Why Don’t More Designers Make Plus-Size Bras?

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Jessica Pfister, New York director and manager of the Le Mystére design team. Photo: Melissa Hom

Boobs are bigger these days. The average American woman's cup size is a 36DD; ten years ago, it was a 36C. Whatever the cause — obesity, plastic surgery, Oprah's Bra Fit Interventions — the boob bulge means that plus-size lingerie should be a lucrative market. Yet options above 38DD are still limited. Why?

The answer is twofold: Plus-size bras are more challenging to design and manufacture, and entering the market is a financial risk. Le Mystére design director Jessica Pfister, who makes bras that go up to size 44H and sell at Neiman Marcus for $60, says it's "totally crazy" that "a lot of bra manufacturers make 32 to 38 — that leaves out two-thirds of the population." She thinks not enough companies know how to make the larger garments and fit them properly.

Large sizes make up 80 percent of sales for Le Mystére, where Pfister's three-person team spends up to two years to develop a bra that supports a 44H breast. "At 44H, the weight of each breast is about twelve pounds," she explains. "It's fourteen-and-a-half inches across on each cup. That's a size 14 shoe, just kind of curved. So you need a garment that's going to support you like nothing else. There are hundreds of components in a bra and each one needs to be perfect. If you're an eighth of an inch off, you're not going to get the right support."

That's an investment many brands are still not prepared to make. "If you don't already have that customer coming to you, it could be a big risk to invest in that inventory unless you know it's going to pay off," says Linda LoRe, president of Frederick’s of Hollywood, where 70 percent of styles come in plus-size options. "If our retailers said, 'We think there's a big opportunity to make a 38 band size,' we would make it happen," says Susan DeMusis, executive vice-president of merchandising for Carole Hochman Design Group, the intimates licensee for Betsey Johnson, where the largest size is a 36DD. She says retailers haven't pushed hard enough for bigger band sizes yet, despite proof of the growing American bust.

Even those who do see market potential, like Valerie Delafosse, the creative director of luxury lingerie and swimwear label Eres, where the largest size is a 38D and the average cost of one bra is $300, aren't quite ready to make the leap: "The market demands are such that we are evolving, but each step needs to be right," she says.

But apparently, once you go big, it's hard to stop. "The sky is the limit" at Le Mystére, claims Pfister, who says she just finished developing a strapless bra in 40G that will deliver to stores in July. She boasts that "52M and 52N are some larger sizes that we've heard about, and there are very few manufacturers going to that size. That shows how much larger we can really grow in terms of the sizing that we're capable of doing." That's optimistic news for the Heidi Montags of the world.

Earlier: The Full-Figured Bra Business Is Booming, and Oprah Is Its ‘Champion’