Tuesday, March 25, 2014

No, You are NOT a Full-Fit or Full-Bust Bra Brand

Let's stop kidding ourselves here.  D cups are NOT massively huge. So when I see a brand describe themselves as "full-fit" or "full-bust" and they stop at DDD cups? I see red.

I've gone over this SO. MANY. TIMES. on my blog but it's worth repeating so let's look at the facts:

Yes, yes, there are lots of issues with sample bias, fit preference, and body diversity but it seems fairly safe to say that around a DD cup is average, not something monstrously huge.  Yet pretty much no mainstream retailers (and by mainstream I mean across an entire nation where you can easily pick up bras in pretty much ever mid-size city) carries above DD cups.  

Furthermore, there are some brands that have finally seen the light and realized that women do, in fact, need larger cup sizes and because of that we've started seeing more and more brands popping up with DDD or even G cups!  I guess we should all rush up and give them a giant pat on the back? Good job, you've made the world a better place, woohoo!

Comparing to plus-sizes

Now, when we're talking about clothing sizes you'd think if a brand slaps on a special name like full-fit bra or full-bust bra that we're talking about women who fit outside of the realm of "average" or at the very least you're looking at the top end of the spectrum (so going from the average and covering all the way up to the most common cup sizes). 

Let's look at how plus-size relaters handle it.  In the US the average clothing size is size 14.  Again, that means that HALF the women are wearing a 14+ and half are wearing a 14-.  Plus-sized stores in the states usually start at either a size 14 or 16 and go up somewhere in the mid-30's (depends a lot on the store itself).  That's a pretty solid size range. Will it cover everyone? No, the only way that would be possible would be if we switched back to entirely custom made clothing (and maybe that's not such a bad idea, but I digress...). But the point is, they cover a huge chunk of the plus-size population and while some women might be left out they're statistical outliers (and, again, that does NOT mean they don't deserve awesome clothes but just from a business model it's hard to find enough customers to consume the supply). 

Do full-fit/full-bust bras do the same? Many don't, especially if they are stopping somewhere between a DDD-G cup.  Rather, they're actually serving the average women right there.  It would be as if a plus-sized store stopped at a size 16 or 18 instead of going all the way up until size 38! 

Do D-G cup sizes fill a lingerie niche market? 

Niche marketing is the idea that a new brand is fulfilling some previously unfulfilled need within the marketplace.  A non-lingerie related example of that are jeans that fit women with large butts/wide hips like PZI jeans or Levi's Curve ID jeans.  In order for a new lingerie brand to be filling a niche market they'd actually need to be filling a specific need, something that's currently missing from the lingerie world. 

But the plethora of so called full-bust bra and full-fit bra brands that stop at G cups are really missing the point... the D-G cup size market (despite the lack of knowledge from the average female consumer) is actually pretty freaking good!  There are an insane number of brands that carry everything from sports bras, nursing bras, basques, baby dolls, string bikinis, and nightwear.  You can even buy tank tops with built-in bras if you'd like.  Sadly, most stores don't carry all these wonderful things but if you bother to look online that they're pretty widely available.

I still haven't forgiven Fantasie for creating this delicious basque up to only GG cups.

That being said... once you go above the H cup barrier the availability drops off significantly.  If you continue above J cups the selections is extremely limited and once you hit K+ cups, well,  you begin to feel like this... 

Sure, there are some awesome brands that cover the largest cup sizes. But once you get into the largest cup sizes you also run into the problem of more fit issues, large variations in bra sizing among brands, and the complete lack of certain styles (such as long lines, basques, sports bras etc).  Actually, the fit issues/sizing problems are so extreme that many women may fit a J-K cup in Panache, for instance, but are several cup sizes too large for Curvy Kate.  Additionally, while one might technically fit into a certain brand, one might run into so many fit issues with that specific brand rendering their bras pretty much useless to you.  What happens is that smaller fit issues/breast volume differences/texture differences are just more and more amplified the farther up in cup size you go (trust me, speaking from personal experience here). 

So you hate all small and average cup size brands?

