Sunday, March 4, 2012

Underbust Survey - Part 1: Data Range & Underbusts

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

I'm going to have to separate all the data into a few different posts so bare with me here.  Also, like I said before I'll leave the survey running and maybe update in a years time if I get enough responses.

So first off lets talk about the range of data that I have:

- In total I had 217 responses. I was only able to use 205 because 12 respondents were either outside of the height/inches that I provided or were repeat responses after I expended the range of height/inches.
- I had a wide range of weights and heights in the survey.  I used BMI to determine this range.  It's certainly an inaccurate measurement on an individual level but when it comes to statistics it's the easiest measurement.  Also, I wanted to focus on BMI so I could determine if shops that focus on exclusively plus-sized or non-plus-sized bras were really offering bras in the correct size range. My respondents BMI ranged as follows:

- The smallest BMI that reported was 14.65 and the largest was 64.78.  The smallest underbust reported was  18 (note I did not provide a smaller option than 18, regrettably) and the largest was 50 (again I had limited the top possible answer as 50 so it could've been above that). 
- I had 4 respondents who were 40" or under (101cm) and the tallest responder was 73" (185cm).


I'll go through the results first and discuss the implications of them at the end.  First, just a simple plot of the underbust measurement vs. the BMI.
Because we have a large number of respondents it's more useful to separate the results in three categories: Healthy and Under, Overweight, and Obese.  In principle, regular sizes should cater to those in the Healthy and Under category whereas Plus-Sized shops would cater to Obese.  Overweight would be in between the two (although I've found that typically regular sizes adequately cover the Overweight category but that probably depends much more on body frame).

In the following graphs I calculated the band size using

 Band Size=Underbust
For Underbust measurements that were in between band sizes I gave a 0.5 value to each band size.  For instance, to calculate the total number of respondents with the band size 30, N(30), I added the total number of respondents with an underbust of 29", N_29, and 31", N_31, multiplied by 0.5 and the total number of respondents with an underbust of 30", N_30, so that


This then assumes that roughly half of women who have an in between band size measurement go up a band size and half go down a band size.

Now without further ado the graphs
We can see quite clearly here that for women in the healthy BMI range the most typical band sizes needed are 26, 28, and 30 with a handful requiring 24's and 32's.  The number of women outside of that range adds up to right at 5%.  Thus, if a store wanted to cater just to women in the healthy BMI range they could cover 95% of those women by including bands sizes 24-32.  In order to give you a rough idea of how many adult women fall into a healthy BMI range or under some of the international statistics (I chose countries that the majority of my readers are from) are:
- USA 36.5% link (for some reason  the stats on this link add up to more than 100%?)
- UK 38.4% link
- Germany 60% link
- Brazil 52% link
- Poland 40% ? link really crappy source if anyone has a better link please share!
- Australia 45.1% link

What I found surprising here is how narrow of a range that the overweight females fit into.  Here we see that 100% of females fit into 26-38 bands.  91% of females fit into 28-36 bands. In principle, females in this range should be able to find bras in their back size (now that Panache plans to begin 26 bands, Ewa Michalak will custom make 26 bands,  and Big Bra Bar started carrying the first 26 band bra) although women at the lower end might not find much variety at all.

- USA 28.6% link
- UK 37.7% link link
- Germany 24.4% link link
- Brazil 28.6% link
- Poland 44.2% link
- Australia 30.9% link

This group should be of interest for plus-sized stores and brands.  Elomi starts at a 34 band and Lane Bryant starts at 38 bands in stores and 36 bands online (they only go up to DDD whereas 38's go up to H). That means that Elomi is only catering to 60% of the plus-sized community and Lane Bryant  is only catering to 26% of the community in store and 45% online (although, probably much less than that because they only go up to DDD).

Actually, a manufacturer could cover 92% of the plus-sized community offering bands in a range from 30-44 or 75% in a range from 30-38.  Clearly, brands that at offering bras starting at 38 bands or 40 bands are missing out on huge chunks of the plus-sized community. 

- USA 35.5% link
- UK 23.9% link link
- Germany 15.6% link link
- Brazil 19.4% link
- Poland 15.8% link
- Australia 24% link


So after seeing this, the real question is.  Why do brands ignore the sub 32 bands?  Including women of ALL weights we actually have 66% of females whose underbust measures as 31" or below!!!!! That means 66% of women likely need 30 bands or under.  Furthermore,  35% females measure at 29" or below, which means they could need 28 bands are below and 15% measure at 27" or below, which means they could need 26 bands are below.

The most famous brand, Victoria's Secret provides bra in 32A-40DD, which misses out on over the majority of the population.   Playtex only offers bras from 32-54 bands. When are they brands going to wake up and smell the coffee?


  1. This is so valuable, thank you for taking the time and putting in the effort. I really hope this project gets some attention from brands and companies!

  2. I wanted to note that when I measured my underbust, it was 28", but I wear a size 32A in Victoria's Secret bras and the band fits me just fine (I think?), so maybe it's not the bras that don't fit people, but rather that the size on the label doesn't accurately represent the bra size itself.

    I just measured the band of one of my 32A VS bras and the band was 25", not stretched.

    1. Anonymous. There are a few different things going on here:

      1. Certainly, a band size could conceivably run small. However, a 32 band actually fitting a 28" ribcage would be rare. Many bands measure small (laid flat) but it matters how much they stretch. Would you be willing to measure the same band to see how far it stretches out?

      The reason the old plus-four method existed was because bands used to have almost no stretch to them. However, now-a-days bands are very stretchy so that's why the advice has changed that women should choose their band size by their underbust measurement.

      It could also be a labelling error from Victoria's Secret. We don't have any Victoria's Secret here so I can't check the tightness of their bands.
      2. Have you tried going down 2 band sizes and up two cup sizes? For instance, a 28C? I'd suggest reading a personal testimony from denote:

      How does the bra fit? Is your band parallel to the ground? Can you fit your entire hand behind the back or just two fingers? Are your breasts fully enclosed by the wires? Does the center gore lay flat against your sternum?
      3. It is true that there are some inconsistencies throughout sizes (bratabase was built with this in mind to help women navigate all the different sizes). However, often times those differences are small and only involve going up or down a band size.

