Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Review: Bravissimo's Current Offerings, April Update

My past posts where I did mass reviews of various bras I tried on in Bravissimo have been really popular, so here’s one more. I went to Bravissimo with my sister, who was visiting the UK this week, so she could get re-fitted. The women working there were friendly, but they also weren’t very committed to her fitting, which was disappointing. They put her in a Deco with a 30 band, which she fastened on the tightest hooks right away, and her fitter didn’t notice. When she asked for a 28, the band was better, but the cups were far too small, and again the fitter never came back to check, so she couldn't try the cup size up. Because of that, she didn’t end up buying anything, although she was ready to buy at least one bra if the staff had been more eager to find her the right fit. It was getting near closing time, so they seemed pretty hassled and busy, but I was still annoyed because this was my sister’s only chance to have the Bravissimo fitting experience. 

On the other hand, I had pretty good luck with most of what I tried on, for once. They have a lot more things that I like in this current collection than they did back in the fall. I've also gotten better at understanding how the experience works in the Bravissimo fitting room--it seems to work best if you ask to try on three or four specific styles, and then lurk outside your fitting room to ask for other bras as the fitters go by. It also helps to point things out to them in the catalogue. Anyway, these are the things I tried.

Free Kazbar Bikini
I tried on this bikini top for a friend back at home who wanted to see if it was any good before ordering it. I thought it was a pretty nice bikini. I first tried it in a 30H, the smaller of my two normal cup sizes, and it was too small for me and cut into the top of my boobs:

 I also felt like the back was very tight, and when I asked the saleslady about it, she agreed, saying that swimwear often comes up feeling tighter in the back because of the massive amount of Lycra in it. I do also know that swimwear tends to get looser in water, so I don’t know if the tight Lycra is reason enough to get a larger back size, but in any case I tried a 32H next. The cup was a much better fit.  

It doesn’t give the most uplifted shape ever but I think it is perfectly fine-looking for a bikini top. The fabric along the cups can be ruched down if you prefer less coverage, which is good considering the fact that I fit better in the bigger of my two sizes.

My biggest annoyance with it was that the back fastening was very confusing and complicated. You had to thread a square piece of metal through a casing and then snap some little teeth into place. It took me a couple minutes to figure out the first time. I’m not sure why they didn’t use a simpler fastening.

Panache Andorra
I was curious to try the Andorra because I love this mint green color, but I figured I would hate it because it’s a full-cup construction (see here and here for more information on seam constructions and shape). To my surprise, I was actually a pretty big fan of this bra! I tried it in a 30H.

As you can see, the shape from the side is really nice. It’s not as round as some of my best balconettes, but it gives good uplift.  Most importantly, the shape is very compact and my boobs are held close to my body, totally unlike the splayed-out east-west look that is common with full-cup bras. The difference must come from the side support panel, which is just another piece of evidence that bras that have lift from the bottom and pull up the bottom sections are far superior to those that don’t.

The lace on the Andorra is very soft and the upper panel is stretchy. I like this feature because it means there is enough give that it doesn’t cut in on my full upper boobs, and it also would be less likely to gape on someone with less fullness at the top. It’s a good compromise and a smart construction.

Miss Mandalay Paige
I’d always wanted to try on this beautiful bra but never had a chance until now when Bravissimo brought it back into stock. I’m totally in love with this colorway.

I tried it in a 30H as that is the highest cup size they make (and I’m pretty sure it only went up to GG when Bravissimo had an earlier version of this bra a few years back). It was very nearly a perfect fit, but as you can see from the side view, I had the slightest bit of cutting in across the top edge:

The lace across the top is a tiny bit tighter than I need for my shape but it is not nearly as tight as the upper section on, for instance, the Freya Arabella, Bravissimo Alana, or Curvy Kate Princess. I don’t think many people will have a problem with cutting in—probably only if you are very full on top and at the top of the size range. Even with the minor cutting in that I got, I still might have bought this bra, but unfortunately it’s completely out of my price range at £36. Still, I would recommend it for those who can handle the hefty price tag.

Masquerade Rhea
This is another bra that I’d always wondered about but never had a chance to try. I’m completely in love with it—this is probably the best bra I’ve tried on in the past year, and I’ve tried LOADS.

