Why Can’t I Get A Bra That Fits? Part 2

January 22, 2003

Last week I discussed the inadequacy of women’s bra sizing standards, and the notion that most women are wearing the wrong sized bra. This week is a continuation of that article.


Here is a little piece of information that I can’t believe I didn’t know. It’s a standard in all bra manufacturing, but many women [and men] do not know this: cup sizes are not static.

What I mean is, a C is not a C is not a C. Cup sizes are scaled to band sizes, and the actual breast size they represent falls within a range.

Society is very hooked into the notion that breast size can be accurately described by bra cup size. There are many sites on the web devoted to breast lovers. Men [and women — let’s not neglect our alternative sisters] on these sites like to ponder the size and shape of the ideal mammary, and cup sizes are usually the main point of reference [though many still use the ubiquitous fruit references — plums, oranges, grapefruits, cantaloupes, casabas, etc, which, ironically, are probably more accurate.].

But what does it mean when a man professes a preference for ladies endowed with C cups? Not much. You see, if that lady is tiny boned and wears a little 32 band, her C cup breasts are about the size of small china tea cups. On the other hand, if she’s a more robust 38, she’s endowed with a couple of good sized grapefruits [see, that fruit reference is handy — you all know what I mean]. A woman with a 38 B will have more breast mass than a 34 C.

Bras are sized such that as the band size goes up or down, the cup size changes inversely. So, if you normally wear a 34 B cup, and find that you are putting on a little weight and need to go to a comfier 36 band, you’ll actually be an A cup [depressing, no?]. On the other hand, if you can squeeze comfortably into a 32, then you need a C cup.

In bra industry, all three sizes are equal — which is why my bizarre results on the bra measurement scale are considered to be more or less correct. I probably could wear a 38 AA, and it might be just nicely snug too, but the band would be raised off of my ribs by quite a bit. I supposed it would fit like a wrapped bandage, but it would be of no use in terms of support. The cup thing did lead me to wear the wrong size for a long time, however. I was wearing a B cup because I felt that I could not possibly be a C. I knew a girl with C cups, and a large and size, and I knew I was not nearly as large as her. If I had known more about how the cup changes are proportional, this would not have been a problem. I’m much more comfortable now wearing the correct size.

Bras can be hard to fit, and women often have to try on several sizes before they get the right one. If you find that your band is a little too tight, you might want to move up a band size and down a cup size to see if you are more comfortable. Also, the width of the cups changes dependent on the band [which is the main reason that the relative breast size associated with each cup size, changes depending on the band], and depending on the width of your ribs, you might find a narrower or wider set cup to be more appropriate.

Now I see why so many women wear the wrong size. I used to wear a 32, but moved up to a 34 when I put on a little weight. My bust had filled out some too, so staying with the C cup worked. Recently, however, I found a lovely 32 that I could squeeze into, and bought it in a C cup. I was baffled as to why I could not get the bra to close due to the cups being so small. I complained to the store that their cups were not properly sized, and that is when I was told that I should have bought a D cup in that band size. Duh!

Just remember guys [and gals], when you rate women on their cup size, unless you decide on a standard band size for your comparisons, your assessments are pretty much meaningless. On the other hand, if you want to get a good idea of what the different cup sizes look like relative to band sizes, take a look at the fantastic Breast Size and Shape feature on afraidtoask.com [this site has adult content]. Compare the picture of the 30 C cup to the 38 C cup, and you’ll know why cup sizes mean so little.


Why do these size problems seem so prevalent in the women’s clothing industry?

You would think that if women had problems and complained to stores and manufacturers, things would change.

This is exactly what I tried to do, and I was amazed at the insulting and dismissive responses I got.

In response to my complaints, I was told by a number of stores and manufactures that I didn’t measure correctly, didn’t understand the system, or was not able to correctly determine when a bra did, and did not fit. Victoria’s Secret’s Customer Service, in response to my complaint, was the rudest, and sent the following comment:

“To determine your correct bra size, we recommend visiting a local Victoria’s Secret Store if possible and having one of our associates size you properly. Should you have followed our directions as given, then the size configured is the size you should be wearing.”

So apparently I am a 38 AA, but I’m too stubborn to admit it. Either that, or I have no idea how to work a tape measure. Funny, I managed to measure my room for carpet and wallpaper, my bathroom floor for tile, and my spare-bedroom-cum-library for bookcases without error.

Comments from other stores were similarly demeaning and all suggested that the calculator works for other women. However, banter on the internet and discussions with personal friends suggests that this is not true. Women, however, don’t seem to want to complain to retailers and manufacturers about the problem.

I have to wonder, if such an unsatisfactory sizing system would exist for men? Would men put up with it?


Apparently not. One of the better sites I found on the web, which discussed the inadequacy of the bra measuring system, was run by a cross dresser named Tanya Brown. Tanya sells breast forms for cross-dressers, and finds the traditional measuring system to be a wonky as I do:

“If you have tried either of [the traditional measuring] methods you may well have found that they don’t work. A 38B bra fits me perfectly, giving me a 41 1/2″ bustline. By the first method, however, I should wear a 44AAA bra and, by the second, a 40A bra!