      4. For statistical purposes, I would argue that it's always best to use the 0+ method (i.e. take underbust=band size). There are a few women who have flared ribcages (basically the ribcage is wider than the underbust measurement) and other women like myself whose ribcage is narrower than the underbust measurement. But without being able to test the fit on bands in person (because so many women are wearing the wrong bra size it wouldn't be accurate for me to let them self report band sizes), it makes more sense to use underbust=band size with the assumption that women who have wider ribcages is about equal to the number of women with smaller ribcages so statistically it would even out.
      5. I have found dealing with friends/family with smaller busts is that smaller, firmer breasts tend not to be as affected by ill-fitting bras compared to larger, softer breasts. That doesn't mean that a small bust can't benefit from wearing the correct size but just that some of the more obvious symptoms of a poorly fitting bra (back pain, in my case) might not exist.

      Just on a general note, have you looked into The Little Bra Company or Ewa Michalak? Both carry bras in smaller bands and smaller cups. I have heard amazing things about The Little Bra Company and I can speak from personal experience that Ewa Michalak bras are amazing. :)

    2. Anon- you may also want to check out some related explanations/thoughts in this recent post of mine - might be helpful!

    3. Anon- I went to bratabase to investigate this and it looks like you may be right. According to these measurements: a 32 band would fit a 28" ribcage.

      Now, what's strange, though, is that according to this one: a 34 band would fit up to a 38" ribcage. So now I wonder if it's more of an issue with quality control at Victoria's Secret? I don't have personal experience because they've never carried anything remotely close to my size but if anybody does please let me know!

    4. Could it possibly be something to do with the way that sizes are graded? If the pattern for the band is cut to 2" increments without taking into account the percentage stretch of the fabric, this could account for the smaller sizes being too small, and larger sizes being too large. Only the size they use for design prototypes would be true to size. This is pure speculation - I have no idea if this is actually how VS (or any other manufacturer) grades their patterns.

    5. Zoggi- I really have no clue but that's a great question. I seriously wish I had a bra manufacturer I could keep around to ask all these type of questions to. :)

      One idea I had (after a discussion with Bra Nightmares on a previous post) was look compare the stretch of bands across band sizes and see how they compared. For instance, I've heard many women say that Ewa Michalak bras run small in the band but in my own experience they match UK sizes quite well. So we were wondering if it was because I was at the small end of the band size and she was at the large end. It's definitely something worthwhile to check out. :D

    6. Penny's Reply (comments were not working for her):

      I have a VS bra in 32DD and it fits pretty much like a standard British 32DD.

      My response:

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. A note from the Elomi designer- This survey and summary is based on people wearing a band size that matches their ribcage measurement. This is incorrect. To calculate bra band size, you need to measure your ribcage in inches, and add 4 or 5". If your ribcage is 75cm/ 29.5" then your bra size is 34. This explains why the person who commented above with a 28" ribcage correctly wears size 32 bra. If the information in the survey above was corrected, then this would show that Elomi is catering to the vast majority of plus sized women. It would also show that your smallest respondents, with 24" ribcage need a size 28 bra, which full busted brands such are Freya are catering to. I question whether your 18" ribcage respondents measured themselves correctly, as this is the size of a small baby's chest.

    1. I don't agree with the +4 method and I don't believe that +0 always work either. To me measuring is only a starting point, the most important is the fit. My underbust is about 32 and I usually wear a 34 band.

    2. Elomi,

      The method you advocate, of adding inches to the band size, would result in me having crippling back pain and needing a breast reduction. Since the band is supposed to provide most of the support, it needs to be tight to support heavier breasts. A woman who wears a C cup may be able to add inches to her band size without consequences, but most women who wear a G or above cannot do so comfortably.

      You state that June is "incorrect" and that we "need" to add 4 or 5'', but you never provide any explanation on WHY we should do this. Do you not realize that bra bands have a lot of stretch in them? Why would we wear a band that is already 5 inches too large for us AND stretchy? You obviously do not realize that the vast majority of specialty stores where bra fitters are professionals do not add inches and this is how they change women's lives and make women who were always uncomfortable feel happy in their body.

      Everyone deserves a life without pain and discomfort. The method you advocate is responsible for so much misinformation and suffering on the part of women. Really disappointing.

    3. It has become well established over the last few years that the system of measuring the underbust and adding 4 to 5 inches does not work - Period. If I were to use that formula, I'd be wearing a 34B. I actually wear a 30E. If we *did* have to add up to 5 inches to our measurement, then a AA cup bra would have to fit up to 5 inches difference between bust and underbust. If that were the smallest cup size available, then plenty of women would not fill it!

    4. Wow, Elomi I am disappointed in you. Maybe you should sit down and have a talk with your Freya counterparts for some fitting education. Fitting is highly individual!! There are every few people who use the +4 sizing method, most of which are smaller breasted (below a C) and have a thinner less padded ribcage. The Lingerie Addict is an example. It works for her, but not everyone. For you to claim that you fit the majority of plus sized women is completely asinine! For examples of who wears your bras check Bratabase. There is a user with a 39.5" ribcage and a 39" ribcage that wear your 38 band. Measurements of your 42 band show that in some bras the band stretches to almost 45 inches. And you want users to add inches to their ribcage to find their bandsize? Disappointing!
      As for your claim that a 24 inch ribcage should wear a Freya 28, not the case. I have a 25-26 inch ribcage and a Freya 28 is much too large for me. I highly look forward to 26 bands and giving those progressive companies my business!

    5. Elomi, (If you really are from the company) I wear your bras. I measure 35" underbust and wear a 34H or 34HH in your bras. ALL of them.

    6. Adding inches to the underbust is the reason why 80% of women wear the wrong size bra. This is precisely how women get themselves into bands that are too big and cups that are too small. I think it is ironic that US bra manufacturers admit and know 80% wear the wrong size and they admit and agree that women wear bands too big and cups too small, but they still advocate adding inches.

      A comment of a respondant who has an 18 measurement: I agree that this has to be wrong and someone either misunderstood the question or didn't measure right. As Elomi pointed out, even babies not not have that small of a ribcage. I recently measured the ribcage of my 9 year old daughter and she measured around 26 or 28.

    7. Everyone else has said it so eloquently and firmly, but I just wanted to add: My underbust measures a 26.5" and my breasts are 35" on a non-bloated day. Even if I rounded up to a 32 band, I would need a 32FF! I've tried those on: I slide right out the bottom even with my perky-ish boobs.

