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Matt:

Some ladies I work with have been discussing which bra straps give the best support. Some say regular, some say racerback. Can you help? I know which I prefer…

-- A Guy in the Office

Wish we could hand this one off to Grandma, but as she's fond of telling us, she has a closet full of aprons but hasn't worn underwear since Woodstock. Luckily, we found a research elf who could say "bra straps" without snickering, and Grandma agreed to go along as a consultant, so we were in business.

A lot of good it did us. Couldn't get agreement about much of anything from the bra barons. But manufacturers we talked to, including one outfit that made specialty bras for post-surgery patients, all say support is more than a strap issue. It's a whole engineering thing, kind of like an architect designing a cantilevered deck. A big mathematical tangle of stresses and counterstresses. Since an individual breast can weigh 10 pounds or more in the larger sizes (JJ was the biggest we found), and breast tissue is supported by skin, not muscle, a bra has its work cut out for it.

Bra builders do agree that in terms of support, cup construction and proper fit are more important than what kind of straps you have. Breast bulk is not suspended from the straps like Italian cheeses hanging in a deli. Stitching or underwires under the cup help transmit boob weight to the chest band, which in turn transmits the stress to the straps. Racerbacks spread the stress across the back; they're potentially more comfortable but not necessarily more uplifting. And if your office pals are typical of women in several industry surveys, half of them wear the wrong size bra anyway, so uplift is just a theory.

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