Would anyone be interested in my posting bra reviews here? It wouldn’t be a common occurrence because I don’t own many bras and nor do I have the money to buy new ones very often, but it might be useful for recommendations, fitting information, etc. What do you think?
Since brastop currently have a discount thing happening (coupon code LEAF13, ends 11am Monday NZ time), I thought I’d post about buying bras online. I’m fairly new to this myself. The biggest advantage to buying bras online is that it’s cheaper than just about any local shops - I can get bras for around NZ$60 that I’d be paying $90-$100 for if I bought them in this country, and that’s not counting sales and discounts. The biggest disadvantage to buying online is that you don’t get to try the bras on before you buy them.
So, if you’re going to buy online, bra reviews are a godsend. Bratabase is a good place to find these, but Google searching “[bra brand] [style] review” also works pretty well. Reviewers will often mention if a bra runs small or large in the cup or band, and will also mention issues like the spacing of shoulder straps and other factors that could affect fit.
I admit another tactic I’ve used for judging fit is to try the bras (or similar ones) on in Kirk’s before ordering. I don’t buy from Kirk’s anymore - I’ve posted about my dislike of them before, and their prices are also pretty inflated, even compared to other New Zealand shops.
If you’re unsure of your size, some bloggers recommend buying the same bra in several sizes and returning the ones that don’t fit. This is not my preferred option, as it means I need to spend more money initially, and usually pay for shipping back to the UK (or wherever I’m ordering from). If I end up buying a bra that doesn’t fit (it hasn’t happened yet, but like I say I’m new to this) I’d probably try selling it on Trademe or something.
I bought two bras from brastop a few months ago. Brastop often sells bras for even lower prices than many other online retailers; the trade-off is that shipping to New Zealand is about NZ$29 for orders under £125 (NZ$240). If you have friends or family with similar bra-fitting predicaments to you, it may make sense to combine your orders and split the shipping cost.
I ordered my bras on a Friday, and they arrived the following Tuesday - pretty impressive for something shipped halfway around the world. I ordered one in my usual 10G (UK 32G) as reviews said it fit true to size; I ordered the other in 8GG (UK 30GG) after learning that the band was on the generous side. Both turned out to be correct fits. I’m definitely going to buy more bras online in future.
It is so aggravating how major bra companies create problems to capitalize off of. They create migrated tissue with their faulty sizing system, and then they offer “back smoothing” bras to combat the “back fat” that they created by moving your breast tissue away from where it belongs.
They create awkward, bulky, padded straps to deal with the strap discomfort caused by their poorly fitting bras.
If they used proper methods and focused on helping people with their pains rather than capitalizing off of them, everyone would be happy.
And you know what?
They’d still make money!
People would still want new patterns and styles. They would still get larger and smaller to need new bras. Their bras would still eventually wear out.
I honestly cannot stand these companies anymore.
One of Maureen O’Connor’s objections to better bra fitting practices was that she thought statistics on poorly fitting bras came from market research companies and was financed by bra companies - in other words, that all the “research” was conducted in order to sell more bras. There may be some such “research” out there - but there are also studies on bra fitting conducted by academics in fields such as sports medicine and biomechanics, and published in peer-reviewed journals. Since I have access to some of these journals via my university library, I thought I’d download some of the articles and see what they have to say.
First up is a paper by Deirdre McGee and Julia Steele, published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (Full reference at the end of the post).
From the article’s introduction:
An ill-fitting bra is a serious medical issue as it can contribute to numerous negative health outcomes, such as upper limb neural symptoms and deep bra furrows caused by excessive strap pressure; neck and back pain, as well as poor posture and exercise-induced breast discomfort. These symptoms can be so severe as to force women with large breasts to seek reduction mammaplasty or inhibit these women from participating in physical activity. Interestingly, correctly fitted, supportive bras have been found to alleviate up to 85% of these symptoms, allowing women to exercise in greater comfort and reducing the need for breast reduction surgery. Medical practitioners and allied health professionals, who frequently treat the negative health outcomes associated with ill-fitting bras, are an ideal source to provide advice to improve the breast support and bra fit of their female patients. However, given that such a high proportion of women are wearing the wrong size bra, the question arises as to what is the best method to achieve correct bra fit?
(I’ve removed the references from this paragraph to make it easier to read. Also, not everyone with breasts identifies as a woman.)
