“That Doesn’t Count”: Policing Bra Size Categories, Please Don’t Do It

This is a ranty post, but bear with me.

I’ve recently noticed an uptick in comments surrounding bra fit and bra sizing discussions that, frankly, suck. Briefly: I’ve heard more and more people on the extreme ends of the sizing spectrum (both very small bra sizes and very large or full bra sizes) offer up their opinion that someone more towards the middle of the size range isn’t “really” full-bust, small-bust, plus-size, petite, etc. etc.

Here’s my take:

I am, at 5’10”, a tall woman by most American standards. I regularly face fit issues with pants, jeans, and trousers that aren’t cut to fit my long legs. Therefore, I look for pants that are described by the manufacturer as “tall”, “long”, or “extra long” because without those labels, I have to assume that the “regular” pants will not be long enough in either the inseam or leg length. A woman who is 6’3″ is demonstrably taller than I am. This doesn’t mean that I don’t need tall pants. I do. I am not the tallest, but I am still tall.

I am currently wearing bras in the 34G/GG to 32GG/H size range, which makes me a fairly busty woman by most American standards. I regularly face fit issues with dresses, tops, and blouses that aren’t cut to accommodate a full bust. Therefore, I look for bras described by the manufacturer as “full-bust” because without that label I have to assume that a “regular” or “core” brand will not make a size with a small enough band + big enough cup. A woman who wears a 38J is demonstrably fuller-busted than I am. This doesn’t mean that I don’t need full-bust bras. I do. I am not the bustiest, but I am still busty.

I have worn bigger sizes than I currently wear, and I have worn sizes smaller than I currently wear. While many of my fit issues, shopping struggles, and support needs were magnified when I wore larger sizes, that in no way changes the fact that when I wore a 32F I still had blouses that wouldn’t button, and that I struggled to find bras that suited my shape, size, style, and price point. While there are more brands that make 32F than 32H (especially in recent years), I can assure you that when I wore a 32F I absolutely considered myself a full-bust person. Therefore I look HIGHLY askance at people who have begun to suggest that brands in the D-G or DD-GG size range aren’t “really” full-bust; they’re “average”, and as such, D-G and DD-GG brands “shouldn’t” call themselves full-bust.

I can’t help but find this really, fundamentally silly. Because D-G sizes are more common, full-bust brands shouldn’t make them? What? Maybe (and it’s a big maybe, as there’s no reliable way to get the necessary data to determine this) the “average” American woman wears a cup size in the DD-G range, and as such “core-size” brands like Victoria’s Secret, Aerie, et al. “should” be making those sizes, which would change the definition of “full-bust” from D-G to G+, meaning that a much smaller group of brands would remain “full-bust” brands. This is A) confusing and B) impractical. Even if it’s the case that more women wear D-G bra sizes than mainstream fashion brands realize, the fact remains that even a DD or E-cup bra requires patterns, machines, skills, and specialized components to assemble that A-D-cup bras don’t require. Just telling a brand “hey, your ‘average’ should really be bigger, so you should make more sizes and then relabel” doesn’t magically mean that the brand in question will be able to do that, either from a financial, stylistic, or technical point of view.

Furthermore, D-G brands are already specialized. It is harder to design E cups, F, cups, FF cups, etc., than it is to design C cups. It’s harder to get stores to stock them, and it’s harder to educate consumers about them. We need a label there so we, as consumers, know “hey, that brand knows what’s going on– they will give me the shape and support I need in a way that, say, Calvin Klein, cannot.” Full-bust happens to be that label. Just because it encompasses a lot of sizes (including the ones past the narrower D-G range) doesn’t mean the label isn’t accurate, and it doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary. Are there full-bust brands that don’t fit me, a full-bust woman? Of course! Does that mean that someone they DO fit isn’t a full-bust woman? Of course not.

