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[whitespace] Chicki Downs
Photograph by Paul Myers

Fit for a Queen: From A to N, Chicki Downs knows more about your boobs than you do.

The Breast-Laid Plans

Chicki Downs, bra-fitter extraordinaire, works magic on the mastectomied

By Allie Gottlieb

YOU HAVEN'T LIVED until you've seen an 85-year-old woman pull up her shirt and jump up and down in front of you to demonstrate how well her bra works. That was the Chicki Downs show, and something I hadn't expected to experience during my research for my story on breast cancer.

Another thing I didn't predict: getting felt up by that same 85-year-old woman. It was sort of like when Molly Ringwald's character in Sixteen Candles got felt up by her grandmother. Downs pawed my boobs to illustrate the trouble my underwire bras cause me. (The apex of my breasts falls a little lower than it should, apparently, because of the bad design of my bras.)

Downs is an expert bra and prosthesis fitter. She caters to women who have had mastectomies and lumpectomies. Prior to her current line of work, she spent 30 years as a Girl Scout troop leader, and then retired. So, when a friend in the bra biz suggested it, she starting fitting her girl scouts and their families. That was 35 years ago.

"I see more and more mastectomies every year," she says, with discernible sadness.

Downs sells prosthetic breasts in sizes 1 to 17. Seventeen is very large for a breast; but it happens. Downs sells a variety of boob designs, including the tear drop and the asymmetrical. The prosthetic that Downs recommends as her favorite is the heart-shaped silicone design by Silima, which she buys from a Gilroy distributor.

Prosthetic breasts are amazing, made of a highly squeezable substance. They feel so mushy and soft and pleasing. Downs let me touch one that even had a little replica of a nipple. I immediately fell in love with it and wanted badly to take it home.

You don't have to have had a mastectomy to benefit from a Chicki visit. Sometimes women go to her small trailerlike office, on Park Avenue in San Jose, which is packed with boxes of prosthetic breasts and racks of lacy lingerie, simply to have uneven breasts evened out, visually. Downs sells bras that are padded on one side or the other to make up for an imbalance. She also sells bras that range in band size from 26 to 60 and in cup size from A to N.

Yes, you read that correctly. N.

About a year ago, Downs fitted a prisoner in jail in Milpitas with a 48 double-I bra (a size that could render even a construction worker hootless) while four jail guards watched. Later in the year, the guards called Downs for a fitting themselves.

Her customers live all over the world, from Africa to the Philippines to the Milpitas jail. She said recently a woman from India came in with a homemade wooden prosthesis. Needless to say, the woman was eternally grateful for the splinterless silicone replacement with which Downs fitted her.

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From the August 22-28, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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