Monday, January 23, 2012

Vintage for the Full Bust

This is a topic I've touched upon before, but amazingly have never dedicated an actual post to.

Dressing vintage can sometimes present problems for the large of boob, with many styles from the 1930s-60s featuring high necklines, ruffles, frills, and all those things we've always been told to avoid like the plague. It's unfortunately very easy for the large-breasted to end up looking dreadfully matronly in styles which our smaller-chested sisters can carry off looking breezy and fresh. So, I've put together my style tips for dressing vintage and avoiding the pitfalls - this is by no means a definitive list, but it's the one I live (dress) by.

The Right Support

In vintage as with any other fashion arena, the right undergarments are of paramount import. I favour bullet bras both for the vintage silhouette and the 'minimising' effect that the shape creates by not allowing the breast to bulge out sideways.

Vintage bullet bras in large cup sizes are near impossible to find, and modern reproductions like What Katie Did only go up to an F cup. The Doreen bra by Triumph gives a good vintage silhouette, I've heard, and is available up to a J cup in some styles.

Choose your Neckline Wisely

You'll probably have read the advice that the most flattering necklines for a full bust are V, scoop and sweetheart necklines. These help break up the expanse of chest. Go for a medium V neck - a deep V is both un-vintage and a little too sexy. The good news is that although a Peter Pan collar is out, sailor collars are a go.

As I mentioned in my knitwear post, vintage and vintage-style knitwear very often comes with a high, round neck. Other styles were worn though, so you don't need to worry about looking inauthentic if you choose something a little more flattering to your figure.

Define Your Shape

Wrap tops and dresses are flattering to pretty much every figure type. They accentuate the waist and divide the bustline - an overall win. A camisole top underneath can be helpful if the wrap doesn't close tightly enough.

Tailoring is also key. Avoid waist-length boxy jackets, which will make you appear square and shapeless - though even shorter bolero jackets can be an exception, as they allow a fitted waistline to show. Choose fitted jackets with a deep V and small lapels, cut to hip length. The length elongates the legs and the V divides the chest.

I'm a huge fan of dresses with a fitted midriff section and pleats or shirring to give fullness to the bust. Gathered and ruched fabric over the bust is flattering because it gives the impression that the garment is looser - the opposite effect of having fabric straining across the chest. Lucky for this style was massively popular in the late 30s - early 40s, and can be also be seen in some shirtwaists of the 50s.

Create an Illusion

Sometimes - say, in winter for example - the idea of wearing a plunging neckline might not be so appealing. But you can still use the principle of breaking up the expanse. Try sweaters with a contrast yoke or false V-neck. Layer high necklines under V or scoop necklines. Break up the expanse of chest with a statement necklace or a scarf.

Find a workaround - or wear it anyway

If you're still desperate to wear a style less suited to your figure, it may be possible to find a workaround. For example, if you've always admired those sweet little Peter Pan collars, try wearing a detachable one as a necklace with a scoop neck.

There are also ways to minimise the unflattering effects of high necklines. Even just having sleeves can make a difference: A sleeveless turtleneck may look gamine and playful on the small chested, but when the bustline is the widest point it only serves to draw attention and amplify the size. Long sleeves help to balance the look. Better still, layer it under a pinafore (jumper) dress.

When it comes down to it, if you love something just go ahead and wear it - rules are made to be broken!

PS: If anyone would like to contribute a guest post on how to flatter a smaller bust in vintage I'd be delighted! I'd have a go myself, but since it's not my area of expertise I'd love to pass the baton to someone better versed in the topic than I.


  1. Very good advice! I would say that you will keep an eye on the fit if you go for a wrapover front, though. I have an HH-cup and that can make the wrap gap way too much and show off a lot more bra than you like... :)

    1. Good point - have edited to recommend adding a camisole underneath!

      xx Charlotte

  2. Fantastic advice, I have the issue that with 60s and 70s, I can end up looking a bit 'Carry On Film' in original tops. Authentic but not classy! ;)

    I find necklaces are useful too- either placed above the bust to draw the eye up, or long and 20s-30s (in my case 70s) to elongate.

