myself that inclusive designers like Hanifa, Savage X Fenty and Paloma Wool exist.
Not only have these designers made it their business to promote size inclusivity, but they've also aligned their designs to accommodate the naturally varying shapes and sizes that bodies come in. I’m happy we’re seeing these small shifts in the right direction and while high fashion in its entirety isn’t fully on board yet, the future looks hopeful.