1.1.1 Spandex fibre and outdated size charts

Our bra sizing system with a letter indicating cup size (originally only A, B and C) originates from the US in the 1930s. Spandex fibre did first enter the markets in 1959. The size charts were never adjusted accordingly. Todays bras are much more stretchy than they used to be. This leads to size charts recommending bras that are way too loose. For a correct fit, most women have to choose bras one to two sizes tighter than what the size charts suggest. This is a bra with a 55cm (=22 inch) underband. Just by pulling lightly, it stretches up to 62cm (=24 inches).

1.2.0 misunderstandings

1.2.1 general problems of standardized sizing

There are more than 3.5 billion women on this planet, ever single one unique. There are about 250 bra sizes. Many women don’t buy their bras in specialized lingerie stores, but in lingerie departments of big clothing franchises. Those often offer as few as 16 sizes, sometimes less.

Therfore, not every woman can buy fitting bras. Because of the limited size range, it is very unlikely to stumble upon a fitting bra in a “normal” non-lingerie store. There are just not enough sizes to accommodate for the diversity of bodies. At the same time, an illfitting bra is like an illfitting shoe: harmful.

problematic concept

Bra sizes are a problematic concept. They are based on the believe bodies could be categorized, measured and submitted to fixed terms. The system does not take into consideration the vast diversity in human bodies, neither their constant changes. Some women need different bra sizes just to compensate their boob size fluctuation during their hormonal cycle.

Not only bodies, but also bras themselves fluctuate in size much more than the sizing indicates. The printed size can at best be used as a very rough starting point for trying bras on. It is very difficult to produce bigger amounts of bras true to size. If two bras differ only in the used fabric, they can already require different sewing patterns. Even the colour can lead to irregularities. Dark bras tend to run a bit smaller and tighter than light colours.

chaotic norms

It gets even stranger if one considers that the European bra sizing norm (most US big cup bras get imported from Europe) is just a suggestion that producers are free to ignore. The 34B of one producer could be very unlike the 34B of a different producer.

Also, there is a norm for the measurements in those sizing charts, but not for how those measurements should be taken. Nowhere is written wether the measurement should happen while breathing in or out. This alone can cause the results to shift about two sizes.

Finally, the idea to desribe two more or less hemispherical volumes by two measurements of circumference is, from a mathematical point of view, quite adventurous.

1.2.2 letter does not equal breast volume

Many, many women wear illfitting bras. Some lingerie store owners claim, during their years of job experience to not have once encountered a woman who came into their consultation with an already fitting bra on.

There is a general misunderstanding contributing to this. Widespread, but wrong is the assumption, the letter of a bra size was an indicator for boob size. If a woman is asked for her cup size, she is likely to answer something along the lines of “I’m wearing a C-cup”.

The letter of a bra size only contains information about boob size in combination with the lenght of the underband. 32C is a completely different size than 40C, wich has a longer underband but also significantly bigger cups.

So how does it work?

Theoretically there are two measurements required: Bust- and underbust circumference. With those two measurements one can either look up ones size in a size chart or get it from the size formula. In real life, this system does not work because of the reasons mentioned above. More about better approaches later.

In the size charts one can see that the same letter is always assigned to the same bust- underbust- difference. If one substracts the underbust circumferences (70, 75, 80, 85, 90) from the A-colums values (83, 88, 93, 98, 103) one alsways gets 13. 13 cm bust- underbust difference therefore always mean an A-cup.

Bust circumference 100 cm (39.4 inches), underbust circumference 74cm (29 inches). Someone with those measurements should wear 75E according to size chart.
Unterbrustumfang = underbust circumference (in cm)
Bandlänge = underband lenght (in cm)

problems of the method

This correlation often leads to the wrong conclusion the same letter was always associated with the same breast size. That is incorrect.

Even though the bust circumferences are identical, the right body clearly has bigger boobs. Bigger letters indicate bigger difference in bust- underbust- circumference, but not nessecarily bigger breasts. A- cup does not equal A-cup.

The left column of this graphic shows how the sizing system treats boobs. Because the difference in bust- underbust circumference stays the same, all boobs in the left column are A-cups.

