Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Wear the Right Bra Size?

According to many studies, over 80% of women aren't wearing the correct bra size. This means that only 1 or 2 women out of every 10 are wearing the correct size! (!!!) I could start blaming this fact on the terrible fitting methods promoted by many well-known stores (especially in the U.S.), but not all women have even gone in for a bra fitting or used a bra calculator, good or bad. I think that many women just don't really know how bra sizes work in general, or they don't realize how important a well-fitting bra is.

Did you know, for example, that
You can be a 30 or 28 band even if you're in the overweight range?
Sizes like DD, F, GG can look small or average, especially when paired with a smaller band size?
Bra band sizes go down to 24, and cups to L (UK sizing)?
The best starting point when figuring out band size for most women is to use the underbust measurement (without adding any inches)?

There's no doubt that there's a lot of misinformation about bras out there. But why is wearing the right bra size important? Why isn't wearing one that seems to fit "okay" good enough? Wearing the wrong bra size can cause a long list of issues! Here are some things that I've heard women complain about while wearing incorrect-sized bras. I'll note that I personally experienced all of these issues when I was wearing ill-fitting bras.

-Pain. This may be more noticeable for larger-busted women. Pain can be caused by poor posture and too much weight being placed on the back and shoulders due to wearing the incorrect size. Underwires digging in can also cause pain. Pain isn't normal!

-Breast tissue migration. With an incorrect fit (especially too-small cups and wires sitting on the breast tissue), the breast tissue can be displaced by the ill-fitting bra to other areas, such as under the armpits, sternum, and even the back. Some women find that after a little while of wearing the correct bra size (and putting on the bra correctly), they may go up a cup size as the breast tissue is guided back to its proper place.

-Marks and grooves. Some red marks are normal - you can get light marks from bras just as you can from underwear and socks. However, deep red marks, shoulder grooves, and skin irritation are yet more issues that the wrong size bra may cause.

-Bras "never fitting." I've heard (and even used to think myself) women say that bras just never fit them right - or even that they know they're in the wrong size, but don't know about any other options. Feeling like bras are always uncomfortable or never fit quite right, that cups are always too small or big, or that bands are always too loose or tight, is an indication that you may need to measure yourself to see if you should be trying a different range of sizes!

-"I can't wear underwires." While this may be legitimate for some (those with sensitive skin, medical issues, etc), the vast majority of women who "can't wear underwires" think this because they've never tried on their correct size with an underwire bra. The underwires should encase all of your breasts and the middle wire should sit firmly against the sternum; the wires should never poke, pinch, hurt, stab, or sit on your breast tissue. If they are, you're not wearing the right size (or the right kind of) bra.

-"Cute bras don't come in my size." There are actually a lot of companies out there nowadays that make a wide range of sizes! It may be harder to find certain sizes than others, but don't get trapped into thinking that the beige granny bras you see sold in stores are your only options. There are correctly-fitting pretty/sexy/cute bras out there.

-Lack of support. Wearing a bra that doesn't fit well (especially one with a too-large band) can cause sagging, an unideal shape, too much movement, and make you look a lot heavier than you actually are.

So, with all of these issues that ill-fitting bras can cause, why do so many women not wear a bra that fits correctly and well? Some reasons I can think of (many of which applied to me when I wasn't wearing good bras):

-Many women aren't aware of how bra sizes work, and think that their only options are the band sizes 32-38 and cups AA-DD (and many believe that anything above a C cup is "huge" and any band below a 34 is "tiny"). Some women think that being a larger cup means that they're fat (even if they would be wearing a small band size), or they're embarrassed to wear anything larger than a C-cup bra (even if a C cup is very-ill fitting).

-Many women don't know how bras should fit and they've never worn a very well-fitting bra, so they just put up with issues like the above because they don't know that there are other options.

