Recently had a question from a client. She was confused as to why the bra sizes covered in our size charts only went up to a 46 when she was informed by a major high street chain that her bra size was a 50-52 for a size 26-28. I told her that I could pretty much guarantee that she was wearing the wrong bra size.
Ok… fasten your seat belts!
Although there has been a recent trend to offer larger cup sizes in a response to re-examining modern women’s bodies the industry as a whole has not really changed many of its practices. Bras used to be offered in a limited range of cup sizes mainly to cut down on manufacturing costs. These went usually from an A (more rarely a AA) up to a DD. Getting your hands on an E or above usually meant specialist stores, very limited styles and huge prices.
So… How did women get bras that fit? Honestly – they didn’t.
How a bra should fit:
- The band of the bra (back wings and cradle – the bit the cups are attached to) should be a snug fit without digging in and be an even straight line around the body. The back of the bra should not rise or create an arc.
- The side seams, where the back wings join the cradle, should sit on the mid-line of the body. If the side seam moves forward of the mid-line then the back size too large. If the side seam is more towards the back of the mid-line then the back size is too small. Side seam position is an indicator of the relationship between back size and cup size and should be noted where there is one in the design of the bra.
- The cup’s under-wire should fit to the line of your breast root. The breast root is where the main breast tissue joins to the body. When worn, the under-wire should “spring” no further than a thumb width from the side of the breast root. More than that and the wire will not support the breast tissue and distort its shape. Less than that and the wire could “pinch” the root and cause bruising and be painful.
- The big issue of the centre front bridge and under-wires: how tight fitting should they be? The centre bridge should fit snugly to your breast bone touching the skin NOT anchored in as if someone used a nail gun. Too tight can cause more damage than too loose.
How do manufacturers get around this?
Although many high street stores boast larger cup sizes most of you will have experienced that they are only widely available for up to a 38 back size. Style and range of choice becomes severely limited at 40 and over. (And it’s amazing how online ordering systems always say that over a 40DD is permanently out of stock!) So in order to make the sale certain adjustments to the way you are fitted will happen.
General Construction Notes:
In bra construction the cradle, where the cups sit, has little to no stretch, while the back of the bra has all of the stretch. This is to give the cups the most support so that they don’t distort during a long day of wear. This is also why steel under-wires work while being flexible enough for movement, they maintain their original shape. Bra patterns are scaled from a 34B. Mark Garbarczyk for Foundations Reveal’d has written a great series of articles outlining EXACTLY how the process of scaling bras works. As you increase the back measurements the cups also scales slightly. You can see a wonderful example of how that works here.
The larger back size vs the larger cup size
As most ranges are still only available up to a DD, to get a bra to fit if you need a larger cup size that is unavailable the solution is to increase the back size and hope that the cup is scaled to fit your needs. The corollary is also true; if only smaller back sizes are available you can make up for the lack of circumference by increasing the cup size. This is how the public is sold bras that are fitted but don’t fit.
Scenario 1: You go into a store and need a 46H, you may be fitted with a 50DD – they have increased the back size because they don’t carry a large enough range of larger cup sizes.
Scenario 2: You go into a store needing a 42F and get fitted for a 38H – they have the larger cup sizes, but not the range in back sizes so a larger cup and a smaller back.
In the first scenario there will not be enough support for you bust to give you good shape and the most common symptoms are; the back rises up, you can pull the back out like a bow string, the bust “leaks” out the side and slide out from under the cup. The second scenario is by far more uncomfortable with symptoms; bra back and band cuts into you, the centre bridge feels like its digs and leaves red marks and bruising and the shoulder straps never stay up.
We have made a short video to demonstrate what I have written here and to show you how to check for your own fit. Remember these tips next time you go bra shopping and happy hunting!
Personally, I believe in a good plunge bra.
All the best!