A lingerie dealer who specializes in custom-fitted brassieres told me that many Genuine Girls have complained to her that those methods don’t work for them either! She has no idea where the catalogs came up with such screwy measuring systems. She advised that professional bra-fitters use the following method to determine band size:

1. Measure your chest under your breasts (where the bottom band of a bra normally sits on your chest).
2. Measure your chest above your breasts and below your armpits.
3. If the difference between the two measurements is two inches or less, the underbreast measurement (#1) is your bra size. If the difference is over two inches, you may want to try one size larger for comfort.
4. If the underbreast measurement is an odd number, go to the nearest even bra size.”

Oddly, I’ve found that some of the better information on body hair removal can also be found on websites geared toward cross dressers. It seems that women have become so accustomed to being supplied with scant information on these topics, that we are not willing to demand a change. Many of us “Genuine Girls” stick to complaining to the woman at the bra store, rather than the manufacturers who are getting us into this mess.


Fortunately, there are some physicians and lingerie industry people who are beginning to realize just how inadequate the bra measurement system is. In particular, plastic surgeons are noticing that they need a much more accurate system for determining what size women’s breasts will be after augmentation or reconstruction surgeries. To address this need, Dr. Edward A. Pechter, M.D. has developed a system he calls “Bustline: A New Method for Determining Bra Size and Predicting Post Augmentation Breast Size.” This method uses the actual mass and contour of the breast to determine size, instead of the around the rib measuring system. It simply makes sense. Some women have very large breasts that have significant girth, but do not protrude much from the rib cage. On the other hand, small breasted women may have a shape that points directly forward, with little mass around the sides. In both cases, a circumference measurement around the torso is bounds to over or underestimate the cup size required.

Dr. Pechter say he devised his system because: “I believe that this is because the traditional method of bra measurement is unreliable most of the time, usually indicating a cup size that does not correlate to a woman’s determination of her own proper cup size.”
This is a wonderful statement, and music to the ears of women who have for so long been told that if they don’t like the bra size they are told to wear, they simply don’t know what they need. I suspect that the 70% of women who are supposed to be wearing the wrong size of bra, simply aren’t wearing the size that the charts suggest. Their current size might be just fine, however.

Dr. Pechter’s new system actually measures the girth of the breast tissue, by taking an inches measurement from the crease of the breast tissue adjacent to the arm pit, over the top of the breast in line with the nipple, and down the other side to the inner crease.

“This theory was tested by asking 100 women what they thought was their accurate bra size and comparing their answers to both the traditional method of bra measurement and a new technique that determines cup size by direct measurement of the breast. With this new method, a breast circumference of 7 inches corresponds to an “A” cup, 8 inches to a “B” cup, 9 inches to a “C” cup, and so on up and down the line, with each 1-inch increment determining a cup size up or down. The new method corresponded to the woman’s own estimation of her cup size 84 percent of the time, whereas the traditional method of bra measurement correlated only 23 percent of the time.”

The Bustline method is new, and has not been adopted by anyone in the lingerie industry as of yet, but seems to provide a much more accurate determination of size. Its failing, however, is that it does not take into account the different cup sizes in relation to band sizes. Nevertheless, it provides a much better starting point than traditional measurement methods, and once women are more aware of how cup sizes correlate to band sizes, they should have all the information they need to make adjustments for smaller or larger than normal frame sizes.

I tried the Bustline measurement system, and came up with a girth of 9.5, corresponding to a full C cup – the most accurate determination yet!

Until this system becomes the norm, however, maybe we should just go with the fruit method – “Hi, I’m a small- framed 34 with medium grapefruits, do you have anything to fit me? Why not. Men have been using these descriptions to buy lingerie for their wives since, well, the invention of lingerie!

I want to know if I’m the only one experiencing this frustration. I’d like other women to try out the size calculators I’ve provided links to [and other others you find], and let me know how accurate, or inaccurate, they are. If I get a number of responses, I’ll do a follow up next month and send my results to some bra manufacturers as well. Cross dressers are welcome to send in results too – after all, you are buying bras as well – but please indicate your gender for classification purposes.

Size Calculators:

Dr. Pechter’s Bustline: http://www.rightbra.com/htmls/breastmeasurement.htm
Tanya Brown’s Breast Forms: http://www.tanyabrowns.com/brasize.html
Wonderbra USA: http://www.wonderbrausa.com/frame_fittips.htm
Bali Bra: http://www.balibras.com/mirror_calc_b.html
Hanes Her Way: http://www.hanesherwaybras.com/bra-size.html
Barely There: http://www.barelythere.com/calculator.html
Secrets In Lace: http://www.secretsinlace.com/bracalc4.htm
Just My Size: http://www.justmysize.net/fittips/sizingcalc_bras.jsp
Afraid To Ask: http://www.afraidtoask.com/breast/frSIZE.html
Intelihealth: http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/23741/24783/321366.html?d=dmtContent
Bare Necessities: http://www.barenecessities.com/csi/fit_sizing.asp?sid=4RJMHSNK4USR2JCN0G0MLH2LTNTSFJV3
La Senza: http://www.lasenza.com/en/stools/fit.html
Victoria’s Secret: http://www2.victoriassecret.com/search/bra/?rfnbr=16#

Tamra lives in Calgary with her husband and two cats. A fulltime AU student, she splits her free time between her duties as an AUSU councillor, writing her first novel, and editing written work by other students and friends.