What is up with bra sizing, anyway?
March 27, 2015 10:30 AM   Subscribe

In recent years, many women will have noticed new articles insisting that most of us wear bras that don't fit and that women should measure themselves in a new way. But the sizes that are easily and cheaply available to women are nowhere near the sizes that these experts insist women should be wearing. How did this state of affairs come to be? It turns out the answer lies in the history of bra manufacture.

The modern-style bra dates to 1893, although the garment did not become popular for some time. However, it got a big boost in popularity during WWI because it required less metal than corsets to produce. Early bras were one-size-fits-most, and it wasn't until 1928 that manufacturers began marketing bras in different sizes. Even then, originally there were only four cup sizes, A through D.

Now, modern companies use different materials and many different sizes and, as in other women's garments, have begun incorporating vanity sizing into their brands, making bands larger and frequently making cup sizes smaller. Confusing things, some brands like Victoria Secret have introduced unusual measurement strategies, and even cup sizes may have multiple names.
posted by sciatrix (69 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
posted by agregoli at 10:31 AM on March 27, 2015

Wait a second, if it were vanity sizing, wouldn't the bands be smaller and the cups larger?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:34 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

The bands are larger (than the printed size would suggest) and the cups are smaller (than the printed size would suggest) seems consistent with vanity sizing? You'd end up with a bra that claims you're thinner and have bigger boobs.
posted by Dysk at 10:35 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

Think about the real size of the bands vs the advertised size--they're taking, say, an objectively 36-inch band and labeling it a 34-inch. The cup size thing is I believe women culturally associating large cup size with feeling either "fat" or having cartoonishly large breasts.

ETA: What Dysk said!
posted by sciatrix at 10:36 AM on March 27, 2015

Obligatory link to flex's mega bra sizing post from a few years ago.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:39 AM on March 27, 2015 [12 favorites]

Er, bra sizing mega post.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:40 AM on March 27, 2015 [29 favorites]

(I'm someone who works in a fashion-related field, I know how to measure! It's just I didn't even THINK to measure the actual stupid bands/etc in the store. I guess I'll be bringing tape measures with me forever now. Ugh).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:41 AM on March 27, 2015

Also those online "find your size" widgets don't work well if you are a non-standard size - whenever I try with my actual measurements, it tells me that I should be wearing a band size that is larger than my actual measurement around the breasts....in an A cup. I'm not sure how it would even stay on my body, and there's exactly one maker who even produces them. This is hilarious, as I have no real trouble finding my actual size.
posted by Frowner at 10:41 AM on March 27, 2015

Yes, but does it solve the problem that most women have: different sized breasts?
posted by gsh at 10:55 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is there no limit to vanity sizing?
posted by Dip Flash at 11:00 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hah, that 2nd link, on the "DD myth," rings true. When I went in for my first, "let's be grownups and buy proper bras now" fitting, the lady measured me in eighty places and promptly declared me a 32 DD. I jokingly mourned, "aww man, I knew I should have been a stripper."

To which she replied, gently, "no honey, none of those strippers are wearing the proper size bra either."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:01 AM on March 27, 2015 [38 favorites]

This is fascinating! I had no idea! Thanks for this post! Also, Victoria's Secret is the worst. I went to a fancy and AMAZING bra fitting store in Boston and the woman helping me (who was GREAT) said that when she was hired, on their first day they used to have everyone go to Victoria's Secret for a bra fitting so that they would understand what their customers were used to experiencing. At least one woman apparently came back in tears.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:03 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

I once walked into a Victoria's Secret and asked if they carried my size. (Small band, big cups, ahh to be young again.) The sales woman gave me side-eye and said that couldn't POSSIBLY be my size, I was very obviously wearing entirely the wrong size bra, she could tell just by looking at me.

"Um, I'm wearing a shelf tank, not a bra," I told her. Annnnd that's the last time I entered a Victoria's Secret.
posted by Andrhia at 11:09 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

From that second link, this mirrors my experience very well:

“It’s actually about the relationship between a woman’s back size and the cup. Most women’s back strap is too big and cup size too small. If you go down two sizes on the back, you usually go up two sizes in cup to get the same volume. For example, in this particular instance, if a woman was wearing a 38D bra, it would change to a 34E.”