      Re the above comment about the 9 yo daughter: Guess what? My hands are about as small as the nine year olds I teach, and I wouldn't be surprised if other dimensions were similar as well. Some of us are just that tiny.

      Discovering <30 bands changed my life, my self esteem and my health. I no longer crave a breast reduction, or avoid running for the bus. I am way more confident with my decently fitting bras.

      And it all starts with the band.

      ps: I've been systematically going through bra calculators on the internet and assessing their results on my Tumblr. Check it out.

    8. To all my readers. I have sent an email to Elomi asking if this comment was actually a representative from them and I hope that I hear back from them soon. I very much appreciate all of your responses and support both here and through private messages that I've received. If I hear back from Eveden (the company that owns Elomi) I will post back to my blog with their response.

      As to questions about the plus-four method, I included a number of links in Part 2 discussing fit and why the assumption that every woman must add 4/5" to their underbust size is incorrect. Personally, I advocate starting at your underbust measurement and then go up and down accordingly while watching for signs of a good/poor fit.

      Re: the 18" underbust. The woman who reported that did have a BMI at the very low end of the scale. Is it a typo or somehow a translate error between cm and inches? I honestly don't know and didn't want to put in any personal judgments when I did my statistics. I chose to show percentages rather than means/averages because everyone could see for themselves where the data fit so even if there are one or two statistical outliers the other responses would be clear.

      However, if there is a woman out there with an 18" she would certainly need the help of the internet to help her find bras so it is very likely she stumbled upon my survey and was happy to fill it out.

      Part of this is the nature of an online survey. I can't be there in person to measure every woman and so there is some sort of error built into that. That's one reason why I do find it very reassuring that my statistics appear to align well with the marine's data listed in Part 2.

    9. I think most people are missing the point Elomi was trying to make - for THEIR bras, you need to take your underbust measurement and add 4 to 5 inches. This doesn't mean it is the case everywhere!

  4. Oh, and thanks June, for compiling this data !
    Some comments:
    -I think waist measurement might be a better indicator of size than BMI.
    -Is Victoria's secrets really the most famous lingerie brand? Did you mean in the US? I don't even know if VS sells internationaly or not, but I would guess that Playtex is much better known all through Europe. It certainly is in France.

    1. In case you haven't seen it already, Part 2 compares waist measurements. :)

      In the states, maybe? Or at least you seem to hear about them the most. Even here in Brazil you hear about them a lot, yet they don't have stores here (well, I think there may be one in one of the airports)!

      Certainly, around the world it will depend on your country. Locally, I hear about Hope/Liz/Triumph the most.

      You're probably right that Playtex sells more internationally, I don't have statistics on that but if anybody does I'd be interested. :D

  5. I have ALWAYS suspected that nearly everyone should be in a 32 or under. This more or less proves it (although we should probably consider that your respondents might have had more than average number of small-back/full-bust in the overall population, but I'm not sure if that would have happened, just a thought). The results do really match with what I see around me so I'm very glad you did this to prove how far off the stores are.

    1. I'm glad that results appear to correspond well to what you've seen too. :)

      I do cover the issue of a possible sample bias in Part 2 so check it out.

  6. Thank you, June, for taking the time and initiative to produce the survey. This is exactly the kind of information that we need to give the mainstream bra makers in order to convince them to expand and correct their size ranges so that high-quality fitting can be available to all shapes and sizes of women. As you continue to collect data, and possibly contact manufacturers, I just wanted to encourage you to consider the danger of sampling bias, so that we can all make a strong case for better bandsizing. I may be wrong, but if your survey respondents are mostly drawn from the bra-sphere, they will almost by definition be women who have difficulty with conventional bra sizing, either because their underbusts are smaller/larger than usual, or because their breasts are larger or smaller than average. This is very important data, but I'm not sure that it's representative of the population as a whole. It would be very useful to expand the survey group, or to check it against waist data reported for existing research.

    1. Thank you for your response and I covered the issue of Sample Bias in Part 2. I agree this could possibly be an issue but like I mentioned there I also asked a number of women on a weight loss forum that I belong to, to respond also in hope that I had more well-rounded results.

      Ideally, something like this would be carried out in person but again, there is the issue of sample bias if, for instance, if you did this on a college campus (probably women more at the lower end of the BMI spectrum than average due to age) or in a lingerie shops (Victoria Secret's would probably have too many women with large backs/small busts whereas small boutiques may have too many women with small backs/large busts). It would be hard to get an unbiased sample.

  7. Did you include any data for bust measurements or cup sizes? It is interesting to see the range of back sizes across different BMI groups, but it doesn't tell us anything about the actual range of cup sizes needed in these back sizes. As you know, BMI is just the weight vs height, so plus size retailers do not strictly speaking cater to women with a high BMI, they cater to women with a large dress size. They will only have a high BMI if they are also short for their weight. For example, a woman with a BMI of 24 and an underbust measurement of 30 could be average height and slim hipped with a large cup size, or average height and pear shaped, or tall and less curvy... you get my drift...

    1. I'm also curious about that. My BMI is 36, but most of it is is hip/thigh and boobs! I'm a pear with H boobs: 34 band size and 50" hips. :)

    2. Zoggi and Erin-

      I did include bust size measurements and I'm working on a follow-up post that discusses this more. I don't have hip measurements, unfortunately, but that would be an interesting follow-up survey (although even that misses out on how some women carry weight in their arms/thighs/face etc).

      In a perfect world this would be done by body fat percentage but considering that I don't even have a way to measure my own body fat percentage that would be quite difficult. ;)

  8. Wow, such a great job! You're such a mathematician. :-)

    I'm highly disappointed in Elomi's representative. I'm glad you all other bloggers took the effort in answering him/her.

    I do agree that most of the obese/plus size community should wear under 38 band and almost everyone else under 32, roughly said. I wear a 40 band myself in Curvy Kate but I do think that us overly obese should not be forgotten either. I think EVERYONE deserves a great fitting bra and bigger cup sizes have totally been neglected in the plus 38 band sizes. Elomi, Ewa Michalak and Curvy Kate are pretty much the only good options.

