Wednesday, March 13, 2013

All about Band Sizes

When it comes to bra fitting band sizes are probably one of the most controversial topics.  The problem is, is that every woman is different.  Depending on your age, build, muscle tone, amount of loose skin, breast size, and other external factors (such as skin sensitivity or any disabilities) you might have very different needs when it comes to a band size.

On this blog I tend to promote 0+ sizing.  By that I mean that I think the best starting place for figuring out your correct bra size is not adding any inches to your underbust measurement i.e. underbust measurement in inches=bra band size.  If you want to see how that works for me (and how poorly other methods work for me), see this post here. I'm not just making this up either, a study has found that women in D+ cups statistically should not be adding inches when it comes to their band size.  Just to be clear that means that the majority shouldn't be adding inches, certainly there are exceptions to every rule.

I personally prefer this methods because:
1. Statistically there are some women that need to size up from 0+ but others who need to size down.  Thus, it's better to start in the middle instead of biased towards one end or another
2.  Bra manufacturers need to create more bras in smaller band sizes, using 2+ or 4+ methods excludes a good chunk of women in smaller band sizes.
3. I genuinely believe that D cups aren't that big, just see these two ladies sporting Curvy Kate bras:

and that D cups are more common than you thinkSee also some statistics here.

That being said, statistics can't be forced on an individual.  Just as BMI runs into serious problems because someone who is physically active and overweight has lower health risk than someone who is thin and inactive or if someone is just on the cusp of one of the BMI categories, applying the statistics on bra fitting depends a lot on the individual, their comfort levels and body shape. 

The point of this post is to break down a number of those factors that go into fitting a woman into a bra band and why some women may not fit into the 0+ mold.

Band and Cup relationship

One thing before I get into the reasons why a woman might want to go up or down from her 0+ size, I want to clearly say that it's important to first try on a bra in both your 0+ size AND the correct cup size. If you try on a bra that is in your 0+ size but the cups are too small than it will absolutely feel too small overall.  This is an important point that is lost on many women.  They hear about bra fitting, run to the store but since most stores stop at D/DD cups they can't try on the correct size but at least can try on the correct band size.  Then the bra feels WAY too tight so they throw their hands up in the air and declare that bra fitting is a bunch of nonsense.

It's not.

What you need to understand is that a lot more goes into a bra than the band size and the cups sizes are dependent on the band size.  Bras are typically made in the following manner:

Band=Underbust in inches
Cup sizes=Difference between band and bust size.

So for a women who has a 32" Underbust and a 40" Bust that would put her in a UK sized 32G.  The bra is made for some one with an 8" difference between bust and underbust and the bra wires are made for wider breasts.  If that same woman tries on a 32D just to check the band size the wires are made for a woman with a 36" bust- 4" smaller than what the wearer actually has!  Those four inches will make a world of difference.  The underwires will sit on the breast tissue itself, instead of on the ribcage and the band will be stretched 4" farther than it should be if it had the correct cup size.

Bras with too small of cups push the cups too far forward, stretching the bra band and making it feel extremely tight.

What some women attempt to do is put the bra on upsidedown to test the band size.  However, this doesn't work either!  There is a HUGE variation between underbust and waist measurements among women.  By wearing the bra below the underbust the band might feel either too tight or too loose when in reality it fits perfectly.  Most women's waist size is within +/-3 of their underbust.  Depending on how quickly your body starts curving in or out to reach your waist, you really might be trying on a bra at a very different width than what you would experience wearing it the correct way. See bottom for pictures and a further explanation.

