How do you measure your bra size in 2014?
July 30, 2014 11:56 AM   Subscribe

There seems to be a newish, popular bra size measuring technique from the Reddit, but it's at odds with the old method used by dept stores and Victoria's Secret. Which way is best?

I am writing an instruction guide for measuring yourself for a bra. I had always thought the tried and true method that comes up first in a Google search for measuring was the gospel. A friend was outraged that I would think that was remotely accurate in 2014 and pointed me to the A Bra That Fits subreddit, saying that the old method is outdated and everyone in the know is using this "new" measuring technique.

I checked on MeFi and all references to the subreddit are positive, but I am wondering if this new method is making the old one obsolete, if the "popular opinion" is superseding the old method still recommended on many websites. I want my guide to be as accurate as possible.

Any advice/experience with the old method/Reddit method would be so appreciated.
posted by annabellee to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The "new" method, which has actually been practiced by experts who specialize in lingerie fittings since the age of the girdle, is THE method. The "old" method, which is practiced by people who do not know what they're doing (clue: Victoria's Secret) is typically recommended by stores or brands who make a limited number of sizes. It doesn't measure volume, so it results in everyone being stuffed into ill-fitting bras.

You will be doing the world of bra-wearing individuals a mitzvah by using the "new" method.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:00 PM on July 30, 2014 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, the Reddit method is a better starting point than the +4 method.

In the early days of bras, they were measured using only the bust measurement (across the bust), so you'd wear, for example a 36 or a 38. Then, in the 1940s-ish, they started adding cup sizes, 36A meant you had a 36" bust where the breasts were relatively small; 36B meant 36" bust with slightly more boobage, etc. In the 70s/80s they changed the method for labeling bras -- the number now corresponded to the stretched length of the band (this was formally adopted as a European regulation) and the cups to the increase in bust circumference over the underbust circumference. But, since the number used to more-closely correspond to bust size, women were reportedly upset that they went from, for example, a 36 to a 32. So, manufacturers made up a measuring system (+4) that would get you closer to your "old" size. There are a few threads on A Bra That Fits that describe this history, with citations.

The band does 90% of the work - in order for it to properly support you, it (stretched) should be roughly equal to your snug underbust measurement. You also need to take into account shape - plenty of guides for this on Reddit. The Reddit method also has the advantage of not having to deal with hit-or-miss fitters -- some boutiques have good fitter, many do not and many do not entail body positive experiences or they try to shove you into a $150 bra.

If you're comfortable, no need to change, but as a die-hard ABTF convert (32D-->28FF), I say change change change!
posted by melissasaurus at 12:09 PM on July 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I can't tell you about the very best way to measure, but I can definitely tell you two things:

a) Your "tried and true" method does not, and never has, come up with an even remotely accurate size for me. It says I'm a 36B. I'm a 34G. That is an unforgivable level of error.

b) No fitter I've worked with has used a tape measure on me at all. They assess what I'm wearing now and how it seems to fit, and take a good look at me, and bring me a wide variety of bras in a small range of band/cup sizes, and I try them on. Trying bras on is the best way to get properly fitting bras. I have bras in a number of different sizes, in some cases of the same brand, that fit me properly. Only the band size is fairly consistent. (And, like I said: it's not 36.)
posted by obfuscation at 12:12 PM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

The measuring guide is from this website (UK) which needs conversion to US sizes
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:27 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

sio42 (and anyone else): I believe it's this.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:28 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am a convert to the Reddit method in the last year - the difference in how my bras fit is amazing.

I went from a 36B to a 34D.

Also, there are such things known as "sister sizes" - so I can also wear a 36C, for example, since it's a sister size of 34D (so it has the same cup volume, I think?)

I can't pick up a 34D off the shelf - different brands and models fit me differently, but it does give me a more accurate place to start from.
posted by needlegrrl at 12:30 PM on July 30, 2014

Best answer: This is the reddit guide. Not sure why it's not working for you - it's up for me. It's a pretty extensive method (which I've never brought myself to read through), so it's probably better to just save the link for later than to try and relay it.