I went from an ill-fitting 38DD at target to a 34G at a proper department store and it's made such a huge difference in my figure and confidence. Women of the world, try bigger cup sizes and smaller band sizes! The smaller band actually gives you support and holds things up (that's not what shoulder straps are for!!), the bigger cups mean your breast tissue isn't getting squished out to the sides or to your back all the time.

Vanity sizing doesn't really match my experience at all - I was actually really hesitant to go to such a big cup size because it felt like those must be for women with comic-book proportions and that it meant I was really abnormal to need sizes like that. I would have said that "vanity" sizing in this context meant pretending that you fit into the normal-woman proportions suggested by e.g. Target or VS's sizing. I felt like a total freak the first time I had to go to the one store in town that sold a full variety of bra sizes.
posted by dialetheia at 11:13 AM on March 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

that's not what shoulder straps are for!!

Oh yeah the most helpful thing the awesome bra store woman told me was that if you think your bra is hanging too low in the front, don't shorten the straps, pull down the back. I put that in bold because it seriously changed my life. I used to have the back of my bra riding up and still not feel properly supported and it was really uncomfortable. I'd shorten the straps more to pull my boobs up but it just yanked up the back and I felt sort of hunched and uncomfortable. With this new knowledge, the shoulder straps on some of my bras fall off my shoulders because I'm actually properly supported by the band of the bra! If the band is good, ever bra can be a strapless bra! Do not use shoulder straps for support! SISTERS, UNITE AND PULL THE BAND LOWER DOWN ON YOUR BACK!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:18 AM on March 27, 2015 [21 favorites]

All of the breast tissue should fit in the cups and the center gore (part between breasts) should lie flat against the sternum. Additionally the band should be tight on the loosest hook (first hook) and you should only be able to slip about 2 fingers underneath it. If the bra is snug on the loosest hook then you have two more hooks to use before it effectively "stretches out".

If you can put the bra on backwards and/or upside down (without the cups pulled up) and the band falls down or moves, it's too big. If the band is not parallel to the ground and either is pulled up or stretched down when you are wearing it, the band does not fit. If you measure 30" around your underbust (directly under the root of your breasts around your ribcage) you wear a size 30 band not a 32" or a 34" and will get the most support from a proper fitting band.

Go visit A Bra That Fits for more info.

For years I was wearing a 34-36 DD as that's the closest "fit" I could find. I measured myself and visited various boutiques and found out I was a 30F/30FF. My underbust only measures 29.5" around and so wearing such a large band was giving me 0 support. With straps digging into my shoulders and my breast tissue spilling out the tops and sides. Horrible. Wearing the proper size really helps with posture and also you will find you aren't raging to take off your bra at the end of the work day. A proper fitting bra won't bother you. Straps won't fall down, cups won't dig in, band won't ride up or dig in, gore won't dig in.

For more info on sizing and such you can also visit Bratabasewhere users measure their bras and share the measurements. Not all sizes/cups are the same. Some brands sell 30 bands which measure barely 28" when stretched out. Some sell 30 bands that measure 33" when stretched out.

Also: don't wear the same bra every day. Rotate your bras in service and let them air out. Hand wash them every few days or use a gentle cycle and a lingerie bag. Never put a bra in the dryer. Never wash a bra with your jeans or other clothes that may stretch out the bra.
posted by nougat at 11:29 AM on March 27, 2015 [12 favorites]

Upon reflection, siblings of all genders who wear bras, please also unite and pull the band lower down on your back. Trust me it is so much better.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:30 AM on March 27, 2015 [15 favorites]

I was professionally fitted a few years ago, but I've gained and then lost and then gained weight since then, so I've been meaning to find a place to get refitted, because the old size is not right anymore. The sizing calculator linked from the reddit measurement page seems to think my band size has not changed but my cup size has gone up, which I'm not sure is right, given how uncomfortable the bands on my bras have gotten.
posted by jaguar at 11:31 AM on March 27, 2015

Oh, man, that reddit post has helped me name the problem I am having with bras. SO awesome. I have narrow roots!
posted by looli at 11:33 AM on March 27, 2015

"I was professionally fitted a few years ago, but I've gained and then lost and then gained weight since then, so I've been meaning to find a place to get refitted, because the old size is not right anymore. The sizing calculator linked from the reddit measurement page seems to think my band size has not changed but my cup size has gone up, which I'm not sure is right, given how uncomfortable the bands on my bras have gotten".