As you can see, the 30H is absolutely ideal for my shape. Because my boobs are so full on top, it ends at exactly the right point and then the top shapes itself. It’s perfect, and very luxurious. I will look for this on sale, because it’s very steep at full price (£33) but the Rhea has a history of selling out very fast, so I might consider investing in one.

Cleo Juna
Having tried the Cleo Sadie longline earlier this year, I knew that Cleo’s two-section padded cups are a pretty good fit and shape for me in a 30H, so I tried the Juna in that size.

I hate this shade of beige on me, but I wanted to see how the fit was. As I expected, it was just about identical to the fit of the Sadie. The shape from the side is a very casual rounded shape—not in-your-face at all but more subtle and fairly minimized. This would be a good everyday bra for that reason. It’s clearly not giving as excellent a shape as the Rhea, and it has less structural integrity, but at £10 cheaper than the Rhea at full price, I still think it’s a sensible option. I have heard from some people that the band on the Juna stretches out pretty quickly, so it might be worth going down a band size if you wear below an H cup (H is sadly the largest cup size in this range, so those needing an H can’t size down in the band and up in the cup).

Cleo Olivia
This is a new style and a Bravissimo exlusive, but it’s clearly the same construction as Cleo’s Sasha and Alexa styles.

Cleo Sasha 
Cleo Alexa 
Cleo Olivia--Bravissimo Exclusive
I love the polka dots but I do wish they would have chosen slightly different colors. With the pink lace edging a blue cup, it is far too similar to Cleo’s Alexa and Ellie bras which are both also out this season—seems a bit silly when Bravissimo could have had the opportunity to offer an exclusive shade that would be truly refreshing and different.

I tried the Olivia in a 30H. It was nearly a perfect fit but I did have some cutting in along the edge. I think I would probably fit better in the 30HH, but could wear either, especially if I took in the center gore on the 30H.

The shape this bra gives is really superior and it definitely seems to be better made than some other Cleo bras. The cups are made of a double layer of mesh fused together and the band underneath the wires in front adds stability to the bra so the underwires won’t stretch or distort.

As for comparison sizing, I haven’t tried either the Sasha or Alexa, but the consensus I’ve heard from my big-boobed friends who have tried both is that Alexa runs about a cup size larger than the Sasha as well as the new Olivia bra. So although I would probably prefer a 30HH in Sasha and Olivia, I suspect I’d be totally fine in a 30H in the Alexa.

Bravissimo Primrose

I was brought this new Bravissimo style in a 30H by mistake. I wouldn’t have asked to try it in this size as I always need at least two cup sizes up to fit into Bravissimo’s own-brand Alana-style balconettes. I think it makes a hilarious and educational contrast to the Panache/Masquerade/Cleo 30Hs I’ve described above. 

Sorry for the weird photoshopping. I was getting some awkward nip-slip issues. Something I've never experienced before in Bravissimo, as above the H I'd always gotten the extra lining!

You can see that although the Panache family is cut perfectly for my full-on-top boobs, this bra (like most of Bravissimo’s own-brand bras) is cut for the opposite shape, great for people with more volume on the bottom and less on the top. On me, it drags my boobs down because it is far too tight for my shape in the top section where I need lots of space, but then it has more space than I need at the apex so it makes my boobs look pointy combined with the dragging down. But I think you can also see how it would give a far better shape to someone with teardrop shaped boobs. I’m sure this will be a lovely bra for those who like the Alana, Bubbles, etc. (It’s said to be based on the Bubbles shape.) The back band is extremely firm and tight—even in the 30 band I could only just fasten it—so I think it is a good choice for small 28s, like the Ditsy Blossom bra they had in the last collection.

Bravissimo Wild At Heart
I really wanted this cool new bra to work for me because it looks exactly like something Victoria’s Secret would make and reminds me of what I would buy from them in a perfect world where they made more than 5 cup sizes.

Unfortunately this bra wasn’t the best shape for me. I tried it in a 30HH, knowing that Bravissimo’s own-brand bras run much smaller on me than the Panache families. From the front it looks good, but the shape is odd from the side.

I get the same problem I got with the Primrose bra (but on a much more minor scale)—too little space at the top edge, and too much space at the apex. So I bulged out of the top a bit, while still having enough fabric at the apex that I could pinch it between my fingers.