The first part of the quote is pretty much what many busty people, bra fitters, and bra bloggers have been saying for some time: badly fitted bras cause real harm - they affect our health, and they limit our ability to engage in physical activities. The second part, the question of how to achieve correct bra fit, is the focus of this particular study. The authors compare bra fitting by trial and error as well as various measurement methods to qualitative fitting criteria used by professional bra fitters. Because professional bra fitting services are uncomfortable, unavailable, or impractical for many people, the objective of the study was to find the best way for individuals to independently evaluate the fit of bras and choose bras that fit properly.
All participants in the study were fitted in the same bra, a Berlei sports bra, in order to minimise errors caused by different brands, styles, and fabrics. The measurement methods used were the Berlei fitting guidelines (which seem to be a variation on the +4 inches method and which put me in a 14DD… nope!), the Australian standard guidelines (which are behind a paywall so I can’t see them, but which I assume are another variation on +4 or +5 inches), and the breast hemi-circumference method (which is a variation on the +5 inches method and puts me either in a 16DD or off the scale, depending on whether I round up or down).
Needless to say, none of the measurement methods performed very well. The best of the measurement methods was the Berlei method, which put 37 of the 98 study participants in the correct size as determined by the qualitative criteria. The trial and error method (in which study participants tried on the bra in different sizes in front of a mirror and chose the one that seemed best) fared slightly better, with 41 of the participants choosing the correct size.
The poor performance of the measurement and trial and error methods led the authors to conclude that the best way to improve bra fit is to educate people about correct fitting criteria rather than relying on measurements. I am inclined to agree, though I still recommend measuring yourself using the +0 inches method in order to find a starting point. This is based on my own experience - I was barking up the wrong tree looking for 12Es and 12Fs and 14DDs and wondering why nothing seemed to fit before I measured myself. Armed with my measurements, I know I’m likely to find a good fit somewhere in the vicinity of a 10G, so that’s what I try on first. Still, it’s really important to know what does and does not constitute a good fit, so I agree with McGee and Steele that educating people about proper fitting is the key to fixing the widespread problems caused by ill-fitting bras.
I will post in more detail about fitting criteria soon. In the meantime, here are the criteria used by McGee and Steele (which I think are pretty good):
- Too tight: flesh bulging over top of band; subjective discomfort “feels too tight”
- Too loose: band lifts when arms are moved above head, posterior band not level with inframammary fold
- Too big: wrinkles in cup fabric
- Too small: breast tissue bulging above, below or at the sides
- Incorrect shape: underwire sitting on breast tissue laterally (under armpit) or anterior midline; subjective complaint of discomfort
- Too tight: digging in; subjective complaint of discomfort; carrying too much of the weight of the breasts
- Too loose: sliding down off shoulder with no ability to adjust the length
Rating of bra fit
- Not at all in contact with sternum
- Pass: no errors or if hooks and straps can be adjusted to allow correct fit
- Fail: any other ticks
(To be clear, the front band should be in contact with your sternum and not being in contact is a fail. This is easier to see in the paper, which uses ticky boxes instead of bullet points. I don’t know how to put ticky boxes in a tumblr post.)
Reference: McGee, D.R., and Steele, J.R., ‘Optimising breast support in female patients through correct bra fit. A cross-sectional study’, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 13 (2010), 568-572
- I’ve been told by sales assistants in at least three different bra shops that bras in small band/large cup sizes always sell out really quickly, which is why they rarely have them in stock. Why don’t the shops order more in if they know that they sell out so quickly?
- Certain bra manufacturers seem to think that extending their size range to include an E cup means that they now cater to “curvy” people and can rest on their laurels.
- They also seem to think that “curvy” starts at band size 12 or 14, and no one with a smaller band size could ever need D+ cup sizes.
When brands use double letters, it usually means that they’re using UK sizing. (Ewa Michalak does use UK cup sizes, even though they use EU band sizes.) UK sizing can be a bit confusing, but for the most part every size after D has a double letter (except for E for some reason):
AA, A, B, C, D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, H, HH, J, JJ, K, KK, L, LL, M
Each double-letter size is its own full cup size, not a half size. I can see why you’re confused, though, because a little while ago there was a department store brand that made half-sizes called BB (almost B) and CC (almost C). This is not the case with UK sizing—here, each double letter is its own size. :)
Another source of confusion is that US sizing tends to run large in the cup after D. Some retailers (like The Butterfly Collection) even equate a US D cup to a UK DD cup, since US sizes after D seem to take larger “steps” after that. (I can confirm this somewhat—I’ve tried on “30DDDD” Chantelle bras that fit like a UK 30FF, even though theoretically they’re equivalent to a UK 30F.)