Reasons for Band Size Variation

  • Variation between brands- The number one reason is simply variation in band size between brands.  Personally, I've found that some band sizes runs a lot smaller than others.  Ewa Michalak bras (and especially their plunges) seem to run tighter in the bands.  Freya bras, on the other hand, tend to run looser.  If a woman has strong brand loyalty she might think her size is only size X whereas in other brands she might need to go up or down in the band size (or cup size too for that matter!)
  • Squishy Back- Squishy backs can happen at any size.  After pregnancy and major weight loss, I've found myself with a squishy back even though I was wearing a 28 band pre-pregnancy.  By Baby's Rules has also mentioned recently that her back is squishier post-partum.  There's a great post from XL Hourglass discussing fitting a fat back and my guess is that we're all talking about the same thing here.  Typically, squishier backs find that they need to size down from the 0+ method.  It depends on the wearer and her cup size too, but I always found that if I was between sizes that I needed to size down to get enough support.  So if I my underbust was measuring 31" than I would prefer 30 band bras over 32's.  
  • Bony/Thin Back- On the other end of the spectrum women with bonier/thinner backs might very well prefer to size up.  They simply don't have as much padding so even though they can have the same measurements as a women with a squishy back the bra band feels a lot tighter.  I would say that this is very similar to the difference between having wide hips and a large butt (one's a lot squishier than the other!) as I described in A Hip Situation.  When you're dealing with bone structure you tend to need to size up as a general rule. Bra bloggers who experience this are Bras I Hate and The Lingerie Addict (I've linked to articles where they both discuss their feelings on the 0+ method).
  • Very Large Cup size- When you're at the high end of the cup size range about the only thing you can guarantee is that there's more variation and more fit issues.  Moreover, women with large cup sizes have heavier breasts, which are absolutely in need of a lot of support (speaking from personal experience here!).  In general, these ladies will need to use the 0+ method religiously (assuming they do not have a bony back, which really can create many difficulties) and may need to even size down a band size to get enough support.  
  • Small Cup Size- Women with smaller cups sizes have different fit issues than those on the larger end.  Often times they may find that they can get away with going up 2+ or 4+ inches from their 0+ band size.  It depends on the woman and her comfort level (and also breast shape, see below).  I'm far from an expert on this area so I'll turn you over to ladies who are experts on small breasts.  Kurven Diskussionen has a great series on small cup sizes: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.  Boosaurus (while not small-breasted herself) has a great round-up of small-breasts bra bloggers here
  • Wide Set Breasts- This is typically a problem (in terms of band size that is, you can certainly have wide-set breasts and be large busted too!) amongst smaller breasted women.  Often times bras in their correct band size have cups that are too close together.  I have heard that some of the new Ewa Michalak bras that are made specifically  for the smaller cup sizes can help to counteract this problem but I don't have any personal experience with this issue.  That being said, Venusian*Glow has a post on Shallow Breasts with a Broad Base that could be helpful to some. 
  • Shallow Breasts-  This goes somewhat into my last two points but again, women with shallower breasts might find that they need to go up in band size also.  In addition to the previous link from Venusian*Glow she has a post on Shallow Breasts (with pictures so not safe for work). 
  • Rounded Stomach- I plan on writing up a post on this eventually, but I just want to mention here that if you have rounded stomach it can be hard to get a tight enough underbust measurement, especially if you have a large difference between your underbust and waist size and it's further complicated if you have a short torso (i.e. a small distance between your underbust and natural waist).  Because of that women with rounded stomachs may find that they need to size down from their 0+ size.  Although, they also need to be careful about the type of underwires that they choose because they do have the possibility of digging into their stomachs while seated.
  • Pregnancy- Pregnancy has basically two contending factors that affect band fit: rounded stomach and skin sensitivities/expanding rib cage.  On one hand, it may be hard to get a tight enough band measurement.  On the other hand, due to sensitives and an expanding rib cage women might choose to go up a band size or two.  Additionally, it's best to buy bras that fight on the tightest hook instead of the loosest hook to allow for further growth.  For additional help see this post on boobs and pregnancy.  
  • Age- putting aside any weight gain or loss that can come with age, it's known that our skin changes and we loose firmness in our skin.  While that can mean a squishier back, that can also mean more sensitivities and less fuller breasts, which weigh less. For further reading on age and bra fitting see here. 
  • Sensitive skin/disabilities- Some women might find they need to size up in band due to skin sensitivities and/or certain disabilities.  I would suggest that if a woman is dealing with severe skin sensitivities that she also try different fabrics, some of which might be significantly better on her skin. 
  • Years of ill-fitting bras- It can take time to get used to tighter bands so some women might find it better to slowly decrease their band size over time. 

