Brassiere measurement

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Main article: Brassiere

Porn actress Hillary Scott wearing a bra with a too small cup size, shown by breast tissue under the cup

Brassiere measurements (also called brassiere sizes, colloquially bra sizes) are labeled differently depending on the system of standards set in various countries and vary from one manufacturer to another. They usually consist of a number, indicating a band size, and one or more alphabetical letters indicating the breast cup size. These sizing systems are typically used to label off-the-shelf bras and are not used for custom-made bras or bras built into other garments.

Finding the correct bra size can be difficult because manufacturers do not make bras according to a uniform standard. Some manufacturers have been found to deliberately mis-state the band size. Bra-fitting advice also varies considerably, and uniformly require the woman seeking to find a correctly fitting bra to already own one. Furthermore, the shape, size, symmetry, and spacing of women’s breasts vary considerably, affecting the bra and cup size. Breasts that have been augmented and sagging breasts are shaped differently and require different kinds of bras. Even breathing can substantially alter the measurements.[1] Obtaining the correct size is further complicated by the fact that the size and shape of a woman’s breasts fluctuate during her menstrual cycle,[2] and also with weight gain or loss. One study found that the label size was consistently different from the measured size.[3][4]



// [edit] Manufacturer standards vary

One issue that complicates finding a correctly fitting bra is that standardized band and cup sizes vary considerably from one manufacturer to another, resulting in sizes that only provide an approximate fit.[5][3][6] Women cannot rely on labeled bra sizes to identify a bra that fits properly.[7][8][9] In the United States, there is no formal standard defining the inch-based bra-size system. Unlike dress sizes, international manufacturers do not agree on a single standard. British bra brands can range in cup size from A to K, while most Americans can find bras with cup sizes ranging from A to G, although some brands go as high as L. However, as the cup size increases, the labeled cup size of different manufacturer’s bras tend to vary in actual volume.[9]

Scientific studies show that the current system of bra sizing is quite inadequate.[10] Even medical studies have attested to the difficulty of getting a correct fit.[1] Research by plastic surgeons has suggested that bra size is meaningless because breast volume is not calculated accurately:

The current popular system of determining bra size is inaccurate so often as to be useless. Add to this the many different styles of bras and the lack of standardization between brands, and one can see why finding a comfortable, well-fitting bra is more a matter of educated guesswork, trial, and error than of precise measurements.[4][11]

[edit] Majority wear wrong size bra

The results of a number of surveys and studies in many different countries show that between 70% to 100% of women wear incorrectly fitted bras.[2][12][13][14][15][16] In a study of 103 women seeking mammoplasty, researchers concluded that “obesity, breast hypertrophy, fashion and bra-fitting practices combine to make those women who most need supportive bras the least likely to get accurately fitted bras.”[3] Their research found that bra measuring systems often lead women to choose an incorrect size, most commonly resulting in too large a cup size (by a mean of three sizes) and too small a band size (by a mean of four sizes).[3]

Many studies have shown that around 80% of women are wearing the wrong size,[17][18][19] with the most common mistake being to select a bra with too large a back band and too small a cup, for example, 38C instead of 34E, or 34B instead of 30D.[17][18][20][21]

In November 2005, Oprah Winfrey produced a show[22] devoted to bras and bra sizes, during which she revealed research that eight out of ten women wear the wrong size bra.[23]

[edit] Advertising influence

Manufacturers’ marketing and advertising often appeals to fashion and image over fit, comfort and function.[24][1] Since about 1994, manufacturers have re-focused their advertising, moving from advertising functional brassieres that emphasize support and foundation, to selling lingerie that emphasize fashion while sacrificing basic fit and function, like linings under scratchy lace.[25]

[edit] Measurement difficulties

There are two primary methods for determining bra size and several variations on those methods. Calculating the correct bra band size is complicated by a variety of factors. Bra measurement is not an exact science.[26] Normally a perfect fit can only be achieved by purchasing a custom-made bra, which takes into account the asymmetrical size and position of a woman’s breasts on her chest. Bra experts recommend that women, especially those whose cup sizes are D or larger, get a professional bra fitting from the lingerie department of a clothing store or a specialty lingerie store.[27] However, even professional bra fitters produce inconsistent measurements of the same woman.[28][dead link][29][30][31][32][33][3] A 2004 study by Consumers Reports found that 80% of department store bra fittings resulted in a poor fit.[34][35][dead link]

Some bra manufacturers and distributors state that trying on and learning to recognize a properly fitting bra is the best way to determine a correct bra size, much like shoes. However, most women do not know the math involved in calculating the size of a good-fitting bra.[36] Obtaining the correct size is further complicated by the fact that the size and shape of a woman’s breasts fluctuate during her menstrual cycle,[2], during and after pregnancy, and with weight gain or loss. One study found that the label size was consistently different from the measured size.[3][4]

The British Chiropractic Association warned that wearing the wrong bra size can lead to a number of problems, including back pain, restricted breathing, abrasions, breast pain and poor posture.[37] Many of the health problems associated with bras are due to fitting problems. Finding a correct fit can be very difficult for many women which has affected sales.[38][39][40] Medical studies have also attested to the difficulty of getting a correct fit.[1] Scientific studies show that the current system of bra sizing is quite inadequate.[41]