@jaguar if the cups are too small your breast tissue can be distributed in the band area making the band feel "tight". I suggest you try the same band size and new cup size first. If that doesn't help try the band size up and a cup size down.
posted by nougat at 11:33 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

For my entire adult life, I have been goddamn BAFFLED by how women's clothing is sized. It's like a fucking random number generator, and I have to believe it plays into how fraught the act of shopping for clothing has been for a number of the women in my life, even back when we were all 25 and sported zero body fat (well, some of us, anyway).

It's fucking insane. There are issues with men's clothing, too, but 99% of our stuff is sized in imperial units. What's my shirt size? 17.5 x 34. I wear a 46 jacket. I wear a 36 or 37 waist, and my inseam is 30. All of these are in inches, and while some brands run large or small, this is usually seen as a variance from the norm. I'm not aware of any "vanity" sizing trends in men's clothing, though maybe it surfaces in fancier brands than I buy (though I'll cop to being enough of a clothes horse that I doubt it).

What's my wife's dress size? A seemingly random number depending on where we are shopping, how expensive the dress is, and apparently several other factors to which I've never been privy.

I'm completely unsurprised that this madness extends to bras.

(Oh, and to HELL with the creeping incursions of S-M-L-XL sizing for everybody, because that NEVER works.)

(Etherist: are you measuring at your waist? That shouldn't be the case.)
posted by uberchet at 11:34 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, uberchet, I don't want to disappoint you, but vanity sizing has hit menswear, too.


I agree with you 100% though, I would be so much happier if I could just buy my clothes by my measurements instead of trying to guess what size I am in any particular store. They might as well call their sizes banana, golf ball, bicycle, vinegar and orange since XS, S, M, L and XL are so meaningless.
posted by looli at 11:40 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think the vanity sizing for men manifests itself in condom sizes.
posted by 724A at 11:42 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm excited that there are resources for little boobs. It makes me feel like I deserve a well-fit bra, too!
posted by MsDaniB at 11:49 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm dealing with bra issues at the moment thanks to ABTFs guidelines. I have been to department stores the last 5 days returning/trying on every last damn bra they have, but nothing will fit me. It makes me feel awful and I've wasted many tears this week hoping that today will be the day. I'm a about to give up on bras and life in general here pretty soon.
posted by Sweetmag at 11:51 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lane Bryant gave me a terrible bra fitting once; something way too tight in the band and meh in the cup and as soon as the lady was done with me, I went back and got the type that was closest to fitting me. She didn't want to hear my "ow" "that hurts" "no really, that's too tight" statements, because I am apparently too stupid to know that I'm in pain or something.

I have never had a bra fit perfectly, because I am a weird size and also the really nice once cost the earth. I can find ok-fitting ones, if I'm persistent, but as with all women's clothes, the printed size is only a vague indication. You may be well south or north of it in actuality.
posted by emjaybee at 12:00 PM on March 27, 2015

looli, I guess I haven't found it because I don't wear any of those brands, but I'm sad to see it anyway. I wonder if inseams use the same bullshit-units, or if pants in those places use real inches for length and vanity inches for the waist?

I'm barrel-chested and short-legged, so S-M-L-XL has always sucked for me. A shirt sized that way that fits my shoulders will invariably have sleeves that make me look like a toddler in his dad's shirt.
posted by uberchet at 12:11 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

In some ways I'm glad my boobs are ridiculously large because it means I can't even remember fitting into "normal" sized bras and have been buying from specialty shops for ages. Although even there I've recently gone down a band size and up a cup size -- into the size that calculator on reddit recommends, actually.

This is my favorite explanation of "sister sizing" and the relationship between cup size and band size.
posted by mgar at 12:31 PM on March 27, 2015

I'm so scared to get fitted for a bra. I don't even know if I really need one. Thanks for posting this. I shall now go learn about my body.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:39 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've got the opposite problem from a lot of women--a biggish chest but small(ish) breasts. The old-school sizing system would have put me in a 42AA or something similarly ridiculous and non-existent, so I settled on the in-the-store size that seemed to fit least-bad and wound up in more or less the size that I should be wearing according to the new-fangled system anyhow. Turns out I'm actually the only woman on the planet who IS a 36C!
posted by drlith at 1:02 PM on March 27, 2015 [10 favorites]

You gals, MeFi saved my rack.

