With a show if hands, who loves shopping? I love new things! However, what kind of a woman loves to go bra shopping? Yeah… Count me out… Even Carrie Bradshaw would hesitate to raise her hand for that one. Especially if she were full-figured.
Shopping for bras, like shopping for swimsuits can be one of the most frustrating experiences in a woman’s life. If there aren’t problems with bra fits, there are problems simply finding our bra sizes. Did you know most women aren’t even aware of their correct bra size? In my experience as a bra fitter at least 95% of women are wearing the wrong bra size. I can bet that most of you reading this article are either a) unaware of your correct bra size, b) not wearing the right bra size or, c) unsure what the different components of bra sizing are.
Bra sizes can be a complex concept to grasp. To make matters worse, many companies size their band and cups differently. Add on the extra confusion of inches versus centimeters and… Ugh, so frustrating!
Ask any girl on the street the ins-and-outs of the right bra size, and I guarantee answers will vary (majority incorrect) but it’s not our fault. There is no guidebook to working around the lingerie industry’s deception and tactics to squeezing us unto a “close enough” product. The first problem to understanding the bra size problem is understanding the bra fit.
The “Right” Fit
We all cringe at the prospect of going bra shopping. Why is bra shopping so difficult? Maybe because we aren’t starting with the right information- our correct size. I know because I myself must go through at least half a dozen bras before I can find one that is even remotely close to fitting. But wait, what is a “good fit” anyway?
First, let me explain why bad fitting bras are evil. Bad-fitting bras are not only unflattering but they are also terrible for posture. This can lead to rashes (from tight straps), neck and back pains, etc. They make us loathe our bodies and curse our chests. This needs to stop! Understanding the root cause of this fit problem is critical The first step in loving your shape and not feeling like a misfit (pun intended) is understanding a proper fit!
Try to understand: the fit problem arises primarily because of misinformation about how a bra should fit. Many bras supplied by major manufacturers are also very poor in quality to being with. Don’t trust Victoria’s Secret Angels and their half-boob exposures. Every last one is wearing the wrong size. They certainly wouldn’t be smiling if they had to function in those bras all day!
So, what is this all-holy “perfect fit?” The right fit means no exposed side-boob or cup spillage over the top. The whole point of wearing a bra is to cover the entirety of your chest area. Reserve bulging and sexy cleavage for your swimsuits, ladies. You can’t wear cup sizes that don’t cover the whole part of your boobs. Uncovered boob creates the quad-boob or double-breast problem, which is extremely awkward in tight garments.
An ideal fitting bra sits snugly and horizontally across your body – both in the front and the back, with no tension on the shoulders. You should be able to wedge one or two fingers along each side of the bra – front, back and on top of the straps.
Okay, so now that you know a bit more about what a good fit is, get this: another reason why bad bra fits are so common is because the underwear store employees (again, mostly Victoria’s Secret ones) give us misinformation. Think about your last shopping experience at Victoria’s Secret. Did the employees measure you over your clothes? Did they even make you take off your jacket before wrapping a measuring tape around you? They didn’t, did they? These employees seldom do. I cannot stress how wrong this is because duh, the clothing adds to your band size!
Opposite to what you may imagine, the underwear industry is your enemy! They refuse to carry the right sizes for most us, especially those who are larger chested in the D+ range. Additionally, they encourage their employees to relay wrong information to guide us into a purchase of their products…
The employees measure us loosely and only give us a vague idea of what bra in their existing product line is most likely to fit us. They want to sell their own products, right? It’s bad for business if these employees suddenly started saying things like, “sorry, we don’t carry this size, we can’t sell you anything!” or, “try this company, they’ll have your size!” Instead, they make us settle for the wrong fit and tell us our relative bra size. Meanwhile, we continue to suffer silently, unaware of where the root problem lies. Makes sense?
Signs Your Bra Doesn’t Fit
- The center of the bra doesn’t rest against your body
- Straps are digging in or falling off (even when you adjust them)
- Rashes or soreness, OUCH!
- shoulder or back pain
- Underwire is painful, or sits on top of breast tissue (this can be the side of the breast, or the bottom)
- armpit or back “fat”
- The bra is constantly shifting and needs readjustment often
- Running or any kind of activity has you feeling unsupported
- You wore the bra at the smallest band hook from the start
If you meet any of these criterion then your bra doesn’t fit! Don’t give it three strikes, go get a better one!