In a similar vein, I’ve been reading some comments that only certain size groups should count as “small-bust”, namely, the very smallest band/cup size combination. This is akin to suggesting that only the fullest band/cup size (or the smallest band + fullest cup) combinations should count as “full-bust”. No one will deny that those who wear 28-30 band sizes and AA-B cups face a retail landscape with an extremely limited number of available styles, nor will they deny that small-bust bra wearers experience their own unique fit issues and precise construction preferences. This doesn’t mean, however, that someone who wears a 36B, or (even especially) a 44B doesn’t also encounter fit issues related to their small bust. 30B is smaller than 44B, but that doesn’t mean that a person who wears 44B can’t consider themselves small-bust, and it certainly doesn’t mean that that person’s fit issues and struggles should be discounted.

Cup sizes are relative, not absolute. Even when coupled to a band size they can only describe so much about a person’s body. I know two women who both wear a size 32E, and yet one identifies as small-bust/average and another identifies as full-bust. They can both wear some full-bust brands; they can both wear some core-size brands. The distinction, therefore, is determined solely by the woman wearing the bra.

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Cup sizes are not a competition. Attempting to dictate which cup sizes “count” veers perilously close to body snark, and it’s dismissive of each individual’s experience with their body. While I acknowledge that I’ve had an easier time with bras and clothes in the last year since going down a few sizes, and that by extension there are certainly some full-bust women who have an easier time of it than others, I can’t get behind silencing people who struggle less than I do.

I have zero interest in policing size categories. If you wear bras made by a full-bust brand, and you think of yourself as a full-bust person, then ta-da! You are “really” full-bust. Think of yourself as more petite or small-bust? That’s also a decision you get to make: you are “really” small-bust. Just because you might not face the same challenges as someone at the extreme ends of the size range doesn’t mean your boobs and your experiences with them are invalid.

15 Comments on “That Doesn’t Count”: Policing Bra Size Categories, Please Don’t Do It

  1. Wytch
    May 12, 2015 at 10:22 am (3 years ago)

    Word. Everyone’s breasts are different and people want different things from their bras. A 34e with softer breast tissue will have different needs than a 34e with firmer tissue etc. It’s reductionist to say this is a “real” small/full cup size.

    Reply
  2. Erica of A Sophisticated Pair
    May 12, 2015 at 11:29 am (3 years ago)

    Excellent post, Sweets! I see some of this at the shop where people tease/be dismissive of the concerns of other bra sizes. Many of my bustier clients say the are jealous of smaller-busted ladies who can pick up bras at Walmart, but I take this as an opportunity to discuss how smaller-busted women have fit issues too and often like better quality bras which are more comfortable and fit better. Your comments about the smaller-bust market in general are really on point. Not to fall into the competitive trap, but I really feel for the ladies in the 40+ bands wearing AA-B cups. It’s like a bra dead zone, and the “options” (term used lightly) are often horribly inconsistent with a “true-to-size” fit, meaning A cups are more like Cs and bands run tight. It’s terrible! I am still trying to figure out what to carry in the shop for this customer. :( Oh, another area I found has issues is actually the 28D-E cups. Companies that make a 28D are often full-bust, and they cut the shape of their cups like it’s supposed to fit a 32FF. Bottom line: No bra size is 100% easy.

    On a personal note, I used to think of myself as full-bust until I opened the store and was like: Nope, my boobs are small in comparison here. But, that’s the whole point here, isn’t it? You shouldn’t be comparing yourself to others in the first place.

    Reply
  3. Kelly
    May 12, 2015 at 11:51 am (3 years ago)

    I completely agree! I have been experiencing this a lot lately, and it was something I never thought I would encounter. When I started my brand it was because I had trouble finding clothes that fit, but I am only a 32E. I have now realised that my bust is actually a lot smaller than a lot of other ladies out there, but that doesn’t mean that women with my size, or smaller, don’t have these same issues. Arguing about whose problems are worse isn’t solving anything.

