Ch-ch-ch-changes! I’ve been in the bra business for a long time – over 25 years. In those years I have fit thousands of women with thousands of bras. I have always used the same “good fit” criteria, and made it my mission to help women find the right bra size, feel comfortable, and be confident. Throughout my years, I’ve always said that an in-person fitting with a trained bra fitter is best, but I’ve also been “braducating” women about what makes a good fit, how to shop for bras on their own, and even how to measure themselves to get a good starting point.
Recently, I was interviewed by SheFinds.com and suggested that bra sizes have changed in the past 10 years due to vanity sizing. This led to a segment on Good Morning America (above), more articles, and a huge discussion on the social media outlets. I was expecting some differing views on the topic, but I wasn’t expecting so much misunderstanding. So, keep on reading for my explanation of why I think vanity sizing has changed modern bra sizes.
When I first took a bra fitting class through the American Cancer Society many years ago, I was shocked to learn how a bra was really supposed to fit. I’ve spent that last 25+ years refining my skills and helping women find their perfect fit. And while I’ve learned a lot over the years, I’ve always stayed true to important standards for a “good fit”. The criteria is actually quite long, but here are my main basics.
A properly fitted bra should:
- …have a snug back that stays straight across and does not ride up or roam around all day.
- …get the majority of its support from the back band.
- …start snug on the loosest hook so that you can adjust it in as it stretches.
- …have a cup that fits all of your breast tissue inside without any gapping or bulging.
- …keep your breasts lifted so that your nipple is halfway between your shoulder and elbow, or higher.
- …stay flush on your body and tack against your breastbone.
About 10 years ago, as I was fitting women day in and day out, I started noticing that a few bras were fitting looser in the back than before. As time went on, I continued to see the trend. A few years later I opened a new store in New York City and was training new fitters how to measure a customer. I teach that an underbust measurement is just a starting point. I train my fitters in all of the intricacies of bra fitting women of all sizes for at least three to nine months of Bra School before they are certified to fit on their own. I used to teach a “plus 5” method (adding about 5 inches to the underbust measurement) as a general starting point. When my NYC shop opened about eight years ago, I started teaching a “plus 3-5” method. I did this to accommodate some of the changes that bra companies were making to their bra bands. Now, eight years later, I’ve migrated to a “plus 0 to 3” for certain women. And, my goodness, sometimes my fitters and I even have to subtract inches for women with certain shapes. Good fitters know, and I know, that measuring the underbust and adding inches (or not) is just a basic guideline for a bra size starting point, and that there is no one-method-fits-all way to do it. We take into account a million more factors than just this one measurement.
Remember, my “good fit criteria” did not change. But suddenly, a bra in the same size just wasn’t meeting my “good fit criteria”. My fitters and I suddenly had to grab a 34 or 32 bra for someone who would have normally fit perfectly into a 36. And of course, that will change the cup size as well! FYI: To remain the same cup size as a 36B (for example), when grabbing a smaller band, you have to adjust the cup size up. So a 36B cup fits like a 34C cup, or a 32D cup. It’s all relative to the bra band. Well, if my strict “good fit criteria” hadn’t changed, but the same bra size wasn’t fitting, that can only mean that the way bras were made, or a bra’s size, had changed. This is why I updated my fitting method. Not because I was clueless or didn’t know how a bra should fit, but because I had to adjust to the changing bra sizes in the industry.
A quick note on the “War on Plus Four” campaign out there. This was spearheaded as an outcry against outdated bra calculators and fitting methods. I loved the idea of “braducating” women on the importance of a properly fitted (read: snug) bra band, and participated in a lot of the chatter on Twitter. I really stressed the importance of my “good fit criteria” however, rather than one particular fitting method over another. Because bra companies don’t follow a strict standard, and because women of different shapes and sizes have different needs, it’s important to know that only a trained fitter is really qualified to fit someone for a bra. But, since not everyone can make it in to a shop, these DIY measuring methods are meant to help them find a place to start and enlighten them to the possibility that they could be a whole new size.
I think one of the reasons some women were upset with my comments in the article or TV spot was because of the word “scam” in the title. I have to be honest: “scam” was never my word. I simply said that sizes had changed without our knowledge (true – there was no huge announcement from bra companies, yet bra sizes have changed). Leave it to the media to up the shock factor with words like “scam”. The way I see it, at least it gets women’s attention so that I can “braducate” them and help them finally figure out why their bras are no longer fitting! In the SheFinds.com article, the author Lauren uses the word “bulls***t” in the URL instead of “scam”. This cracked me up! I enjoy Lauren’s unapologetic and down to earth reporting, and also I actually agree. A bra size is just a number and a letter. Don’t worry about what size your bra says – worry about the fit!