I would actually argue that if you don't have the means/access to a skilled fitter at a specialty boutique, it's all the more important to find a method that's a little more detailed and gets you to a better starting point, so the ABTF method is probably the way to go. It's still important to try on a variety of bras, because not every brand/bra fits every body the same. But I'd certainly rather start at whatever ABTF assigns to me than 36B if all I had to start on was a formula-derived size.
posted by obfuscation at 12:30 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: which needs conversion to US sizes

Note: bra sizing goes by the manufacturer, not the country of sale. UK/US/EU are the same up to D, then diverge. Reddit uses UK because once you get past D it is consistent from brand to brand. The US brands are all over the map and can't get their shit together. Plus, a lot of full bust bras are UK brands anyway (Panache, Cleo, Freya, Curvy Kate, etc). The cup size equivalent charts can be found here. Figure out your size in UK, then determine the size progression for each brand you are planning on buying (e.g., FF is 4 above D, so whichever cup size in Brand X is 4 above D is the one I need).
posted by melissasaurus at 12:38 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am still wearing my old bras that sort of fit because I tried the "new" method and the bras didn't fit any better (and yes, I tried a bunch of different brands and styles and did all the goofy things they say you should do when putting on a bra).

I don't have hours to spend in a dressing room trying on bras (the only thing worse is trying on bathing suits), and I also think it's nutty that you can't just put on a bra and go.
posted by mogget at 1:21 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

My comment was deleted; I do not know why. The method proposed by Reddit is not scientifically validated, based on pseudoscience, relies on a fanatical minority to spread it (they even call it "bravangelism") and will result, in the most practical sense, in your not being able to buy bras most places, certainly not bras that are affordable. The old method is perfectly acceptable for most body types.
posted by dekathelon at 1:34 PM on July 30, 2014

Best answer: The "old method" put me at a 34A, which I wore for years and seemed to fit fine (although my straps were constantly falling down, and the day I bought a new bra I had to wear it on the tightest hook and could still pull it away from my back by several inches). The reddit method puts me at a 32B/30C, which are sister sizes to 34A and basically fit the same, except the band is much tighter and more comfortable and I have much less strap slippage. My thinking is that most women are wearing a band that is too large, but if you adjust your band down and your cup up, you should be fine. Comments above reveal that ymmv, however.
posted by jabes at 1:48 PM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't know what dekathelon is talking about. I now wear a 30D instead of a 32C (which I strongly suspect I was sized as because the store didn't HAVE any 30s) which I can buy at marks and spencers for very little money. And it does fit better
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:57 PM on July 30, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Regarding the band size: you want it to be fairly snug so the back won't ride up, and also so you can get support mostly from the band, and less from the straps. But measure all you want; you're still going to end up fitting into bras that have different numbers on their labels. For me, even within a given brand, a so-called 36 can be anywhere from hideously tight to a little too big. (My actual measurement is 37.)

Same with cup sizes: you start by measuring the fullest part of the bust (standing, bending over, whichever) and comparing it to the band measurement. This will give you a starting point, but you still might have to try several sizes of every bra you're interested in. I usually wear British bras, and my cup size can be F, FF, G, or GG. (Maybe the range isn't as wide if you're smaller.)

The reddit instructions include a disclaimer that the "bending over" method doesn't work if your bust size is more that x inches larger than your band size. I'm someone who is more than x inches bigger -- but since my breasts have settled quite a lot, the reddit measurements still work better from me than the measure-standing-up numbers. I was kind of appalled by this, since I'd been thinking how ridiculous the whole reddit advice thing was. For me...not so ridiculous.

If I need to buy a bra, I find a style that looks acceptable and I try it in 36 and 38 in my approximate size. Without even putting my breasts in the cups or pulling up the straps, I can tell pretty well how the band is fitting. So I try to get the band size settled before zeroing in on the cup size. If I try on a different style, I'll probably have to start all over with the 36 and 38.

As for choosing a style, has a questionnaire on their site that can give you an idea of what to look for based on your particular characteristics. It kept me from trying on bras that had no chance of being right for me. Examples: If you need side support to keep breasts from falling to the side, look for side panels. A three-piece bra cup with seams is more supportive than a one-piece cup. A molded cup with light padding can hide nipples, and also it's less wrinkly if the tissue has begun sagging.

Anyone in my size range should feel free to message me if I could be of help, since I recently went through the bra-shopping ordeal.
posted by wryly at 2:19 PM on July 30, 2014

Best answer: If you haven't seen this bra sizing megapost, have a look. It includes quite a bit of information about how bra sizes work.