    I hate that I probably have to buy Elomi because of the bad market situation for my size as I really wouldn't want to support any of that crap of that add-something-method. It's especially bad in plus size women because fat compresses and the bigger the band, the more the stretch! I can't even wear my underbust size as my band size (rides up, chafes and gives no support) not to mention adding any inches!

    1. This is the first I've ever heard of someone claiming to be from Elomi advocating this measuring method. Even the website doesn't say anything about it, but tells women to be fitted by a professional.

    2. Bra nightmares and Erin -

      In case you didn't catch it above, I sent Elomi an email asking about this comment to see if the commenter was actually a representative from Elomi or not (I suspect/hope not). I'll post back here with any responses that I receive.

      I'm definitely thankful for brands that carry larger sizes too! When I was at my highest I work a 40K so I'm thankful that bras exist in larger bands. :) The main purpose of this, though, was th point out that the smaller bands are also needed and I do find it a bit crazy that I'm still in the overweight category by BMI but yet am sized out of most brands! I dream of a world where women of all sizes can find well-fitting bras (and that they're actually wearing the correct size :D ).

      As I mentioned in Part 2, I suspect that when it comes to fitting women at the higher end of BMI it's that much more important to go by fit and not set rules because you're going to see a huge difference in sizing needs in two women with 38" underbusts but one who naturally has a large ribcage vs. one who has a larger ribcage due to extra fat storage on her back. Additionally, there are other women out there who might have a 38" underbust simply due to breast tissue migration after years of wearing ill-fitting bras.

    3. Oh great! I was just thinking about tweeting your post to Elomi and asking about that comment. But I guess I won't have to. :-)

      I totally got your point and agree with you. If only women realised that if they are in a normal weight they propably should wear under 32 bands and that a 32 band even isn't small!

      I just wanted to point out that at the other end of the size range we have problems too. And that even though the abundance of women in need of sub-28 bands is propably the biggest problem in the bra world at the moment, we shouldn't forget that we want a big range of sizes instead of only small band sizes.

      My need of pointing this out is propably because I guess I'm the only blogger with a big underbust so I'm a bit alone in this need of bigger bands. :-) It's been very clear to me that you find it important that brands make small AND big bands. :-)

      We just have to think about what is a big band and what is a small band. I'd say a small band would be something 26 or smaller (although I'm not an expert on this) and a big band (and I do mean big, not just plus size)would be something above a 36.

    4. Please tweet to them too (I still haven't joined twitter, i know, i know..) but I haven't gotten a response from them yet so maybe a tweet would be a good reminder. :)

      I'd say that seems like a pretty accurate assessment of big and small bands. If I were to open my own lingerie shop I'd probably set it up so band sizes 26-34 were "regular sizes" and 36-44 were plus-sizes. Although, a 36 band could probably go either way. Then I'd have a similar policy of custom making bands sub-26 and above-44. However, I imagine custom making those sizes would be more difficult because you just aren't going to be able to find a large number of fit models for those sizes.

      Yes, and I definitely agree on expanding range sizes. :) I certainly don't think you're the only women out there with a large band size and a large bust either. I used to be one of them too (although I regret not knowing as much about proper bra sizes and where to find bras that fit at the time). I've certainly seen women on the street that fit that description too but more often then not they're clearly in a very ill-fitting bra. :(

    5. I just joined Twitter myself and I suck at using it. :-D But I did tweet them (hopefully I did it right :D) and we'll see if they answer.

  9. Dear all, in every case we would absolutely recommend going in store, seeing an expert bra fitter and being professionally fitted in order to ensure you are wearing the perfect bra size. With regards to measuring band size, it is worth noting no measuring method is correct for all, as your band size is affected by bone structure, body type, cup size and measuring technique, which is why it’s always great to get an expert opinion. Measurements should really only be used as a starting point. From a manufacturer's point of view, it would be most useful to see the results of this survey by bra band size, as this will make allowance for measuring method and body type differences.

    Elomi is Eveden’s full figure brand, while Freya and Fantasie are full busted brands. The difference in the brands is in the body type that they cater to. Most Elomi products start at size 36, with some styles offering 34’s, mainly in the larger cup sizes. There is some overlap of sizes between the brands, because a 34 wearer can be either body type, i.e: she can have a large bone structure with not much extra flesh, or she can have a small bone structure but with a more generous covering of flesh. 32 ladies are catered for by Fantasie and Freya, with these brands offering her great support and style choices.

    With regards to the method of adding 4 inches, this was developed for fitting bras many years ago when bra manufacturers only offered A-DD cups. The plus 4 inches method does work for people that carry very little flesh on their ribcage, but this measurement needs to be taken snugly, with breath fully exhaled. Fuller figured ladies are more challenging to fit. The plus 4 method will only work on fuller figures if you take the measurement extremely snugly, i.e: as your bra would fit, not floating on the surface of the flesh, but pulling in until it reaches the resistance of the ribcage. The alternative plus 0 method has evolved more recently to get around the problem of having to pull the tape measure really tightly. We are aware of this method, but as it does not work well for people with very little flesh coverage/low BMI, it is not used by all retailers. Many of our stockists will not use tape measures at all, preferring to fit to establish size.

    With regards to elasticity, Eveden brands fit to a company fit standard. Each bra is engineered to that fit standard, so you should wear the same size bra regardless of whether it has more elasticated components. Patterns for elasticated parts are reduced in size to achieve the correct fit standard. Note though that there is a production tolerance on components, which can result in slight differences of fit between styles and colours.

    I do hope this addresses the points raised and be assured your points have also been taken into consideration.

    1. Are you the same person who commented above as an Elomi designer? If so, thank you for coming back to correct your comment above. If you're someone else, thank you for clarifying the stance of your company.

      Either way, this comment almost completely contradicts the previous one.

    2. Penny's Comment (the comments were not working for her):

      "The plus 4 inches method does work for people that carry very little
      flesh on their ribcage"

      If there was any truth in that it would be very convinient for
      manufacturers because it would mean they are actually catering to the
      smaller end of the market correctly. Sadly there isn't. 25" underbust
      and need 26 band here, and I have never actually heard of anyone
      around my size who knew about bra fitting who needed a +4 band.

      Asking people their bra size instead is useless because most people
      wear the wrong size. The usual figure is 80% but I suspect nearer 99%.
      Actual measurements and making a more sensible guess than most women
      know how to make on the size that corresponds to, as June has done,
      seems a lot more useful.