Um... no. You've completely missed the point if that is your take away here.  I'm expressing frustration that brands are mislabeling their lingerie as full-fit bras or full-bust bras but then covering a small size range.  I'm frustrated that there's a large chunk of women who are being left out and this can lead to body image issues and physical pain.  I'm frustrated that this mislabeling perpetuates the myth that D cups are massively huge and G cups are the largest cup size that exists.

So, yes, I absolutely believe that above G cups (and to an even greater extent above J cups/above K cups) there's a huge gap in the market.  This goes across band sizes but those at the smallest end of the band sizes (30 bands and under) and those at the highest end of the band sizes (40 bands and over) are especially hard hit since so few cover those size range (I'd argue too that the 40G+ ladies have it the hardest because they don't even have the option of going up a band/cup size and doing alterations).

That being said, there are also holes in the small cup market.  Ladies with small bands/small cups (30 and under bands and D- cups) and ladies with large bands/small cups (40+ bands and B- cups) also have extremely limited selection.  In both these cases there are sadly very few bloggers out there too to point them in the direction of well-fitting bras and supportive, beautiful lingerie whereas at least in the largest cup sizes there are bloggers (like myself) that exist.  I'd also LOVE to see an expansion in this market too but I sadly can't say much about it since I'm certainly not an expert in the fit issues involved here and what exactly is needed.

I will also add that I AM excited to see new lingerie brands even when they don't cover my size range.  I understand economics plays a role here and you have to cover the average size first to make enough sales.  However, lingerie manufacturers also need to understand that the D-G cup market has expanded A LOT over the years.  Women in that size range have many more options and if they're willing to buy online they can find an enormous amount of deals.  So new manufacturers really need to bring something special and unique to the table.  Something that other brands haven't come out with first, considering that there is so much in that size range now it's not necessarily an easy feat.

If a manufacturer, though, chose to focus on some of the holes in the market like the largest cup sizes or small cup sizes on the high/low end of the band spectrum, they'd have a significantly easier time in terms of design.  Yes, fit issues play more of a role and special care needs to be taken in terms of engineering but I can tell you that so much is still needed in those size range that they'd have a number of eager customers already.

I also accept that some brands start small and then work towards expanding.  Parfait Affinitas is a great example of that (and, frankly, they were already on my radar because of they stood out due to their beautiful designs and wide range of options such as basque/babydolls in D+ cup sizes).  But they are often the exception rather the rule.  Freya, for instance, has been going at a snail's pace to expand the size range of their Deco- the best selling bra they own- which pretty much only goes up to GG cups.  Panache seems to be making no effort whatsoever to expand its size range on its sports bra- again, its best selling bra.  Claudette had hoped to expand its size range but sadly couldn't get enough stockist to carry even up to G cups, let alone larger cup sizes.

Is it discrimination? 

I keep going back and forth on this one.  It is true that many could argue that the cost/benefit to producing the largest cup sizes is too low.  That not enough women would buy them and for small companies, especially, having unsold stock laying around is extremely costly.  The time and effort putting into making these sizes is also rather cost prohibitive.

That being said, I feel like a lot of this goes back to the comparison with the plus-sized clothing brands. Could there be lessons learned there on providing well-fitting clothes on sizes that present more fit issues and might not have a smooth Gaussian when it comes to size distribution?

Lane Bryant makes stylist clothes in harder to fit/harder to find sizes- let's look at their business model.

Ok, but putting the issue of cost/benefit aside, I do feel like it's more than that.  There are some serious Curvy ASSumptions made against busty women.  Busty women are are often assumed to be more promiscuous, others assume that they are less intelligent, that they're "asking" for something by their dress, that naturally large breasts don't exist and all large breasted women must have had implants or that large breasts are only on overweight women and they take part in fat discrimination.  Could it be that manufacturers are internalizing these messages and they don't want to cater to a population that they feel would "tarnish" their image?  Could it be that they feel large breasted women, because of these assumptions, don't deserve beautiful lingerie? Could it be that they feel that large breasted women are fat (and in their heads too lazy) to need something like supportive sports wear?