You might also be interested in Jockey's new sizing; they've changed theirs up to acknowledge that volume is important.
posted by asperity at 2:27 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

The thing is that even if you find your "correct" size, it's not going to be the same in every bra. Just like you will wear different size jeans in different brands. Every couple years I go to Nordstrom and get measured, and the lady helps me pick out a style that I like and that fits (they know which brands run small/large/etc). I buy one, wear it for a while, and then if that works I buy it in a few more colors.
posted by radioamy at 3:52 PM on July 30, 2014

I did that whole have someone fit me and sell me a much pricier bra than I wanted thing once, and it was way too tight and I returned it. Since every brand, and every model in every brand is different, measuring seems worthless.
posted by mareli at 4:04 PM on July 30, 2014

The Bra Sizing post is full of goodness and facts.
posted by theora55 at 4:14 PM on July 30, 2014

Best answer: Huh. I am a 34H as confirmed multiple times by old ladies at fancy bra specialty shops who just stared at me topless and magically brought me the size I appeared to be, and every bra I have in that size fits me like a dream.

MEANWHILE I just tried that link to the bra size calculator based on A Bra That Fits and it said I am a 36D. Fuck no I am not! I used to wear a 36D before seeing the wise old eyeballing ladies and was always spilling out of the cup and having massive shoulder pain from the straps. I've also never had luck with the "old" measurement method.

So in conclusion, for some of us, being gawked at by old ladies working in fancy bra shops is the ONLY reliable way to go.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:35 PM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Abrathatfit's fitting method is solid and works across a wide range of body types and sizes. VS's and similar methods fit as many people as possible into the narrowest range of sizes possible. The former method is about finding a good starting size to work with in finding a supportive and comfortable bra. The latter is about selling people bras from a limited (and therefore cost-effective) inventory.

Given that, there are some things to keep in mind about bra fitting generally, and abrathatfits specifically:

A bra isn't like other garments. It has to provide support and shaping in ways that other garments (even "shapewear") don't. This requires (a) a much more specific fit than most other modern clothes, and (b) some real engineering, particularly in larger bust sizes. A t-shirt can fit in a lot of different ways (snug, loose, cropped, tunic-length, etc.) and still do the job of a t-shirt. In order to do its job, a bra has to fit pretty close to perfectly.

The larger and heavier the bust, the more critical this fit becomes. The +4 method may work well enough on someone with a smaller bust, but would be a total disaster on me (with a 30H-ish bust). As noted by other answers, breast shape also has a significant impact on how a bra fits. Both boobs and bras come in many different shapes, and you've got to get the right match for the best fit. As with sizing, this is more critical for larger, heavier busts. It takes a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of bras and good understanding of breast shapes to be able to identify and recommend good shape matches.

Abrathatfits really focuses on optimizing fit. This is great when you're able to optimize fit, but can also be frustrating, particularly for hard-to-fit people. When you get way outside boob size bell curve, your options become more constrained, and finding the optimum fit that subreddit looks for can be more difficult.

I think it is great that you want to create a bra-fitting resource, but you question makes me wonder if you have the right knowledge to do so. Being knowledgeable enough about bra fitting to guide other women should mean that you have good knowledge of the different bra-fitting methods, why they differ, what the upsides and downsides of each method are, why one method might work or seem to work for some women, what happens with the method at the size extremes, how fit is impacted by shape, the difference between bra shapes and how that impacts fit and support, the different sizing methods (US, UK, EU), etc.

If you're just trying to figure out which basic measuring methods are legit, maybe this isn't the project for you.
posted by jeoc at 5:41 PM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

The new method all the way. I wore 34a's for years and last summer tried on a shitload of bras and ended up buying 30C and 32C in a couple of brands, and god it's been a world of difference. For the first time in my life I am not constantly fidgeting and pulling at my bra trying to get it more comfortable.
The "sister sizes" theory is basically what causes people to wear ill-fitting bras - yes the cup/volume size is technically the same, but the cups don't get enough tension or get too much tension if the band is the incorrect size. Result: people tugging at their uncomfortable bras all day.

Note: I am a card carrying member of the IBTC, and in no way look like someone who wears a C cup.
(Seriously people, just measure your band size and don't add anything to it. That just never made sense.)
posted by 8dot3 at 6:50 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

It all depends on your shape and size. When I was young and comparatively flat I used to buy stretch cotton-and-spandex bras that fit just fine. Now that I am old and fat, I need good bras that have fussy support systems, and I have a small band size but big boobs. To fit my cup size in a standard store I'd have to buy plus-size bras, but there the smallest band is a 38 or 40, and mine's a 32, or a 34 at the most.