I’m not sure if a larger cup size (combined with shortening the straps a lot to take out the wrinkling) would help at all; I suspect this bra just isn’t compatible with my shape. From what I’ve heard, most people have had to size up to get the perfect fit in this bra, some even going up by two sizes.

One final note, this bra has very wide straps in my size range, some of the widest I’ve ever seen. The pattern continues on the straps, though, so I think they are still fairly cute; they just might not be the best with a strappy top.

Bravissimo Inspire Sports Bra
Finally, this is another bra that I tried on to help out a friend who is considering ordering from overseas. The size range on this new sports bra is truly amazing in comparison to what is available from other companies.

I tried it in a 30H because that is the same size I recently tried in the Panache Sports bra (don’t worry, review coming soon!) and I felt it would be more useful to compare. The cups on the Inspire were small on me, but I think that’s just because Bravissimo’s cups always run rather small on my shape.

As you can see in this photo, I had a bunch of flesh sort of smashed outside of the cups:

The cups on this bra are really aiming to hold in every part of your breast tissue, so I definitely would have needed a larger size—even then, it is very rare for a bra to cover all of my breast tissue because it ends so high. However, I think this bra would be much better for people with softer boobs or a teardrop/full-on-bottom shape.

In terms of support, this bra seems pretty promising. I’m not the sportiest of people so I don’t have a huge amount to compare this to, but when I jumped up and down the only thing that moved was the part of my boobs that was smashed outside of the cups. To me that indicates that it is succeeding as an encapsulation bra.

The shape was a bit pointy, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had feared. I wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen in a bra giving this shape, it is decent:

The straps are very wide and thick, and nicely padded, which I think is a nice feature for a sports bra.

The back band is also very firm on this bra. I don’t think I would have fit in a 28. I would recommend this sports bra to people looking for something firm and supportive without compressing. Personally, I liked that it had underwires. From what I’ve seen around the internet it seems to be a nicer shape than the underwired Freya sports bra, and the size range is also much better. It’s a bit hideous, with the exposed wires and seams in the front, but overall I would say it’s a success. 

Thursday, 19 April 2012

It's Your Band Size, And Your Choice

You might have noticed me mentioning in recent posts that I’ve started including 30 bands in my possible sizes. That’s not because my measurements have changed but because I had a realization, one that felt a bit mischievous at first: I don’t have to wear a 28 band if I don’t want to.

I’ve been wearing one for the past few seasons because it matches my measurement (28 inches around the underbust) and I didn’t want to risk having back pain or other problems from wearing a too-loose band. But I hadn’t had many problems with 30 bands before that, unless they ran unusually loose, and I had a host of new problems with 28 bands—painful underwires, sharp edges cutting in, and that weird constricted feeling that comes from wearing something very tight for hours. So I recently decided to do a small trial of wearing 30 bands again. I figured if it didn’t work, I would go straight back to 28s, but ultimately, the 30 bands were a success for me based on the criteria I had chosen. The way I see it, there are three important tests for whether the band size you are wearing is too big:

First of all, and I’m sure you’ve all heard this before, but your bra band should not ride up. It should sit horizontally around your body. However, it’s important to note that a few bras have bands that just sit that way, angled a bit up, so they look like they are riding up when they are actually the right size or even too small. This is one of the most annoying things ever in my opinion, because it makes it difficult to distinguish between a correct or too-big band, hence why I’m mentioning two other tests.

Second, if you have back pain at the end of the day from your boobs, definitely try a smaller band. It might not solve the problem, in which case you need not bother to size down, but if it does help, you owe it to yourself to wear the smaller size.

Third, if you have to readjust your boobs a lot throughout the day, that’s a sign that something may be amiss with your size. Ideally, a well-fitting bra should stay more or less in place—you shouldn’t feel like you are constantly tucking and pulling. If you are, you may need to reevaluate what size you should wear. It could be that you need to change your cup size, or it could be that you need to wear a tighter band.

If you don’t have these problems with a slightly larger band size, though, I personally feel that you should choose the band that feels most comfortable, which may not necessarily be the tighter one. For me, I had a lot of comfort issues with 28 bands, so I’m moving away from them. Of course, I was never a small 28, and this is just my experience—I’m not suggesting that people abandon their sizes willy-nilly on my advice. I just don’t want people to feel trapped in a band size that is only best for them in theory. I have met some people with larger underbust measurements who prefer to subtract inches from their measurement to get the most comfortable band size, and I think that it’s also okay to add a couple of inches if that is the most comfortable option and if it is still equally supportive.

