Reader Request: Bra Pads and Cutlets


Reader Penelope sent this question via Facebook:

Have you ever written a post on removable breast pads? My girls tend to need some extra help in the cleavage area! I would love to see a piece on foam vs. gel pads and how they can help for swimsuits, mastectomies or lopsidedness of breasts. I believe they are also called cutlets.

I think I’ve still got my set of cutlets that I bought for my wedding day. I wore them and they totally helped fill out my dress, but I haven’t worn them since. Because – as I’ve discovered through some very educational bra fittings – I take a C cup instead of the A I wore for decades and a properly fitting bra does great things for my bustline. Having found bra styles that work with my breast shape and body shape, I don’t generally feel like I need the extra boost.

And I would definitely encourage anyone who feels like cutlets are needed for figure balance to get an expert bra fitting. I NEVER thought my boobs could look like this with just a bra. Turns out, a different size and shape of bra totally transforms my figure. But that won’t work for everyone. Plenty of women have very small breasts, and some of those women would like to enhance their busts.

Having done some research on the various types of cutlets on the market, here’s what I’ve learned: Most lingerie fitters will suggest foam or fabric padding for everyday use and reserve gel pads and cutlets for evening wear or other occasions for which cleavage will be exposed and socially appropriate/expected. Foam and fabric tend to be more subtle and fill out the breast whereas gel is more likely to give lift and volume. There are also bras that include air-filled compartments for lift as well as air-filled inserts. Like gel, these tend to be a little stronger and stiffer so ideal for cleavage creation.

Cutlets and inserts that you might use in your everyday bra won’t typically work for swim purposes, but there are plenty of pads that are waterproof and meant for insertion into swimsuits. (And while cloth and foam pads generally shouldn’t be worn in water, some waterproof inserts can be worn for everyday purposes.) Swim Outlet has a fantastic and comprehensive piece on choosing a bra pad for your suit.

Having worked with clients who have uneven breasts, my experience has been that unevenness is typically fairly subtle and many traditional cutlets might add more volume than desired, but smaller pads could create more congruence for some women. These molded foam cups might be a better bet than a get insert in this case.

In terms of mastectomies, there are prosthesis products and breast forms that can be ordered from companies like Nearly You – a retailer that also sells products to balance uneven breasts, mastectomy-specific swimwear and forms, and post-mastectomy bras – but depending on your needs, you may also be able to buy something less specialized and, therefore, less expensive. It all depends on your shape and preferences. As reader Allison informed me, Nordstrom will do free alterations on their bras to accommodate mastectomies, too. If any of you have had surgeries and have resources to suggest, please let us know in the comments!

In fact, I think I’ll turn it over to you all now: Do any of you use bra pads and cutlets with any regularity? Do you agree that cloth and foam are better for everyday use than gel and air? Who out there uses padding of some sort to balance breast unevenness? Other resources for post-mastectomy breast forms and bras? Would love any help and input you can give!

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Originally posted 2014-05-22 06:24:55.

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15 Responses to “Reader Request: Bra Pads and Cutlets”

  1. HzlStone

    I’ll occasionally use a foam or other inserts on structured formal dresses for work events. I’m very pear-shaped and I find they help give a little more balance to my figure.
    However I very regularly wear a bra with a foam cup, often called a t-shirt bra. On days when I don’t my nipples often show through my clothes – my husband calls it ‘smuggling peanuts’.

    • LinB

      Your husband’s comment is hilarious! I hate and despise padding on my own body, just for the feel of it. I don’t mind that other women like to use it, but I cannot imagine even using prosthetics should I have to have a mastectomy. I am what I am, and that’s all what I am.

  2. Rachel

    It’s funny, I have always been an A cup and never, ever felt the urge to wear padded bras. It just doesn’t bother me in the slightest (though I would never judge anyone for their own choices about this).

    I find it so frustrating that A-cup bras either resemble teenage training bras, or have MASSES of padding and underwiring. Dear bra manufacturers, adult women exist who wear an A cup, do not want padding, and just want an ordinary bra that doesn’t show up under T-shirts. Why don’t you want our money?!

    • Justine

      Have you heard of The Little Bra Company? I haven’t tried them, but I’ve read good reviews online. TLBC stocks sizes 28-38A, 28-36B, and 28-34C.

  3. Jennifer

    I’ve found that molded cups tend to add a little to my bustline in a pleasing way. I bought a few plunge bras from Lane Bryant once, and they all had these weird little rubber/air filled cutlets. I guess they figure plus sized C-cups want to be bigger? They were nice for the first few wears, but after that they slid around and started to deflate. I did really like what a plunge bra did for lift and therefore made me look a bit larger.

