On Bra Fit and Bra Sizing

My blog has and never will be about bra fitting.  Numerous blogs and the Reddit subforum cover this topic extensively with much more enthusiasm than I could ever muster.  However, after seeing a slew of misinformation and obnoxious judgement, I wanted to dust off all these half-written drafts and talk about sizing.

Now, I’m just going to come out and say it: just because you’ve read “A Bra That Fits,” it doesn’t make you an expert in bra fitting.  Nor does this mean that you have the magical skills to look at a picture of someone, tell them that they are 100% wrong about their size, and a bra in [this size] will fix all of their problems.  Nope. Nope. Nope.

Let me be clear: I think A Bra That Fits is a GREAT resource.  It offers excellent information to people who have never really understood how bras should fit, but it is not the end-all be-all guide to bra fit.  Your measurements may not correspond correctly with how brands are sizing their bras, or you may prefer a particular type of fit.

When it comes to bras, there is no standard across the industry.  Yes, this is totally frustrating, so in my opinion, contacting a brand for their input on sizing is critical.  I always prefer to purchase based off of a brand’s detailed size chart and adjusting from there. I know that this can be expensive and a huge pain in the ass especially if stores do not stock your size or preferred brands, but until the lingerie market gains some traction and people don’t freak out at paying more than $50 for a bra, that’s just the world we live in. And believe me, I hate dealing with international returns as much as the next person.  Ideally, once you figure out your size, it should hold constant, but unfortunately, don’t hold your breath.  Brands can and do adjust their fit over time.  (I’m crying in a corner weeping over Bordelle’s latest fit.)

Embroidered Chantelle unlined bra in 32D.

Embroidered Chantelle unlined bra in 32D.

My underbust measurement is 32″/81.28cm.  My full bust measurement is 36″/91.44cm.  Most resources would have me at a 32D.

When I was looking to place an order with La Lilouche, I got into a discussion with Liya about what size I should take.  At the time, I had purchased quite a few bras in the US tagged with 32D, so I was convinced that this would be the correct size.  However, after we started talking, this was clearly turning out to be the wrong size for me in her brand.  According to her measurement chart, I would be wearing a 36 band since my underbust measurement fell between 78-82cm.  Using my calculated band size, I would find out my cup size by looking at the chart and finding my corresponding full bust measurement. Instead of the 32D that I had thought about purchasing, I was sized into a 36A.

Liya has worked for many designers including those on the high street before she launched her own gorgeous line.  She informed me that the bra underbust/full bust measurements was typical, if not standard, for UK sized lingerie. Moreover, the band size did not correspond directly to the tape measurement.

Courtesy of La Lilouche.

Courtesy of La Lilouche.

This method of sizing is commonly referred to as the band + 4″ method, but IMO, it’s a lot more complicated than that (and honestly, gets more convoluted to the nth degree, especially if you have larger breasts). What actually IS the band size?  Is it solely the underbust measurement?  Or is it underbust +2″? No?  +4″ or +5″? Or is band size determined using another method or a corresponding chart? For instance, what makes my underbust equivalent to a EU 75 band? Or a French 95? Google will bring up the most varied responses.  If anything, there is no set definition, which you already knew. ;)

For this very reason, I ALWAYS recommend inquiring with the designer or brand for more information.  For what it’s worth, I am convinced that most UK brands size their lingerie similarly to La Lilouche (or vice versa), which is why some British 32Ds appear extremely tiny: it’s because they are; they’re meant to fit an underbust of 26-28″, not 32″. For US or French brands, I’ve noticed that the band measurement usually corresponds more closely to the underbust measurement, but again, nothing is standard, so your mileage will vary! (womp womp)

La Lilouche Britt bra - she turned out beautifully and fits like an absolute dream. ♥

La Lilouche Britt bra – she turned out beautifully and fits like an absolute dream in 36A. ♥

So back to my 32D bras.  This size was working for me in brands such as Chantelle, Victoria’s Secret, and Le Mystere, but I’ll be frank: I really, really, really dislike having a new bra that feels excruciatingly uncomfortable until I “break it in.” While a bra’s band should be firm (since it supports your breasts), it shouldn’t make you utterly miserable.  I don’t like when my bra leaves deep imprints on my body, and there is no chance in hell that I will ever wear a bra that does that to me again.