I’m pretty convinced that it’s not a good idea to add more than 2 inches to your measurement to get your band size, nor would most people have success subtracting more than that, but again, I’m sure there are some exceptions and outliers to this rule of thumb. Only you can decide what feels most comfortable for you. Just be informed about the right and wrong reasons to wear a band size slightly bigger than your measurements. For instance, no bra fitter in a store should encourage you to add inches—especially not the standard, pathetic American system of adding up to SIX inches. It is your right to decide to add inches, but MOST people will fare best in a band size that is close to their measurements.

I also don’t think it’s a good idea to make the choice to upsize just because of increased options in larger band sizes, although I understand why some people might find this a massive relief. Wearing a 30 band, I have many, many more options than wearing a 28 band, but that isn’t reason enough to size up in the band. If I was uncomfortable in the 30 band, all the options in the world wouldn’t mean anything--because all of them would cause me pain. Upsizing just so you can find something in shops, when you wouldn’t do so otherwise, means you are being bullied by the companies and inadvertently voting for the wrong sizes with your wallet.

However, you also shouldn’t feel that you need to wear the smallest possible band size if you are actually more comfortable in one size up. The best method is to take some time to experiment and try out a few different sizes. Most people will still find they are most comfortable in a band size that nearly matches their measurements, but trust your own instincts—if you’ve tried all the sizes you can (and that means more than just the ones available on the high street), you’ll know which one is best.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Do You Want A Sheer Bra Up To A K Cup?

Are you disappointed with the “extra lining” that plagues bras above a G cup? Do you long for a sheer bra that actually comes in your size? Well, it’s possible… but you’ll have to get crafty!

I really like the look of bras that are sheer all over, not just on the top section, because I think it is more flattering when all three sections are the same. In the past, I’d experimented with cutting the extra lining out of a G+ Freya Arabella and had great success because the outer mesh has no stretch whatsoever, so the shape and support weren’t compromised by the removal of the inner opaque layer. But the Arabella isn’t a good shape for me, so I’d sort of given up on making it work. For some reason, I’d never considered cutting the lining out of a different bra—until recently, when I realized that just because a bra has opaque layers in all the cup sizes, doesn’t mean that it couldn’t still become a sheer bra!

The bra I made into a sheer bra was the Panache Confetti, but I think there are many bras that could potentially be made into a sheer bra. They just need to meet several requirements:

-The bra will need to have two layers, an outer layer of see-through mesh or lace (which is often the only layer on the top section) and an inner layer of a non-see-through fabric. These layers need to be separate. Sometimes they get stuck together and you can pull them apart (which is as fun as popping bubble wrap), but in certain bras the layers are fused together and can’t be separated—you can’t perform this alteration on a bra like that. It can sometimes be possible to cut out padding—I know one person who cut out the padding of the Masquerade Anise because it is only attached in a few places to the outer lace. In my experience it is mostly Panache and Cleo bras that are made like this, with two layers--I can't think of any Freya bras other than the Arabella that have two layers. I know a lot of Bravissimo's own-brand bras have two layers, but I'm not sure whether the layers are separate or not.

-The outer mesh or lace (they layer that will remain once you’ve cut out the inner layer) must be non-stretch or have very little stretch. If the outer layer is stretchy (like in many Curvy Kate bras) the bra won’t be able to support you without the inner layer, so avoid trying the alteration on any bras like that. Make sure you test the stretch of the outer layer by tugging it in all directions—up and down and also diagonally. If all it has is some slight diagonal stretch but not too much, it is probably fine. The mesh on the Arabella literally has no stretch at all, so it’s probably the best bra to do this with. The mesh on my Confetti isn’t quite as rigid, but it doesn’t stretch more than very slightly in any direction, so I figured the shape and support wouldn’t change much by removing the inner lining, which is actually a bit more stretchy than the outer mesh.