    M&S have some good bras- their version of Doreen- which work well and are good value, plus a good range of sizes.

  3. Ah I have this issue I have a G cup and had to wear according, I'm a big fan of sweetheart necklines and cannot wear high necklines, ruffles or frills!

    I'm also a dab hand at taken clothes in at the waist as inevitably if it fits me at the bust it will be too large at the waist!

  4. I've also taken in too large things at the waist. It' so hard to find small waist/big bust dresses. Also totally agree about the bullet bra. A lot of larger bust ladies cringe at the idea of wearing them but they really do minimize and create a wonderful lift to a heavy bosom. This is a fantastic post!!! x

  5. Great post! I will add that I love high collars, including Peter Pan. My tactic is to just hitch up my bra as high as it will go. My favorite in the US is Flower Bali - the cheapest bra that goes up to my size (34DDD) and somewhat bullety (but not totally so). It makes for a very, um, youthful look. :)

  6. De-lurking to thank you for this post. Definitely helpful for the busty vintage-lover.

  7. Ah, I know the problem well. Even when I was young and really quite thin I was still cursed with horrible large breasts, hate them, hate them!
    I desperately need new bras but struggle to know what size I am at the moment, have only M & S and Debs to choose from, but both have given me sizes that do not fit, am stumped. Tried to fit myself with online guide, seven bras later, all returned, and no wiser, help.

  8. Lolly, do you have a Bravissimo near you? I used to go M&S and Debenhams but once I found Bravissimo I have never gone back as I am a size 34H and have never worn bra's so well fitting (and were fitted wonderfully by the helpful ladies there) There's so much choice and not TOOO expensive either.
    There's lots of different styles to suit - although having been reading about the Bullet Bra for the more vintage look, I'm not sure whether or not they would do anything like this *logs on to have a look*

  9. reading this (being a small-boobed lady) I realize how it's sometimes complicates to have large boobs.

  10. Longtime lurker here - love your blog. :) Thanks for doing this post; it's very informative. I've had to figure out some of these points on my own, so it's nice to see that someone is posting them for others who may be puzzled about meshing figure flattery with vintage style!

    Adding on to your tip about moving the eyes up and away to a wider point: for the large of bust and narrow of shoulder, defining the shoulder area is almost essential. Whether that's done with a tiny shoulder pad, details like gathers, a halter neck, or just a very tailored, well-set sleeve, it works wonderfully at reducing the (visual) bust size.

  11. not something that personally effects me (unfortunately!) but i love how informative your posts are - kind of a good go to when I want to dress vintage! I would really love some vintage 'foundations', the what katie did line has always appealed to me

  12. Great post! I'd like to recommend the Playtex 18 Hour bras. Somebody a while back (I think one of Gertie's readers) recommended them to wear with vintage fashions. I gave it a go and I've never looked back. They're a bit softer, less pointy than bullet bras but they really hoik you up to the right bustline height and they're super comfy. For me they're even better than Doreens which I find a bit shelf-like, projecting you forwards but without enough lift...

  13. Ahhhhh a big-boboid post!! hurrah! I have a few items with high necklines. For those I always usually wear my hair up and wear a contrasting belt. I have big boobs - so there is little I can do about it. Ruffles are not really my thang - so I am safe on that score. A decent bra, as mentioned, is a must for the bust! There is nowt worse than wearing said high neck line and having 4 tits. NOTHING worse.

    In relation to wrap dresses - I have sitched all of mine so that they cover my modesty. It means I have to *think* about how to put them over my head - but it gives me a lot more confidence, personally, and sometimes I don't want to layer up with a slip.

    TOP post!

  14. oh I have the exact opposite problem I'm a size 30b/32a and those sizes are near impossible to find in repro lingerie. still haven't found "my bra";/


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