    Reply
  4. Florence
    May 12, 2015 at 12:54 pm (3 years ago)

    This is wonderful. I totally agree. Before my breast surgery, I wore a DD or E in full bust brands and had a bust that I would consider small. I think people have laughed at me when I said I was wearing a full bust brand.

    Reply
  5. Pia
    May 12, 2015 at 2:04 pm (3 years ago)

    thank you for this wonderful post. just this morning, while getting dressed, I was having a gigg´le about how I wear a size 26E/28DD – which means I’m probably chair woman of the IBTC, but still I can only find my size with full bust brands.

    Reply
  6. Leanna at Harlow & Fox
    May 12, 2015 at 2:24 pm (3 years ago)

    What a great post. From the perspective of a brand, I fully agree that, ideal as it would be, it is just not practical to completely alter the language used throughout the industry to describe size breaks. I think it would definitely be helpful to have a differing term for the DD-G and GG+ sections, instead of them all coming under the“full bust” umbrella, but the challenge it would be to ensure all brands making those sizes then starting using new terms, educated their customers about it, educated the retailers about it, not to mention agreeing what those new descriptive terms would be to begin with, and I think that would be immensely challenging to carry out on a practical level.

    in terms of reaching customers, in an industry where the default is A-D sizes, having a label such as “full bust” is a necessity in order to ensure the customers who are within our size range as a brand (30-38 DD-G) can recognise and find us. The assumption in the industry (as it is at the moment) will always be that brand will make somewhere within 32-36 ish A/B-D (if that) unless alternative sizes are specified – the fact that any brand making those sizes never needs to mention which sizes they make is indicative of that.

    Before I began the brand, as a shopper it would never occur to me to continue keep asking if the pretty silk bra I was looking at came in my size – I would look at the DD+ section as I knew those brands were making something that was available to me. As a way to streamline the shopping experience, repeated enquiry and rejection teaches us to seek out the things we know are available to us, and then investigate those further, but that requires having obvious flags as to what starting points we have to begin with.

    The downside of this is that for women above G, their flags often lead to dead ends, as many brands will only be able to cover the DD-G section. I know many potential customers have told me how frustrating they find this, and I can only imagine it must be utterly disappointing to over and over again find your hopes let down. What the solution is to this I couldn’t say. I know we would love to be able to extend our size range one day, but in order to do that, we need to expand and grow as a business in order to employ the extensive further resources for creating excellent G+ garments, and meet manufacturing capacity for a size range that would be potentially doubled. However, to get to that point, we need sales, and to get sales, we need to be able to use a term that will help as many customers as possible to find us – the closest and most recognisable of which is “full bust”.

    That doesn’t mean all of our customers would identify themselves as that, but it certainly helps to differentiate what is likely that we’ll be offering to those who are looking for it.

    Reply
    • astrid
      May 13, 2015 at 1:23 pm (3 years ago)

      Leanna, can’t wait to see your beautiful stuff coming in larger cup sizes! Your brand definitely deserve to expand and grow :-)
      As a shopper, it wouldn’t even occur to me to ask if a bra comes in my size, even if it’s a full bust bra. Since I was 16, I’ve asked what comes in my size (and back then it used to be 2 or 3 models) and chose from there. Even with online shopping and much more choice, my first instinct is typically to filter for my size or at least my cup size (since I’m a common band size).
      Re the subjet at hand: YES! I think I’ve even been a bit harsh in the past with people saying that size x “wasn’t even busty”. I blog about H+ cups because there are specific challenges to these sizes, but I would never tell someone in the D-G range that she doesn’t count as full bust. The only time I would react is if someone, especially someone who doesn’t identify as busty, makes a disparaging comment about “huge G cups”, or comments that “big boobs” are celebrated in the media/seen as beautiful and gives an example of someone with an average or slightly above average chest. Similarly, whenever someone in the D+ range makes a self-depracating comment about their “tiny boobs”, I can’t help but think about how a smaller busted women is supposed to feel reading that. Generally speaking, I find it disturbing that some people might find a 28F to be tiny and a 32G to be huge. How much room does that leave for feeling “normal”?