I've also wondered if there is an element of racism involved too.  While there are many large breasted white women (myself included here), there's certainly a stereotype of Latin American women or women of African descent of being curvier.  It often feels like the media likes to portray white women as tall and thin, Asian women as petite and straight, Latin American women as short and curvy, and Africa women as tall, muscular, and curvy.  While some women fit into those stereotypes they are extremely naive and, frankly, downright harmful.  These stereotypes lead to the same type of problems that exoticizing a culture does and can also lead to internalized body image issues when one doesn't live up to them.

How does this play out around the world? 

I can tell you that in Brazil pretty much anything above a B cup would be considered a large cup size and it would be significantly harder to obtain and be more expensive.  As far as I know there doesn't exist ANY bras above G cups (US G cups, NOT UK ones) being sold locally.

In Europe a reader told me:

In the 34-38 A-D range you can buy €5 bras anywhere. Outside of that, usually €30 but lots of sales up to H cup. All European sizing, mind you! Outside of that... gotta shell out €70-110 per bra. If you can even find it. And the shop will fit you in anything they have.... I've learned to handle the scarcity of K cup bras... but it sure is very frustrating.
And then when you see ads for "now up to big cups!!" and get happy... then be super disappointed because that means they went from E to F cup as largest. And they added a band size so it's even bigger!  It's so sad, and does make me feel like a freak sometimes.
Because my 32KK/L size in European sizing means 70R. Which is what I say when people ask my size. Then tell them they do exist, and should be sold more! 

I can imagine in Africa and Asia similar stories could be shared (if anybody wants to throw in their two cents on this, let me know!).  I know from speaking with other readers and bloggers that Australia also seems to hit the G cup barrier (or under). 

Can large cup sizes be feasible for brands? 

Yes, yes they can.  BUT you can't just manufacture larger cup sizes and expect women to flock to them.  A few things need to happen first:

  • Education needs to go hand and hand with bra sales.  Brastop, Large Cup Lingerie, Butterfly Collection, A Sophisticated Pair, Bravissimo, and Brood's Big Bras are all examples of stores that put a lot of effort into educating their customers in proper bra fitting and that helps to make more sales.  If a women can see an improved fit with a larger cup size then they're more likely to return.  But they need to understand what to look for in bra fitting so they don't leave the store with an uncomfortable bra that they'll never wear again.  When I went to Town Shop and had my one and only fitting of my life the fitter told me that ideally she'd have an hour with every woman who comes in to discuss these things but sadly so many women rush in and out and don't get the education they need. 
  • Online presence is important. Statistically, women in larger cup sizes are just not as likely.  I get that.  However, that also means that women like me  in the largest cup sizes turn to the internet to get well-fitting lingerie.  A big reason that brands like Ewa Michalak and Comexim have become huge internationally is because of bloggers like myself who tried them and spread the word.  Moreover, putting up preview pictures on your facebook page/twitter/website help and LISTENING to customer feedback (especially regarding fit issues) can help enormously.  In that sense I have to give props to both  Curvy Kate and Tutti Rouge who have worked on fixing fit issues over the years due to customer feedback. 
  • Cost distribution needs to be considered.   I get that larger cup sizes can be more expensive to manufacture.  It could be that fit models are harder to find.  It could be that wires that fit the right shape are harder to buy and it could be that dealing with fit issues takes more time/effort.  I get that.  That being said, charging more for the larger sizes is, well, discrimination.  It is also a deterrent for women in the larger sizes to buy multiple bras. What I'd suggest is that the costs are spread out more across the cup sizes.  For instance, instead of charging $40 for D-G cups and $50 for G-K cups why not charge something like $42 for D-K (remember that the D-G cups will sell more so it will compensate quicker for the larger cup sizes).   Moreover, the more bras you sell in the larger cup sizes the cheaper production costs will become over time (as in fit issues should, in principle, diminish once the styles are figured out and possibly deals with wire manufacturers could be made with a large enough demand). 

Should we do away with labels?

