Bra Sizing Makes No Goddamn Sense. We Have to Game the System.


Hoo boy. Strap yourselves in* for what’s to come, because I’ve found myself down on the floor beating my wee fists and kicking my tiny hooves in toddler-style frustration while trying to sort through WHAT IN THE WORLD IS UP WITH THIS CUP SIZE BUSINESS?????

Fair warning: this stuff is so patently ridiculous it will make your pasties spin. But hopefully we’ll get comfortable in our Kumbaya circle and cut through the mire in a way that doesn’t send you down prone on the floor too. If it does and you find youself on the floor, well? Welcome. Can I offer you a glass of wine? You look like you might need it. Lord knows I do.

*The pun thing … it’s a sickness. I’m sorry. [hangs boobs]

Understanding Cup Sizes and Styles

You guys, I have virtually no good news here. Actually? I’m sort of convinced that I’m entirely wrong and that bras actually are from outer space because even with the help of experts I’ve found myself, as I mentioned, down on the floor moaning and carrying on something terrible. But! I have a mission (to outer space) and I’ll be God damned if I’m not going to accept it, so we shall now commence unraveling the mystery of cup sizes.

The Importance of Cup Fit Styles

The first thing we have to talk about when it comes to sizing is that there are two main cup fit styles: Full Figure and Average Figure. This is actually hugely important to know, because the full-style bras will fit much differently from the average-style bras. Those terms, also, are a bit misleading in that they conjure up an association with plus-size versus standard-sized clothing. A Full Figure bra doesn’t equal a plus sized bra, and I apologize for the terrible term but it’s not mine so the best I can do is acknowledge the problems with it and suggest that we do our best to work with it despite its shortcomings.

So, what does it all mean?! It means this: the difference in the two styles has to do with shape. Which is another reason why those terms are rotten — they make you think of size. Here’s a great explanation from a Jezebel regular who is a fitter at a high end department store. I’ve taken to calling her my Fairy Bramother:

“Most simply put, a Full Figure cut works for a rounded bust, whereas an Average Figure works better on folks whose breasts are more of a teardrop shape, less rounded on top, with the greatest fullness at the bottom.
For example, I am a size 38DD; that may sound to the uninitiated like a “Full” size, but I have that “Average,” teardrop shape, so a “Full” 38DD leaves me with excess fabric bagging on the upper part of the breast, but an “Average” cut is just right shape-wise. Another person who is a 38DD may feel like they have no support/coverage in the demi cuts that I love so much, but a “Full” cut fits them perfectly. Most brands will offer options in both cuts in a range of sizes.”

Access To Bras

Since we’re talking about fit issues, this is a good time to detour into a quick conversation about access. Access to bras is no joke, and so when we talk about trying bras on for fit before we buy them it’s also really important to acknowledge that doing so isn’t always easy or possible.

Generally, the reasons for this are either because of geographical constraints, i.e. not living anywhere near a decent place to buy bras; having a hard-to-fit size that isn’t widely available in stores; and/or budget restrictions.

If you’re in a situation where going to a brick and mortar store and actually trying on bras isn’t feasible, the internet is your breast best friend, shopping-wise. You’ll want to measure yourself for size first, and also spend a little time with your girls and think about their shape, the way they hang, and any issues you’ve had with bra fit in the past (straps that slip, bands that ride up, cups that pucker, etc.) Considering those things will help you greatly when it comes to choosing styles online that might work best for you. Read the item descriptions! Read the reviews!

What you want to look for is a place that offers free returns, and ideally free shipping as well. It’s important, though, to take the extra step of trying the bra on and returning it if it isn’t a fit. I know that’s a pain. But the hope here is that you go through the hassle once or twice and then wind up with a few bras in different styles that you know you like. From there, you’re more or less golden — when we first talked getting into the right bra, the goal was to find a baseline of bras you know work. To recap:

Once you’ve got [a few, at least two is the goal, good] bras, you’ll know these things:
1. What sizes in what brands fit you
2. The style numbers of the bras you like
With that knowledge, you can seek out those same or similar bras online at discounted prices. You can also troll sales for those or similar bras. And do not forget about discount stores!

Talking About Cup Sizes

So you’ve measured yourself and made note of your breast shape and thought about the problems you frequently have with your bras and you’re ready to rumble. And then the 34C you know you’re supposed to be in leaves you with boob spillage. And then you put on another 34C — the exact same size! — and can barely fill up those cups. What in the world?!?

Unfortunately, bra sizes are not standard. Which is insane. But also no different from other kinds of clothes, if you think about it. Hopefully, going into bra shopping knowing that sizes aren’t standard will allow you to have an easier and less frustrating experience because you’re ready for what’s awaiting you. One way to help to cut down on the confusion is to understand the way sizing skews in some of the major brands. Again, we turn to the Bramother:

“It is a bit simplistic, but I find that looking at who the brand targets the majority of their marketing at can help in knowing how they are going to fit (not that I agree with the various stereotypes put forth by the intimates marketing machine, but that I will save my usual rant on the issues of size-ism, ageism, classism, racism, and sexualization for another time).
Brands marketed in a “juniors” direction, or with a heavy emphasis on sexiness tend to run small; DKNY, Aerie, Victoria’s Secret, Betsey Johnson, etc. are examples of this.
Lines marketed to the average “grown-up” consumer — women in their mid-20’s and up, to make a major generalization, who are looking for solid support but with some stylish touches — tend to offer the most standard, true to size bras. These are brands like Natori, Le Mystere, Wacoal, Chantelle, Soma, etc.
Brands that market mostly for comfort and tradition like Playtex and Bali — the “granny” bras, if you will — usually run big. The wildcard can be bras designed for the plus-sized market, brands such as Cacique and Torrid, which frequently veer into vanity sizing territory.”