    3. Elomi Designer- I have to ask. Are you speaking as an official representative from Elomi? I have sent them an email and never received a response.

      Re: Low BMI/less padding on ribcages. I just haven't seen this in real life. My ribcage measures at 29" and I also need to size down to a 28 (and even with 28's I can stick my entire hand behind the band in the back). There are many lingerie bloggers that have small ribcages (Thin & Curvy and By Baby's Rules come to mind first) and both prefer bands that fit their ribcage. What I have found, though, is that there are some women whose ribcages widen from their underbust measurement, and, thus, prefer going up a band size or two. However, that appears to be completely independent of BMI.

      Re: finding a proper fit. I agree 100% that women need to try on bras because body shapes/sizes vary so much.

      Additionally, I think you might be quite interested in the comments on Part 2 by The Sophisticated Pair and The Pencil Test. Both have found in their shops that women would get better support from a smaller band but they prefer slightly larger bands because the band show up underneath T-shirts. It seems to me that it would make more sense to work on creating bras that have invisible lines underneath shirts in the most supportive size for women so they get the support and look that they want.

      I also want to point out that one thing that can be taken away from my survey is that naturally large ribcages are quite rare (considering that less than 5% of women in the healthy BMI have ribcages that measure in the 34"+ range) so the number of women who might possibly have an issue of lack of padding on their ribcage would be quite small (and I would guess that would decrease the higher in BMI that you get). The military data in Part 2 appears to back this up also. So the majority of women in your range would likely have some extra padding and, therefore, would benefit more from the 0+ method (at the very least as a starting point).

      Now, this does beg the question. Do bras needed to be designed differently for women with extra padding vs. women who have naturally large ribcages? To extend this further to clothes. Would women who have smaller measurements but higher body fat percentages benefit from clothes that are cut more in a plus-sized fashion vs. regular clothes? My gut feeling says yes (although I am not a bra/clothing manufacturer so if someone is please weigh in). My reasoning behind this is that a waist band or bra band will fit different on a 30" stomach one that is muscular and flat vs. one that has more fat even though they are the same measurement (and I should know because I am one of those women with the extra fat there). So it seems like the materials used and the cut might be slightly different.

      All that is to ask. Are Elomi bras cut differently with a plus-sized figured in mind compared to Freya/Fantasie? If so couldn't women who have higher body fat percentages but naturally smaller ribcages benefit from an expanded size range?

      I'd love to hear other's thoughts on this. :)

    4. I want to add that I did just get an email from Elomi and from what I understood this is an actual response from Elomi. So I wanted to thank them for clarifying their position more. I still wonder about the difference in fits between the plus-sized and non-plus-sized ranges and was wondering if the bras were cut at all differently to take any extra padding into account?

    5. Oh crap, I just tweeted them and now read your comment. Oh, well... :D

    6. I find it quite interesting that approx. one month after this there are several bras in 30F and 32G on ebay - bras by Elomi which look suspiciously like trial versions of Elomi bras in 32 and 30 backsizes.

    7. Thanks for pointing this out! Curvy Wordy ended up asking Elomi on twitter if these are trial versions or not and they responded they were looking into it. If Elomi does come out with a 30 back version I'll definitely be buying one because I've wanted to try Elomi for awhile. :)

    8. I used to have a 28" underbust. And I wore a 32 band size from Marks & Spencer. One time, after measuring myself and finding I'd lost an inch and was 27", I got fitted for a new bra (I wanted to double check, plus get some help picking out styles) they tried me in a 28 and then a 30 because the 28 wouldn't even do up. They convinced me to buy the 30 band which I really wish they hadn't because when I actually came to wearing the bra it dug in painfully. It was unbearable and left horrid marks on the loosest fitting.
      So I went back to a 32 band.
      This may be different with other brands of course, but for me, up until recently, the plus 4/5 rule has always worked for my bras from M&S.
      Now they seem to want to fit me in a 34 band because I'm a 30" underbust, but I find them just the looser side of snug when on the tightest which isn't what you need in a bra. So for them I still wear a 32. I have just gained a little subcutaneous fat which is easily dis-placeable.
      But I am having issues now with cup size/placement as with the larger cup volumes, the cups are both wider and attached further apart on the band. My breasts are naturally close together so even in a bra with too large a cup volume (space in the side for some rolled up tissues) I "pop out". I need more volume in the "middle" and outwards as that is where my boobs expand. I can hold a pen between my cleavage without wearing a bra. That kind of close together. For reference, my underbust is 30", full bust is 38", waist is 26" and full hips are 38". I also have a short torso in comparison to my height (5 ft 6, but my legs account for 40" of that, measured floor to hip joint). So in general I've found that, coupled with lowering standards of control check by lingerie companies, its getting very hard to find a bra which fits.
      I now wear those stretchy bras (like the genie bra/aah! bra but a cheap local shop's version) as they provide me with gentle lift (and I still get great shape) but I don't have the issues with sizing.
      I need to get fitted again but I now dread it because they always try to put me in something uncomfortable. When I say how about trying me in an "insert size here" and they bring in back, it fits me better than what they were otherwise suggesting. Unfortunately at my last visit, the shop was midway through a stock update so they didn't have any of the sizes I'd need to try on in their old stock left and the new stock hadn't arrived yet. I haven't had the opportunity since then to get into town!

  10. Penny's Comment (comments were not working for her):

    I'm curious as to why the Marines survey averaged 30" but had less
    than 1% below 26". Is there a fitness or lung capacity test to join?
    If there is it might be bised away from very small band sizes as I've
    always suspected my 25" ribcage means low lung capacity and is mainly
    to blame for my immunity to fitness no matter how active I am.

    My Response:

    That's a good question. I have a few possible theories:

    - I have heard with weight lifting that you can increase your band size by doing. I'm assuming the women in the marine's survey do do a large amount of weight lifting so that could be a possible explanation.
    - Also, maybe it is that small framed women avoid the marines?
    - I'm sure there are certain physical endurance tests that one needs to join. I haven't heard of your ribcage size affecting this but if anyone else wants to weigh in on it, please do!