General bra fitting guidelines recommend being able to stick no more than 1 finger under your band, but for me, this isn’t remotely enough.  (That said, you shouldn’t be able to pull the bra band 10″ off your back.) I also dislike with the passion of a thousand suns a band that has been stretched out, especially on more delicate fabrics like silk and lace.  Once you hit the point where your band is so strained that the fabrics can no longer recover or “bounce back,” you end up with a stretched out, misshapen band.

If you prefer a looser fit, go for it – you can always have the bra altered if the band is too big as you wear your bra over time.  If you like a tighter fit, great!  You know your body the best: wear what feels good on you and what makes you feel good.

Remember those 32D bras I purchased?  They work, but I honestly find myself a lot more comfortable in a 34C.  This is usually always the size I take in US/French brands.  If the 34C fits a bit odd on me because of the bra style (plunge, balconette, etc.), I play with the sizing by sizing up or down in band/cup.  Please don’t ever feel that there’s something wrong with your breasts – they are perfectly fine and awesome! Like jeans, not all styles work on every single body.  Brands who can afford to do this usually offer multiple bra styles in one collection: long line, plunge, unlined, molded, etc.  The same goes for things like knickers: tanga, thong, brief, high cut.

Agent Provocateur Cassia in 36C. (AP's inconsistency in sizing is notorious across styles.) I tried this style on in order to assess the proper fit, and even then, I will still wear it with an extender.

Agent Provocateur Cassia in 36C. (AP’s inconsistency in sizing is notorious across styles.) I tried this style on in order to assess the proper fit, and even then, I will still wear it with an extender because the band is just a hair too tight.

Hi, my name is Marionette Mew, and I wear a 32D, 34C, 34D, 36A, and 36C. Sizing is not constant, nor is it rigid. Try on bras, look for things that makes a bra supportive, and find out what works best for you. Also, please let the “80% of women wear the incorrect bra size” phrase die already. Thanks! ;)

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6 comments
  1. Sarah said:

    I really like this post and how you stress the importance of trying different sizes in different brands, often people overlook that :)

    I have to disagree a few parts of your pos, though – “most sizing guides say you should be able to fit no more than 1 finger beneath the band”. I feel like this is a bit of an exaggeration – many people say that two fingers should be able to comfortably slide under the band, usually used to ensure the band isn’t too tight.

    That said, more up-to-date people simply say that a band shouldn’t slip around and should be supportive, and should never be uncomfortable. As a member of the bra fitting community rather than the lingerie community, I really should stress that comfort and how a bra makes you feel is #1 priority. Maybe this sentiment can me missed when people are looking at discussions between people who want that perfect fit, but it really is there.

    Also as a person who lives in England and used to wear a badly fitting 32D (and now has a sister who wears 30D-DD) I really don’t believe the majority are designed for 26-27″ ribcages, as my ribcage was and is 25.5″ and they were so unsupportive that I’d be better off wearing coconut halves and string!

    • Miss Mew said:

      Hi, Sarah, it’s not really an exaggeration. In many Central European countries, the firmer the band (1 finger rule), the better. Numerous people have discussed the proclivity towards a tighter fitting band on blogs and on social media. My posts are not limited to general rules found solely in the US or the UK.

      As for your second point, I’m all about people wearing what they want for themselves — in case this point was lost in my post. Ultimately, being comfortable and happy, regardless if you’re a member of the lingerie OR bra fitting community. I believe people should be empowered by what they wear, all the way down to their undies.

      As for your third point, I’ll be frank: comments like these are just so annoying from bra fitters. I provided one sizing chart from an independent brand who specifically cut her bras for that underbust measurement, and sizing can vary across brands. I also write from my personal experience, and as I emphasized in the body of this post, your mileage may vary. Which brings me back to trying on all bras and looking for certain things that would make a bra comfortable to each individual. If numerous 32D bras didn’t work for you, no problem. Numerous 34C bras don’t work for me either. What I write isn’t gospel; I invite and encourage people to experiment and find out what works best for themselves. If anything, my post was to offer an alternative to a common perception that is on the internet when people start taking another look at their foundation garments.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Rachel said:

    Great post, and I loved the “please let ‘80% of all women wear the wrong bra size’ phrase die already.”

