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13 February 2008 @ 04:03 am
If only you could use a calculator to measure 80085...  
This post deals with bra fitting using just the items you have available in your house. No special measuring tape required! Sound too good to be true? Well, ok, it is... there's also a field trip portion...

Ok, the dirty little secret about bra sizing is that it's really easy to find your band size by measuring, but nearly impossible to find out your cup size using the same method. Why? Because when you're measuring cup size, you're not actually measuring a length, like when you're measuring your band size around your ribcage. Instead, you are trying to measure a volume.

But let's start with the easy part: band size. This will take you a long way to figuring out what bra size you should really be wearing:

1. To begin, put on your best-fitting bra (basically we just need to get your boobs out of the way for this measurement).

2. Next get out a meter stick, a regular old retractable tape measure from the toolbox, (or, in a pinch, a ruler) and lay it on the floor. If you're using a retractable tape measure, unspool it to about 50 inches and lock it there.

3. Now find a piece of string, an electrical cord, a headphone cord, whatever. I find cords work particularly well because they are a bit more rigid than string, they have NO give or stretch to confuse you, and they tend to stick to skin a bit because they are rubber-coated. This makes measuring easier because they do not slip around as much as a piece of string.

4. With just your bra on--don't measure on top of a shirt!-- take your cord or string and wrap it around your ribcage right under your boobs. Get it right up under them where the breast meets the chest wall. Position the cord so that it is level going all the way around your torso. That is, don't let it slip down in the back because this will mess up your result. It should be as parallel to the floor as possible, like the black band in the picture below. And make sure it is SNUG!

5. Once you have done this, note where the end of the cord meets the other part coming around your chest. Carefully take the cord off your chest marking the point that you've measured to with your finger.

6. Pull the cord out along your meter stick, or unrolled tape measure, and note the length. Do the whole torso measuring process once or twice more just be sure you haven't made a mistake or positioned the cord incorrectly. If all your measurements come out pretty much the same, you're golden! This is your band measurement.

I repeat again: this is your band measurement. If your cord comes out to measure 34 inches, that is your band size. If it comes out to an odd number, like 33 (this happens to be my band size) then you can choose to go up or down, to a 32 or a 34 band for instance (I chose to go up to a 34). A lot of online or even real-life bra fitting advice places (shockingly many, in fact) tell you that once you measure your rib cage you are supposed to add anywhere from 3 to 5 inches onto it to get your band size. This is completely wrong and I have no idea why this misconception is perpetuated! This erroneous "advice" is in fact probably one of the main reasons that so many women wear a dead wrong bra size that slips around and leaves them with not enough support.

Now, this fact may take a little getting used to... chances are, your band size that you've just found by measuring is a lot smaller than what you are used to wearing. Don't worry. It will be ok! And if it's pretty near to what you are wearing already, give yourself a hand! You've managed to get it right already despite all the misinformation floating around!

But Boobius, you say, with tears in your eyes and breasts in your hands, "when I measure my ribcage, it is 34 inches. But, when I measure my unclasped 34FF bra on the meter stick or tape measure, it isn't 34 inches long! It is only 30 inches long! Or 27 inches! Surely I must add some inches to the measurement I've just taken of myself then, in order to find the correct bra size?"

No, Grasshopper, that is a misconception. For we live in the age of synthetic, elastic, and spandex-infused textiles. And the 4 or more inches that is "missing" from your band isn't really missing at all. Just give a tug on the ends and see how far it stretches. Most stretch fabrics today stretch to at least 130% of their original length. Some as much as 150%. If we were to do a little math, we'd note that 27x130%=35.1 inches. And 27X150%=40.5 inches. That means that your 34 band size bra, even though it only comes to 27 inches long in its unstretched state, is more than long enough for your 34 inch torso. Here's a real-life example using one of my size 34G bras. Take a look:


Stretched a little bit:

Stretched a lot:

The bra pictured, by the way, is from the Panache Superbra range: it is the "Tango II Plunge" style.

Believe me, the makers of bras know what they are doing. They factor stretch into the measurement-- it isn't an accident or inaccuracy that you have to account for by adding inches to your measurement. Just in case you need some more convincing, think about it this way: when you have an elasticized fabric, in order for it to be a snug fit, you don't cut it to exactly the circumference of the thing you are trying to cover. You cut it slightly smaller, so that when you wrap it around the circumference of the thing you're covering, it stretches a little and holds snugly to the surface. Nylon stockings or tights are a great example of this concept. And this is, in fact, the whole point of the bra band-- to hold snugly in place and in so doing, create a non-moving "shelf" of support for your boobs. If you were using a non-stretchy material, then yes, you would cut it to precisely the same measurement as your band size, but when using a stretchy material (as nearly all bras do now) it must be cut smaller in order to fit correctly. That's the whole reason for using a stretchy material, after all!

This may take a little getting used to when you first try on your correct band size, it might feel a tighter than you are normally used to. This is normal. Just remember to fasten the bra on the LOOSEST hook when you are trying it on, because it will loosen over the next few weeks as you are breaking it in, and then you can tighten it up using the remaining hooks.