All my life I was told, and thus believed, that I was flat as a pancake. Flat flat flat. With all the shame that piles on with it – but that I shrugged off because I've never identified with societal ideals of "female" appearance. (In quotes because gender is societally-defined, not fact.)

Somewhere in Ask, ABraThatFits was linked, and in the space of a seamstress' measuring tape and a few minutes of internetting, I went from a 38AAA to a 34DD.

I shit you not. And it's my true size. As in my eyes cannot ignore the fact that my chest actually fits into a 34DD and it feels and looks wonderful. I can wear form-fitting tops now!!! I actually look like a professional! (Caveats for realization that it is nonetheless the societally-acceptable category of "woman professional", but I'm happy, so, I'm happy.)

Having paid the price for vanity sizing of other clothing that made life a living hell for anything but the most basic skirts, though... as in I actually went back to sewing my own fricking clothes because of it...

Dear Garment Industry,

If you would stop fucking around with vanity sizing you might find that MORE people buy your clothes!!!!!
posted by fraula at 1:06 PM on March 27, 2015 [13 favorites]

For those of us who are never going to wear a DD no matter how well we're measured, check out The Little Bra Company. I just went to A Revelation in Fit in Oakland recently and discovered that this brand is pretty much made for me. And yes, being a bigger cup size than you thought you were is surprisingly gratifying. It's a weird kind of vanity sizing when the size number that makes you feel better about yourself is actually the size that fits better anyways.
posted by carolr at 1:29 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

All of the breast tissue should fit in the cups and the center gore (part between breasts) should lie flat against the sternum.

Wait, how the fuck does that even work for larger breasts? There's not any space between my breasts for anything to lie flat against the sternum!
posted by corb at 2:09 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

Ms Wimp mentioned today that her Title IX catalog bra section refers to the difficulty of fitting A cups and notes that their related products are all approved by the IBT Committee. It took me a second to figure out what IBT stood for.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:29 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Corb, now that I've been properly fitted and went from a 46 DDD to a 42 G, I can honestly tell you that the uniboob is gone! I now am blessed with two breasts that stay in place all day and I'm not in pain from an ill fitting bra any longer. It's amazing!
posted by notaninja at 2:33 PM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

There's not any space between my breasts for anything to lie flat against the sternum!

You could try a shorter gore, such as a plunge vs. a balconette. A different shape or size of bra could also give more depth to get all the breast tissue inside the cup and let the wires snug up where they belong.
posted by mgar at 2:43 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

/r/ABraThatFits taught me that cleavage typically means that a bra fits incorrectly. Each cup should hold the entirety of the breast, including the breast tissue along the side of the body. Even large breasts should have a space between them for the center gore. If the bra style (balconette, demicup, whatever) doesn't permit the gore to sit flat against the sternum, that body is probably better suited to a different bra style or gore shape. Since then, I haven't seen seen fashion models in quite the same light. All their bras fit so badly! It's especially obvious when it comes to plus size fashion; it reflects poorly on the company a woman is modeling when it can't even provide the model with a bra that fits their body.

I also went from 38DD to 34H. The difference was doing measurements while bending at the waist. So much for ever running out to buy a quick bra again.
posted by theraflu at 2:50 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

oh man I want to go get bra measured RIGHT NOW.
posted by corb at 3:29 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh man I want to go get bra measured. RIGHT NOW .

It's magic. I have a biggish rack and a smallish waist, but until I figured out my correct bra size (w/the help of the calculator
in the A Bra That Fits link in fraula's comment), it looked
like my bosom was riding around atop my legs. With the right-size bra, my breasts are up high enough on my short torso that you can tell that I have a waist.