The right column still shows the A-cups from the left column with identical measurements. In reality, on a bigger ribcage, boobs tend to be spread out over a bigger area. They have a lot of volume that a simple circumference measurement does not catch.

sister sizes

Let’s imagine the ribcage of a woman to slowly shrink, while her boobs stay unaffected. Every two Inches she would need a bra with a band one size shorter. At the same time, the letter would raise one spot. Like this her bra size (her boobs are still the same size!) would chance from 40A, 38B, 36C, 34D, 32DD, 30E till maybe 28F. This is, by the way, a realistic size that could fit a smaller framed lady with medium sized breasts. When her ribcage magically grows back to its original size, she would run through all the sizes again in opposite order.

As counterpart, let’s imagine a balloon in shape of a womens body. When it gets inflated, boobs and ribcage are growing pretty evenly. If in its first, relatively empty state, the balloon fits into a 32D, it would now grow through the sizes 34D, 36D, 38D, 40D and so on. The boob volume (like the rest of the body) would increase, even though the letter stays the same.

Cups of 60E and 75B are similar in size. Thats why it does not make any sense to only give a letter when asked for bra size.

So since 34B and 36A are identical in cup size, and let’s say, 34B was out of stock. Could one just take 36A instead? No. The underband length is very important for a correct fit. It is essential. An underband thats just one size off can render a bra completely useless. But it is still worth trying that bra on, since sizing is very inconsistant.

1.2.3 bra steps are not supposed to carry weight

Boob weight should not be lifted by the bra straps but rather be lifted from the underband underneath. On a correctly fitted bra, the underband will support 80-90% of the boobs weight. That’s the only reason strapless bras work. The straps should just hinder the bra from slipping down and give the boobs a lifted shape. Because the underband provides the support, it is so much thicker and sturdier than the straps. To work properly, the underband should hug the ribcage in a gentle but sturdy way while the boobs span open the cups.

A wrong cup size can lead to an illfitting underband not being discovered. Many women combine too small cups with a too wide underband. The band being to long is not that obvious if it is partitially wrapped around the boobs as well. One can test the fit of ones bra by putting it on with the cups on the back and with straps off the shoulders. In this position it should not slide down the body. If it does, the underband is too wide.

1.2.4 putting bras on the wrong way

There is another factor that often leads to the purchase of illfitting bras. In most lingerie departments one is not shown how to put a bra on correctly. This however has trendemous effects on how a bra will fit. Many of us have developed strategies to put on bras in way that conceals problems with the fit.

fitting problems show after correctly putting a bra on

This does not seem to bad. It doesn’t because some breast tissue is pushed out of the cups in direction of the armpits.

If all the tissue gets scooped inside the cups, it actually starts spilling over.

It’s even more visible from this perspective. If this person moved, even more breast tissue would fall aout of the cups.

1.2.5 real vs. imagined size distribution

Mostly, only bra sizes from 32-36 and A-D are present in media or lingerie departments. That causes many people to imagine breast size distribution like this:

  • flat = AA
  • smallest quarter of all boobs = A
  • rather small quarter of all boobs = B
  • rather big quarter of all boobs = C
  • biggest quarter of all boobs = D
  • anomaly of nature/ boob job = DD

This is wrong for several reasons. First, a letter without band size tells nothing about the size of the boobs. Second, this schedule might be accurate if one looks at what sizes are bought (by women who believe in this distribution themselves). Brafitting professionals from many different stores agree, that in reality almost no women wears correctly fitted bras without consultion. If all women were wearing correctly fitted bras, the size distribution was completely different. DD for example is not a big size on most commen underband lengths.

1.2.6 average bra size

Since this is an originally German blog, here some German numbers.

The study “Average woman 2014” by German census bureau claims 80C (about 36C) as the most common size. It seems like shopping habits were examined rather than making sure the bras actually fit. 80C would fit a woman with broad ribcage and rather small boobs, not quite a common combination. A good adress for bra sizing issues in Germany is the online forum “Busenfreundinnen” (bosom friends). There one can find the following roughly translated statement of one of the moderators:

“In our consultions we recommend 30 underband extremely often, at approximately 30% of our consultations. Combined together our recommendations for 28, 30 and 32 underbands make up up to 70% of our consultations.