-Don’t perform this on any bra that you are too attached to, that you paid a lot for, or that you might want to sell later—unless you are okay with the fact that it might fail and not be salvageable. This is just my typical warning that this is an alteration that you perform at your own risk. It worked well for my Confetti and Arabella, but the results are likely to be somewhat unpredictable on other bras or with other sizes/colors of even the same bras I used, so I really wouldn’t recommend trying this except on a bra that you are not too attached to and aren’t planning to sell. Bras that you’ve gotten for a low price and can easily replace are probably the best candidates; or if you have a bra that’s worn out that you want to turn in to a bedroom bra, that could also be a good candidate.

The actual cutting out of the lining is not complicated, but it is tricky. What you want to do is cut along the seams without nicking the outer layer—if you do cut into the outer layer by mistake, it can compromise the structure of the bra and be difficult to repair, so proceed slowly and carefully.

To start with, make sure the outer layer is fully separated from the inner layer. Then pull the inner layer towards you while pulling the outer layer away from the underwire in the other direction, like so:

Now make a tiny cut in the inner layer. Start small! This first cut is tricky because you’re cutting “blind” and can’t see inside, between the two layers, yet. Don’t worry about trying to get too close to the underwire or the seam with this first cut:

Now, carefully put the scissors into this cut and, while making sure that the outer layer is nowhere near the scissors, cut towards the wire or seam. Proceed to cut all the way around. It’s easiest to do so while simultaneously pulling the outer layer away from where you’re cutting. Be extra careful when turning "corners" between the underwires and the seams or between two seams. 

Just make small cuts and keep readjusting so you can be sure you are only cutting the inner layer. Don’t worry about getting TOO close to the underwire and seams—as long as your cuts are smooth, leaving a little extra space will just make the non-sheer seams a little wider in the final appearance. And make sure you don’t cut too far into the seams, too! If you cut over the thread that keeps them together, the whole bra might disintegrate.

 Now, repeat this with the other sections. You will have to do the two bottom sections on each cup separately, of course, because otherwise you would compromise the seams.

Final result:

I think it comes out looking quite nice on the Confetti because of the floral embroidery that really stands out against the sheer mesh. I think I would also be able to do this alteration on my Cleo Brooke, Bonnie, or Lucy, but I don’t think they would end up looking as nice so I will be sticking with just my Confettis for now. 

The support is not quite as good as before I cut out the lining, but I am able to get the proper amount of lift by shortening the straps. The black Confetti is a J-cup, but in a 28 band. I'm not sure how removing the lining would work out on larger cups in terms of still getting the right support (remember that a 32J is bigger in the cups than a 28J!) but it seems to work pretty well at least at my fairly high cup size. The less stretch there is in the outer layer, the better this alteration will work.

The shape I get in the bras is still nice. I do find I get a bit of bulging above the seam in the top section of the cup, which is odd because that didn’t happen before, but when changing the structure of a bra this radically, one must be prepared for weird surprises! I’m happy with the results—I wouldn’t wear these newly sheer bras for any really strenuous activities, but so far they have proved functional for a normal, low-key day. I think it will be a big relief to have something so light in the summer when it gets really hot and I have to work in a non-air-conditioned office. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Cleo "Bonnie" Review

Due to my love of Cleo bras, I was always curious to try the Bonnie because I suspected from the seam pattern that it would be a great fit on me and give a great shape, similar to my beloved Cleo Lucy and Brooke and Panache Sienna. I hesitated to order it, though, because I have to be frank and say that I just hate this colorway:

I can totally understand why people would like it, but personally I really dislike pastels, especially when it’s three pastels combined together (blue, pink, and yellow), so the whole look makes me grimace. It sort of reminds me of an Easter basket explosion (so I guess it’s appropriate to write this review coming off the Easter holiday weekend!).

I should note that the Cleo Bonnie also comes in this colorway that appeals to me much more:

But, the pale blue and yellow was the one that happened to pop up on eBay at a low price at the very moment my curiosity got the better of me, so that’s the one I ended up with.

In person, the bra is actually a lot more beautiful than I expected from online photos. There is a lot of nice detailing in the stitching and the colors do give it a light, airy look—basically, it was more subtle than I imagined.