If you don't have a seamstress' measuring tape around, use a piece of string or a ribbon, mark how much you need to go around your bust, your ribcage, etc.)* then hold it up to a ruler or a carpenter's tape measure to get the numbers. *(A Bra That Fits has 5 measurements, but the two that I mentioned are a good place to start.)
posted by virago at 6:04 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

PS Sorry, everyone, for the weird formatting. I was trying to scroll down and make corrections in mobile.
posted by virago at 6:13 PM on March 27, 2015

I really need to just bite the bullet and do this. I know my bra is the wrong size (my cups overfloweth, so to speak) but I'm terrified about how much a well fitting bra would cost.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:22 PM on March 27, 2015

For those of you worried about prices: If you want cheap bras in a variety of sizes, including stuff like 32D which is really common in women but not common in department stores, get yourself fitted at Nordstrom (which is free) and then go and actually buy bras in the right size at Nordstrom Rack if you have one near you. Most of my bras from there fit pretty awesome for me and they generally cost like $10-15 tops. You might have to put up with some weird patterns and try on a bunch of stuff--you can try bras on there, which helps--but it's a great place to get better-fitting sizes for cheap.
posted by sciatrix at 6:31 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seconding Nordstrom Rack (and a lot of the online retailers). Sure, you might end up with ridiculous colors, but once you have some brands/models/sizes that will fit, it's often possible to find high-quality bras for under, uh, rack rate.
posted by asperity at 6:59 PM on March 27, 2015

oh man I want to go get bra measured RIGHT NOW.

Me, too, and since I had the day off, I just went to Nordstrom's.

@jaguar if the cups are too small your breast tissue can be distributed in the band area making the band feel "tight". I suggest you try the same band size and new cup size first. If that doesn't help try the band size up and a cup size down.

Apparently that is what was happening! The extremely nice sales associate confirmed that my band size had not changed but the cup size went up. I ended up with two very nice, very well-fitting bras, one that was exactly the (UK) size the Reddit-linked calculator gave me and one that was the same band size but three (!) cups sizes smaller than the American size given as the proper conversion but still fits perfectly, confirmed by the sales associate. I think one of the other ones that fit me but I didn't buy had a different cup size as well. No wonder everyone's wearing the wrong size if it's that variable among brands (and/or that conversion chart may be off).
posted by jaguar at 7:13 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I went to a fancy and AMAZING bra fitting store in Boston and the woman helping me (who was GREAT)

As someone living in the Boston area, I would love to know the name of this place!
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:28 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

OK, looking again, the sizing on one of the bras was French, which means the calculator gave me a cup size 1-2 sizes bigger than reality and that the two that I bought were actually only one cup size apart.
posted by jaguar at 9:33 PM on March 27, 2015

I need to be fitted again because I've gained and lost some weight since last year, and even though I weigh about the same as I did when I was fitted, I feel like I've distributed it a little differently. But yeah, professional fitting was magic and changed my life and my closet.
posted by immlass at 9:34 PM on March 27, 2015

Turns out I'm actually the only woman on the planet who IS a 36C!

I literally was JUST SAYING to a friend that I've heard this is a real creature but I've never seen one in the wild!

Seriously, "36C" was just the size thrown at every single woman I knew whose chest was large enough to be "post pubescent" but small enough to be "not actually Jessica Rabbit." They were just like "ehhh I don't know, you have tits, but somehow not a cartoon??? prolly a 36C???"
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:43 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, fuck my "proper bra size." Yes, I got measured at Nordstrom's, but:

(a) I can't FIND my "proper bra size" in almost any stores, I might find one bra every few years or so. In an ugly brown or something. They do not make nice-looking DD's anywhere.
(b) I do not LIKE wearing "my proper size." The ribcage just feels too damn tight and small and digs in. I'm not that slender, really.
(c) I usually end up buying at least one ribcage size up, but even then, those are only slightly more findable than "my proper size."
(d) I wear sports bras pretty much all the time now anyway because even "proper size" bras all have underwire stabbing me in the tit by the afternoon. I don't care if I have "uniboob," what's wrong with that anyway? At least I have better odds of finding non-painful, not-exorbitant bras that way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:43 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm so scared to get fitted for a bra.

Look at it as a way to pamper yourself a little. You work hard and deserve nice things, right? A properly fitting bra is a really nice thing.

I was getting really frustrated trying to keep the DoomBoobs under control, to the point that I was ready to just wear my Faire bodice all the time. Then I went to Dillard's and looked for the oldest saleswoman in the lingerie department and asked for a fitting.

I had been wearing 44DD for a long time. It was SO wrong. Phyllis, who was old enough to be my Grandmother, and thus had memory of beautifully structured clothes and the necessary "foundation garments", measured the hell out of me and declared me a 40H.