But this is not the picture of the real distribution in society, since here only the desperate and suffering with internet access end up. At the orders of 30 underbands only make up 5-10% of the total volume. This could partially be caused by misinformed customers, but I think those numbers are by trend closer to German average. Furthermore, experiences of Britsh brafitters show, that the most commonly sold sizes in the UK are 32 DD/E/F.

For many women with small breasts the psychological strain is not big enough to look for 30 underbands. They settle (also after our consultation) with tight 32 and 34s.”

Of course a bra consultation forum is a staging area for women who don’t fit into standard sizes. But the fact they can deviate in all four directions (to small/ big band, to small/ big cups) evens this out a little.

Here a graph of the most common underband lenghts in the forum:

A while ago one could find rather interesting bra size statistics at the “bra band project” wich was unfortunately discontinued. It was a collection of pictures of women in wellfitting bras. For this graph it was ensured that the participating women wore fitting bras at all. The distribution looked like this:


A special case is bra size 34B. Mysterious circumstances created the everlasting myth, this was a size for slim ladies with average sized boobs. Just the right size for a “normal body”. In fact, this size fits women with broader ribcages and small boobs. This combination is not very common. Most supposed 34B- ladies need shorter underbands and bigger cups. This women below wears 34B.

1.2.7 Which bra sizes do exist? What is the biggest/ smallest bra size?

In most stores one can find bras with underbands between 34 and 40 an cup sizes between A and D. This is only a fraction of available sizes. The following sizes refer to bras that can be regularly orderd, without customization.

biggest and smallest underband

Underbands start at 24 (available at Bosom Galore) and reach up to 56 (available at Ewa Michalak).

biggest and smallest cup

The smallest cups are available at dainty lady, there one can buy bras in 28AAAA. That’s five sizes smaller than a 32A! The biggest cup is the 46K by Jeunique. K is the 15th letter of british bra sizing alphabet.

There are plenty of bras that are labeled with even higher letters, because companies use different sizing systems, because they are custom made or they have a shorter underband. If two bras are identical in cup volume but differ in band lenght, the one with the shorter band will always have the higher letter assigned due to sister sizing. There are for example 38MM-bras by Ewa Michalak. Their cup volume is smaller than Jeuniques K-cup though.

Who wears such sizes?

Who hears about 24-bands or O-cups for the first time probably wonders, how it can be profitable for a store to sell sizes that extreme?

Since those were examples for smallest and biggest bras, it is self explainatory that those sizes are rare. But they are not as insane as they sound. Because so many women are wrongly wearing 34B and surrounding sizes, we missjudge. The steps between sizes are much smaller than often guessed.

Many normally build, thinner ladies should wear unterbands below 32. With bands that short the letters do get high by default. Eypecially with young women whos ribcage is not fully outgrown yet, 24 bands are not unlikely at all.

And too small cups are among the most common fitting problems. It can be that a supposed 36D- woman would be better of with a 30G bra.

Those sizes do roughly translate to british 30F and 28F.

1.2.8 Which bra size does a 90-60-90 woman wear?

“Which bra size does a 90-60-90 woman wear?”

This question refers to (the in metric areas wellknown) legendary measurements of Marilyn Monroe and already shows a missunderstanding the questionmaker has about bra sizes. Those measurements stand for bust-, waist- and hip circumference. A bra size besides the bust circumference always consists of a second measurement: underbust circumference as well. Without that, only a very limited answer is possible.

One can look into a random size chart and check all fields with a 90. Take the table above.

90cm (about 35,4 inches) can be found in fields of the sizes 36AA, 34B, 32D, 30E and 28FF. Women with those sizes all had the same bust circumference but very different boob- and ribcgage sizes.

