What’s wrong with U.S. bra stores?

Sometimes, people will ask why I (and other bloggers) “hate on Victoria’s Secret and/or [insert name of any well-known U.S. bra store here].” So what if those stores don’t sell your size, people say. “You’re just bitter because you can’t buy anything from them. Just get over it!”

Honestly, I have no real problem with the fact of particular stores in the U.S. selling an incredibly limited range of bras. I know that bra departments and stores can’t be expected to stock every size under the sun.

What I do have a problem with is these stores claiming that their size range will fit “every woman”. That they’ll push bras on to women to make a sale, even if the bras are a blatantly incorrect fit. That they use their position of supposed “expertise” to misinform women. That sometimes fitters insult women who are outside the small size range carried. That, in the U.S., there is an overwhelming amount of misinformation about bras, bra sizing, and how bras are supposed to fit – and it’s spread largely by the bra stores (and the media) here – the very ones who are supposed to know better.

[I’m going to add here that I’m in no way trying to put down the stores I mention in general, but just bring attention to their incorrect fitting methods they use to keep customers within a very small range of sizes. Also, there are great boutiques out there with dedicated owners committed to meeting the needs of their customers in terms of fitting and sizes stocked. In this post, however, I’m just speaking in broad terms of what I and others have generally experienced, mostly in the larger, well-known stores – the stores that, unfortunately, tend to carry the most influence.]

Limited Sizing

Stores like the ever-present Victoria’s Secret, for example, sell a grand total of 33 bra sizes (yes, I counted) – but only about 15-18 of those sizes are actually really found in the physical stores. Victoria’s Secret often claims (overtly or by implication) that they have bras for “all” or “almost all” women.

Do they think that there are only 15-18, or 33, different body types that women have?

Other stores I’ve seen have an even more limited amount of sizes – in the 8-12 range. Again, I don’t really have a problem with stores carrying a very small range of bra sizes. What I do have a problem with is their implication that all or most women should fit into this incredibly limited range. And that you’re “fat” or “weird” if you don’t.

In reality, there are more than (just counting band sizes 28-40 and cups A-K) 105 bra sizes that are made by many companies – and that’s not counting the under-28 and over-40 band, under-A and over-K cup bras. Factor those in, and the number is in excess of 150 bra sizes that are made and worn.

This means that many U.S. stores like Victoria’s Secret only stock about 10% of all bra sizes available. They also do not stock under-32 bands (besides a few A and B cups) – odd, since studies indicate that 28-32 bands are the “average” size that many women of “average” weight would ideally be wearing.

Thus, Victoria’s Secret, Target, Kohls, Walmart, Macy’s, Penney’s, Frederick’s, Soma, etc. etc. only carry bras that will truly fit a small percentage of the population. However, these stores repeatedly incorrectly fit women (generally by giving them a band that is too large and a cup that is too small) in order to make sales. They act like women are strange if they don’t fit into the incredibly limited range that they stock. And really, why should they stock more sizes when they can get away with selling their 10% of sizes to around 80% of women?

Incorrect Fitting

If you were ever fitted at Victoria’s Secret, I can pretty much guarantee that you were fitted incorrectly. Heck, I’m not trying to pick on Victoria’s Secret in particular – I could pinpoint almost any U.S. bra store for incorrect sizing methods.  Nearly all stores will add around 4 inches to the ribcage measurement (adding inches is unnecessary for most women) to get a band size. Using these incorrect “fitting” methods, I would be deemed around a 32DD, a size that is completely, totally, laughably wrong. A woman who needs a 28D would be put in about a 34A, also completely and totally wrong. And on it goes.

I would honestly mistrust most larger bra stores in the U.S. in terms of bra fitting – yes, including Nordstrom (which, although better than most, still tends to push too-big bands and too-small cups). That’s why I pretty much always just recommend that women measure themselves instead of leaving their fittings in the hands of stores that have limited ranges and incorrect, outdated sizing methods.

The reason that (statistically) about 80% of you reading this are (or were at some point) wearing the wrong bra size is at least in part because of the poor fitting methods in U.S. stores. What makes it worse for me is that too often, the poor sizing and fitting seems very blatant. That makes me just a little annoyed at them.

Misinformation about Bras

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across women who think that “all D cups are the same” (not true – a 30D, 34D, and 38D are all very different sizes). How many countless times I’ve come across women who adamantly refuse to believe that they’re a “D cup” or above – because “a D cup is HUGE!”. Or who think that being a larger cup size means that they’re fat, or a freak.

This is simply not true, lovely readers. “DD” doesn’t equal being a large-chested bimbo, a porn star, a fat freak. (If you think I’m using strong language or being dramatic here, I’m not – I run across people who think this almost daily). I’m not going to get into correct all fitting misinformation in this one blog post, but suffice to say that cup sizes mean nothing without a band size. All a “DD” means is “about 5 inches difference between underbust and bust measurement.” A 28DD woman will be built very differently than a 40DD woman, but both will have about 5 inches of difference between their underbust and bust measurement. Doesn’t sound too scary now, does it?

But where does all this misinformation come from? Women have to be learning it from somewhere. In my mind, it’s largely the “fault” of bra stores. In my experience, I’ve frequently come across fitters who have little actual knowledge of correct fit (not knowing that bands should be firm and straight, or that wires should not be touching breast tissue). I’ve frequently experienced fitters telling me outrageously incorrect things, such as:
-Bands below a 32 don’t exist
-34 and 32 bands are for “tiny” people
-28 bands don’t exist
-28 bands are for super, super tiny people
-Cups above “DDD” don’t exist
-Cups above a C are huge
-The only options for D+ sizes are these ugly beige bras over here
-There is no demand for under-32 bands
-D+ women need to wear minimizers
-You need to wear a 36 band (with a 28″ ribcage)
-You need to add anywhere from 3-7 inches to your underbust measurement to get a band size
-Women who wear D+ cups are usually large all over

This is not a one-time thing, everyone. This is constant. This was/is almost every time I go into a bra store. These are the fitters saying these things. Some of these are things I’ve heard even at stores that have a better range of sizes than most U.S. stores, like Nordstrom, Dillards, and boutiques  No wonder there is so much misinformation out there. No wonder so many women are wearing an incorrect size.

Insulting/Shaming Customers

I’m sure this is going to be a bit controversial, but I’m including it anyway because I personally have experienced this when shopping for bras, and I know many other women who have as well. Of course, there are many women who haven’t – but I feel that the number of women I’ve come across who’ve experienced this is so large that it deserves mentioning.

I’ve experienced fitters/employees outright telling me that I’m not a 28 band/over a G cup (I’m actually a [insert a wildly-incorrect size that they actually stock]), telling me I should get a breast reduction, assuming I have implants, laughing at/disbelieving when I tell them what size I’m looking for, telling me my breasts are too large, and more. Again, these are supposed to be professional, helpful people. Imagine the effect these words would have on an uncertain busty teenager who’s desperately trying to find a bra that fits well. Bra fitters (or anyone) should never, ever be insulting to their customers. I would hope that would be obvious.

In my opinion, it’s bra stores who play a big part in spreading this (mis)information. And it’s very, very damaging to women. The misinformation spread is my major problem with U.S. stores – the pervading poor fitting methods lead to an abysmally small selection of sizes offered and countless women who hate bras because “nothing ever fits” and “bras are uncomfortable”, and who won’t try a different size because “a fitter told me I was a 36C” and “wearing a larger cup/smaller band would mean I’m fat/weird”.

So, why do you think there’s so much misinformation about bras and sizing out there? Do you think that stores play a big part, or are there other factors at play?