Should we stop calling brands names like "petite" or "full-bust" or "regular sizes".  Again, I have mixed feelings here.  Are the labels themselves problematic? In some sense yes.  They serve to marginalize a population of people, they limit one's options in terms of fashion self-expression and if someone is fit into a label that they don't self-identify with it can create body image issues (take, for example, a 32D women who feels she has an average sized bust but then is bumped into a "full-bust" by so many brand labels).  In the Jezebel article linked above the author points out that when comparing plus-sized to regular size we'd do a hell of a lot better if we did away with such labels and just designed for body shape instead.  THAT I could whole-heartily agree with.  But it still runs into the issue of what size range would small labels start producing initially?  Wouldn't there still be plus-sized clothing discrimination simply due to cost/benefit analysis?

Another issue that bothers me and I'm not sure how to resolve is ease of search.  If I want to google bras for myself I know that just googling "lingerie" won't do many any good since I'll well outside of the average size range.  I would need to google "full-bust bras" but even that won't help since the majority of full-bust lingerie brands stop at G cups, so at the moment I don't have a good keyword to put into to find lingerie in my size. Ditto goes for being able to pop into a Lane Bryant when you're plus-sized to find clothes, rather than scouring racks of clothes at Forever 21.  Labels can be harmful but they can also be helpful in self-identification and find others who share your same issues.

What I'd rather suggest is getting the labels correct. Call D-G cups Average cup sizes or straight cup sizes or maybe we should just go with a nonsensical term like purple-hairy-grasshopper sizes? Using the term "full-fit" or "full-bust" is extremely deceiving.  


  1. I briefly did pattern making for my husband's medieval/rennaissance leather corsets. I used the sizes: pixie, wench, valkyrie and goddess. We made no price changes based on size, rather on custom dye, custom fit, or both. As I ran across different body shapes, I would add them to the base sizes we carried so everything was based off of a real person. This was pretty easy (but time consuming) for such a small operation, I can't help but think thhta a larger manufacturer could do a better job than we did.

    1. That's interesting! It amazes me that something so obvious is just lost on many lingerie manufacturers. It seems like many could do the Ewa Michalak approach and design the basics for larger cup sizes but then only produce them if they had the materials on hand. At least then there's an actual option for the largest cup sizes. Like you said, once you get the fit down you don't have to redo it every time you produce a new item.

  2. While I hate it, it sometimes seems that the idea that A=small, B=smallish, C=medium, D=large, and DD=xlarge is so ingrained that many brands just don't *understand* that making a DDD *isn't* "catering to the full-bust/full-fit community." They don't see bra sizes as normally distributed, with a DD/E being around the midpoint; they think it's the tail, with a C being the middle. Some would, I think, looking at a 38K (for example) genuinely believe that she could fit into their bras that go up to a DDD cup. I think one of the problems is that no major magazine, or "pop" study, has ever clarified like you do that "34DD/36C" is not necessarily the "average size" but the "average size sold," and the two might not be the same. Cosmo et al. come out with "Are you wearing the right bra?" type of articles all the time, but they always throw in that 36C (or similar) is "average." I wish they'd stop that :-/.

    1. Yes, I think that is very much part of the issue. The major magazines just don't get it. Add to it that when someone Sofia Vergara came out and said that she was an F cup people were seriously up in arms that she "couldn't possible be THAT big". Ugh.

  3. I was measured in Bravissmo in Ireland (Belfast) and I came up to a 32J this is PP (post pregnancy) iam 5'7 and a size (uk 14 top and 16 bottom) I went looking around for a 32J on the Irish high street and was very disappointed �� 32" is only revered for A-C cup if your lucky. You have to go up to a 34" if you are a bigger cup size. I decided to order a curvy kate online in a 32 J and to my surprise its been the same as the bravissmo. I no longer live in Belfast moved south of the border to the republic and the prices for a J cups isn't cheap. When I was pre pregnancy I was 125lb/9st and a 32 F. And it was still a bit of a mission to find a 32" back let alone a F cup. But now if cup has become the DD of its day. But one again only starting at 34"