“Universal Cup Size”: You’re Doing It Wrong

I remember timidly exploring the world of online lingerie shopping shortly after moving to New York.  I Googled my size at the time: 34DDD, according to Nordstrom.  Even though I soon found websites like HerRoom, FreshPair, Figleaves, and Bare Necessities, knowing my size wasn’t much of a help.  Some of these places didn’t seem to carry anything over a DD cup, or they had letters like Es and Fs, and I wasn’t sure how those corresponded to the size I was wearing.  If I did find a 34DDD, the offerings were bland and boring (the next salesperson to suggest I try a Le Mystère bra gets it hurled back in her face).  It was then that I learned that shopping as a wearer of D+ bras would forever be a crapshoot.

Flash-forward (eesh, five years already), and my goodness how things have changed.  Online lingerie retailers offer huge inventories of merchandise for many previously under-served customers.  Just take a look at Invest in Your Chest’s recent report from Moda of the Spring/Summer 2013 trends.  Many of the items she photographed are made by companies that cater specifically to smaller or fuller busts and/or smaller back sizes and/or fuller figures, and the styles, colors, details, patterns, and cuts are sexy, feminine, fun, and enticing.  It’s wonderful, and it’s an acknowledgment from designers and retailers that 34-38 B-D will no longer cut it.  Women come in so many shapes and sizes, and they’re better served, lingerie-wise, than they’ve ever been before.

It’s still confusing though.  French, English, Italian, American, and other European manufacturers all have the opportunity to pick a different cup-sizing method, if they want to.  The vastness of online lingerie retail means that it’s the shopper’s responsibility to do a little homework before she makes a purchase.  She needs to know her brand’s country of origin, and she needs to know her size across different manufacturers.  Many e-retailers try to solve this problem by placing a disclaimer next to a product (ex. “This bra comes in UK sizes.  Be sure to order your UK size” or “see International conversion chart here”), but HerRoom decided to eliminate some of the homework and create a “Universal Cup Sizing (UCS)” system.  In theory, this is great: all the world’s bras united under one sizing system, which simplifies a confusing shopping process.  EXCEPT IT’S LOATHSOME AND DUMB, BECAUSE ONCE AGAIN IT CUTS OFF AFTER D.

Is there a font for baffled irritation? I’d like it, please.

Ohhhhh this just made me ragey when I first saw it.  A woman who wears a UK 34G is now a 34D(6).  28JJ is 28(D12).  If you wear a cup size from A-C, you are deemed a normal person and allowed to shop away.  If you wear over a D-cup, for every cup-size increment you move past D, you get to add another number to your size, because letters don’t exist after D, you enlarged weirdo.  Please, HerRoom, let’s add another numeric variable into the mix, on top of the number and letter we already have to work with.  Obviously, if you wear over a D-cup, you’re built along circus proportions, and the alphabet ran out of letters, so you have to start over with the numbers, and IT JUST MAKES NO SENSE.

The myth of D-cup = huge breasts is both insanely powerful and mind-boggling arbitrary.  Cup sizes have been around for less than a century, you guys.  The system has been tinkered with and revamped and readjusted continually since then.  Does it really make sense that the lingerie gods looked at all of the women over the course of human history and declared that breasts came in exactly four letter sizes?  Noooooo, of course it doesn’t.  But HerRoom wants you to think that.

I’m pretty angry with you, HerRoom.  UCS helps a full-bust woman buy bras at one store (yours).  If I went into Townshop on the Upper West Side and asked to try on a 30D(7), they’d have no idea what I was talking about.  UCS does not encourage a good understanding of fit.  It encourages a focus on size.  And it STILL subtly stigmatizes fuller-busted women.  It’s like boobular gaslighting: “What?  We’re here to help you.  Even though you’re beyond help, you D+ freak.”

If we’re going to adopt a Universal Cup Sizing system, my vote is for UK cup sizes.  Sure, it’s a little weird that not all letters double up, and we skip the letter “I” for some reason, but this system leaves so much more wiggle room for varying sizes and shapes.

AAA, AA, A, B, C, D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, H, HH, J, JJ, K, KK, L, LL, M etc. etc.

A “D-cup” doesn’t mean your boobs are oh-so-big.  Slim women can wear G-cups, and full-figure women can wear B-cups.  Furthermore, it DOESN’T MATTER IF YOUR BOOBS ARE BIG.  Wearing a cup size larger than a D simply means that you have breasts.  Guess who else has breasts?  Everyone.  Everyone has breasts of one size or another, and the UK cup sizing system simply acknowledges that these sizes will vary, sometimes drastically, and that’s why we use all of the letters the alphabet kindly offers us.  I posted this on the Sweet Nothings Facebook page, but look at this wonderful photo Fuller Figure Fuller Bust posted of the models for Ewa Michalak:

30A, 30DD, 30FF, 28G, 28GG, 38GG, 32J

They all look fantastic, their bras fit them beautifully, and they’re all different sizes.  Y’all, at the end of the day, the size on the tag just doesn’t matter.  The fit does.  The more letters and numbers we use, the better we’re able to fit women.  All women.  Shame on you, HerRoom, for limiting us.