Larger-breasted women tend to wear bras that are too small, and conversely, smaller-breasted women bras that are too large. Larger women are more likely to have an incorrect bra fit.[2] This may be partly due to a lack of understanding of how to correctly determine bra size. It may also be due to unusual or unexpectedly rapid growth in size brought on by pregnancy, weight gain, or medical conditions including virginal breast hypertrophy. As breasts become larger, their shape and the distribution of the tissues within them changes, becoming ptotic and bulbous rather than conical. This makes measurements increasingly unreliable, especially for large breasted women. The heavier a woman’s build, the more difficult it is to obtain accurate measurements, as measuring tape sinks into the flesh more easily.[3] Finally, up to 25% of women’s breasts display a persistent, visible breast asymmetry,[42] which is defined as differing in size by at least one cup size.[43][44] Ten percent are severely different, with the left breast being larger in 62% of cases.[45] Manufacturer’s standard brassieres do not take these inconsistencies into consideration.

[edit] Bad bra-fit symptoms

Symptoms of a poorly-fitting bra include straps digging into the woman’s shoulder or the band digging into her torso, red marks left by bra straps or the band, pain in the shoulders or neck, the band sliding up the torso or riding up in back, the breasts overflowing the bottom of the bra or over the top edge of the bra, loose fabric in the bra cup,[46] underwires poking the breast, or the bra’s center panel does not lie flat against the woman’s sternum.[47]

[edit] The signs of a good fitting bra

Looking to perhaps a more positive approach, there are 6 key indicators that a woman is wearing the correct size of bra – 1) the under band of the bra should feel firm but comfortable, on the loosest hook when new (with wear the bra will stretch and will require use of a tighter hook); 2) the band should be at horizontal level all the way round the body; 3) the underwire should follow the shape of the breast without digging in; 4) the centre wires between the cups should rest flat against the skin and not poke out; 5) breasts should fit comfortably into the cup and not spill over the top or sides; 6) the straps should not dig into the shoulder or leave red marks.[48]

[edit] Band measurement methods

The band size is the size of the brassiere band around the woman’s torso. Manufacturers assume women already own a well-fitting bra, as they recommend that women begin measuring while wearing their best-fitting “unlined or lightly lined”[49] bra. Variations of two methods are recommended, over the bust[8][50][51] and under the bust.[26][52] Only women whose breasts are firm and perfectly shaped can measure without a bra.[49] A third method requires the woman to measure below, above and across her breasts.[52]

Some bra fitters recommend that if a woman’s torso measurement is between sizes, that she choose the next larger size.[53] Others recommend rounding to the nearest whole number.[54] The band size can be adjusted to a small degree using a series of hooks and eyes in the clasp.

As the band size changes, the diameter of the underwire used in the cup may also change. The same underwire size is used in different cup sizes. For example, the same underwire is used in 36C, 34D, and 38B cup size brassieres.[55]

[edit] Above the breasts

Both methods require a flexible dressmaker’s tape measure. The first method, measuring horizontally around the torso above the bust, produces the actual band size, unless the number is odd. Because band sizes are only manufactured in even numbers,[26] the wearer must round up or down to the closest even number.[8][50]

[edit] Below the breasts

The second method requires the woman to measure in a horizontal line (parallel to the floor) around her torso, but under the bust. If the measurement is even, the wearer should add four or five inches to the number, and if the number is odd, five should be added.[26][49][6] Another variation advises the wearer to add five to the number of inches, unless the number is 34 or greater, in which case only three should be added.[56]

[edit] International fitting standards

In countries that have adopted the European EN 13402 dress-size standard, the torso is measured in centimetres and rounded to the nearest multiple of 5 cm. Bra-fitting experts in the United Kingdom state that many women who buy off the rack without a professional assistance wear up to two sizes too small.[57]

Band sizes vary around the world.[7]

Region/Country Sizes
Under bust measure (cm) 58-62 63-67 68-72 73-77 78-82 83-87 88-92 93-97 98-102 103-107
EU standard EN 13402 60 65 70 75 80 85 90 95 100 105
France 80 85 90 95 100 105 110 115 120
Italy 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
USA and UK (in) 28 30 32 34 36 38 40 42 44 46
UK dress sizes (approx.) 2 4/6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22

For example, the following sizes are all equal:[58]

International size examples∗
40C 40D 18C 90D 105D 5D

∗ US = United States of America; UK = United Kingdom; AU = Australia; NZ = New Zealand; EU = Europe; JP = Japan; B = Belgium; E = Spain; F = France; P = Portugal; I = Italy; CZ = Czech Republic.

[edit] Cup measurement methods

Pictogram for the European bra size 70B using EN 13402-1

The cup size can be determined by calculating the difference between the bust size and the band size.[59] The bust size, bust line measure, or over-bust measure is the measurement around the women’s torso over the fullest part of the breasts, usually over the nipples,[49] ideally while standing straight with arms to the side and wearing a properly fitted bra.[54] These are measured in the same units as the band size, either inches or centimetres.