My sweaters look FANTASTIC on me now, and I love feeling comfy and well cradled. Go get measured. Indulge in something pretty that actually fits.
posted by MissySedai at 10:35 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

As someone living in the Boston area, I would love to know the name of this place!

Same, please!
posted by MeghanC at 12:03 AM on March 28, 2015

incorporating vanity sizing into their brands

Isn't that pretty much the ENTIRE story, right there?
posted by ShutterBun at 5:51 AM on March 28, 2015

Isn't that pretty much the ENTIRE story, right there?

No, because most women aren't taught how a bra is supposed to fit properly. I think we're all used to realizing that sizes don't tend to be consistent across brands in any aspect of women's clothing, but it's reasonably easy to see that a pants leg is too short, for example. It's much less easy to tell if a bra is the wrong size, especially when most stores either hide or don't sell the sizes that many women should actually be wearing. I tried on about eight different bras at Nordstrom's yesterday, and none of them were on the floor -- the sales associate brought every single one of them out from the stock room, because only A, B, C, and D cups were displayed in public and only band sizes going up to 38. The discount chain I visited recently had a "fuller figure" section that had larger band sizes, but only A-DD cup sizes. Which means that for many larger women who don't want to ask for help, don't know to ask for help (I certainly didn't until yesterday; I went in with the intention of shopping by myself), or who can't afford to go to places that stock different sizes, the only way to find a bra that's even close to workable is to buy a bra with a too-large band and too-small cups, which is exactly what the experts say many women are wearing.

It's not because we're vain or stupid, I assure you.
posted by jaguar at 8:33 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

(And I assume there are similar issues for women who are smaller than the commonly sold sizes, as well, but I don't have any firsthand experience with that.)
posted by jaguar at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2015

Yeah, finding a 28 or 30 anything is hard, finding a 28F or 30E means a trip to Bravissimo (M&S suggested I try a 38B "because it's a sister size" - no, it's really not. A bra that fastens up is not the same as a properly-fitting bra).
posted by tinkletown at 9:44 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

(And I assume there are similar issues for women who are smaller than the commonly sold sizes, as well, but I don't have any firsthand experience with that.)

They include getting to deal with saleswomen's dismissive comments like "All you little women like to think you're bigger than you are." And that was at Nordstrom! The bras she put me in weren't comfortable or flattering, and when I went back to return them the saleswoman I dealt with seemed a lot more concerned with trying to figure out when I'd bought them (was it two months ago? or three?) than with anything like "Can I help you find one that would fit better?" I was so pissed off by the experience that I haven't been back to Nordstrom since. 15 years and counting, I think.

Besides, they don't carry bras in my size. I'm also in the large chest, small breast club, and very few places carry 36AA bras. I generally do mail order from Lula Lu, but I've been thinking of checking out the place off Piedmont Ave that was recommended above. (Haven't done so yet because their website says the stock they carry only goes down as far as A cups.)
posted by Lexica at 9:46 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes I got measured at Nordstrom's but:

jenfullmoon, you are not alone! Not everyone at Nordstrom's is on the right track vis-a-vis bra measuring.

The thing to do is to measure yourself as recommended in the fourth link in the post, plug the measurements into the calculator at that link, and get a bra size there.

That may not be your Golden Ticket to bra tranquility -- because of variations between (and, groan, within) bra brands, you may need to go up or down a cup size or band size -- but it's a good place to start. Go to Nordie's, ask to see bras in this size, and don't let them talk you into a different size. Good luck... I know it can be frustrating.
posted by virago at 9:57 AM on March 28, 2015

For years, I wore a 34C bra. That's what the measuring advice suggested. (Actually, the '+4' measure advice suggested a 36B but even I could tell that was a disaster.) The 34C kinda fit -- it rode up in the back and the shoulder straps fell down and I hated it, but at least the boobs I had fit in the cups reasonably well. I couldn't really see the point as far as support, but whatever. And then I found reddit/r/abrathatfits which suggested that I really should be wearing a 32D according to their measurement guide thing.

Now, I do not have large breasts. I do not have breasts that lop over enough for "the pencil test" because there is nowhere to put the pencil. There is no way on earth, thought I, that I should fit into a 32D but I figured I would Show The Internet Who Was Wrong so I went out and tried on some bras, for spite. It took me a while to find 32D bras, but I managed it. Guess what? The 32D bras fit like a glove. Nothing moved, nothing shifted, all the straps and stuff stayed put. My boobs also looked awesome. Like, really awesome.