Okay, enough about the fit, what about finding the right bra size?
How to Find the Right Size
Bra sizes can be confusing: they consist of a number and a letter combination, with the number supposedly indicating how big or small our body frame is and the cup telling us how big or small our boobs are. Don’t buy into these ridiculous biases. Being a D+ cup does not mean you have porn-star worthy mugs, or being a C cup grades you as Jennifer Aniston perky.
The band size (the number) and cup size (the alphabet) don’t mean anything about the size of your body or your boobs. I often find women bragging about being a D cup or a DD cup, but ladies, that doesn’t mean anything without your band size. So, stop doing it!
Band size measures the circumference of your torso/ ribcage (the lowest end of your chest area) and yes, cup size is a measure of the size of your breasts but you can also look at it as the mass of your boobs.
Again, remember, it means nothing unless you mention it with a band size. The two values are dependent on each other and there is no standard “cup size.” Think of it this way, a person who is a 32D does not have the same cup size measure as a person who is a 34D. The 34D cup size measure is bigger than the 32D cup size measure.
In total, there are about ten band sizes from 26-44 (in US, UK, Canadian and Indian sizes) and about fourteen cup sizes ranging from AA to KK (also US sizes). Here is an in-depth look at band and cup sizes as well as the correct method for measuring them.
Importance of Correct Sizing
You may be surprised at the variety of common issues that arise from wearing the wrong shape/size bra. One little known fact is that “back fat” and “bra fat” are oftentimes breast tissue – not fat at all! This unpleasant body transformation can occur when we wear bras with cups that do not encompass the entire breast. If the breast is bulging out the side of the cup, or is being pushed out of place into the band, this can cause problems long term. Over time, this breast tissue takes the path of least resistance and stays in the place it was forced into! Oh no! Be careful, this problem can also arise from wearing a correctly fitting bra, but wearing it incorrectly.
Bras are sized and manufactured on a scaling proportion. The cup size means nothing without the band size and vice versa. Surely, I will repeat this in some way again and again. I can’t stress it enough!
The Band Size
The band size is measured in inches (in US, Canadian, UK and Indian sizes) which means that a 34-inch measurement is usually a 34-band size. But, there are exceptions: especially when/ if the band size can be stretched or un-stretched.
A 28-inch band size can be equivalent to a 32 band, when un-stretched. 35 inches can also be equivalent to a 32 band, when stretched. This is dependent on the bra and the company producing said bra. If the 32-band bra of that company stretches from 28 to 35 inches then that would make you a 32 band for that particular bra or product of that bra company (if your band size measures between 28 to 35 inches).
This is also dependent on your personal preference: do you wear a snug fitting band or a looser fitting band? Here’s a pro-tip, it is always a good idea to buy a snug-fitting band because bands stretch over time so you will gradually wear it out anyway. Buy a snug-fitting band.
The Cup Size
Arriving at the correct cup size requires a bit of work. The cup size is a harder concept to grasp. Let me offer an example, you can be measured as having a band size of 38 inches and a breast measurement (which is the circumference of your breasts measured around the center or the fullest part of your breasts) of 42 inches. The difference between the band measurement and breast measurement is 4 inches, meaning that you are a D cup.
A 41-inch breast measurement would have been a C cup in this case, provided the bra company uses one inch increments in breast measurement to band measurement, to differentiate between cup sizes. There are some companies that use two-centimeter or four-centimeter increments. So yes, be mindful of the unit of measurement as well: centimeters versus inches.
How to Measure Your Bra Size
Let me remind you once again, take what department store sales associates tell you with a BIG grain of salt. Measure your breasts by yourself. First off, strip down to your underwear and measure your band size. Take a deep breath and exhale, making sure to get all the air out of you. You should hold the measuring tape parallel to the ground, measuring the lower part of your bust. Make sure that you do not leave any slack. The tighter the fit, the better (remember that bands expand).