A quick note about AAA and AA cups: I’ve heard from some people that AAA and AA cups are “flatter”/shallower versions of A cups, and I’ve heard from others that they are simply smaller all around. Either way, I think it’s pretty safe to say that they are whole cup sizes, because the volume between them seems to be a whole size. (What even is a “full cup size” anyway? It seems so subjective, I sometimes wonder why this question is so common.)
But, as a general rule, double letters are not half sizes, as each size represents an inch more of difference between the underbust and overbust measurement.
Maureen O’Connor at NYMag.com has taken issue with the oft-quoted statistic that “85% of women* wear the wrong bra size”. She argues that such statistics com from market research companies, financed by bra companies, and it’s in their interests to keep telling their customers that they’re wearing the wrong size - “size anxiety” is used by bra companies to sell more products.
There are some glaring factual inaccuracies in the article: O’Connor defends the plus-four-inches fitting system as correct, even though it has been shown to consistently overestimate band size and underestimate cup size, and becomes even more inaccurate for D+ cup sizes.
Of more concern than the factual inaccuracies, however, is O’Connor’s dismissal of the experiences of all the people for whom a properly-fitted bra has been genuinely life-changing. She writes:
We are told that the moment a sales girl instructs us to discard every single bra we already own to purchase all news [sic] ones is, in fact, liberation.
That is ridiculous.
Yes, a bra that fits is better than one that does not. Yes, a good bra can make elements of your life more pleasant. Yes, some women have great difficulty finding bras that fit, and when they do find them, it makes them really happy. Good for them.
But can we stop obsessing about bra fit now?
For some people, a good bra does much more than “make elements of [our lives] more pleasant”. It can mean the difference between a sedentary and a more active lifestyle. It can mean the difference between being embarrassed to go out in public and feeling comfortable in our bodies. It can mean the difference between constant back pain, breast pain, blisters, headaches and so on and comfort. The value of comfort should not be underestimated. There are people out there who don’t even know that wearing a bra shouldn’t hurt.
Yes, it sucks to find out that you need to discard all your bras and buy a whole lot of new ones. Bras are expensive, especially bras that fall outside the “standard” size range of 10-18 A-D. This is one reason why I recommend measuring yourself and learning to recognise the signs of a good fit - it means that you don’t have to rely on salespeople who may or may not actually know what they’re talking about. But if you do find yourself having to throw out all your old bras and buy a completely new set, don’t shoot the messenger. The fault lies with the bra companies who convinced you that your old ill-fitting bras were the best you were going to get.
I’m not going to “stop obsessing about bra fit”. Bra fit is really fucking important to me. It’s important to me because I watched my mother suffer chronic back problems for nearly 15 years while wearing bras that didn’t come close to supporting her, and because when I was only thirteen or so I decided that if my boobs ever got as big as Mum’s I’d get a reduction. It’s important because Mum didn’t find bras that fit her properly until a few months before she died, and in order to find those bras she had to go to a specialty shop in fucking Boston. It’s important because I still come across shitty body-policing jokes about how an F cup stands for “Fake” and G stands for “Get a reduction”. It’s important because I am a dancer and at every class and practice I have to just put up with the bouncing because I can’t find a sports bra in size 10G and my current 12E sports bra is pretty much useless, support-wise.
Not everyone has to obsess about bra fit. If you like how your bra looks and feels, if it works for you, then that’s great! But please recognise that plus-four-inches sizing is worse than useless for many people, and that moves to implement more accurate sizing systems are not a scam or a marketing ploy or an attempt to police your underwear. O’Connor misses the point when she says that “Your bra is not wrong. Your bra cannot be wrong.” Standard fitting practices and the resulting ill-fitting bras are telling us that our bodies are wrong. A change to a more accurate fitting system tells us that it’s not our body that’s the problem, it’s the bra.
Realising that my bras were wrong made me feel a hell of a lot better than I felt when I thought there was something wrong with my body.
*Not everyone who has breasts or wears a bra identifies as a woman.
(Hat tip: Bras I Hate & Love)