Bra sizing unravelled

Approximately 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra size, which sounds ridiculous when very few people wear the wrong sized trousers or jumper. Surely sizing a bra is not rocket science?

Well actually, no, it’s more complicated! Some bra shops tell you to add 4 inches to the band size (Simply Yours, Berlei), also known as the +4 method, and some don’t (Bravissimo, Victoria’s Secret). Add that to the fact that, like every boob, every bra is different, and you can begin to understand why so many women are in bra hell. So here we try to unravel the mystery around bra sizing and help you find support to fit like a glove.

Under bust measurement

Get a soft tape measure and ask a friend, partner or bra fitter in store to measure your ribcage straight under your bust. It is important not to wear a bra when you are measured to record your natural size. The reason for getting someone else to do it is so that you can stand perfectly upright while they make sure the tape measure is horizontal – this is how the bra band should sit, so is obviously where your measurement should be taken. Bra band sizes only come in even numbers, so if you measure an odd number you need to round it up. Therefore if you measure 31 inches around the ribcage, you would round it up to 32.

Bra band size

Now you know your ribcage measurement, you could be forgiven for thinking that would relate directly to a band size, but that’s where the problems start. When bra sizes were first conceived in the 1930s, the materials used for bras were a lot stiffer and less flexible – women were only just out of corsets – so manufacturers used to recommend adding 4 inches to your actual size to get the correct band size. In the last 90 years, however, there have been many improvements in the construction of bras, and nowadays many companies have ditched the idea of +4 because bras fit much more snugly to your exact size. So how do you know what will work best for you?

Skinny minnies

Women with a slim back and little fat covering their ribs tend to find that a band size the same as their ribcage measurement is painful. By not adding any extra to their own size, the bra band can dig in and be uncomfortable. The same can be true for women with sensitive skin, thin skin through age, or a muscular back (particularly, large lats). These women are advised to add at least 2 inches, if not 4 inches, to get the right band size, thus fanning the flames for retaining the traditional approach.

Larger ladies

Bearing in mind that the bra band is supposed to provide 80% of the support for breasts, women with a bigger bust tend to find that they need a tight-fitting back band to provide enough resistance for the weight of their boobs. They, therefore, would often prefer a band size which was the same as their rib cage measurement, thus fuelling the argument to reform the measurement method.

Of course, if you are carrying a bit of excess weight, a bra band that is tight enough to provide support can also result in unsightly back fat – we said this wasn’t easy!

Cup size

Once you think you have your bra band size sussed, you then need to wrap the tape measure around the fullest part of your bust, again going braless to be accurate. The difference between the two measurements will give you your cup size, but it is only relative to the band size; a cup size does not exist in its own right. If the two measurements are the same, UK sizing would give you an A cup, if you have a one inch increase on the bust, you are a B cup, two inches is a C cup and three is a D.

If you have small breasts and choose to add 4 inches to your ribcage size to get the right band size, you might find there is a decrease to your bust measurement, and this is where AA and AAA cup sizes come into play.

On the other end of the scale, manufacturers used to stop at a D cup and left the larger sizes to specialist companies. Nowadays, with average breast sizes increasing, most designers offer sizes above a D cup, but there is much less clarity as some have a DD and DDD, while others move straight to an E cup.

One thing to bear in mind though is that the cup size is always relevant to the band size; a B cup will always be one inch bigger than the band size, so a 34B will be incrementally bigger than a 32B. However, as a B cup is created for boobs one inch bigger than the band size, so it will have a very different support design to a D cup which is designed for a three inch difference. What this means is that while you are changing the band size to find what’s comfortable for you, you will have to change the cup size accordingly. If your breasts fit a 32D well, but it’s too tight on your ribs, you will need to try a 34C – as you increase your back size, the difference between the two measurements will reduce.

Try before you buy

With all this confusion, and what can best be described as guesswork, it is no wonder that 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra. The best answer is to measure yourself accurately, use that as a guide and try on a selection of bras. You might prefer the secure feeling of a tight band and a proportionately bigger cup size, or opt for a smaller cup in favour of more breathing space around the back. The only way to find out is trial and error.

One final note, as with shoe sizes, you will find that different manufacturers come up larger or smaller than others, so even once you think you have found your size, you could change again with a new make of bra. Ultimately, all bodies are different and yours will change several times during the course of your life, so rather than feeling stressed by all this, grab a girl friend and make a fun day of finding underwear that makes you, not breaks you!

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