On to Cup Size!

Cup size is harder to figure out, because measuring volume is a little harder-- especially with something squishy that doesn't have an easily-delineated starting point (where on the skin meeting your chest wall does your boob really "begin"? It's a tough call...) but it's not impossible by any means. Everyone remembers (or can google) the formula for computing the volume of a cylinder or a sphere (pi*r^2*h, and 4/3pi^3 respectively). But the problem lies in the fact that once you get this volume measurement, it's very hard to figure out how it translates into cup size, because there are no volume measurements given for cup size in either cubic centimeters, liquid ounces, or even the unit of measurement that is their namesake: cups! Maddening isn't it? Wait. It gets worse.

As some of you already know, but it bears repeating, cup size varies depending on the band size. Yup, you heard right, a 34D is not the same cup size as a 36D. The cups on the 36D hold a larger volume than those on the 34D, even though they are both described as a D cup! A 34D and a 36C, on the other hand, are the same cup size-- there is roughly one cup size difference between the same cup size on each bra band. For instance, each of the following sizes below have a cup size that is equal in volume:


Not only does this make things a little confusing, it also makes unscrupulous bra fitters or lingerie salespeople try to sell you the wrong size bra when they don't have your size available. I think we've all heard a Victoria Secret saleswoman or someone similar try to sell some poor busty soul a bra with the following logic: "You need a size 34DD, but we don't carry that, so you should buy a size 36D because it's the same cup size and we have that in stock!" Nur. Of course this doesn't work at all, because then the band is too loose to give enough support.

But more importantly, the fact that there is actually a different volume for each cup size depending on which band it is attached to means that even writing out all of the different volumes for all the different bra sizes would be a daunting task, even if they were publicly available for consumers to see, which they don't seem to be. And this is a pity, because there are a variety of ways you can measure boob volume, and if this information were available, ladies would then be able to simply find the volume measurement they needed, trace it to the cup size needed, and voila!

But, since that isn't possible, the best thing to do is this: go to your nearest department store (Sears, Macy's, etc.) or discount department store (Target, Walmart, etc.). If possible, bring a friend. Scoop up the largest cup size bras you can find, paying little attention to the band size. Remember, the bigger the band, the larger the cup. Grab some 44DD bras, or 40DDD bras or whatever is the biggest thing you can find. They may not be pretty-- in fact, they probably won't be, because many US retailers seem to think that larger ladies enjoy wearing the most hideous things on the planet, for some reason. Now swallow your pride and bring those giant granny bras into the fitting room. Don't worry-- you won't have to buy them!

Take the largest cup-sized one you have, and put it on without clasping it in the back. If you've brought a trusty friend, then have her pull the bra band tight in the back for you and hold it there, or do it yourself, so that the underwires and center gore are flush against your ribcage and the band is quite snug. Now look at how your boobs fit in the cups. Do they fit? Or are you seeing wrinkles or space in the cup because the cups are too big?

If so, get the next cup size down (for instance, if you were trying on a 44DD, try on a 44D or 42DD next). Continue going to smaller cups until your boobs are encased neatly in the cups. There should be no little bit of flesh spilling or bulging out the sides or tops of the cups, and you should have a completely smooth silhouette with the underwires and center gore laying flat against your body (if they are pushed away from your body, the cups are too small). Don't worry if the underwires are too large for your frame or if the cups seem to take up too much area on your chest-- just focus on how well your boobs fit into them for now.

Once you've successfully done this, note the size of the bra that worked AND note the sizing rubric being used. That is, what sizing chart are they using? Unfortunately, US bra brands use at least 2 different size charts when you get over a DD cup, which can cause some confusion. If you can't find this info on the tag, then just note the brand and style and you can look it up later on the web.

For instance, if I did this exercise, I would fit into the cups of a size 46C, 44D, 42DD, or 40DDD US-sized bra. If you take this on down the line, you can see how I got to these sizes... the cup size I need would also be found on a 38DDDD/F, 36FF, and finally, my actual band size, 34G. See what I did there? Basically you take the size of the bra that had cups that fit you, and subtract your measured band size from it: so 42DD minus 34G equals 8 inches, or 4 sizes. Then you count up that number of cup sizes on the chart below to get your real cup size. So, I would start at DD, and count DDD, DDDD, FF, and G. And that fourth size, G, is my actual cup size.

This method is far more accurate that those rather silly methods you sometimes see on the internet that advocate measuring the fullest part of your bust and then subtracting your ribcage measurement from it. That technique is fairly hopeless for several reasons, not the least of which is that it doesn't take into account the fact that everyone's breasts (and bras!) are different shapes, and that affects the measurement, by a LOT.

The only problem with using the method I have described is that for some of the larger-busted ladies, you might still not be able to find a cup size that fits. That's ok, though, because even if you can't get an exact fitting, you can at least get a closer estimate by elimination of many sizes. For instance, if your band measurement is 34, and the largest bra you can find is a 40DD, and its cups are too small, then you know that you are over a size 34G. If they're slightly too small, you're probably a 34GG; if they are waaay too small, then you are probably a 34H, and if they are so small that you can't even fit yourself into them, then you are probably a 34HH or above.

