Do my boobs look big in this?

I MUST, I MUST, WORK WITH MY BUST: Dressing to balance your breasts with the rest of your body can be tricky.
I MUST, I MUST, WORK WITH MY BUST: Dressing to balance your breasts with the rest of your body can be tricky.

If you're like me, then your clothing selection throughout most of your life has been a matter of whether you fit, say, size 12 or 14 and checking that the garment doesn't make you look bottom-heavy.

But in my case, two breast-fed children and middle age have created a new (never imagined) fear - do my boobs look big in that?! 

I never realised that my former 12-14C assets could become a liability. Suddenly I have more cleavage than I'm used to managing and some necklines leave me looking dangerously like a plump milkmaid.

Investigation has confirmed I'm not alone. Personal stylist Jackie O'Fee of Signature Style says most women struggle with their breast size.

"As a bigger-busted gal (E cup) I had always fantasised about how I would love to have smaller boobs. I remember being surprised when I started dressing small-busted women that they too had difficulties that were interestingly enough similar to my own. No boobies means you need a bra to add some oomph - so that means nothing backless or strapless, no sideboob etc. "

While having your bra on show has become perfectly acceptable over the last decade, O'Fee says the look doesn't work for everyone.

"It's acceptable if you're a lovely A-C cup. Start showing off industrial strength straps and the assorted engineering needed for larger boobs and it's not so good.

"I do love that bra manufacturers have started to make bigger sizes in prettier colours and fabrics, but the three-clips-in-the-back fastening will never be as lovely as the desired two, and will always make me feel like a nana."

It's certainly true that there is more fashion lingerie available for big busted women  than there used to be - and for good reason. New Zealand lingerie brand Bendon says E-cup bra sales have increased by 140 per cent since 2005 and those of DD-cup bras have grown 76 per cent. 

But it's not just the bras that have to fit and flatter, it's the clothing. Hayley Iggo, former buyer for, says breast size has an impact on online shopping.

"The issue is that being a certain dress size doesn't mean you're that same bra size. Strapless dresses are the most problematic and returns are generally reduced if you offer them with removable straps. You also need to constantly take into account in fittings, where bra straps would sit." 

Designer Claire Kingan-Jones says she endeavours to fit her samples on as wide a variety of bodies as possible, to see how garments look on different shapes and sizes. In her brand's case, the fine fabrics they use must always have excess added, so a top can drape or be filled as a woman's body dictates. Many Kingan-Jones garments are sheer and Kingan-Jones says the underlayers are key.  "We produce a shoe-string slip for smaller sizes and shapes, but we also have a long tank with a wider shoulder."

Small-busted women have challenges of their own, of course. One 40-something whose bust is not quite a B cup, said she would dress quite differently if she was better endowed.

"I can always pad up for extra bumps but then it can be a bit embarrassing when they fall to the floor when I unrobe! I'd like cleavage, but instead I have ribs."

For another neat-busted interviewee, a lack of 'womanly shape' serves to widen her wardrobe options. 

"I wear a lot of boys clothes, I like shirts. Girls ask me all the time how to dress in menswear with a large chest and curves and it's hard - men's clothes aren't designed to accommodate those things. That being said, there are times one wishes they had a bit of a rack: bikini season, that one Lonely Hearts sample dress you have that you can't wear a bra with. I've resorted to stick-on chicken fillets before but it's just depressing, those things are so weird."

The Guardian's fashion writer Hadley Freeman proposes that fashion is actually disinterested in breasts and doesn't care about 'straight men's obsession with mammary glands'.  Right or wrong, we'll let her have the last word: "I would applaud the industry's disinterest in what straight men think, but unfortunately my Balmain jacket is so restrictive around the chest that I can't actually raise my arms to clap."


Jackie O'Fee shares her tips on balancing your bust with the rest of your body.

1. If bigger busted - look for simplicity on the top half and balance with a bit of volume below the waist - print pants, wider legged trousers, pleated trousers, skater skirts etc.  But be mindful that your 'girls' must be properly supported and lifted - nothing will age you faster than a saggy bust, especially considering fashion's continuing love affair with the waist.

2. Often a fuller busted gal needs a little more length in her tops and jackets, else they (the tops) simply hang from the bust and make her look - ahem - fat.

3. Try a deeper colour on top to counter a fuller-than-desired bust.

4. A lower cut neckline really is the most flattering - too high and it can look like your boobs start under your chin.

5. Look for longer necklaces that drop lower than the bust and 'divide' it, or play with a shorter, statement necklaces that sit above the boobs. Just avoid anything right on the bust.

6. Be mindful of sleeves: you don't want too much volume on your arms as that will add width and volume at the bust, making you appear all boobs.  Watch where a short sleeve ends - if it's right at nipple level, it'll draw attention to your bust (our eye gets drawn to horizontals), so go slightly shorter or longer.

7. For smaller busts, add oomph with prints, breast pockets, ruffles, volume etc.  Or get a great bra (with or without the dreaded chicken fillets) and fake it!