When British fashion icon Alexa Chung spoke to Vogue in 2011 about hiding her “secret boobs” under loose clothing, it struck a chord with many women who lamented the sad truth in the fashion industry: big breasts and high fashion generally don’t mix well.

Slinky backless dresses, plunging necklines and delicate bralettes may look amazing on the waifish, clothes-horse figures that they’re designed for, but anyone north of a C cup will run into some trouble. My own 12Es, far beyond hiding, are notoriously hard to dress: I have mortifying stories of button down shirts that fit me everywhere else popping open at work.

And I wouldn’t be in the minority: according to bra manufacturer Berlei, Aussie boobs are getting bigger. Last year they reported the average bra size in Australia as a 14C-12D, compared to a 12B average twenty years ago. Similar reports are popping up elsewhere in the world. This shift has been attributed not to the urban legend of hormones in chicken breasts, but to increased levels of foreign estrogen (xenoestrogens) found in cosmetics, pesticides and products containing BPA plastic.

But to nobody’s surprise, the fashion industry hasn’t taken much notice. Tastes have moved on from the hemispheric Wonderbra breasts of the 90s to a more natural shape (which bodes well) but the size in vogue is as miniscule as ever. Hannah Betts described described the breasts du jour as “small, unshowy, low-slung, natural, unsupported, and limply pointy-cum-triangular rather than the round, pertly ball-like apparatuses thrust at us over recent years.”

There have been some steps in recent years to remedy this gap between the average woman and the women the clothes are made to suit. Reformation, home to many a floaty backless dress and smaller chested model, came out two years ago with a range specially designed for bustier women. While the I’m Up Here Collection, as it was called, was only made with C and D cups in mind, that’s a sizable step away from the norm.

This disparity between the average bust and the average model bust is, of course, a small part of a much larger problem the fashion industry has with women’s bodies. When there are many, many shapes and sizes of woman and most clothes are designed with a narrow section in mind, that’s a big problem. Until this changes, a backless dress or button down shirt that doesn’t make me look frumpy will just be a pipe dream.




Alexa Chung: I’ve got 32C boobs, I just don’t want to show them off