It was as though we’d done it on purpose. Between my three best girlfriends and I, we represented ever tier of adolescent breast size in our middle school: we had an A-cup, a B-cup, a C-cup, and me — the DD.
In a way, I was rather pleased with my cup size, but I also felt strangely like it wasn’t boastful enough. The sheer mass of tissue spilling out of my bras seemed like it must be more than two cups past my first runner-up.
But as I would discover, the adage that 80% of women wearing the wrong bra size is hardly true. In fact, I’ve come to learn that almost all of us – about 95% – are wearing ill-fitting bras.
Several years and at least 50 bras later, when I was in college I found myself working a job in retail. The long hours outside of class were broken up by conversations with clients that became increasingly more interesting as I moved around the store. I eventually ended up in the Intimates department, and was quickly staffed as the up-and-coming bra fitting expert. I’d like to think that I fell naturally into the role for my ease in talking to clients, but the sillier side of me wondered if I subconsciously called bosoms to mind with my full figure.
I never would have thought my work in Intimates would start by learning how very wrong I was about my own bra size.
The fact of the matter is that we—namely, busty women—are navigating an epidemic of poorly-fitted bras. We clod around in bras we spill out of, whose straps and bands cut into us like we’re trying to quarter our torsos into fleshy Barbie pieces.
Signs you’re wearing the wrong bra size
In an effort to familiarize myself with a few brands (or perhaps just an excuse to buy new bras), I thought to visit the larger department stores after my mini-promotion. Walking into my preferred budget-friendly one-stop-shop, I climbed several escalators to the lacy underwear corner. Scouting out the nearest bra fitter, I whipped out a piece of paper I had stashed in my purse from an article I’d read that morning.
“Hi there! Can I help you find something?”
“I need a bra fitting.”
The store attendant smiled and instructed me to raise my arms as she removed her tape measure from around her shoulders. She wrapped it loosely around my underbust, and I reciprocated her smile before saying, “I have a little chart with me to find my bra size. Do you mind if we take the specific measurements it calls for?”
Despite the attendant’s unease, as I apparently broke a deeply-ingrained service taboo, I requested that we measure the underbust as tightly as possible. “I Am Woman” began to play in my head as I held my posture straight and requested three additional measurements. I’d come prepared, wearing the loosest, softest bra I owned. We measured my standing apex, and then I leaned over to get my leaning bust, and then I laid down on the department store floor. With this final behest, I thought the attendant was about to ask me to leave.
With all my measurements appropriately circled on my printed cheat-sheet, I drew a line to the common denominator that indicated: 32DDD.
As it turned out, the department store didn’t have anything in my size. But the fire had been lit. I spent hours online that night searching for the stores that did have my size, and passed my next free day entirely in fitting rooms.
And then what?
Finding your true bra size can open a Pandora’s box of doubts and questions, and—if your size is off the “normal” chart—money concerns, too. But once you try on that perfect bra, and once you better understand what the sizes even mean, you feel empowered, not to mention more comfortable.
Cup sizes can be hugely misleading. Did you know that cup sizes are actually a measurement of the relative size of your breasts compared to your underbust? This means that if you have a bigger underbust, your D-cup breasts will be much larger than a D-cup on a smaller ribcage. My 12-year-old self had enough spatial sense to recognize that my boobs were an awful lot larger than my runner-up girlfriend, who had a smaller frame. I just didn’t know what that meant.
Let me put it this way: you can’t find your way home without knowing your full address. You don’t jump into a taxi and say, “Take me to Fifth Street!” You need the full address to get where you’re going.
My body-image introspection hardly ended at understanding my measurements. In my bra-shopping extravaganza, I even came to try on a bra with extra padding, advertised to fill your shirt up to two cup sizes beyond your natural bust line. But when I put the bra on, I felt immediately uncomfortable. My breasts were rounded into Photoshop perfection, and definitely looked much larger than before. But I felt so, so weird.
My adolescent-spun pride for being the bustiest among my girlfriends had long since morphed into a special brand of shame for my breast size, especially after experiences where friends, partners and even strangers had made comments about my boobs looking fake. Finding my proper bra size had reignited a fascination with my breasts that I had forgotten, and it was my breasts as they naturally are in a properly-fitted bra that was suddenly making me feel sexy.
Once you know your size AND the styles and brands you like, bra shopping gets easier online. I’ve had special success on Bare Necessities, and encourage you to start with a Google search for a bra-size calculator that takes it all into account.
We’re living an epidemic of bra misfittings and elastic bands with the flexibility to lie. You don’t need to start working the Intimates department for an excuse to get a proper bra fitting—you don’t even need someone else to do it. Just find the proper calculator, take your shirt off, and get to work.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.