The cup size is based on the difference between the band size and the over-the-bust measurement.[60][61]

Band/bust difference and cup size
inches cm US
cup size
cup size
< 1 10 to 12 AA AA
1 12 to 14 A A
2 14 to 16 B B
3 16 to 18 C C
4 18 to 20 D D
5 20 to 22 DD DD
6 22 to 24 F or
7 24 to 26 G or
8 26 to 28 H FF
9 28 to 30 I G
10 30 to 32 J GG
11 32 to 34 K H
12 34 to 36 L HH
13 36 to 38 M J
14 38 to 40 N JJ

Cup sizes vary from one country to another.[62] The larger the cup size, the bigger the variation.[63]

Size Conversion
U.S. U.K. France Australia International Japan
32A 32B 85B 10A 70B A70
32B 32C 85C 10B 70C B70
32C 32D 85D 10D 70D C70
32D 32DD 85DD 10D 70DD D70
34A 34B 90B 12A 75B A75
34B 34C 90C 12B 75C B75
34C 34D 90D 12C 75D C75
34D 34DD 90DD 12D 75DD D75
34DD 34E 90E 12DD 75E E75
34F 34F 90F 12F 75F F75
36A 36B 95B 14A 80B A80
36B 36C 95C 14B 80C B80
36C 36D 95D 14C 80D C80
36D 36DD 95DD 14D 80DD D80
36DD 36E 95E 14DD 80E E80
36F 36F 95F 14F 80F F80
38A 38B 100B 16A 85B 85A
38B 38C 100C 168 85C 85B
38C 38D 100D 16C 85D 85C
38D 380D 100DD 16D 85DD 85D
38DD 38E 100E 16DD 85E 85E
38F 38F 100F 16F 85F 85F
40A 408 105B 18A 90B 90A
408 40C 105C 188 90C 90B
40C 40D 105D 18C 90D 90C
40D 40DD 105DD 18D 90DD 90D
40DD 40E 105E 18DD 90E 90E
40F 40F 105F 18F 90F 90F
42A 42B 1108 20A 92B 95A
42B 42C 110C 20B 92C 95B
42C 42D 110D 20C 92D 95C
42D 42DD 110DD 20D 92DD 95D
42DD 42E 110E 20DD 92E 95E
42F 42F 110F 20F 92F 95F

[edit] Measuring cup size without a bra

Women who have difficulty calculating a correct cup size may be able to find a correct fit using a method adopted by plastic surgeons. Using a flexible tape measure, position the tape at the outside of the chest, under the arm, where the breast tissue begins. Measure across the fullest part of the breast, usually across the nipple, to where the breast tissue stops at the breast bone. This measuring approach assumes that the woman’s breasts do not sag significantly so that measuring across the fullness of the breast is not practical. If the measurement is:[64]

Measuring cup size
Measurement Cup size
7 inches (17.8 cm) A
7.5 inches (19.1 cm) A
8 inches (20.3 cm) B
8.5 inches (21.6 cm) B
9 inches (22.9 cm) C
9.5 inches (24.1 cm) C
10 inches (25.4 cm) D
10.5 inches (26.7 cm) D
11 inches (27.9 cm) DD

[edit] Cup volume

Most women assume that a B cup on a 34 band is the same size as a B cup on a 36 band. In fact, bra cup size is relative to the band size, as the actual volume of a cup size changes as the band size changes. Because manufacturer’s standards vary so widely, women cannot rely on a single measuring system. The volume of a brassiere cup is the same for 30D, 32C, 34B, and 36A. These related bra sizes of the same cup volume are called sister sizes. It is sometimes possible that two adjacent sister sizes will both fit a woman, since the cup volume is the same, while the band size can be adjusted to a small degree by using the hook and eye fasteners in the bra clasp.[7][17]

[edit] Increasing size of common bras

In 2003 the most common bra size sold in the UK was 36C,[18][20] while a more recent study showed that the most often sold bra size in the US in 2009 was 36DD, an increase of one cup size compared to 2008.[65]

[edit] United States measurement systems

These are equivalent UK cup volumes

Bra labeling systems used around the world are at times misleading and confusing. In the United States, many bra manufacturers arbitrarily add four, five or even six inches to the band size,[66][67] sometimes referred to as vanity sizing. The wearer mistakenly believes she is wearing a smaller sized bra band. The add 4 to 5″ practice was devised by Warners in 1935, and the practice is still in use.[7][68]

[edit] Older European systems

The EN 13402 standard was introduced in 2006, and a range of other cup-size definitions are still in use in Europe, using either centimeters or inches to indicate the under bust girth.

One common cup size system used by European manufacturers, in order of increasing size, is: AAA-AA-A-B-C-D-DD-E-F-FF-G-GG-H-J, although the use of double letters is not consistent between manufacturers (e.g. some may use EE rather than F, DDD rather than E, etc.). The majority of bra bands run true to size (as in, a size 36 band measures, when stretched, 36 inches). It is expected that the EN 13402 standard will eventually


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