A bra that banishes bulges? It’s no longer a distant dream, say the makers of the bra equivalent of Spanx
With rows of bras in every shape, size and colour in the shop, Pam Needham felt her heart sink as she realised, yet again, nothing was going to fit her.
As a 32G — with a narrow back and larger than average breasts — NHS manager Pam, 54, was used to spilling out of cups, having straps dig into her skin, and being told she was different sizes in different brands.
‘My lingerie drawer was stuffed full of ill-fitting bras,’ she said.
‘The worst ones squished my boobs into my armpits but I had just learned to live with it because of the size and shape that I am.
‘I also had pain on and off in my neck and shoulders, which I thought was to do with sitting down at the computer for too long at work.’
Pam’s experience is not unusual. The UK’s lingerie industry may be worth a staggering £3.6bn a year, but most women have a drawer full of bras that simply don’t fit — and so do not do the job they’re designed for.
And, according to experts, lack of lift, bulging back-fat and chafing straps are the least of a woman’s worries. Wearing the wrong bra can actually cause serious health problems — from bad backs and neck pain, to digestive problems, headaches, heartburn, shortness of breath and dizziness.
Optifit’s bra is said to reduce back bulge by positioning the strap lower than with a conventional bra
Currently up to 80 per cent of women wear the wrong bra, but that could soon be a thing of the past with the arrival of the Optifit bra, a radical new bra which is based on sophisticated three-dimensional measuring techniques.
Tested on 10,000 women with positive results, the Optifit —developed by surgeon Atul Khanna and bra specialist Sue McDonald — supports breast tissue instead of compressing it.
It was designed using measurements similar to those required for assessing breast enlargements or reconstructions after mastectomies.
The three separate measurements are taken using a special tape measure which stretches and moulds to the body to gauge depth, as well as the length and volume of the breast.
The Optifit bra comes in more than 500 size combinations, and the sizing is very different to standard bra measurements. Body depth is related to a colour, breast height to a size — small, medium, large — and volume to number.
So, for example, a woman who is normally a 32DD might find herself wearing an Optifit bra that is a Red, Small, 4.
The Optifit also works in a different way to conventional bras. Rather than breasts being contained in underwiring and squashed to the chest wall, it hugs the body from the back, cradles the breast from underneath, lifts the breasts and lengthens the abdominals.
Tests have revealed that as well as making women appear slimmer by banishing bulges, the Optifit also eases tension headaches, neck and shoulder strain, and makes breasts look more pert by lifting them in a way that normal bras don’t.
It was the brainchild of bra fitter Sue McDonald, who came to bra designing after 20 years working alongside NHS hospitals in Manchester, helping mastectomy patients and breastfeeding mums.
After resorting to cutting and stitching clients’ bras to try to get them to fit properly, Sue eventually studied underwear design at university in an attempt to understand why most conventional bras are so uncomfortable.
She was shocked to discover that standard measurements, still in use today, were formulated in the years after the First World War using a male dummy with breasts stuck on — hardly a good guide to the proportions of a real woman.
Breast volume and height, the position of the nipple and the degree of sag in a breast are all key factors which she says should be taken into account, but which are overlooked by standard lingerie measurements.
So 10 years ago Sue calculated and patented her own method of measuring the breast, developing a prototype of the Optifit bra.
Relying on word-of-mouth for custom, she employed two seamstresses to make the bras.
At a clothing industry conference in 2010, she met consultant plastic surgeon Atul Khanna.
After hearing many of his patients complain about ill-fitting bras causing headache and neck pain, he was keen to create a bra based on a more precise system of measurement and teamed up with Sue to share his expertise.
Mr Khanna, a member of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, explains the breast is a complex area of the body which varies from woman to woman in volume, width, height, projection, tissue density, composition, shape and position on the chest.
Yet these differences are not taken into account with conventional bras and can lead to severe discomfort.
Mr Khanna says: ‘Pressure on the top of the back and the bottom of the neck caused by ill-fitting bras can lead to a migraine-type headache with pain across the forehead and behind the eyes.
‘Traditional bras fix the breasts to the chest wall.
‘Tightening the bra straps pulls the shoulders down, while underwires dig into the ribs.
‘This creates an imbalance in posture which sets up a domino effect throughout the body, resulting in neck, shoulder and back pain.’
The Optifit bra went into production in South Wales and Manchester and now comes in several different designs and colours — including a sports bra and a sexy ‘shades of grey’ lace model.
Visiting the Bra Spa — the specialist shop and fitting service selling the Optifit brand, in Uppermill, near Oldham, Manchester — certainly proved a turning point for Pam Needham.
Sue McDonald fitted her for the Optifit bra. It has to be put on slightly differently to a standard bra.
Rather than putting it on and fiddling around with the back clasp to do it up while standing, Sue advises leaning forward and ‘pouring’ the breasts into the cup, slipping the shoulder straps on one at a time while still leaning forward.
The back of the bra is pulled further down the back than on standard models, to ensure that the weight of the breasts are supported not by the neck and shoulder muscles, but by the back muscles.
Pam was amazed by the results and over the past 18 months she has ditched her ill-fitting lingerie and now only wears Optifit.
‘My breasts feel not only comfortable and supported, but friends kept asking if I had lost weight,’ she says.
‘The pains that I used to get in my neck and shoulders stopped as well.’
Mr Khanna says it’s time to take a radical new look at how to make the bra comfortable and effective for the millions upon millions of women who have to wear one every day of their adult lives.
‘We have made vast progress in breast augmentation techniques and surgical reconstruction of the breast in the last two decades.
‘Now, surely, it is time for the lingerie industry to change its attitude to the female body.’