  11. Ladies with large ribcages do exist, but I agree that they are a smaller percentage of the population, however, this is where we feel Elomi is a perfect choice. Elomi is designed differently from our full busted brand bras such as Freya and Fantasie. Below are some of the features Elomi bras include:

    -slightly wider and firmer straps
    -wider and firmer underband elastics
    -more depth and coverage through the side of the bra
    -an extra row of hook and eyes
    -very stable and supportive cup fabrics
    -firmer/heavier back fabric
    -a wider wire “smile” to fully encompass spreading breast tissue
    -Graded wire thicknesses to offer the correct level of support for all sizes
    -Centred straps to give maximum lift
    -Stretch elastics on the neck edge, to allow for variations in fit
    -Stretchier underarm areas, to allow comfort for ladies that carry weight in this area

    Elomi bras offer a higher level of structure, which is fabulous for full figured ladies, but can be overwhelming on someone with a 32 back.

    A good example of a bra that is designed for full figured women is the Elomi Betty plunge bra. This is a low fronted plunge bra with good uplift, but without the traditional dramatic push up effect that we associate with plunge bras. Many full figured women want to wear flattering V necks, but don’t always want extra cleavage with it.

    Elomi briefs, shapewear and swimwear are also designed specifically for full figured ladies. Elomi swimwear has been specially engineered to overcome the difficulties in fitting larger sizes. We don’t all gain weight in the same proportions, and differing body types make it very difficult for full figured ladies to buy swimwear that fits well. Elomi have launched a unique 3 piece swimwear concept, which includes a cup sized swimbra, and co-ordinating brief and tankini styles with a variety of figure flattering shapes to suit different body types. The tankini has been designed to be worn over the swimbra, without the swimbra showing. I hope you find this of interest.

    1. I'd still like to say that even when I measure my ribcage TIGHT while exhaling I get a too big band measurement. So, in my experience, I have to go down 1-2 bands even from that tight measurement. I'm guessing that's because bigger bands stretch more than smaller ones.

      I have to add that I haven't had the pleasure of trying on Elomi bras as no one seems to sell them in Finland, but I'm guessing the stretch amount doesn't differ a lot from Curvy Kate and other British brands.

    2. I think that's a good point too. I'm also someone who has had to go down from my underbust measurement so it's not just an issue in the big band region. ;) I also haven't had a chance to try an Elomi bra to speak about the band measurements but at least in my Freya/Fantasie bras the band sizes definitely appear to correspond to the underbust measurement.

  12. Thanks very much for comparing the differences. I do agree that some of the changes would probably cause problems in smaller sizes (especially the wider wires, for instance), but I wonder if some of the others wouldn't be useful in the smaller sizes too?
    -wider and firmer underband elastics
    -more depth and coverage through the side of the bra
    -an extra row of hook and eyes
    -very stable and supportive cup fabrics
    -firmer/heavier back fabric
    -Graded wire thicknesses to offer the correct level of support for all sizes
    -Centred straps to give maximum lift

    Then again, maybe it's more something that large cup sizes need and is not needed as much in smaller backs/smaller cups. However, I know as someone with a small back/large cup the wider, firmer bands, centered straps, and extra row of hooks and eyes sound wonderful.

    One thing, though, that I often find missing from the small band market is a good everyday bra in a moulded cup. For instance, the Fantasie T-Shirt bra is probably the best bra I've seen when it comes to everyday, T-Shirt bras but yet it doesn't come in a 28 back. It's really a shame because many, many women could use that (and in a 26 back too!).

    1. This is what I don't need:
      - more depth and coverage through the side of the bra.
      That accounts for probably 90% of my trouble in finding bras to fit me now that I have bigger boobs. They assume I need more and I don't so it digs in where it shouldn't.

      I'd agrees with the more centred straps though. My shoulders are quite narrow and so if the straps are too widely spaced, they sit on the shoulder and not in the "shoulder crease" and so have a tendency to fall off. This is also a reason why I find wider straps put on some larger cup bras are not great - they tend to roll up because there isn't enough space for them to fit flat.

  13. What an interesting study! I have suspected results like these just through observations but to see the stats laid out is great!
    Oh, and agreed on the fantasie tshirt bra! I asked Fantasie about it a few months back and they said there was not a market for anything below a 30 :(

    1. Thanks! I really think Fantasie needs to breack into the 28 band market. There's at least one customer in Brazil who would happily buy a multitude of Fantasie T-shirt bras. :D

      I'm actually thinking very strongly of trying to get a petition up and going of women who would be interested in Fantasie bras in 28 bands (the t-shirt bra being a high priority!).

  14. Hm, at 28.74 inches (measured very tightly while exhaling - 30.7 measured loosely) I wear a 34 band, 32 in loose bands. Fitted, that is. (Before I was wearing a 36.) I couldn't even do up a 30, let alone a 28. So for me Elomi's "add 4 or 5" is spot on.

    1. That may be (and like I always say that only solution is trying on bras yourself). The reason that I assume bra band=underbust in the survey is that I assumed that the number of women who need to size up in band is roughly equal to the number of women who need to size down (I'm personally one who needs to size down).

      Certainly, the best study would be one where one could fit women into bras in person and test their band size but it's just not possible for me at this point in time. ;)

      I do think that adding 4-5" is a pretty bad general rule for all women, though, and it seems to be confirmed in scientific studies:

  15. I think there needs to be more emphasis on smaller busted women being fitted properly. There are more busty, voluptuous types being fitted into 30 or smaller bands than thin, petite women! Thin, petite, &/or small-busted women are ignored because there is an erroneous notion that we aren't women & we don't really "need" bras. This is not only insulting, but it's also not true.

    Those who say women with a C cup or smaller have less issues with the wrong size bra are DEAD WRONG. There are different issues, that is all. One of these is that too big band & too small cup makes a small bust look even smaller. Breast tissue is often squished into the armpit area, further making the bust look flatter & less shapely.

    Besides, many small busted women would not even be a C cup or smaller if measured correctly. I have small boobs & need a 28E! It's not a big size at's much more flattering & supportive than a 32C with tons of padding though.

    Side note: Why is BMI used here? BMI has no's completely arbitrary. Countless studies show that women with a BMI below 18.5 who are not close to death (ie. thin due to illness) nor smokers are as healthy as women in the "normal" range.