All have in common that boobs and ribcage combined do have a circumference of 90cm. This could as well be a lady with 80cm (31,5 inches) ribcage and ten centimetre bigger bust circumference. Or a lady with 60cm (23,6 inches) ribcage and bust circumference that is 30cm (11,8 inches) larger. In different size charts the size details may differ. The core stays the same: every measurement appears in the size charts several times if only the size chart reaches far enough.

Independently from that, it is almost impossible to tell which bra could fit a woman just based on two numbers.

Let’s assume a woman with bust circumference of 90cm and underbust circumference of 70cm tried on a 70D- bra. This should fit her size chart wise. But maybe the bra does not fit well because it runs wide or her specific shape of ribcage would require something tighter. Due to sister sizing she might be better of in a 65E.

There is no consensus on Marilyn Monroes bra size by the way. It could be 70D (32D).

1.3.0 body normativity

Knowledge about fitting bras can barely spread. If a women is told her bra doesn’t fit, she will likely feel personally attacked, in worst case right out insulted. Even an information that is meant as help could contain the subtextual message she wasn’t presenting her boobs in an ideal way, what she could understand as an insult of her looks. Besides that, a hint like this will always creat a knowledge-slope that feels bad by its definition. It is an attack on an area that many women thought to be experts in before.

Breasts are a vulnerable point of self worth. In brafittings, (professional bra fitting consultations), you get to hear tons of women apologizing for their breasts or talking bad about their bodies. Assumed critic at a females boobs are so harsh because exaggerated social ideals make many of us insecure.

female breasts and evolution

In western culture the female breast is regarded with immense significance towards attractivity of a woman. Most of the time this is explained with biological effects. For example, human females breasts are always large, while other primates only have big breasts while they breastfeed. On this base it is claimed the upright walk made the formerly important butt dissappear from mens eye height. So the boobs enlarged to mimic the butt. Even though it would sure fit into the worldview of certain men if boobs had developed just “for them”, this theory is wrong.

In “patterns of sexual behavior” by Ford and Beach one can read that from 190 examined cultures only 13 associate the female breasts as sexual. In parts of Aftica it was for a long time common for females to be bare breasted in public. The role of female breast as sexual key appeal is a cultural construct.

For whom it is hard to believe that humans are only appealed to a body part because of social norms, be reminded of ancient Chinas lotus feet. Small feet were considered so erotic, that many young womens feed were mutilated to make them marriageable. This was also explained with biology. It was claimed the small steps (caused by the pain) appealed to the males protective instincts and thereby raised the attractivity of the female.

bias in dealing with female vs. male nudity

The female chest is a secondary sexual organ, like a mans beard. That women have to cover their chests in public while men don’t, shows that regardless of same population ratio the female version of the sexual dimorphism gets regarded as discrepancy from the norm. Sexual dimorphism is a difference between male and female individuals of the same species, like the colourful feathers of male peacocks in comparison to the rather unspectular brown of their female counterparts.

The artificial sexualisation of the female chest goes as far as some restaurants throwing out breastfeeding women, because the visibility of their beasts was considered sexual. Besides a general weirdly negative view of seuxuality and nudity this construct of values carries thoughts that views humans as being uncontrollably subjected to their hormonal urges. The same construct leads to absurd outgrowths like claiming survivers of sexual abuse shared guilt by choosing “provocative” clothes.

letter phobia

Out of fear to be abnormal, some of us ignore their feeling for a correct fit with thoughts like “This bra fits well. But it is a D cup and my breast are not big, so I will go down a cup size (even if it’s less comfortable)” or “My friend has bigger boobs than me and wears C, so I won’t try anything bigger than B”. In this surrounding a phenomen ensues that is called letter phobia. When buying bras, many women do unconsciously orientate themselves at women who have got the wrong idea too. Because there are so few bras offered under 32 and over 36 as well as under A or over D, they assume those sizes to be rare.

Letter phobia is the fear of trying on bras with high letters. The counterpart is size phobia accompanied by thoughts like “underbands below 34 are for children only” for short underbands. Those phobias keep women from stumbling upon fitting bras by accident.

Very few women know those thoughts to be factually wrong. It also plays a role that many lingerie stores are uninformed themselves or drop all their plans once they think of the cost of a threatening size change in their stock.