But, though I was happier than I expected with the colors, I was less happy than I expected with the shape. The Bonnie is higher cut than the Cleo’s Brooke/Frances/Lucy bras, and covers more of my chest. It’s also not as open at the top as the Frances or Brooke—there isn’t as much space there, similar to the top section of the Lucy. However, the top section of the Lucy curves back in with a very round emphasis as it has a bit of stretch—it’s only the very top edge that is tight. On the Bonnie, the upper section has no stretch at all due to the yellow sunburst stitching, so it sits much more flat. When I look down at myself, it creates a sort of flat plane across the area where my cleavage would be, which is something that often happens to me in Freya bras. It doesn’t make much difference to the shape from any vantage point other than my own (looking down at myself), but it is something that annoys me a little. I did find that taking in the center gore helped with that flat look and it also helped pull the underwires out of my armpits a bit, as they are very wide. Here’s the look with the center gore taken in:

You may notice that between this photo and the last, the bow has gone missing. It had gotten a little askew and I tugged on it too enthusiastically to straighten it, and not only did it fall off but it actually separated into two pieces, as it’s not a “true bow” but two pieces stitched together. I haven’t managed to sew the bow back on yet, but I will definitely do so eventually because I think the bra looks kind of stupid without it.  

Now, on to the sizing. The back is looser than other 28 bands in Cleo, so it may not be the best bet for small 28s. It's fine for me though, because I'm more on the edge between 28 and 30 (and actually I've started comfortably wearing 30 bands in certain bras). 

As for the sizing of the cups, I can normally wear either a 28HH or a 28J in Cleo, and I chose to order a 28J in the Bonnie. The fit is good, but the wires are a bit too wide for me, and as you can see from this side photo, I don’t get the best lift:

I think this is definitely a fault of my choice to buy the bigger of the two sizes I normally wear rather than the fault of the bra itself. I say that because the shape looks almost exactly like the side view of my 28J Lucy…

…which doesn’t give nearly as much lift compared to my 28HH Lucy:

Because of the similarity to the bigger Lucy, I’m convinced that I should have gotten the 28HH in this bra, and that if I had, I would have gotten a lot more lift. However, if I’d done so, I would need to take in the center gore (to turn the cups and make them more open on top) a lot more to deal with the tight, non-stretchy upper section.

Now for some of the good points of this bra. First off, I LOVE the straps. They are relatively thin in appearance, and they are very soft and padded underneath with a material that feels almost like fleece. They are by far the nicest bra straps I've ever encountered. Unfortunately, due to the fleecy lining I think it would be very difficult to adjust these straps past halfway--so for those who really need fully adjustable straps, this isn't going to be a great option.

Despite the fact that I didn't feel as uplifted in this bra as I do in some bras, the shape is still really superb from the side. I find it looks quite subtle under a shirt, downplaying rather than maximizing my assets, which is what I look for.

You can also see in the above photo how the tight top section is pressing down on my shape a bit even in the bigger size, and how I'm getting a shade of quadraboob--not enough to ruin the look in my opinion but it is there. 

It might sound like I had pretty mixed feelings about this bra, but ultimately, I feel positive toward it. It’s a good bra. It’s not the BEST Cleo bra for my full-on-top shape, but it’s workable, and I think it might actually be a good compromise—those whose boobs are fuller on the bottom might like this bra more than the Brooke/Frances because there would be less risk of gapping as the upper section is tighter. It’s probably not going to be the best bra ever for those with more extreme shapes (really full on top or really full on the bottom) but I think it can still work for them, and I think it will work quite nicely for those with a shape somewhere in the middle. I still think the pink colorway is a lot prettier, though. Next time I'll get the pink Bonnie, and in the smaller of my two sizes!

Friday, 6 April 2012

What Does Panache Have to Offer? (Brand Overview)

I had a really great response to my overview of the different types of bras Freya offers, so I want to move next to another major brand, and my personal favorite, Panache. I’ll also talk about Panache’s Cleo line because since they’re made by the same people, there are a lot of similarities that you may find useful.