Hrmph. Okay, well, internet won that round and I lost, so I... bought a bunch of 32D bras that I really really like and that fit me well and support my (modest) boobs and make me look better than ever before in my life?

If you are unhappy with how your bras fit you, try the abrathatfits thing and see if it works. If it doesn't work? Just don't buy the bras. If it does work, you might be able to lose like me, with bras that fit and support and make you look awesome.
posted by which_chick at 10:01 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think people just have a really skewed idea about what a D-cup looks like. I have fairly big boobs - not matronly, but definitely 50s pin-up size. I'm also pretty short with a thin waist, so my back size is small. The weird anger that some shop assistants seem to have about me wearing a 30E, or god forbid a 28F, is just bizarre. I've definitely experienced the "you're just boasting", "you wish" thing that Lexica mentions. I mean, I walk in wearing a well-fitting 30E and they still insist I'm no bigger than a c-cup. So weird.
posted by tinkletown at 10:27 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am smallish-boobed and I find that the size guides don't really work for me because my boobs seem to be wider set on my chest than seems to be accounted for. If I try their recommended size I feel like my boobs look like they've just been plopped down in the center of my chest and I have an inch or so on each side until you get to my armpits.

I also have a bit of a barrel chest so I've never found an underwire bra that fits correctly. The whole situation just makes me a little sad.
posted by that girl at 10:40 AM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

There's some stuff on abrathatfits about boob layout and choice of bra styles, maybe you'll find something helpful on there?

Also since nobody's linked to it yet:

posted by tinkletown at 10:45 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

The thing that's most commonly misunderstood about cup sizes is that they aren't absolute, they're RELATIVE TO BAND SIZE; thus, a 30AA is NOT the same cup size as a 34AA. So when somebody has an idea of what "D-cup breasts" actually look like, it can't possibly be the whole picture because a 32D is totally different size than a 38D. I'm sure this is in one of the original TFAs but it's so important, it deserves to be spelled out in the comments.

In fact, these bras all have identically-sized cups: 28DD, 30D, 32C, 34B, 36A, 38AA. So breasts that are the exact same size can be a DD or an AA, depending on what band size you're wearing.

That's why the too-big band, too-small cups thing is so common - since most big-boxy stores only carry A-D cups, women who need bigger cups end up having to size up their bands to get their breasts to fit, and then the band is too loose so it rides up the back and creates awful backfat rolls (losing those is my FAVORITE thing about wearing a properly-sized bra) and just generally fails to provide support. It took me a little while to get used to wearing a properly-tight band size but it's comforting now, because I know that I won't be tugging on my bra all damn day to keep it in place like I had to when I wore e.g. Target bras.

I don't have a Nordstrom in town, but my Dillard's has a huge selection of good bras in all sizes and a few great fitters, so that's another option for folks who don't have local Nordstroms or who have had bad experiences there. Dillard's is even mostly affordable - I got my most recent set of bras for around $40/ea, which is much better than I ever did at Nordstrom.
posted by dialetheia at 11:28 AM on March 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

This thread caused me to have some sort of existential like crisis in a fitting room in the middle of a Walmart.

I was reading it this am before going on a shopping trip with Mom. I needed to get a laptop desk. After reading some of the guides on the reddit bra fitting link I took my measurements and boggled at the result. I thought the calculation of 38FF was just flat wrong. I have always thought myself a small busted woman who got some extra boobage after gaining some weight. The bra I have been wearing is a C cup and although it felt snug it has been getting less snug as I've been losing weight so I figured it would fit good again soon and in a few months I'll be back at B.

The measurement calculation bugged me the entire 45 minute drive to the town. I decided that I needed to see if the measurement was anywhere close to true. The only place in town that has any selection of bras is Walmart and I figured I could at least find a D or DD to try on...ha ha ha.

If I was bra shopping with this measurement I would not have bothered to even look at the side of the aisle that has all the big boob bras. Those aren't me. This time I grabbed a couple of D and DDs.

All the while I'm babbling to my mother about this whole thing and women wearing the wrong bra size.

I go into the change room completely skeptical. I get what to me seems like a ginormous bra and like the bra fitting posts say stoop and scoop, something which I didn't know about before.