-Some women have gotten a poor bra fitting and think that they must be the size that bad fitter told them, even if it's uncomfortable. Or they compare themselves to other friends who aren't wearing a correctly-sized bra either - "She's wearing a DD and she's WAY bigger than me, so there's no way I can be an F cup or anything bigger than her!"

-Some women think that since their breasts are smaller, they don't "need" a well-fitting bra anyway.

Have you experienced any of the issues above in regards to bras? Have you heard any of the same complaints from others? (If not, take a look at comments on just about any status on the facebook page of Playtex, a company notorious for using the incorrect +4-5 inch method)

Why do you think it is that so many women are wearing the incorrect size?

(also: The Bra Band Project is still ongoing! We'd love to have you contribute!)


  1. Brilliant post Christine - so informative and easy to understand. xx

  2. Yup, definitely a brilliant post! You're so good at writing clearly and being entertaining even as you're being informative.

    I really struggle with the marks and grooves. I have angry (ANGRY!) red marks deep in my sides and under my bust after I take my bras off at night and although they don't hurt during the day, by the time night comes I'm often getting itchy and sore. But at least I'm supported and comfy during the day!

    1. Aw, thanks :)

      Yikes, angry red marks are no good! I'm wondering if it could be that the types of bras you're wearing have stiff underwires that rub and create marks and soreness? The bra/band being too small *could* be the problem, but I wouldn't jump to assume that right away. Just the other day I was wearing a 30G (too big in the band and a bit small in the cup) that has very stiff wires. By the end of the day, I had painful, rashy marks because the wires were pressing/shifting/rubbing. I demoted it to a "wear for only a few hours max" bra.

      I wonder if it's more of a style issue for you (the marks and the cutting in of the band to create backfat that you mentioned earlier) rather than a size issue. Generally I can tell if a bra is too small for me, or if it's more of a style issue. Do you know if 32 bands create the same issues, and have you tried a larger cup?

    2. It could very well be the style of bra. I own three 30FF balconette bras without padding - one Fayreform, one Freya and one DimitySO - and they all give me the lines, though the Freya less so because it's less true to size, I think (it's a Frankie). It's really hard to find different styles over here. I have a 28FF Freya Deco which also gives me marks, but that is a really tight bra. (And I dreamed that I accidentally cut a hole in it last night!)

      I only own one 32 band, but since the cup size is only a D I can't use it as an accurate measurement at all, unfortunately. I do want to see if I can get a 32FF, but if it does turn out too big it'll be a costly mistake.

      I am also considering getting a 30G to check if I do need the bigger cup size, but size 30s are hard enough to find here without hunting for a G cup! Usually I can find 30s up to FF and then that's it. I am still hunting though.

      What I do love is that we (you, me, bybabysrules, bra nightmares, all the other bra bloggers) can actually talk about this stuff and offer each other advice and opinions and experiences. So thank you so much for yours :)

    3. Being a part of a bra community is indeed amazing (and so helpful)!

      I wish you luck on finding a 30G... sounds like it would be good to try at least. Is it hard to find 32 bands above D where you are as well? And would you be able to find a 30F-FF in the Deco?

    4. Ok, today I found several 30Gs but had immense trouble actually doing them up and had suuuuper back fat when I did, so instead I decided I'd buy two 32FFs and see how they went. I wish there was a 31 band, because I seem to be in the middle!

      I could get my hands on a 30FF Deco, but it'd cost me NZD100 and I am perfectly happy with my 28FF, fortunately. It just took me a wee while to get there lol

    5. Good that you at least found some to try on! Hopefully the 32FFs work out okay. Being "in the middle" is a tricky place...
      I'm looking forward to reading about what the NZ overall bra situation is in the city snapshot guestposts Denocte is going to have, by the way!

  3. Great post! What get's me the most is how often women who are educated about sizing still end up in the wrong size bra! Like you said to Kiwi about wearing a 30G. :( We just don't always have the options we want. Most days I take of my bra to find angry red pressure marks along my cleavage line. It's because my bras are not the right design for my breasts. A bra in my size comes in styles that are high in the gore that just do not work for me.