For a further discussion on women who may need to add inches see this post from Butterfly Collection

V or A shaped Underbusts

Everyone woman is built differently so it's no surprise that there can be a difference in their shape of underbust.  Some women have a underbust that is large on bottom (i.e. where the bottom of their bra band sits) vs. on top.  Let's call them an A shaped underbust.  Others have underbusts that widden as you go upwards i.e. a V shaped underbust.

A shaped underbust-  A really good sign that you're an A shaped underbust is if the bottom hook on your bra band is the first to wear out.  That's because it's dealing with a lot more pressure than the top ones.  It could be even that the bottom of your bra band feels tight while the top feels loose.  

Women who have this shape are more likely to have rounded stomachs (recall underbust<natural waist) and so pregnant women could also fall into this category too (but certainly NOT just pregnant women I have an A shape when I'm not pregnant also).  

If you find that you have an extreme difference you may consider altering your bra bands by either putting a dart on the top of the band or removing the hooks and eyes and cutting the band at a diagonal (leaving more room at the bottom than on top).  A good check to see if either of these would helps is by simply fastening your bra band at a diagonal such that the top hooks are tighter than the bottom ones (you might not be able to fasten the middle hooks, but this would just be to test the comfort).  

V shaped underbust- Basically the opposite of the A shaped underbust.  You most likely find that the top hooks on your bra band wear out first and there's a good chance that you have natural waist size<underbust.  This can also occur in women who have a broad upper back/shoulders. 

If you have problems with bra fit just do the opposite of the alterations above.  So you would put a dart on the bottom of your bra band, or cut away the band at a diagonal from the bottom up.  Additionally, check the fit first by fastening the bottom hooks tighter than the top hooks.  


  1. Very comprehensive, I learnt a lot.

    Recently I was reading through people's blog posts etc on 0+ vs 4+ debate and I was thinking that maybe we need to stop expressing it as 'underbust measurement = band size' and start saying 'underbust measurement = measurement of stretched band'. Because everyone agrees that a 30inch underbust should be clothed in a band that stretches to a little more than 30 inches and there is really no such thing as a '30 band' (especially, I think, when you compare a 30A to a 30J). There are so many factors that alter how the band actually fits and stretches and there's no industry standard.


    1. Yes, I'd love to see bras named after their stretched measurements vs. the cut. So often it's strongly dependent on the material. They would also have to find a way to test how quickly the material stretches out, though, because sometimes a bra fits perfectly at first but then stretches out very quickly!

  2. "A" shape. That's what it is! I've started to wear the top hook one smaller than the bottom because I kept getting a vivid red line at the bottom whenever I took my bra off, even though it felt like it fit all day. I finally realized that under my rib cage flares out so quickly that when my band sits where it's supposed to, it almost covers two different sizes! That picture really makes it hit home.

    1. I'm glad that I could help then! I also have this issue and find that the top of the bra bands can almost always be hooked on the tightest hook whereas the bottom hook will get worn out quickly on the loosest hook! Very annoying.

  3. Exactly the comment above. My 34B bra is 25-26 inches when layed out, and stretches nicely to 30" which is my underbust measurement. I am a 34B. A 34 DD, E and so on will be longer than 26"yet is still called a 34.

    1. That's the weird thing - a 34 band in A, B and C cups will often only stretch to 30 inches but 90% of the 34 bands in, say, a H cup, will stretch to 35 inches (which is one of the reasons there often seems to be conflict between large and small busted women over fitting advice).

      Anonymous' 34 bands fit her 30 inch underbust with a B cup but so often a 28HH is too big for my 29 inch underbust because the bands aren't really what they say they are.


    2. Yes, until we have more standardized bra bands it's difficult to nail down a certain number, which really can cause enormous frustration among women- especially those who order all their bras online!

  4. I love this post because you really compile every reason why band size can be so individual and personal. I've had women come to the shop who have experienced one or all of these issues which cause their band size to fluctuate, and I find it helpful to have all of the information written down in one post.

    You've also inspired me to sit down and write up the post on narrow vs. deep chests as well and how that impacts bra fit.

    1. Thanks! I've been looking forward to seeing your post on that for awhile. :)