    1. Thanks very much for your thoughts. I have to admit I've fairly ignorant when it comes to the smaller bust sizes (beyond suggesting women start with underbust=band size and then looking at signs of a proper fitting bra from there). I just clicked on your blog and found the post about high cup sizes vs. large cup sizes interesting. :)

      As for BMI, it was the simplest method that women could accurately measure themselves (body fat % is not accessible to some, for instance). If you see in Part 2 I also compare my results to waist size so you might be interested in checking out that part of the study too. My point was not to determine a woman's health status but have some sort of determination if a woman was plus-sized or not. For instance, if brands that cater specifically to plus-sized women were actually catering to their target audience (brands like Elomi and Lane Bryant) and if brands that didn't specifically cater to plus-sized women were catering to the correct clientele also.

  16. This is a great post. I wear a size 16-18. At my largest I wore 36-38 bands (more 36 than 38). I would try to go to Land Bryant and be disappointed, because as a 36H, they didn't think I existed. Elomi fits me terribly. It is just huge! Way to much fabric and it comes to my chin!

    I am woking on losing some weight, and my band keeps decreasing. (From 37-34 right now, and I am 1/3 of the way there). I don't understand why the under 32s are so limited. At size 14 my sister wore a 32 band. Some smaller women I know wear 32-36, but they are all inverted triangle or apple shapes. Women that are pears or hourglasses tend to have a smaller band measurement. And aren't 50% of women pears? This is really strange.

    I know once I get to my target, I'll likely be in the 30G-H range. Gulp....which is very difficult to find.

    1. Thanks! Yes, I can REALLY relate to the Lane Bryant frustration. They have a lot of cute bras but in store they normally start at 40 bands, sometimes 38's with the very, very rare 36. I sincerely wish they'd carry at least down to 34 bands, if not 32 bands in the larger cup sizes. I've found so many women need plus-sized clothes but also smaller bands.

      Don't stress out too much about the 30H range. That's about my size (28HH/J) and slowly I've been finding bras that work well for me. It's tricker because there aren't as many options but it seems like more and more you can find brands that carry smaller backs/larger cup sizes.

      Good luck with your weight loss!

  17. Thanks so much for your work. I just realized that I am a BRA-GEEK! It appears I am in awesome company :) Is it wrong that I like to go to lane bryant and have them measure me just so I can laugh about how impressive it is that no matter what, they have something in "my size!"

    Thanks to surgery, I'm losing weight and fairly rapidly. Keeping in a proper size has been expensive. I went from a panache 38H and now I am wearing a 32GG. I found your site looking for bra alterations because I am currently "overweight" at 160, 5'4" and if I hit my goal I didn't know what would happen if I needed something under 30 band size. Thank you so much for your help!

    1. No problem! I'm also a total bra-geek. :)

      I'm glad that my blog has been useful and I can definitely relate to an ever changing bra size! Good luck with reaching your goal and I've had a lot of help using alterations along the way. It sounds like there's a good chance you'll be in the 30 band or under region once you hit your goal but don't fret there are a lot of amazing bras out there! Especially if you're in the G cup range. ;)

  18. I really enjoyed reading your research. Parts 1 and 2. I got linked to your blog by a friend (we're bra obsessed) and I think it's a great piece of work and I'm glad for all the work you and the other ladies are doing to advocate for greater access to "difficult" bra sizes. I DO think perhaps the results are a little skewed by the fact that by virtue of being on your blog (and some of the other ladies) being a lot about the difficulties of being in a difficult bra size. So I think there is a bit of a captive audience that meets the set agenda. I still think what you're doing is very important and I hope some bra company (Hi Elomi and whichever other bra companies stalk your blog) smells the coffee and gives you ladies a grant to take this survey further into the broader/more general realm of the public and make it even bigger and more representative of women.

    I also disagree with a couple of the comments I read on here which seemed to imply women as a whole have tiny underbusts and shouldn't be above 32 inches if normal weight or 38 inches which obese. I think these are generalizations that are misleading. I've been obese and I've been normal weight. There's no way at my highest weight I could have been a 38 or under. I was a snug, professionally fitted 44K. My band fit properly, no riding whatsoever, no digging. My mother weighs over 350lbs and she's managing a 50 band size because just try finding above that in a shop. Try finding even above a 48! I'm normal weight right now (24.2 BMI) with a 34G chest. Maybe it's just me or my genetics, maybe I have a ginormous ribcage at under bust level, maybe you have a tiny one. But I think you're doing such great work for women that it would be unjust to get caught up within the small under bust community and forget the rest of us who can benefit from you all's advocacy!

    1. My apologies, for some reason this went to my spam folder!! :( It's fixed now, though. ;)

      Also, did you read Part 3 yet? I discuss sample bias and compare my results to other studies so I think you'd probably be interested in that too. Also, I didn't just ask here but also on a weight loss forum, which helped to get more respondents on the larger end of the BMI spectrum.

      I do think there is definitely a need for the larger band sizes (at my highest weight, for instance I work a 40K). I think my issue is more that plus-sized retailers don't discuss proper bra fitting as well as I like and also don't carry larger cup sizes in smaller backs (and from this study it appears that that is definitely needed!).

      Oh, I forgot to mention it above but you definitely still fit into my statistics. ;) It's not that you shouldn't be over 32 if you're a normal weight (as you see in my study there's about 2-3% of respondents who need 34 or 36 bands while at a healthy weight) but just that you're at the higher end of the spectrum. Since most non-plus-sized retailers cater to both the healthy and overweight populatin (and sometimes obese, depending on the give of the clothing, how that woman carries her weight etc) then I'd really love to see non-plus-sized retailers go from about 24-38 bands, which would cover just about everyone in that range.

      That being said plus-sized retailers have a trickier problem because once you get to the higher end of BMI the only think you can guarantee is that there will be more variation in weight distribution. I had women responding that they had anywhere from a 24" underbust to a 50" underbust! That's a big range and once you include cup sizes in there it would be hard for a store to stock that larger of a size range. If non-plus-sized stores did a better job of stocking a wide range of 24-38 bands then that would give the leeway for plus-sized stores to focus on stocking quality 38+ bands. But then ideally they would have some sort of joint venture with the other stores to send customers in the sub-38 band range to them.