Next, measure your breast size. Stand straight, relaxing your hands by its sides. Hold the tape parallel to the ground and wrap it around the fullest part of your breasts (the nipple area). I don’t need to remind you that while taking this measurement, you should be not be wearing a padded bra (for the most accurate results). Make sure that you take a snugly fit measure here as well. To arrive at the cup size, subtract your breast size from your chest size and using the bra company’s measurement scale, determine your cup size.
That is all the information you need to know about band size and cup size but I admit, these concepts have been explained using US/UK sizes. There are other international sizing and measurements to consider as well. More on that below.
International Bra Sizes
Hang on to your seats, folks, this is going to be a bumpy ride! To start off with, European and Asian sizes start from a B cup and go up to H cup, whereas all other countries start at A cups. Also remember that in US sizes, the cup sizes after D are a bit complex.
Using the logic of cup size measurement (explained above), it would be natural to assume that an E cup would be a one inch increment from the D cup, but in fact, a five-inch difference between band and breast measurement is referred to as a DD cup and another inch increment from the DD cup size is the DDD cup (in US sizes). The F cup comes after DDD and G comes after that (hence, there is no E cup in US sizes).
A DDD in US sizes is equal to E in Australian, New Zealand, British and Indian sizes, but, remember that the DD is equivalent in all these countries’ sizes. All other countries skip the DD and DDD variants by sticking in alphabetical order (a D cup is followed by E and F cups, etc.).
Also, it might be worthwhile to know that band sizes of 30 and lower go up to seven cup sizes only (till G for the European and Asian countries and till E for UK, Australian and Indian sizes or till DDD for US sizes).
In terms of band sizes, it is easier just to mention that the conversion works like this:
- 30 (US, Canada, UK, India) = 65 (Germany, China, Hong Korea, Korea, Italy) = 80 (France, Belgium) = 8 (Australia, New Zealand)
- 32 (US, Canada, UK, India) = 70 (Germany, China, Hong Korea, Korea, Italy) = 85 (France, Belgium) = 10 (Australia, New Zealand)
- 34 (US, Canada, UK, India) = 75 (Germany, China, Hong Korea, Korea, Italy) = 90 (France, Belgium) = 12 (Australia, New Zealand)
- 36 (US, Canada, UK, India) = 80 (Germany, China, Hong Korea, Korea, Italy) = 95 (France, Belgium) = 14 (Australia, New Zealand)Thus, a two-unit increment in North American, British, Australian, New Zealand and Indian sizes is equal to five unit increments in European and other Asian country sizes, much like converting inches to centimeters. The largest common band size in the Australian and New Zealand size is 22. In North American, British and Indian sizes, it’s 44. In European and Chinese sizes it’s 100, and in French and Belgian sizes it’s 115.There is some misinformation about the Spanish sizes. Some sites claim that it is the same as French and Belgian sizes while others claim that it is the same as German, Chinese, Hong Kong, Korean and Italian sizes. My advice: follow the exact measurements in the size chart of a particular Spanish company (it might differ from company to company) prior to purchasing from Spanish retailers.
Despite this knowledge for better understanding bra sizes, chances are you will still be unable to find the right bra size. Remember, I told you the underwear industry is evil? The faster you come to terms with the underwear conspiracy and the lingerie mafia, the sooner you will realize that this is a serious problem. Your body will continue to change and develop with age, thus you will need to change bras frequently. Instead of bawling over bad-fitting bras or the unavailability of your size, it is time that you learn about the art of sister sizing.
A sister bra size is not your correct bra size, but a size or a set of sizes that are similar to your correct fit. Let me explain this with an example: Victoria’s Secret used to try and squeeze me into a 36C or occasionally 36D, when in reality I’m a 32DDD or even 32F in some bras. I found that the band is much too expansive around my torso and I need a tighter fit. Also, the D cups gave me quad-boob, indicating my need to go down a band size (for a tighter fit) and up a cup size to F (so all parts of my girls are protected). Thus, my right fit is a real 32DDD or 32F, which they do not carry!
Here’s the problem with sister sizes…
I did use it correctly to find a bra size replacement, but the suggested sister size of 34DDD does not work for me. It is a mere quick-fix replacement to your bra needs. However, it does get you in and out of vicious bra stores without an emotional breakdown. Let’s continue with other examples of sister sizes. Do you find your breast is well covered in a particular cup size but your band is too loose? You need to go down a band size, but keep the same cup size. The same applies for a tight-fitting band size- go down a band size but keep the same cup size!