    Makes me think about going into Victoria’s Secret to try on bras, and the sales ladies always ask like 3 times if I’m “suuuure you’re a 32a?” (Well, you don’t carry a 32aa, and I definitely won’t fill out a b cup like you said I would last time…) After being measured poorly before, and they way bra styles and companies differ, I think I’ll stick with what makes me happy.

    • Miss Mew said:

      Hi, Rachel, that’s one thing I deal with at VS, too! They’re always like “are you suuuuuuuuure??” Uh, yes. I had an awesome bra fitter at intimacy tell me what to look for when trying on bras, and I wish people had that same wonderful experience as I did! She emphasized not looking only at the size but perceived size as a starting point and adjusting from there if applicable. I’m also super impressed that so many people can gauge what size people should be wearing online. I don’t think most people can tell what dress size others should be wearing, nonetheless, dictate what bra size they should be wearing without seeing in person!

      I think some people may think I’m overly harsh on bra fitters. I think there are some wonderful bra fitters out there (like Secret From Your Sister in Canada), but then you get some fitters like the ones at VS who seem to believe that all sizes are equal even though they vary in their own styles!

      Bra fitting is really something to be experimented with – to see what works best for your body and what you like. And yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you – wear and buy what makes you happy!

  3. Rachel said:

    It is so encouraging to hear positive bra fitting stories! I guess VS salespeople can’t help it if they aren’t properly trained (I think getting a real certification is a big process?). I will need to travel out of town sometime and have an experienced person measure me and bestow great bra fitting wisdom!

    And wow, how amazing that people can tell just by looking at an image. So neat. I wish I had that skill for myself.

    Ah well, I will just be forced to go lingerie shopping for “research.” What a terrible problem :D

  4. tfern79 said:

    Le sigh…I have yet to experience an awesome fitting/sizing experience.

    Just yesterday on a whim after picking up new foundation at the Sephora inside JCP I took my already antsy 3 year old with me to look at the bras. The lady working the department sized me at 40DD, she then proceeded to ask me what size I was currently wearing to which I replied 36DDD from VS, she asked me to show her how my bra was fitting so I obliged; she says that looks like a wonderful fit (gore flat against my chest, band can fit 1 finger inside, no gaping in the cups, no duldge etc), then second guesses herself while mumbling something I didn’t catch due to my daughter talking to her imaginary friend in the mirror.

    She ran out and brings back 3 bras in sizes 40DD, 38DD, and 36DDD. She hands me the 40DD and says I want to see this one first. I obliged, I had to put the hooks on the tightest fit and could still the band out inches from my back, the gore wasn’t remotely against my chest and the cups just didn’t look right. She asked me how I felt, I told her the band was too loose and pointed out the gore, she said that’s because of the way I’m made.

    The other 2 bras she handed me were minimizers which I do not like! I don’t want size taken away from me!!! I’m a 16/18 pants (think LB and Torrid) and would like to keep my somewhat proportional figure…I already feel like I should be bigger on top LOL! So I lied and told her my daughter needed to use the potty and I’d be right back.

    I have 4 or 5 38DD bras from LB and my breast get the dreaded buldge at the top of the breast and the gore again isn’t flush. I was sized at 3 different LB stores all with the same result so I took their word for it…then started reading up on how bras should fit and just as I suspected that isn’t supposed to happen.

    I don’t know if I’m just a difficult fit due to have multiple children, breastfeeding just the last one and having implants (had my breast done when I was 20 or 21 and now I’m 37) or if I’m just that unlucky…in a nutshell I don’t know what the hell size I am which makes it extremely hard to order internationally. Guess I need to get a measuring tape and take matters into my own hands or find a seamstress that can just give me measurements.

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