    OK, ending my little rant. I love this post! It is so informative and readable.

  4. Such a great and informative post, good job! :-) Just like bybabysrules and kiwi pointed out, angry red marks are not ALWAYS because of a wrong size. In most cases they propably are, but I too suffer from itchy and annoying red marks on the middle of my boobs because the central gore is too high and wide even after narrowing it with sewing.

    The wires can sometimes poke at armpits and arms because they are too high and wide. I do not experience this in any other than my Panache Confetti, though. But that bra is painful, i got to say!

    I also get quite deep red marks under my breasts, right at the crease of my breasts. I don't know why this is, but after wearing a bra for a long day the wires start digging in there, too...

    So, what I'm trying to say with my overly long comment (sorry!) is that wire problems are not ONLY because of the wrong size. They are often also a style or design issue. What I don't understand is why manufacturers don't attack these problems as they are often the same on different women across band and cup sizes...

  5. Great post!

    Thx for linking my letter :)

  6. The other day, I was talking to a friend from college who is taller and bustier than I am. She's been buying bras from Lane Bryant and altering the bra down to what she says is a 34DDD. (The fact that she was once told she was a 34DDD and not even a 34E makes me think that her only proper exposure to a fitting has been...a crummy one.)

    She's in grad school and super poor, so that impacts her ability to acquire properly fitted bras. She at least knows that her major renovations aren't resulting in supportive bras, she knows she can do better. But she won't order online because she wants to try bras on first, and she can't afford to buy from brick and mortar specialty shops that would carry her size.

    I honestly suspect she's bigger in the cup than an E--as I said, in college she was a lot bustier than I am, and I'm a 28GG. (Which works out to be a 34F,) I'm sending her some of my old bras with the caveat that she use this knowledge to find more bras that fit, once she gets enough money to buy some online. I told her the sizes, and she asked "32E? What's E????") *sigh*

  7. A great post!
    And anyone who does not believe that DD may be a small bust, check this out:
    Click all the bra sizes marked green in the chart, so you see by yourselves :)

  8. A bit late to the game, but I think the reason most women are wearing the wrong size is because our sizing system is so inconsistent across brands and styles. A 34G in one size fits like a 32F in another, and a 36H in another (and we'll assume UK sizing on those cups). Yeah, you have that solid measurement, but it's meaningless if the manufacturers don't adhere to that standard.

    1. You have a point that sizing can vary somewhat by manufacturer, but I think (based on people I've helped fit and studies I've read) that the main problem is that women are just wearing bands that are too big and cups that are too small (say, a 36DD instead of a 30G, as I was - not even close!). The very limited bra selection offered in the US certainly isn't a help!
      Generally it's true that women will be slightly different sizes in different brands (for example, I find that my ideal size would be 28H, 28HH, 28J, 30GG, or 26HH, etc, depending on the brand and style!). However, I don't think there's *quite* so much discrepancy between brands as, for example, a 36H in one brand fitting like a 32F in another (since they're about 6 cup sizes different to start with!)

  9. I loved this post! I think that many women go all defensive and say "what's the use, it's so much bother to get fitted AND then buy online; I've worn this (wrong) size all my life and don't need anything new." But in reality there is so so much to gain by getting fitted and wearing the right size!

