Jul 312011

As many of you know, I work individually with women who are sick to death of feeling confused and overwhelmed by the tricky task of bra shopping. For each woman seeking help, my main goals are:

  1. Get her questions answered.
  2. Take the pressure off by offering reassurance, respect and encouragement.
  3. Provide her with at least one bra that fits well, is comfortable enough to wear regularly, and makes her feel beautiful.

By the time I connect with my clients, many have already spent quite a bit of time and effort searching for the right bra. These are smart, savvy women who have done enough research that they end up teaching me new things about bras and lingerie, even as they reach out for my assistance. I am gradually building a substantial knowledge base that continues to grow every time I take on a new client.

That’s why I don’t consider myself a bra expert. I think I’m more of an enthusiast. It feels wonderful to me when I am able to help other size AA/A/B women like myself discover lingerie that truly fits and flatters the small-breasted figure, whether petite or average. Once you feel comfortable in your own skin and start to really see how beautiful you are in your skivvies, I feel like I’ve done my job right.

The Oprah Phenomenon

Thanks to Oprah, it is now widely understood that a professional bra fitting is usually required in order to get the correct size. I certainly appreciate Oprah’s efforts to educate America about bras, and I share her belief in the value of expert assistance. However, the fitting process doesn’t always work the way it is supposed to.

What follows is an example, used with the client’s permission, of how and why professional bra fittings can fail.

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Prior to contacting me, Kendra F. was fitted at a well-known lingerie catalog store. They measured her at a 34A, but the bra clearly didn’t fit. Her breasts were spilling over the cups, and the 34 band was too loose in back.

Next she tried a 34B. This was not much better; she felt as if the band was floating on her, and the cups were too large.

Why didn’t the salespeople have her try on a 32B? One possible reason is that this company’s bra fitting method uses the overbust measurement to determine band size. Kendra is fuller and wider across the chest than the typical A/B cup figure, but she is slender with a narrow back.

Based on her proportions, I decided to use Kendra’s underbust measurement to calculate her band size. The result was a more accurate estimate of 30-32.

Cup sizing was a bit more of a challenge. Kendra told me she thought her bust was larger than an A cup, but not quite a full B. She knows her body very well, and everything she said turned out to be correct — so for me, it was just a matter of selecting the brands and styles that would fit her best.

We experimented a bit, and ultimately she said that she would probably need more coverage than what you get from the typical demi or plunge bra. She was quite right about this.

Take one: fail.
The first two bras I sent her to try on were plunge contour styles. I’ve had lots of success with these on my smaller AA/A clients, but neither was a good fit on Kendra. She had similar problems with both: the wires did not extend far enough at the sides to contain her breasts completely, and the cups were too small (one was a Natori 32A; the other was a very petite 32B from The Little Bra Company).

Take two: success!
This time I sent Kendra one 32B Calvin Klein full-coverage underwire bra that has been popular with several other clients, and one wire-free “Just a Kiss” bra in size 32A by French brand Huit.

Like many French bras, the Huit runs large in the cup. This is a supremely attractive, comfortable and streamlined everyday bra. I’d wear it myself, except the 32A comes nowhere close to fitting my itty bitties. It has no contour layer, but it does feature subtle side boning and structured cups for support and shaping.

Kendra and I are still working together, and to my delight she has fallen in love with the Wacoal B-Smooth bralette. I appreciate her gracious response to my request for permission to feature her story here. She not only gave the okay for me to use her real first name, but also said she would be open to answering questions from readers.

I’d say that’s pretty freaking nice of her. Kendra, thanks so much. I hope we keep in touch even after all of your lingerie needs have been met.

And now, let the discussion begin!

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  8 Responses to “Bra Fitting: Sizing Up the Reality”

  1. Oh boy, I’ve been there. A friend and I went to a well known national lingerie chain and were both “professionally measured.” I’m an amateur seamstress and know precisely how to measure for a bra, and was amused at the woman measuring us over the bust, over our winter sweaters, and then telling us she’s been doing this for 10 years and she’s always right. I know I’m a 32C, and she measured me as a 36A. My friend has a broad torso and barely any breasts, and she was measured as a 34C. We giggled and tried on our assigned sizes. Sure enough, mine was huge in the band and bizarre in the cup, and my friend could hardly fasten her band and the cups stood about a foot away from her chest.