In my overview of Freya I wrote that their bras are easy-to-wear and a good “starter brand”. In my experience, Panache is a bit trickier to crack as a brand. When I was just starting out with well-fitted bras, my sister and I used to call Panache the “false friend” because their bras often seemed perfect in a dressing room, but became problematic with wear--rubbing, slipping, cutting in. I've since realized that this is mainly due to the fact that I didn't know how to fix small problems with bras, or needed a different size in some styles than in others. I wear different sizes in different Panache bras, I alter many of my Panache and Cleo bras to get a better fit, and some of the shapes I can’t wear at all even if they do come in my size. Generally speaking, Panache’s different styles have a lot more variation in cup design, seam location, etc than you’ll see in Freya. This means that some styles will work for a certain shape while some won’t. But fortunately, it also means that if one Panache shape didn’t work for you, others probably will. My goal here is to try to show which styles are similar and whom they might work for. In my opinion, buying Panache bras requires a bit more savvy and/or experience, but I also think it is definitely worth it as the results are stellar when it works out. Now that I've figured out what works for me in Panache, they are typically the brand that suits me best. 

To start off, one of Panache’s most classic styles is the Tango balconette. There are two basic manifestations, the Tango Classic, which comes in continuity colors, and the Tango II, which has a leaf pattern and has come in many colors over the years.

Tango Classic Balconette

Tango II Balconette

Although these bras are referred to as balconettes, the seam pattern is closer to what is traditionally used in a full-cup bra. It has two lower sections and an upper section that connects to the strap, like this: 

On most balconettes, the outer bottom section also connects to the strap, like this:

Because of the full-cup-esque construction, I personally find that I don’t get as much uplift as I would like in the Tango bras and the shape is a bit triangular from the side. The fabric is also fairly stiff so a poor fit can be very noticeable. However, this bra is also very popular and a favorite among loads of people I have talked to, so it is worth trying on if you can find it in a shop, or sold online with the possibility of returns.

Both Tango bras also come in plunge versions

These are more a staple than a va-va-voom type plunge, as they tend to minimize the amount of cleavage shown. If you naturally have close-set boobs and/or lots of cleavage, you might find that these bras work against your shape. I personally find the shape I get in the Tango plunge to be very similar to what I get in the Tango balconette—a bit triangular as it pushes the upper part of my boobs down. The Tango is not ideal for full-on-top boobs. But again, I think this is a bra that is worth trying if you have reasonable access to it. The Erin plunge also has a similar shape, as well as the new Eden:


A lot of the bras Panache makes are full-cup bras such as the Melody full-cup, Ariza, Eliza (marketed as a balconette but constructed like a full-cup), Carmel, Fern, Paloma, Elsa, Loretta, and the discontinued but still widely available Harmony full-cup. 

Melody Full-cup





Harmony full-cup
Again, these bras have the seam pattern I described with respect to the Tango balconette—the bottom section does not come up to meet the strap, so there is not as much lift from the bottom. The shape you’ll get from these bras is therefore a bit more “natural” looking and relaxed. I’m personally not a huge fan of full-cup bras in general because I like to have my boobs closer to my body and full-cup bras don’t hold them in as much. However, they are very supportive (support and lift are not precisely the same thing) and tend not to allow much cleavage to show, so they can be practical for work, etc.

Panache also makes some full-cup bras that have a side support panel included, like the Andorra and the Emily (which is marketed as a balconette). 


These bras give the support of a full-cup bra but with more lift and generally a more compact shape. I haven’t tried the Emily, which is a newer style, but I can vouch for the Andorra. It’s made with very soft lace and gives a good shape—not as rounded as a balconette shape, but in between that and the more relaxed shape most people get in a full-cup bra. I would highly recommend the Andorra for people looking for a full-cup bra.

My favorite style of Panache bra is their bras with a true balconette shape, including the Harmony, Confetti, Melody, and Sienna

Harmony balconette


Melody balconette

You can identify these bras by the outer bottom section that comes up to meet the strap--this shape:

This allows for more uplift and a wonderful round shape. They are fairly low-cut and very open on top so they are perfectly suited to full-on-top boobs. Those with a full-on-bottom shape might need to size down to avoid gapping in the top of the cup. These bras are the Panache equivalent of the balconette construction that the majority of Freya bras have, but Panache bras are much more delicate-looking in the larger sizes and cover far less skin. I refer again to the comparison of my 28J Freya Clarissa and 28J Panache Confetti.

Left, Freya Clarissa; Right, Panache Confetti
I love both bras but I think this image says a lot about the differences between the two companies. I wish Panache would make more bras with this construction because they do it as well or better than anyone else.