If you want to learn more about the fit of different brands, I would direct you to the Bratabase which has an insanely vast collection of information about all manner of different bras, including size comparisons across brands. Like, 20,000 different bras have been catalogued on the site. That is a very helpful thing! It also converts cup sizes across UK, US, Europe and France/Belgium/Spain systems. Hopefully over time they will also add in Italian and Australian/NZ sizing. Per Wikipedia, the European system is the same as the Japanese system, “but the cup usually precedes the bust designation, i.e. ‘B75′ instead of ’75B’.” Actually, this whole article on Brassiere measurement makes for pretty interesting reading if you’re into that sort of thing. And, I mean, you’ve made it this far so it’s not unlikely that you are into that sort of thing.

It might feel overwhelming and not-at-all helpful to read that, though. If it is, remember that the goal is to put the work in to find a few brands that you like and then from there can continue to return to. When you need some variety, you can plug that brand and size into the Bratabase and pretty easily get a list of suggested brands and styles that will offer a similar fit. Another resource for understanding how cup sizes vary among sizing systems and brand is What Sister Size Bras Look Like. This one is great for the visual it offers. Of course it also makes me want to go lie back down and whimper, “Why? Why can’t we just have tidy standards?? Why, I ask you???”

Hard-to-Fit Sizes

For the purpose of this exercise, we’re defining a hard-to-fit size as anything with a band below 32 or above 38 and a cup size below B or above DD. It’s a pretty loose definition in that even within that range, some sizes are easy to find than others. This is also a good time to mention that a DD is called an E in some brands, a DDD is an F in some brands, and so on. You can’t see me right now, but I’m back down on the floor lapping wine out of a water bowl.

Resources for Hard-to-Fit Sizes

I’ve created the beginnings of a not-at-all comprehensive list of online resources for those seeking out less-than-standard bra sizes. Where possible, I’ve tried to include information about shipping and the size range offered. Please chime in with additions to the list and I will update the post regularly with your suggestions. If there are other ways in which this can be helpful please let me know! Price range info? Brick and mortar stores? What additional things would be of help to you?

Style Options

A common lament is about the limited styles for women who have hard-to-fit sizes. It is absolutely a fair complaint. Certainly, there is far more variety and availability, style-wise, than there was ten, twenty, thirty years ago but it’s still not as egalitarian a system as we’d like it to be. In the upcoming posts in this series on nursing bras, sports bras, decorative lingerie (and maybe strapless bras? Yes?) I’ll be on the lookout for brands and styles in harder to find sizes.

With that said, it’s also important to accept that not all breasts belong in all bras. That’s no different from how other body parts are in relation to other types and styles of clothing. Lord knows, I can’t wear a slingback shoe to save my life.

I’ve looked through a number of sites that explain bra styles, and while they’re good, the best one I’ve found in terms of explaining which styles work best on different kinds of bosoms is this overview of bra styles, from Venusian Glow. Some of the other places to check out too are Busty Resources and The Art of Bra Fitting.

But I Have Two Different Cup Sizes!

As if all that cup size business wasn’t hard enough to parse, right? Not only do you have to understand cup sizes, you need to understand two separate cup sizes because you have two differently sized boobs. It’s madness! But before you tear your hair out — and please don’t tear your hair out, you have such lovely hair! — I’m here to assure you that this is actually tremendously common, so if you’re feeling like an outlier rest assured that you are absolutely not alone.

Understanding Two Differently Sized Boobs

Breast asymmetry occurs at some point along the way in about half of all women, and persistent breast asymmetry is seen in 25% of women. Some stats say up to 90% of women have differently sized bubbies! So you’re in good company. Hugs. Shimmies. Tit thrusts.

Some fun things to share, beyond just statistics: I was recently out with a friend who swore to me that she was going to get fitted for new bras, and I was like, “Girl, good. Because you got two different sized boobs.” (She’s a very, very close friend.) She was all, “GIRL I KNOW!” and then told me that they developed at different rates too, and that the smaller one is way more sensitive in the bedroom ifyouknowwhatImeanandIthinkyoudo. Also she refers to the small fry as her “Nemo flipper” and I would encourage you all to do the same. Part of loving ourselves is the loving teasing that comes along with acceptance. Just like how I’ve named my midsection Goodyear.

What To Do About Them

If you’ve got two different cup sizes, you want to buy a bra to fit the larger breast. There are styles that are better suited to differently sized breasts, but regardless of what type of bra you go for you have some options if you’re interested in creating a more even look. The cup holding the smaller boob can be filled in with foam or with a silicone insert. If you find a bra that offers removable padding, you can remove the pad from the cup the larger breast will go into.

Our Fairy Bramother offers this for those seeking out the right bra to account for different cup sizes:

“The best bra is a contour cup, as a little extra space in one cup will be masked by the contour cup’s structure.
Some folks still think of contour cup bras as padded, but they really aren’t — it is just a lining, usually foam, that provides shape and structure without seams, as well as more nipple coverage than just fabric.
Some women try to balance out asymmetry with minimizers, essentially compressing the larger breast and letting the smaller be, but the problem there is that when you push down on something squishy, like breast tissue, it invariably goes out to the sides, and that can make you look broader. I always describe the risk of minimizers making a lady look broader by comparing it to a whoopie pie: if your rib cage is the bottom cake, the bra is the top, and your boobs are the filling, we all know what happens when we push the top layer down too hard on the bottom . . . the filling all comes out the sides. “

And there you have it: Your boobs, just like a delicious dessert!

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