  10. In my years of wearing a bra, the last 20 have been the worst. Before my son was born (like most of us) I was short and thin (extremely thin) and I wore a 34-B. After he was born, I wore a 36-C and that was the last time I was measured for a bra up until 2 years ago when I had to have a bra because I was in a wedding and of course I needed one so the dress would fit properly. After being sized and re-sized, I found that my new size is a hard to find 32-DD. In the last 5 years, I've lost a serious amount of weight and being in an abusive marriage, I didn't get a lot of basic needs and clothes would be in that category. The years of wearing an ill-fitting bra have caused me to have dark bra strap marks all over my back and shoulders, lumpy dense sore breasts and super tight bras that have me oozing out of the cups and below the band. Even the bra I purchased for the wedding fit horribly. I made due because I had spent most of that time looking for the bra. Before my grandmother passed I thought she was joking when she use to ask me if I had my breasts enlarged (her exact words were "Did you have a boob job?" - "No granny, they don't give you bigger boobs on Medicaid." I said). Of course, I have my verbally abusive husband to tell me that bras are just for looks so I would never get underwear either. If I did, they were cheap and wore out quickly and I never had more than the one all the time as I have now. I had to pay $60.00 for this bra because of the size, not because it came from a higher end lingerie store. As a matter of fact, the only bra's I can find come from high end and raunchy lingerie stores. I want to know why manufacturers do not make larger cup sizes for petite women?!!! And why are they priced so exorbitantly? Is it assumed because I'm 5"-4' that I work in the adult industry and make a large amount of money? Well, I don't. I even asked myself how my breast had gotten so large when I previously looked like a boy. . .

    1. Wow, that sounds really difficult! :( It definitely sounds like you haven't found the right size/right bra that works for you yet.

      There are actually quite a few manufacturers that make small band/large bust bras (As a 28H/HH, there are many companies for me to choose from)! Have you checked out the online store list?

      You may also want to use a good bra calculator to help determine what the best size for you will be. If you have a very small frame, it's unlikely that you'll need a band size over 30:
      A 32DD bra actually does not have a very large cup (and it's made for someone who has about a 32" ribcage, which isn't super small-framed), so it's likely that you'll need a higher cup size/smaller band size to get a great, comfortable fit.

      Also, check out the Bra Band Project tab for a link to the BBP Flicker album, where you can see examples of women who wear 30 bands and under!

  11. Know this is long after the original posting but only just found you....

    I have been large busted since I was in my teens and am now in my 50's. I came from a family of large breasted women so well fitting bras were always emphasized but extremely difficult to find. Bra shopping now is a DREAM compared to the 1970's. The selection of large cup sized bras with small band sizes (30-36) is fantastic compared to back then where you just made do and used your sewing machine to make them work.

    That was the past. As for the present and why women are wearing the incorrect size, I believe there are a variety of reasons but I think the biggest reason is that most woman have a mental block to the numbers and alphabet letters. They have been this or that size forever and refuse to accept that they aren't anymore or never really were to begin with. Even for me, it was hard to accept that I had become a 38 FF or G (currently a 34 E or F). Back in 1970 who knew the bra alphabet would go beyond a series of D's! Case in point: I took a friend for a bra fitting because she really was not wearing the correct size and she looked overweight. She was fitted in a bra 2 band sizes smaller with cups 3 sizes bigger. She looked fantastic but refused to buy it because "that wasn't her size", even though that right sized bra would allow her to buy a dress size smaller. What more can you do?

  12. Whilst the information here is great and very useful for most people, I would just like to point one thing out about sizing and under-wiring. I have very mild scoliosis (so mild that most of my friends can't even see it when I point it out to them) which causes my ribcage to protrude more on my left hand side. This coupled with a slim torso (28 inches) that has little fat padding makes under-wired bras impossibly uncomfortable for me. And given that current statistics suggest 1 in a hundred have mild scoliosis like me, I would imagine there are lots of women who legitimately cannot wear under-wired bras. Yes, I have been fitted on multiple occasions by professionals, and have always been told I am a 28FF and my own measurements agree with this. I wear a 32D however because it allows my more prominent side rib space; a 28 band is absolute agony to me. I also take the under-wiring out of bras because it helps me be more comfortable. Fortunately, as I am small breasted I have no real trouble with the bras looking bad after my modifications, I am fortunate to not need alot of uplift, I just wear them for coverage really. Ok, I might be kind of unusual but I bet there are a few other women out there wearing the wrong size bras because they have to, not because they want to or are ill-informed.