*     *     *     *     *

Think you may wear a size that includes a letter past D?  Take yourself to a reputable lingerie boutique and get professionally fitted.  You may have some cup size shock, and it’s totally normal: you’ve been conditioned to be shocked.  Just remember your fitting cheat sheet:

  • The band fits firmly on the loosest (outside) set of hooks, and it rests horizontally across your back.
  • The cups are neither wrinkled or gaping nor digging into your breast tissue.
  • The underwires surround your breasts and rest flat against your ribcage and sternum, not on top of breast tissue (sideboob or underboob = you need a larger cup size).
  • The straps are adjusted so that they support the cup without digging into your shoulders.
  • When you raise your arms over your head, your bra stays put.

As long as your bra fits you and makes you feel good, you keep on keeping on.

Also, here’s an actually useful International conversion chart (thanks Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, et al.- I’m not sure who originally created this, so if you let me know I’ll give credit accordingly)

9 Comments on “Universal Cup Size”: You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. sophisticatedpair
    August 16, 2012 at 11:57 am (2 years ago)

    This is a great point about the universal cup size, Sweets. I didn’t think about it until I saw your post, but you’re right that it does seem to tacitly support the D+ cups are huge myth by singling them out to have these weird numbers associated with it. Signed A 30 D9 lady!

    Reply
    • Sweets
      August 16, 2012 at 3:48 pm (2 years ago)

      Yep. I fail to see why there’s a divide between A-D and everyone else. When you look at all the letters for UK sizes lined up like that, it makes it clear that the divide is nonsense. Someone wears a C, someone wears a K, someone wears a B. No big deal. Or at least, it shouldn’t be!

      Reply
  2. bybabysrules
    August 16, 2012 at 4:04 pm (2 years ago)

    I have actually seen the UCS be useful for some women. Usually it is when I am helping a woman with new implants who has just been sized in a US boutique and is told she is a 32I or some letter not found easily. It is very hard for them to understand how they are a 32I in US brands, but a 32G in UK brands. Websites like Figleaves help them order the correct UK size for their US size, but does not show them what is what, which brands are US and which are UK. Charts like the one above don’t show them which brands fall under what sizing system. They like the ease of looking for whatever their size is in Ds, just because it takes some of the research out.

    Not saying I like this system. I hate it as much as any other full bust woman. It is annoying and makes women feel like they have weird boobs because they are some crazy amount of Ds. But when you take someone that thought they were a 36A and now they are looking at a 32GG, it makes things just a tiny bit easier for them to process. Ideally I’d love to have one sizing system. Or at least a master list of what brands fall into what category for sizing, and what they translate into. Then let’s get rid of the Ds entirely, because seriously I am not telling someone I wear a 28D(11).

    Reply
    • Sweets
      August 16, 2012 at 4:15 pm (2 years ago)

      That’s a really good point about how overwhelming and confusing it can be for women new to the full-bust world, whether because they’ve been correctly fitted for the first time or whether they’ve gotten implants. I can see the UCS being like training wheels for navigating the system, as long as they’re shopping on HerRoom, of course. Ideally, I’d like to get all the lingerie gods together in a room and say “Look, no one’s leaving until we agree on a cup-sizing system. Get to it.” Now that I think about it (Sweets, look these things up before you hit publish), there may be a brand-by-brand cup size comparison chart in Busted!. It doesn’t include newer brands like Claudette, obviously, but I’ll do some investigating and share it if I find it. I’d much rather a website use that than D(9) or whatever. :)

      Reply
  3. Laura
    August 19, 2012 at 8:40 am (2 years ago)

    I don’t love the perpetuation of the “D” myth, but I’ve actually found it to be helpful now that I’ve bumped up to a 32H — GG was a lot easier. Brands that just go A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H… well, their H’s fit way differently than brands that go D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, H. The first is a D5, the second is a D8 (which is what I need, generally speaking).

    Is it perfect? Nah. But are their hearts in the right place? Sure.

    Reply
    • Sweets
      August 19, 2012 at 9:39 am (2 years ago)

      You bring up a really good point: their hearts are in the right place. I have to say, HerRoom does seem to be making a concerted effort to help women shop for bras and find something that fits them. Right now if you take their survey here:http://www.herroom.com/know-your-breasts/Questions.aspx, you’ll get bra suggestions, information, and a discount code. It’s a fantastic survey, and many of the responses go a long way to helping women understand that as different as their breasts may be, they’re perfectly normal, but it’s let down by the fact that, in my case and others’, most of the bras they recommended for me aren’t actually manufactured in my size. It’s one more instance of two steps forward and one step back. So I think you’re right: their hearts are in the right place. There are still some fairly major flaws, however. I’m going to try to think of a new way to label the UCS that doesn’t involve stigmatizing D+ cups.

      Reply
  4. puddinglingerie
    January 30, 2013 at 9:14 am (2 years ago)

    Great post promoting lots of debate. A sensitive issue as always. I agree wholeheartedly it would be great if there were a universal system but simply introducing another one isn’t going to help. It requires an industry led approach. And why stop at D? Bonkers!

    We are a UK lingerie boutique by the way who stock up to ‘I’ – it does exist!

    Reply
  5. Meow
    January 19, 2014 at 1:53 pm (9 months ago)

    The UK’s may be better than the US’s, but it is not easy to memorize as it loses I and adds many double-letter sizes. If there should be a universal cup size, the EU standard would be the best one for worldwide people to adopt. It’s metric and only with one letter for all sizes except AA, as Japan actually uses the same system.

    Reply

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