  4. Keilexandra

    I’m a size 32A/B, having only recently gotten to the fuller end of A cups, and yes that’s my true band size. My breasts are shallow and wide-set, so I like molded foam bras with graduated padding for added shape and lift–no cleavage, though. I do have one bra (from Aubade, a French brand that’s really difficult to find in small sizes in the US) which gives me cleavage, but only because the center core is a bit too narrow and thus the cups push my breasts in. In contrast, I adore the Natori Feathers contour bra even though it has lightly lined, unstructured cups, and I find I’m okay with the shape it gives me under clothes.

    • what not

      You’re my bra twin! It took me forever to realize that I’m a 32B rather than a 34A, and that having shallow, wide-set breasts is what has made me so uncomfortable in so many bras. Cleavage isn’t an option for me, but now that I know why I don’t much care anymore. So I’ve got nothing for Penelope, but good luck to her!

    • ballewal

      I’m a DDD and also relatively shallow and wide set. It takes too much to try to give myself cleavage! Shape and lift is all I can hope for.

  5. JB

    I guess I don’t really understand the concept of removable padding. If a bra fits well with padding, it’s probably not going to fit as well when you take the padding out – and vice versa. (Unless you’re one of those lucky women whose breasts change drastically in size throughout your cycle – then I guess you’re going to have to be adjusting anyway and can probably make it work.) But for me, I’d rather wear a bra (or bikini top) with built-in padding, or one without, rather than trying to turn one into the other. Is there something I’m missing here?

    • Sally McGraw

      Good point, JB. In many cases, the padding is added for lift and cleavage creation, so it moves the breast tissue up and toward the center of the torso. Depending on the size of the pad, it may cause your bra to be considerably more snug. Bras with removable pads may fit differently depending on how your breast tissue sits and is shaped, so some may opt to remove it for a better fit. That’s my understanding, anyway. Other input, readers?

  6. snowmentality

    I’m afraid I don’t have much knowledge about bra pads. But I will second the advice to find out your true bra size. It may or may not lead to added cleavage, but it will definitely lift and support in whole new ways.

    Finding your true bra size is likely to help with using padding, whatever type you choose. I used to wear foam-padded bras without much success in adding cleavage; it was because the bras were the wrong size, so the padding wasn’t situated in the right place to “push up.”

    Expert bra fittings are great if you can find the right expert. However, you can also DIY. I recommend checking out the Venusian*Glow Bra Matrix and/or reddit’s A Bra That Fits community, both of which have step-by-step tutorials on how to measure yourself and links to online bra size calculators that will give you accurate results.

    (It’s likely that the calculators will tell you a smaller band size than you currently wear, and a much larger cup size than you expect. This is because the “measure under your bust and add 4 to get your band size” thing is completely wrong — you shouldn’t add 4. You might, for example, currently wear a 36B and find out your real size is 32DD. It’s not broken and you didn’t measure wrong. Cup sizes aren’t absolute — “B” doesn’t necessarily mean small-medium and “DD” doesn’t necessarily mean “big.” A 32DD bra holds approximately the same volume as a 36B bra, but with a broader underwire. This was really hard for me to visualize until I actually tried on a bra in the smaller band/larger cup size.)

    I find myself preaching about bra sizes a lot lately, but it’s because wearing the right size really made such a big difference in my daily comfort level and I want to share that! (And because it kind of blew my mind, in a good way, to realize that cup sizes don’t mean what I thought they did. It kind of does feel like getting out of the Matrix. Whoa.)

  7. Erika

    My breasts aren’t uneven, but they are modest and I concur, a well fitting bra makes an enormous difference and can even provide cleavage (most exciting, since I stayed an A cup for many years)! What I will note, is that if you have a tendency to get chilly, a lightly moulded bra keeps them comfortable.

  8. Moneypenny

    This is funny- I *just* purchased some inserts for a new swimsuit top I purchased that only came with a lining.
    I’m a 36B, and I typically wear bras that have some shaping to them, because otherwise I have very little shape. Even a little bit of padding helps to “fill in” some tops and dresses I have. I personally like Calvin Klein bras, because they tend to keep their shape over time and they look pretty!
    As I said, I just purchased some inserts from Bravo Bra Pads (ordered Sunday, arrived yesterday!) to sew into a swimsuit top. I’m actually quite happy with them- they add a little shape and smooth things out to prevent any “smuggled peanuts” as the commenter below called it!

  9. Anisa

    Thanks for the Nearly Me link. Breast Free also has great reviews for masectomy products. I feel like they’re different and would really appreciate a separate post, especially for anything that’s younger / stylish looking. (I’m 36 and solo bobbed.) Bras, including standard ones with cups that would cover a stick on prosthesis, and swimsuits.