I never meant that modern bra sizes aren’t necessary, or that a bra size is one big fat lie. I want to finally inform women that bra sizes have changed. I want them not to be surprised if a 36 fit her 10 years ago, and now feels huge (even though she’s gained 10 pounds). In fact, this happened to me! When I moved to New York about eight years ago, I fit into a 36D perfectly. But since bra sizes have changed, I now fit into a 32G in the same brand… and (I’m not afraid to say it) I weigh about ten pounds more now! I’m using the same “good fit criteria” and brands as before. And no, I won’t start naming brands. I don’t intend to place blame on any bra companies here. I just want to enlighten women to the adjustments that the bra world has made to bra sizes.
Another reason that my comments have caused a stir is because I’ve used the phrase “vanity sizing”. I have been working closely with lingerie and bra manufacturers for years, and they didn’t actually come out and say they do this. But let’s be real. I think it’s naive to think that vanity sizing only exists in clothing but not in bras. I’m also not the first to say this. It’s my educated guess that bra companies saw the tiny women with full busts on TV and adjusted their bra sizes to help reflect this. Don’t tell me women aren’t vain about their band size. I have women jump for joy when they find out that a 30 or 32 bra fits them better than a 36. Who doesn’t want to have a slimmer, smaller back?! We’re only human, after all.
However, I don’t think bra companies thought about what this would do to women who already had small bands and full busts. Suddenly, someone who was a 34DD 10 years ago would now need about a 30G or H. I’m very happy that these D+ sizes exist – women really needed them before, and especially need them now. But women are not used to such high letters. In fact, it’s been a real mission of mine to help women understand that a G cup or up is totally common, now! It’s taken years of “braducation”, instruction, and care to help women get over the stigma of D+ bras and just wear what fits and supports them best. Women used to think that a DD meant Dolly Parton – but because women have to get a smaller band size, that’s just not true anymore. A 30DD, for instance, is quite small, and is the same bust size that belongs to a 34C. These letters and numbers mean something to women and their ego, so they are reluctant to pick out a new size themselves. It takes going to a bra shop like mine and being professionally fit to finally get it. But besides great fit, I want these women to understand that bra sizes are different now, and not to feel strange picking out a brand new size.
A few notes:
- Some people are saying that bra sizes haven’t changed, women just finally know how a bra should fit. True for some, not for this Bra Lady. I’ve always known how to fit.
- Some people are saying that bra bands fit looser because of better elastics and stretch. Well, that means you have to adjust how you fit then, and probably need to take a smaller band size. And, I don’t think that this accounts for the very large change in bra sizes.
- Some people claim that with the introduction of D-K cup sizing, that women can finally wear the right (smaller) bra band. I hear ya! I carry lots of D+ brands (I actually carry up to N cup) and can’t tell you how glad I am that they exist. But I actually think that because bra bands started fitting looser, that an even larger group of women were in need of these larger cup sizes. Remember, if you size down in the back, you have to go up in the cup to get the same cup size.
- Some women claim that no one wants to be a G cup or more, and that changing bands sized could not be caused by vanity. Well, some women don’t want to be an A cup. And some women don’t want to be a 40 back. I don’t think bra companies geared sizes toward everyone, just toward the small minority that fit into the old A-D sizes. Unfortunate, but true.
- Some people think that adding four inches to an underbust measurement is never OK for a good bra fit. For most of my customers, this is true. But that’s because I help a lot of very full busted women. Let’s be clear: every bra band needs to be snug to fit properly. But the bigger the bust, the snugger the band needs to be. It’s working harder! The final bra size is dependent on the way the bra runs, the brand, the woman’s size, age and comfort. There ARE women who need to add more than zero inches to get a good fit.
So there you have it. I think bra sizes have changed. And I think vanity sizing played a part in why it happened. I said it and I’m not taking it back! I’m dismayed by the lack of understanding and outcry from other women in the field. Many of the “other experts” who are providing their opinion on the matter have not been working full time as a bra fitter for 25 years. Most of them haven’t even been in business for 10, which is when things really started changing. Regardless, my stance on proper bra fitting and my passion for helping women has always been very clear, and they should have known that. Despite what these other experts think, it’s more important to me that women realize that bra sizes have changed, rather than why.
Vanity sizing or not, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s more important to me that women wear the bra that fits and supports them best, regardless of the size. And it’s extremely important to me to help women navigate the tricky world of bra fitting. You’re not alone, and you’re not expected to know everything. My fitters and I know how each style fits and what each pair of breasts needs. We are the experts. And we are here to help you.
Here’s to wearing the right size!