1.3.1 illfitting bras in media

It can be difficult to recognize illfiting bras because we are constantly surrounded by them. Movies, shows and advertisments show so many fitting problems, that those have entered our heads as “how a fitting bra should look”.

Or who noticed, that Victoria’s Secret or Hunkemöller regularly use photos in their onlineshops that shows models in too small cups, with the overspilling tissue ironed out by Photoshop?

Or that in the laundry basement scene of “The big bang theory” we can see Penny in a bra that cuts into her boobs and an underband thats halfway up her neck?

The one marks the position the underband should be at. The too loose underband causes the too small cup to just lay on the boob superficially and silde off the brest by movement.
The underband should sit at the height of the three. It is at least three sizes too wide.
The underband is sitting way higher in the back than in the front. It is several sizes wide. The too small cups parts the breast tissue.

1.4.0 range of products

1.4.1 existing size range and excuses (lack in demand)

Once in a while affected women will request the existing size range to be extended. So far all those requests got lost like tears in the rain. There are reasons for that. In Germany there were experiments with lingerie stores offering a wider size range. But the new sizes were not sold.

Letter phobia hinders women to even think about trying on the new bras. They don’t get sold and the stores stop their sale with a footnote not to engage in such shenanigans again.

The isufficient product range combined with the mistaken demand lead to a vicious circle that can only be broken with good bra size consultion and information.

1.4.2 reasons (costs, no interest in information)

The interest of producers to provide those informations is limited. They are in a very comfortable position since women who don’t find fitting bras will still buy. So lingerie providers don’t profit from providing information as long as noone else does either.

It is some kind of cartel of purposeful information deprivation. If they did good bra consultion they had to recommend sizes they don’t offer. Customers would start to buy bras in places with better size range like Britain or Poland. This would in the long run lead for them to have to make expensive changes in production. Just to consult “into stock” or not at all is a lot easier. At the same time, noone in this vicious circle is acting maliciously. The sales personnel is usually not properly educated in brafitting. The management cares about the safety of the company and offers what gets sold.

Until now there are only a few small, independent corporations who specialize on big size range and quality consultation. Customers who are lucky enough to find a store like that once usually stay. Also the information provided via Internet gets easier to access, so that established companies will have to start to overthink their strategies.

1.5.0 risks by illfiting bras

1.5.1 risks

Illfitting bras are not chicken- feed but health risks. Especially women with bigger boobs one can often be heared them blaming their boobs for their back pain. This is often inaccurate. Way more often, an illfitting bra causes the pain. Healthy boobs usualy do not hurt. Pain can be caused by hormonal changes, like shortly before menstruation or by vibration like from walking. That is why bras are a very good invention. Correctly fitted the underband supports from underneath, holds them in place and reduces shock.

maldistribution of boob weight can lead to relieving
posture that get a habit
too wide underband moves against the skin and
irritates it
headachestoo wide underband causes boob weight to hang on
straps which dig into shoulder tissue and press on
too small cups can caus this painful complication
for breastfeeding women
back-, neck- and
too wide underband causes weight maldistribution and
pinches off tissue
if too small cups are worn over a longer time boob tissue moves towards armpits

1.5.2 Do bras cause saggy boobs?

Probably not. While it is true, that muscles deteriorate when unused. But the female brest is composed by muscle but by fat and gland tissue with the chest muscle only underneath. Under stress this tissue does not get trained but ruptures. Thats why it is more likely that a wellfitting bra does not cause saggy boobs but rather prevents them.

It is however hard to make accurate satements. Many women who did not wear bras for their whole life did so because of their small breasts. Small breasts do sag less in general though. And there are just not enough women in well fitting bras their whole life. It is almost impossible to indentify those correctly. That makes it almost impossible to pull of a fair comparison between both groups.

One study that is often cited by braless-faction is that of the sport medicine specialist Jean-Denis Rouillon of Franche-Comté University. He observed many of his female students to go without bra for comfort and bigger freedom of movement. He started to document measurements of voluntary braless students. Their boobs did rise a few milimeters over time. On the other hand, the method of this examination is kinda doubious. That sport studients bodies get tighter over time is not surprising. If this body change is caused by not wearing bras or rather intensive training stays questionable.