The narrow range of sizes in standard department stores means that I can wear a bra that fits my boobs okay but literally hangs on me, or one with a band that fits but with a cup that only holds a third of my actual boob. It's like shopping for clothes would be if you only had a choice between a size 2, a size 10 and a size 22.

I love England, where every decent department store carries bands down to a 28 and cup sizes up to an H. I've learnt what size I am in most of the major British brands, so I can buy from Figleaves and not pay 120.00 bucks a bra in a specialty store.
posted by jrochest at 10:04 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is the first I've ever heard of the "Reddit" method and will most definitely be trying this. The "old" method has never been accurate for me.
posted by nerdia12 at 6:59 AM on July 31, 2014

If you find the Reddit stuff overwhelming (contorting yourself, bending over, lying down, all that jazz!) and offputtingly evangelical, too complicated to dive into, I would suggest as someone upthread mentioned at least just starting out by throwing out the "add some number to your natural what-the-tape-measure-says-when-you-put-it-under-your-boobs" thing (that has never made any sense to me either and my own experience indicates most women's number one issue is wearing a band size waaaaay larger than they should, because of that nonsensical traditional step). Your band size should be what the band of your bra is when it's as tight as you can comfortably wear, as the support comes from the band, not the straps. You shouldn't be able to put fingers in between you and the band comfortably, and when you push the straps down your band shouldn't move, just float snugly below your breasts. For me and for many, this ends up simply being the number on the tape measure, no adding.

From there you have to mess around with cup size to make the volume fit given your new, much smaller band (as the aforementioned tip guides mention, cup volume depends on band size; a bigger band's A cup is much bigger than a smaller band's A cup), so you go up cup sizes (not always but if you want a general starting rule of thumb, every band number you go down often corresponds to going up a cup size...I used to think I was a 36A using the conventional method, went down to a 30 band size which is 3 band sizes down so it corresponds to 3 cup sizes up, to D, then I realized with a tighter band my boobs actually fit where the cup goes--that gets a little more complicated, covered some in the guides mentioned upthread--so I went up further up still to a DD but that's just me). But starting by fixing the band number problem is often the crucial thing and it's relatively straightforward--can you close the clasp and it's as snug as possible while still comfortable--and then you can worry about cups. And as mentioned, brands can matter (certain brands are known for being geared more towards women whose breasts are "wider"/take up more space towards the armpit than the center of the chest, etc.), but that's just trial and error after getting the general band and cup issue sorted first.

The other thing is, bra sizing where the band is the main support can take some getting used to in terms of how bras feel. They may initially feel uncomfortably tight and relatively stationary, almost like strapping on a breastplate of armor in terms of being rather unmoveable. That's not a bad thing, but it can take a few days to get used to it. Ultimately the way the bra stays put and "hugs" you under the breast becomes what you're used to, and is indeed more comfortable because everything stays in place where it should, no more adjusting/repositioning and tugging all day.
posted by ifjuly at 1:33 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Late to the post, but I tried the Reddit method out of curiosity, because I was tired of my breasts always being angry like Bruce Banner. I was astounded at the measurement I got, went shopping, and I'll be damned if Reddit wasn't right about my breasts.
Which are words I never thought I'd say, but there you go.
posted by Lemmy Caution at 4:17 PM on August 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Jockey's new system definitely deserves more mention--disclaimer: I haven't tried it yet, but I am super excited to. Bra sizing in the new Jockey world goes like this: You order a (free) "fit kit" which comes with shaped plastic cups and a flexible tape. You scoop your breasts into the plastic cups to see which cup fits best. Then you measure your underbust with their tape. Then you order the bra with the same size cups and band as what you just measured. I'm especially excited about this because it seems like Jockey is moving to a system where cup size stays consistent even when you change band size, which...well, the other way is just a damn stupid idea. (You try a 32C and the band is a little small and the cups are a little small?--you must be a 34...C. Wtf.)

I could still wish for a system which let you accurately buy a bra with a certain middle-of-the-chest spacing and maybe some more straightforward guidance as to which bras are better for full-at-the-bottom vs full-at-the-top breasts (not the same as sagginess), but at least it is a step in the right direction.
posted by anaelith at 4:42 AM on August 4, 2014

Response by poster: An update: I tried the Reddit method. Down a band size, up a cup size, and it's a much better fit. I finally understand what people mean when they say "the support should come from the band, not the straps."
posted by annabellee at 1:28 PM on August 12, 2014

« Older Please suggest a practical bis cas blazer   |   If you have to ask, it's probably too late... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.