    The fitting woman disappeared into the back after measuring us, never returning to check our fit.

    The entire experience just reinforced my belief that successful bra shopping requires a personal understanding of bra measurement and fitting, as most women do not have access to qualified bra fitters to assist them.

  2. Using traditional measuring, I was recommended a 34 or even a 36 band! No wonder for years I couldn’t find a nice bra that fit! Even A cups in a 34 traditional bra were too big. And the few “almost A” or “nearly A” bras in stores were always ugly and shaped weird in the cups. :-( Finally, after reading online in several places that traditional bra measuring methods were outdated due to modern stretchy fabrics, I decided to try some 32 bands. BINGO! Years of bra frustration solved just like that! I even fit into B cups in some “petite” 32 bras. Now I can’t stop bra shopping! I have years of catching up to do!

  3. Underwire size isn’t standard for a given cup letter, it varies by band measurement according to the, well really, the whims of the manufacturer. Something like 40AA = 38A = 36B = 34C = 32D = 30DD = 28DDD in terms of underwire size (your manufacturer may vary!)

    I guess my point is, bras are like a box o’ chocolates….

    Nice to see a site that gives good hints on which manufacturers are truer to size.


  4. This is definitely among the best set of comments I’ve ever gotten on a single post. It’s so interesting to read similar thoughts from such different women — one a seamstress, one with considerable expertise in bra fitting, and one who simply decided to listen to her gut and try a different size.

    Thanks to all three of you for sharing your wisdom here. What I take from your reactions to Kendra’s experience is that while it’s possible to learn a bit about bras and sizing, the most important thing to know is yourself: what you like, what feels right on your body, and whose advice you decide to trust.

  5. Is there a website or a good place to check for reviews of businesses/people that do bra fittings? Reading up, it sees like who you go to is the most import thing–lots of funny/horror stories out ther: http://aemayer.com/blog/2011/08/bra-fittings/
    Any suggestions?

    • Hi Jenn,

      Well, naturally I suggest you come to me first! But, if you aren’t comfortable with “virtual fittings” and you can’t easily make it out to see me in Mountain View, CA (near Palo Alto and Stanford; zip code 94041), then I suggest you do a local search of lingerie boutiques in your area that offer specialized bra fitting services. If you tell me where you live, I may be able to recommend a good place to go.

      When looking at businesses, take notice of the following:
      1. Is their fitting process described on their website? and/or: if you contact them by phone or email, are they able to describe exactly how they go about measuring for bras?
      2. If it is a boutique, do they carry your bra size in the store? If not, do they offer to make bras in sizes that they do not have ready in stock?
      3. Do they provide complimentary bra fitting services? (Most reputable lingerie boutiques and individual bra fitters do; if they want you to pay just to be fitted, this could be a red flag).

  6. It would also be nice if manufacturers would just do a better job of producing a decent size range! I have a different problem – I do NOT wear a small cup size, but I have a tiny rib cage. Although the “experts” tell us that 80%+ of women are wearing the wrong bra size (too big a band + too small a cup), they don’t MAKE a good selection in smaller band + larger cup options. Of course we’re all wearing the wrong size – that’s all we can find!

    Just try looking for a 28DDD and then having any choices (to adjust for fit because styles are different)! And then start nursing and try again. I have literally found one single bra that works – and it doesn’t “play well” with any of my clothes, because it’s SO full-coverage that it sticks out of all my shirts (and I don’t wear super-low-cut tops).

    I so wish clothing designers would just THINK!

    • Very true, Rachel. I’ve heard the same complaint from other women shaped like you about bras in their size having too much coverage. Have you visited Erica’s site, A Sophisticated Pair? She’s a great source for small-band, large-cup bras.

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