      Reply
    • Annika
      May 16, 2015 at 6:02 am (3 years ago)

      In the same vein it has become increasingly difficult to find accurate fit information for sub-32 and GG+ sizes. The categorisation doesn’t matter to me, but the lack of awareness of the differences in construction ate frustrating.

      Reply
  7. Whitney
    May 12, 2015 at 2:36 pm (3 years ago)

    On the contrary, I could see it being helpful to drop the “full bust” label for sizes DD-G For the sole purpose of getting more women in the “correct size,” or at least a size that works better for them.

    There’s already a lot of stigma surrounding core bra sizes. If you’re a A cup you breasts must be tiny and if you’re a D they must be huge,etc. A woman who, for her whole life never considered herself full or busty, might have an easier time wrapping her mind around needing and wearing a 30E if it’s presented as a common size.

    It also isn’t very helpful when full bust brands that start at a 28 back size are mislabeled or marketed as “plus size” when these brands could reach sooo many more women. Even the lines that start at a 36 band wouldn’t necessarily only cater to plus size women.

    I’m not for the comparing of sizes and who does or doesn’t need what, just wanna see more women supported.

    Reply
    • Sweets
      May 12, 2015 at 10:21 pm (3 years ago)

      Whitney, your comment is definitely an interesting one, and I think your point about stigma or negative associations within the core size range as well as with the full-bust label keeping some women out of bras that might fit them well is absolutely accurate. However, your argument reminds me a lot of the Drop The Plus campaign that wants to get rid of the “plus size” label. The campaign is misguided, in my opinion, because getting rid of a label doesn’t get rid of stigma; on the contrary: it increases it, because suddenly an entire demographic that identifies as plus size is silenced. Labels like plus size and full-bust have gained traction as they’ve become more visible; if we eliminate the label, we risk undoing all the bra fitting education work that’s been done over the last decade. As Leanna mentions in her comment above, those labels help shoppers find products that will fit them. If we get rid of the labels, customers won’t be able to find the products they want amidst the sea of products that won’t fit– it’s a recipe for frustration and disappointment. For practical purposes alone, we need to keep the full-bust label, and we need to continue to educate people to remove the stigma. As more people understand fit and get to know their size, that can only help full-bust brands expand their size ranges to meet all the customers’ needs.

      Reply
  8. Jessica
    May 12, 2015 at 5:04 pm (3 years ago)

    Exactly! I felt alienated and hard to fit as a 34DD, and now as a 40H I at least have more experience with what brands I can buy. In my area of the country I have very few options of stores that carry anything bigger than a D, but I know that the opposite problem exists too.

    Reply
  9. SarahTheKhajiit
    May 12, 2015 at 5:05 pm (3 years ago)

    I personally consider myself a busty woman and so does my fiancée. Im a 32f/ff or 30g depending on the brand most of the time. And i cant even find my size in most stores so i just order online from a bravissimo who only sells bras 28-40d-l. I do sometimes miss the days when i was heavier and wore a 36dd. Because it was much easier to find a bra.

    Reply
  10. PersephoneUnderground
    May 13, 2015 at 5:46 pm (3 years ago)

    This. This post- especially the last line. I have been right on the line allowing me to wear some core brands and some full-bust brands for quite a while (I wore a 32D until recently) though I found I preferred the construction/shape of many full-bust brand bras. Now I have actually gone down to wearing a 30D, and suddenly I can’t wear most core brands anymore- for example, I randomly went into VS the other day with a friend (I don’t like much there, but whatever) and realized they just don’t stock 30 bands. Period. At least not in-store, and this wasn’t a small VS either. So I guess I’m more firmly in the full-bust category now. I realize I have the luxury of more choice than people with larger cup sizes, so for a while I wondered if I belonged in the full-bust blogs. But I like it here. So pfft, whatever, let’s all look at the pretty things and feel good in our own skins!