3 Thoughts to “1.0.0 Why do women wear illfitting bras?”

  1. Es war ja schon mal ein wichtiger Schritt in die richtige Richtung, als 2007 der erste BH in Körbchengröße K (UK) auf den Markt kam. Und nachdem gleich im ersten Monat über 10.000 Stück verkauft wurden, hat man gleich mit Cup KK nachgelegt. Heute ist man in der britischen Skala immerhin bei Cup L angekommen, was aber bei Weitem nicht ausreicht.

    Ich kann es nicht verstehen, warum sich selbst britische Hersteller mit größeren Cups noch immer so zurückhalten. Natürlich ist es richtig, daß viele Frauen Angst vor großen Buchstaben haben und so die größeren Cups in den Regalen liegen bleiben, bzw. online nicht bestellt werden. Aber für die Kundinnen, die sich in einem Fachgeschäft beraten lassen, gilt das ja nicht. Im Gegenteil. Die sind froh, wenn sie (endlich) mit einem passenden BH den Laden verlassen, ganz egal welcher Buchstabe auf dem Etikett steht.

    Aber was niemand herstellt, kann man nicht verkaufen. Denn wenn das Größenlimit der Hersteller erreicht ist, nützt auch eine Beratung nicht viel, wenn die Kundin einen größeren Cup benötigt. Man hat zwar dann noch einen gewissen Spielraum, bei Kreuzgrößen das Unterbrustband zu kürzen, aber auch das hat Grenzen und ist keine wirklich optimale Lösung.

    Einen Schlag ins Gesicht finde ich es dann, wenn unter diesen gegebenen Umständen ein junges Unternehmen wie SugarShape damit wirbt, endlich passende BHs für jede Frau anzubieten, dann aber mit nur 60 Größen aufwartet und bei Cup G aufhört, obwohl man schon vor 20 Jahren BHs bis Cup J bekommen hat – sogar in Deutschland.

    Aber die Probleme fangen ja schon bei normaler Kleidung an. Denn da, wo man z.B. in Großbritannien oder den USA für verschiedenste Figurtypen und die kurvigsten Proportionen unterschiedliche Größenlinien hat, darf man in Deutschland zwar von super dünn bis super dick sein – aber wehe man hat irgendwo Kurven, die in keiner DIN-Norm stehen.

    1. Danke für deinen Kommentar! Ich sehe es auch so, dass das das Größenangebot nach wie vor zu klein ist. Gleichzeitig verstehe ich das Dilemma der BH-Passformstudios. Gerade in Deutschland handelt es sich ja häufig um ganz kleine, unabhängige Läden die sich vor allem über immer wiederkehrende Stammkundinen finanzieren. Gerade weil Neugründungen im BH-Beratungsbereich so wahnsinning kapitalintensiv sind, ist es für diese natürlich ein großes Problem, wenn teure BHs in relativ seltenen Größen im Regal bleiben.

      Deswegen habe ich auch Verständnis für z.B. Sugarshape, wobei ich darauf hoffe, dass sie ihr Versprechen, ihren Größenbereich nach und nach auszuweiten, halten. Vielleicht könnten ja Modelle funktionieren, bei denen Passformstudios sich ausschließlich auf ein breites Angebot bei Größe und Passform der BHs konzentrieren und dafür Abstriche bei z. B. der Farbauswahl machen.

      Ich glaube, das Kleidungsproblem kennen hier auch viele gut. Den Tabellen nach bräuchte ich für meine Brüste Größe 34, meine Taille 32 und meine Hüften 36, ich nähe grundsätzlich alle meine Oberteile ab. Vielleicht ist es in Abetracht des Brexits Zeit, letzte Sammelbestellungen bei Pepperberry& CO. aufzugeben. Da gibt es in Deutschland auf jeden Fall Aufhohlbedarf und jede Menge Potential für mutige Gründerinnen!

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