Using this logic, you can understand how we are adjusting the component of the bra that isn’t fitting correctly.
Other Sizing Factors
There are many factors that affect your bra size. If you have breast implants or if you are an E cup and higher, chances are your breasts are projected more from your body. If you are a B cup or lower, your breast profile might be more shallow. Shallow breasts tend to have most mass near your chest whereas projected breasts have greater volume extended out from the body and away from your chest. You might need to opt for a balconette bra for projected breasts. Whatever you do, keep away from padded bras!
The perfect bra is out there, find it and be smart about the persuasions of the lingerie industry. Don’t fall for them anymore. Go out there and find your right size!
Favorite Solutions and Tips
I’ve had the best luck in finding my favorite (adorable) bras at tiny boutiques. Though these often have limited selection and can be a little pricey, I go in not expecting to find anything. The times I do find something I love, I am overjoyed. It’s nice knowing that sometimes you’re coming away with a beautifully handmade one-of-a-kind item, too! The most stylish and sexy bras of mine have come from tiny boutiques, not to mention the customer service is always a million times better than a department store. Seek them out, and support your local small business!
If you’re looking for a comfy everyday T-shirt bra, Nordstrom’s has a good selection of styles that may work for you ladies! Favorite styles include their Fantasie ‘4510’ Smoothing Molded Cup Underwire T-Shirt Bra, as well as the Fantasie Smoothing Underwire ‘4520’ Balconette Bra. Sometimes I’ll walk into a department store, grab 30 bras in a few styles and brands, and lock myself in a dressing room for 20 minutes. While I try them on I make sure to reach up, down, and across my body to ensure it is supporting me and staying in place. But before you try this, make sure you do the following first!
Get professionally fitted! Seek out a bra fitting expert. Someone who really knows their stuff can save you hours of trouble and shots in the dark. They can direct you toward or away from particular brands based on how cup spacing typically fits, or if a [articular brand runs large or small in the band size. Maybe they can give helpful hints about durability, or the most popular styles for comfort (always my first question). If nothing else, a professional can at the very least least let you know if your current bra is a good fit or not. That’s always a good place to start.
Where To Start
Do a little research online to find the best fitters in your area. Maybe make an appointment with two different businesses to get a feel for differing opinions (there will be differing opinions). Keep in mind, a good fitter should do the following:
- Listen to your problems and concerns
- Be honest about products appropriate for you
- Remain helpful and not pushy about making a sale
- Offer a variety of sizes and styles for you to try
- Show you the correct way to put on a bra (yes, there is a specific/correct way)
Things to watch out for:
- A fitter makes you feel poorly about your body
- Is persistent in the sale of a product that is uncomfortable
- Doesn’t listen to your requests or needs
Fitters who really know what they are doing may surprise you. For example, a professional may not even use a tape measure the first time around. Do not be alarmed, it’s very likely that they’ve got a good eye for sizing – especially if they do it day in and day out! Also, be aware of tight-er bands. If a fitter encourages you into a band that is a little tight (but the bra perfect everywhere else), remember that bands stretch and it is where all of the support is coming from. Be aware of return policies, give two different sizes a try, and see how you feel about them after a week or so. Bras can we weird sometimes, I’d be lying if I said this process is quick and painless.
(Very) Brief Note On Bra History
When the first “recognizable” bras were invented and produced in the 1930’s, we weren’t as textile and materials-savvy as we are now. Fabrics didn’t stretch like they do now. Thus, bras had to fit tight and they didn’t stretch out like they do now. With modern materials like spandex, polyester, rayon, etc. we can expect and have to compensate for this stretching over time. It makes it a little more difficult to size our bras from the start but I digress… Bras now need to fit snug (very snug) around the band since this is where all of your support comes from, and where all of the stretching will occur.If you enjoyed this article, then we're probably very similar. I'm Victoria Melo, and I know what it’s like to be busty and struggle finding the perfect bra. Not long ago, I was just another girl wearing the wrong bra size. When I finally discovered my real size and found great bras for my busty figure, it felt like a miracle. Now, I'm a bra fitter helping hundreds of women like you find their own miracle. Click here to read my lists of my favorite bras for you.