    P.S.- I am sooo sad Fauve is gone! I know it’s not new, but still in mourning- my first really cool bra ever was a Fauve, and it’s a bit worn-out now. *cry*

    Reply
  11. jessa
    May 14, 2015 at 12:44 pm (3 years ago)

    This is very true – I think perception of breast size can rely as much on general body size and shape and breast shape as bra size. As a 28-30ff, I am considered to have HUGE breasts by my friends – it’s a running joke, even though one of my friends wears a 34dd, and is really about the same size, volume wise, but she is 1-2 sizes bigger than me and differently shaped and they sit differently on her body. People don’t believe me when I tell them that really I’m on the small side of average when you take into account how much bodies can vary. Even I get confused when I read about people 1 or 2 cup sizes smaller than me who consider themselves to be small busted – it’s not how I’d ever think of my body, even if I dropped a cup size or two. For all that, I also don’t really feel plus-size is a very accurate description for me – I’m 5’3 and roughly a size 2, and I really don’t need the kind of support associated with plus size bands (wide straps and thicker bands, which can overwhelm a smaller frame like mine). In fact, I prefer to wear wireless bralets, but it’s more or less impossible to get this kind of thing in the right back/cup combination. I think one advantage of separating by cup volume rather than size would be more appropriate support – a 38dd needs that extra support way more than I do.

    Reply
  12. Pinkarrows
    June 12, 2016 at 1:35 pm (1 year ago)

    I wholeheartedly agree. The one thing that has turned me off from some bra-fitting communities and full-bust blogs is the obsession with labeling and quantifying, especially when their seems to be so much ego bound up in it. I am a large-boned woman of 5’10” with an hourglass shape. I have large breasts and hips, and my waist has been as small as twenty-five inches when measured at the level of the belly button. Even at my leanest though, I have never had a small band size. My underbust measured 31 inches as a teenager, and it is about 35 inches today now that my body is more fully develoed. I have very little squish in that area either, as a break-the- tape measurement isn’t even an inch smaller than a snug one. My full bust measures about 45 inches. With a much smaller waist, I’ve spent much of my life struggling to fit into mainstream fashion. Yet, according to many in this community, I have “large” band size only because I am not thin enough, and my UK FF or G cup size isn’t big enough to present fit problems.

    Hah. No. My issue is that I am not built on the same scale as most women. I am taller, have broader shoulders, and an overall larger frame. My ribcage is narrow in proportion to my hips, but much more robust than one would find on an average 5’4″ woman. I still have fit problems. My waist is too narrow for any clothes in the plus range, nor do I have much of a tummy.

    It seems the bra-sizing community would believe I am a UK 34H or so based on my measurements, which apparently counts as full bust, but my usual preference for a 36FF means I am just fat. I understand that some women feel extremely tight bands give them more support, but I think when the band is digging in and creating rolls of backfat, something I have seen described as proper fit on many blogs, there may be a bit of an echo chamber or even some competition to have the smallest band size. I do not feel that the entirety of the 10″ difference between my bust and underbust is breast tissue. My back naturally flares and widens toward my shoulders and my bust is set quite high on my ribcage.

    All these details about my body shouldn’t be necessary, but I give them to point out that women come in all sorts of sizes and proportions and that narrowing categories like plus, full bust, etc. is not particularly helpful. It does seem like the ones who worry most about enforcing these boundaries are dealing with body image issues or the like. I have seen bloggers who are much heavier than I am but a smaller (self-declared anyway) band size insist that only very obese women could possibly wear a 36 band. It would be nice if more women in this community built around recognizing body diversity could realize that diversity also includes height, skeletal thickness and broadness, and musculature.

    Reply

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