My chest filled the bra. And not only that it was comfortable.


My mind started racing. I couldn't believe it. I am wearing a bra that says DD. This did not compute with how I saw my body and chest. I started thinking about identity and then speculating about why this should be causing the reaction I was having. I also got annoyed when I realized that for years and years I have been squishing my chest and what I thought was just fat that bulging around the armpit area is really boob flesh that I was squishing out with wrong sized bras and because I didn't know enough about my own breast shape to pick out a style good for it.

Mom was waiting outside and asked if I was okay. I opened the changing room door. "No I'm not okay. I am having a crisis. Look at this bra Mom, it fits, like perfectly and all these years blah blah...

She starts laughing and after letting blabber for a bit suggests that I might close the door because I'm giving anyone that walks by a show.

So I put my shirt on and Mom says oh that looks really good and all I see are boobs sticking out like they NEVER HAVE BEFORE. To me it looked like had a breast job and it looked wrong. Good, but wrong. People are not kidding with how a proper fitting bra can change things.

I'm still spun out about the whole thing. I realize that I likely have been wearing the wrong bra size for twenty years. I'm spun out at how much it's spinning me out because it's clear that I had a whole lot of conscious and unconscious identity attached to this part of my body which feels like I don't know as well as I did yesterday if that makes any sense.

I can really get some of what the post was talking about the associations society/women make with BRA sizes and how much of that is influenced by the market. I ended up buying 2 new bras. They fit super well. I still cannot get over the size because of all this meaning I apparently associate with it. Right now it just seems wrong and not me. It's weird.

My breasts do look friggin awesome now. I am excited about that. It's like I had a makeover!

posted by Jalliah at 2:04 PM on March 28, 2015 [22 favorites]

gsh: "Yes, but does it solve the problem that most women have: different sized breasts?"

One solution (for some women): push-up bras with removable pads, and use pads of different thickness accordingly.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:26 PM on March 28, 2015

Honestly, I feel indebted to my mom that she took me to Nordstrom for a bra fitting pretty early on. (I'm also practically devoid of self-consciousness so I'm comfortable being topless with a random salesperson in a fitting room.) They've always been so helpful in finding the right size, explaining "sister sizes," etc.

The whole "cup size" being relative to band size is definitely something that's important to keep in mind because we're so used to hearing about someone being an "A cup" or a "D cup." Womens clothing is weird.

Dear Garment Industry, If you would stop fucking around with vanity sizing you might find that MORE people buy your clothes!!!!!

YES! I was reading about how returns are really cutting e-commerce businesses' profits, especially since people will buy 2 or 3 sizes then return the ones that don't fit. Well if everyone would stick to standard sizing (and stay consistent within your own brand), there would be more happy customers and fewer returns. Why is this so hard!?!?
posted by radioamy at 11:04 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Holy shit, you guys.

I wore Cs and Ds for ages, and then had a fitting a Nordstrom a few years ago where they told me I was actually a DD. I have been SO SMUG that I was finally one of the few women wearing the right bra size, but also was starting to wonder if maybe bras are just supposed to be horrendously uncomfortable and unflattering, since even still none of my bras seemed to feel quite right. Plus, I always felt weird and sort of guilty saying I was a DD - friends would always sort of side-eye me, and I'd say, "I know, I know, they don't look anywhere near that big -maybe it's something about the spacing?"

I just tried out the calculator and it looks like I'm probably more like a 32G, or at least an F. It feels completely ridiculous, and I am very seriously having trouble believing it, but I'm very curious to try this out with actual bras.
posted by naoko at 8:53 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

We really have to stop thinking of "DD=porn breasts". It stops so many women from getting accurate bras.
posted by corb at 10:24 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Cacique, which is the bra shop that abuts Lane Bryants in malls carries DD's and some higher. Also, naturally, larger band sizes. (like, up to 46 or so?) But almost ever single one of them is of that horrid molded foam stuff. Those things are never ever ever the same shape as my breasts (and either bite in and make a double boob on one side or gap open over the other. I think the idea is that with the foam stuff, there's no fear of nipples showing, because at those sizes padding is hardly necessary. The salesgirl helpfully suggested I might be wearing the wrong size. Trust me it's not the size. All the ones made of actual cloth, or spandex, or lace all fit perfectly normally.
posted by Karmakaze at 2:28 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

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