      I'd love to see more women responding at the higher end to get better statistics there. But my guess is that you may get so much variation that no matter what size a store stocks, they're going to leave out a big chunk of the plus-sized community. :(

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  20. I am a lingerie designer at a high-end American label.
    We are small, so I am also responsible for all the technical work (pattern making, fitting, etc.)

    You, as with many Americans, have been misinformed about how bra sizing works. A size 32 does not mean that your underbust is 32". When taking your underbust measurement you always add 4-5", meaning a true size 32 would have an actual underbust measurement of 27-28".

    I am a petite woman myself (5' 2", small bone structure, wearing a 32DD-30DD depending on the brand) so I'm totally with on on the sizing. My own band doesn't even usually carry it, but there are very few women who would require a size 24 or even 26 (their rib cage would be 20"! 3" smaller than a standard xs waist measurement!). 28, yes. 30 Definitely. 32 No question.

    American companies could certainly do a MUCH better job of carrying a more diverse size range, but women also need to have a better understanding on how bras should fit and how sizing works. People tend to think of DD's, F's, G's as being HUGE, when in reality it is all about proportions.

    1. I can't speak for your specific brand but, in general, this is not correct. You can look at where women enter in the measurements of various bras and in general a 32 band stretches until 32"+ (often times more than that).

      There are other factors that go into this. Women who are quite thin and don't have much padding on their ribcage may prefer to size up. However, women with more sqiushable underbusts (I fit into this category even though I measure at 28") often prefer to size down.

      If you want to see further discussion on how different measurements work on me see here:

      I do agree that the issue of thinking that cup sizes larger that D cups is huge is definitely an issue. It all comes down to proportions and I wish more women understood that.

  21. I am a bra fitter at a Dillards and totally agree that more retailers should cary <32 band sizes, but I don't think that the underbust measurement +0 would work for most women, and here's why -

    The way we fit women entails measuring the *overbust* and pulling the measuring tape as tight as possible (shirt off bra on.) That measurement is what we use to get the band measurement. It's obvious that to get a better fit and more support, the tightest band possible is necessary, without causing any discomfort, so I always try to get women in the tightest band I can. I fit girls and women every day who are a size 30 or 28. Almost all of these women are under 30 years old however. Many women, especially those older than 60, absolutely refuse to wear a bra that is tighter than one we could probably both fit into together. As for the younger women often they are happy with the support and excited that they found something great, but often they hate that it's "too tight", and women who DEFINITELY should be wearing a size 32DDD or 32G will not wear anything tighter than a 36C (which is the size that everyone and their mother thinks they are, btw). It's infuriating to see someone in a great fitting bra that gives them support and lift and a gorgeous shape, but they are just not happy with how tight it is or all of their flab that hangs out the back. I explain to them that it will feel tight at first, but if it feels like you will eventually forget you are wearing it, it's not too tight, and that when you turn to the side to look in the mirror you push your arm tissue over the back of the bra and make it look worse than it is. If the customer is willing to try something new they will usually go with it, but there are some women who are just stubborn. Along with the much older women, who aren't concerned with support and just want something comfy, this is the customer that comes in wearing a 36C, which is on the tightest hook, riding all the way up her back, straps tightened to the max and digging in, cups just barely covering the important parts, breast tissue falling out the bottom and the sides - and then tells me that a 32DDD is WAY WAY WAY TOO TIGHT OMG I CANT WEAR THIS.

    I love doing fittings because most of the time, it's possible to change somebody's life (so I've been told by my customers) with something so easy as figuring out what size they need, and most of the time women are amazed that they are so much thinner around than they thought. Much of the time I get happy customers who agree with me on the band size they need.

    However it's often not that way. It would be great if more women would be more open minded and willing to wear a bra that's much tighter than they are used to, but the "modern woman" doesn't like clothes that look good and fit correctly - she wants to wear sweat pants and a tshirt every day without a bra, with her crocs in the summer and her Uggs in the winter.

    So that was kinda rambling, but that's what I've found through my bra fitting experience. I would love love love if companies would carry the sizes that women actually need. In my fitting experience that is sizes 28C-38J for average women (including overweight women but not plus size and few juniors). No stats for that but maybe I will start recording what sizes I fit for :) As a side note, D-KK are not large sizes. The most average size I fit is probably a 34DDD. I've never fit an A or B cup (except for the women who refuse to wear their correct band size).

    It's great to see that so many other women are working to get companies to manufacture the real sizes!

  22. Very interesting read.
    However I have a few thoughts after reading this and not only this entry. It seems to me that you girls have this tendency that was really popular on the Polish Lobby Biusciastych a few years ago when we were just starting - I mean going down on the band size to the tightest possible that could be fastened on your frame... The point is, if you take too tight band (directly recalculate your frame measurement in inches to the band size), you may distort the cups and wires which will simply stretch too much, and the band itself may start to 'look for' a softer place on you than your ribcage and simply slide down. Remember that British brands like Eveden and Panache and also Curvy Kate, also Bravissimo are now producing much tighter bands than before...
    The problem is that underbust frame measurement in inches has nothing to do with the numbers of actual sizes in British/American system, I have really no clue who first came up with that idiotic system of adding 4 or 5, but it was stupid indeed. European system is better here, cause the frame measurement in cm is really your band size equivalent. why couldn't American and British bra makers do the same? No clue...
    Now, if only the bra bands weren't so stretchy all this 'downsizing' wouldn't be necessary - I mean if you have say 71cm there, going for a 65 or even a 60. Though in case of Ewa Michalak bras that certainly is not necessary, perhaps apart from a few models... (check out Comexim too, btw, they also have pretty tight bands and really nice designs).

  23. Datapoint on whether to +4 or not:

    My underbust is 37 1/2". In my experience, the band on size 38 bras seem to be approximately the right size, ranging between "firm" and "not hurting as such but the pressure of the elastic gets tiring". However, the bridge (center gore) is then not flat against me, possibly not touching me at all. Thus, I would need to go up at least one band size (with a corresponding decrease in cup size) to 40A, and might need to go to 42AA. As 42AA is pretty much impossible to find locally, I cannot say whether I would need the full +4 but I can say that +0 would not fit me properly.

    Quite a number of my correspondents require bands from 38 upwards. Most of them seem to find empirically that using their underbust as their band size does not fit them, but that +4 not uncommonly overestimates (leading to a loose band.) Using +2 is not uncommon amongst them.

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