Below is a size chart to help you out in this endeavor, and which will be useful later as you go online shopping for bras, since many of the prettiest larger cup bras are made in the UK or Europe. You'll see that there are 2 different US size scales-- unfortunately, things are not as standardized in our lingerie industry as in other countries and so some brands use different sizing from others. Once you figure out which scale that brand is using, however, then you can figure out the other equivalent US size and International cup size you need.

If you give this a whirl and figure out your size using this method, please post here and let me know what you've found out, and especially whether it is different from the size you're currently wearing!

Next post: Beginning to find retailers where you can actually get your size! Stay tuned!
LadyGladyguinevere83 on February 13th, 2008 05:59 pm (UTC)
Interesting you mention abouot the adding 3-5 inches on the band thing... I wonder if it could be country differences? I measure 30 inches around my chest, but there's no way I would be able to get into a 30 bra, but a 34 fits nicely snug around my chest. Or maybe it's just the bras I have.
boobiusmaximusboobiusmaximus on February 14th, 2008 12:17 am (UTC)
Interesting. What country are you in, ladyG? If you've found something that works for you, then it's of course the way to go, regardless of what I or others may say. It's also quite possible that brand variation has something to do with it, as you suggest.

However, I do find a lot of other people who think that their measured band size is too small to fit them, actually have cups that are too small: that can often make the band size seem too small since the boobs are taking up space where they shouldn't be. But in the end, we all gotta do what we prefer :)
LadyG: Rose union jackladyguinevere83 on February 20th, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC)
I'm in the UK :) 30 bra size I think is the smallest size in normal stores here - how does that compare to the US? Usually I wear a 34F in UK size.

I don't think the cup thing can be it for me thinking about how mine are, but brand variation or country variation might well have an impact. I buy most of my bras from Debenhams, who have one of the better 'plus sized' ranges, i.e. a decent selection of larger cupped bras that are not hideous or beige and aren't really expensive! :)
boobiusmaximusboobiusmaximus on February 22nd, 2008 09:21 am (UTC)
Hm, well I don't think country variation is it, since pretty much all my bras are British (usually Panache, Freya, Kalyani, or Ultimo brand bras). It's possible that brand variation may have something to do with it. Out of curiousty, are the Debenham's bras made in the UK, or in another country? Sometimes country of origin, rather than country of sale, has more of an impact on sizing. Certainly US-sized bras made in China are generally much smaller than US-sized bras made in the US.

But, as long as you've found something that works for you, then that's cool :)
Exceedingly Diverted: chococatpixidance on February 13th, 2008 08:12 pm (UTC)
I have never in my life tried on a bra that sits completely even against my sternum. It always pokes out a little bit. I can go up a cup size and it's too big. I can go up a band size and it's too loose. Is there a way to get rid of this? My breasts are really close together in the front and that's what all the boutiques around here have said. They assure me that I'm wearing the right size bra but the reason it gaps in the front is because I'm petite.
boobiusmaximusboobiusmaximus on February 14th, 2008 12:25 am (UTC)
I'm glad you mentioned that! I actually have the same issue with the center gore on most bras (it puts my boobs way too far apart) and you're right, it absolutely can affect fit quite drastically. There is a quick and easy way of tailoring the center gore to bring the cups closer together for a better fit-- I actually do this to all my bras. I'll post about it next.

My hunch from what you've said is that you are wearing a cup size too small. But, this may not be the case. Take a look at the next post (I'll put it up in a few days) and see if experimenting with that method makes your current bras fit any better. It's possible that going up a cup size and using that method will help you achieve a better fit...

BTW, congrats on winning the contest! I'll be in touch!
The Firebyrdfirebyrd on February 14th, 2008 09:29 am (UTC)
The "add five inches to your measurement" thing drives me absolutely mad. If I were to do that and put on either a 40 or 42 band size, the bra would /fall right off of me/. How on earth could anyone get a bra that's 4-6 inches too wide around to do anything, especially when many women have shirts tighter than that?

The cup sizing stuff is new to me, though. I have no idea which size chart my current bra is on...I swear this style had DDDD, but I'm a G now, so either I jumped two sizes in one go or I'm on a third unrelated sizing system to the ones posted.
boobiusmaximusboobiusmaximus on February 22nd, 2008 09:23 am (UTC)
I'm guessing then that you were wearing a bra that used the USA(1) sizing scale, where DDDD is equivalent to (and sometimes referred to as) G. What were the brands in question?
donnalee_kissdonnalee_kiss on February 14th, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
I measure a 42G, but after getting several bras from biggerbras.com and barenecessities.com, I only found one which fit in the size I measure...which was an Aviana. I used to get Lilyette, but they now do not sell the type which fit me best...the bastards! How dare they get rid of my best fitting bra?!