Finally, Panache makes molded T-shirt bras such as the Porcelain, which comes in a plunge version up to H cups and a regular version up to G cup. 

Porcelain plunge
Both come in black, white, and nude, as well as occasional colored manifestations and some that have lace, but unfortunately I’ve never tried them on. There is a strapless version as well. The Porcelain also comes in the slightly more decorative "Viva" version:

Porcelain Viva
As you can see, Panache makes a lot of bras that are practical and sensible, so if you are looking for something a bit more wild and exciting, look to Cleo. Cleo is a really great line that makes a lot of excellent bras. My one major dislike is that all the Cleo bras have just two hooks in back, even in the high cup sizes, whereas many of the Panache bras have three, which I would prefer. Cleo bras also only go up to J cup (and some don’t make it that high) unlike some Panache bras that go up to K cup; however, most Cleo bras do come in 28 bands.

Many Cleo bras are made with a similar construction to the true balconettes I mentioned above (Panache’s Harmony, Confetti, Melody, Sienna). These include Brooke, Eleanor, Bonnie, Frances, Chloe, and the upcoming Marcie. There are small differences between the fits of these bras but in general they give a very round shape, and like the similar Panache bras they are low-cut and open on top, hence perfect for full-on-top boobs.





The Lucy (my favorite bra) is very similar to these bras.

It has a slightly tighter upper section, so full-on-tops might experience slight cutting in (I counter this by taking in the center gore, which turns the cups so there is more space at the top).

The older George and Lizzie bras are also a fairly similar shape, but with more space at the apex, so I find the shape they give has more projection but isn’t quite as round.

Cleo bras with this shape are distinguishable by the extra fabric that continues under the cups in the middle.

Another slightly different Cleo shape is found in the Sasha and Alexa bras. The cups are constructed similarly to the above balconettes, but like the George and Lizzie they have a continuation of the band underneath the cups in front, where most Cleo balconettes just have the cups connected to the gore and to the band on the sides. This is actually a really great feature, because it stops the underwires from warping with the stretch of the band and makes bras a bit more heavy-duty and well-made.



I’ve unfortunately never tried these bras, but both have received rave reviews from those who have. I was initially worried that the lace across the top might cut in on my full-on-top boobs, but the feedback I’ve heard from those who have tried it is that it actually suits that shape well, while those who have less volume in the top might experience a bit of gapping. I find myself wondering if the upcoming red Marcie bra I pictured above might also belong in this category, as like these bras it has the section under the cups that prevents the wires from warping. I'll have to try them all out before I'll know for sure.

Another strong offering from Cleo is their two-section padded bras, the Juna, Sadie, Sadie longline, Rita, Poppy, Martha, Ellie, and the upcoming Darcy.


Sadie longline





These bras only go up to H cup but are a great option for those who fit them. The shape, in my opinion, is fairly similar to the unpadded balconettes with a lot of openness at the top so they are forgiving for full-on-top boobs, but also wearable for most other shapes. Lots of people seem to get on well with these bras. One annoying issue is that the lace tends to poke outwards rather than lying flat, but this will disappear under fitted clothes.

Cleo also offers a smooth, non-sectioned plunge bra called the Jude, which I’ve never tried due to its smaller size range. 

Just from the what I can see of the shape in this photo, I feel as though it might not work for my full-on-top shape, but who knows?

Similarly, I haven’t tried out Cleo’s seamed padded plunge bras, like the Molly, Penny, Sally, Billie, and Toni, either.  





The wires on Panache and Cleo bras tend to be fairly wide, particularly on the unpadded styles. If you don’t like wide underwires, you will want to either try bending the wires for comfort, or skip these bras altogether. Panache bras also tend to have wider center gores than Freya or Curvy Kate bras. This is good for wider-set boobs, but those with close-set boobs may want to perform this easy alteration to pull the cups closer together.  I find the bands run fairly similar to Freya bands, and between Freya and Panache/Cleo balconettes the cup sizing is often rather similar as well (personally, I usually find I am somewhere in between a 28HH and 28J, or between a 30H and 30HH, in both brands). Panache bras nearly always have thinner straps than Freya balconettes (especially the older ones) in high cup sizes, which is something that I am really grateful for. Panache bras also tend to be a bit cheaper than other brands at full price, and Cleo bras even more so, which is definitely an appealing prospect!