More than 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong size bra. Big retailers like Victoria’s Secret and La Senza, which fit many women into their bras, may have a part to play in this. After all, considering the size of their market share, maybe more women would be wearing the correct bra size if they provide good bra fitting advice.
In reality, there is so much conflicting information out there about how to measure your bra size. Even if you do a lot of research, you might still not be able to sort out the good advice from the bad advice.
One of the things even professionals in the lingerie industry can’t seem to agree on is how to determine the bra band size.
The best starting point to ensure that any woman is wearing the right bra size to have the band size pinned down. — Natalie Jacobs from Bosom Buddy
Most agree that you would start by measuring your underbust, which is the circumference of your torso just below your breasts. From there, it gets fuzzy.
One common method of finding the bra band size involves adding 4 or 5 to this measurement (so with underbust measurement of 32 inches, your bra band size would be 36). This is often called the +4 method and it’s used by La Senza’s online calculator, as shown below.
La Senza’s calculator adds 4 or 5 to the underbust measurement.
Victoria’s Secret advocates using the raw over bust measurement as the band size, like so:
Several bra fitters I’ve spoken to believe both methods yield the same result most of the time. I measured myself and find this to be true. With an underbust measurement of 26 and an overbust measurement of 30, I should get a band size of 30 with both methods.
However, professional bra fitters and bra bloggers often blame the +4 method as being responsible for so many women wearing uncomfortable, ill-fitting, unflattering, sometimes painful bras.
They believe that one woman’s bra size changes by brand, model, age, hormones, and many other factors. So a bra should always be tried on to see whether it fits. This is the same principle like shopping for other clothing items, as you might wear different sizes in different brands. The problem with bra shopping is many women don’t know how a bra should fit — for example, I know girls who think bras are supposed to be uncomfortable.
Getting a professional bra fitting is often a good idea if you have access to good bra fitters. The danger is many bra fitters in stores only recommend sizes the particular store stocks because these people are primarily salespeople. Another problem is they might not even know how a bra should fit!
La Senza adds 6 to a 24" underbust measurement because 30 is the smallest band size they have!
The truth about the +4 method for finding the bra band size
I decided to ask five smart, knowledgeable professional bra fitters about how to measure the bra size correctly. These lovely ladies have been kind and generous enough to answer my questions and shed some light on the issue.
What do you think of the +4 method?
Erica Windle: As a rule, I don’t agree with the +4 methodology. Whether it truly worked in the past, I can’t say, but I know that it fails in far too many cases now, especially for women in the D or DD+ cup size range. A woman with a heavier bust needs a tighter, more supportive band if she hopes to get any lift and control throughout the day.
Natalie Jacobs: As a professional fitter who is passionate about the right ‘fit’ and size, I am totally against this method. The +4/5 method was used when bras were in it’s infancy; we have come a long way in terms of the design and materials/fabric of bras.
Renee Mayne: I NEVER use the add 4 method, I think it is extremely inaccurate.
Linda Becker: I don’t add 4 inches. Ever. If I do add any inches it’s typically 2-3, and that’s typically for women with small breasts and thin frames, or if we are using a certain brand that fits a certain way.
Those with very full busts need their bands a bit more snug. The key to a good fit for any size is a snug back band. And… Let’s face it, the bigger the breast, the harder that bra is working!
For petite women, their bras still need to be snug (very important for any size), but because their bra isn’t “working” as hard, it doesn’t need to start quite so tight. Also, women with very thin frames have less “cushion”. She will feel very uncomfortable in a bra that is practically choking her around the ribs. That said, she’ll also feel uncomfortable in a loose bra that’s riding around all day — so it’s important to find a balance, really.
[Check out the following video to see Linda in action.]
Claire Dumican (Butterfly Collection): This is going to shock you, but I do agree with [the +4 method], but only in very specific circumstances and NEVER for women over a D cup. If you have close-set breasts (the majority of your breast tissue is close together, you don’t have a lot of space between your breasts) and you’re under a D cup you may need to add inches. This is because the majority of your circumference is made up with non breast tissue body so you need the band to travel far enough to meet your breasts. Larger breasted women don’t experience this because their breast tissue tends to start closer to their armpits and spread towards their breast bone. That’s why they don’t need extra band, they need equal cup and band proportions.
What about using the overbust measurement instead?
Linda: My fitters and I don’t really use the overbust measurement in our stores during an in-person fitting. We’ve seen so many breasts, we can really eye ball it, try a few bras on with them, and go from there.
Erica: Unless the measurement above your bust is close to the underbust measurement, I can’t see how this technique will work on a broad scale. I tried this myself when I was younger and because of my v-shaped torso and broader shoulders, I was put in band sizes at least two sizes too big. Despite having no evidence to prove this, I feel like this technique is a sneaky way of using the +4 methodology. It *may* work perfectly for some women, but I suspect that this is more the exception than the rule.
Natalie: It is basically the +4 method.
[Claire has written a fabulous blog post on the subject; it’s a must-read!]
How many of your clients do the +4 method work for?
Erica: Not counting the women who size up due to band variations, I would estimate we only see about 2 to 3% of women who need to size up 2 band sizes. Women who need to size up one band size account for around 20% of our customers. Most of these women fall into one of three categories:
- Older Ladies: Part of our customer base are in the late 60s or older, and they have other body factors that need to be taken into account to achieve a proper fit. Some have scar tissue on their chest from bypasses or other surgeries, and others have a back problem that require a larger band for the bra to fit. Furthermore, some of these women no longer want to wear a bra that’s snug and would rather size up for comfort.
- Women with less body fat: Thinner women who have less padding around the band will usually size up a band (sometimes two) because there isn’t as much cushion along their ribcage so the band feels painful. These women usually wear smaller cup sizes (DD or under).
- Former band size was way too big: We have had women come into the store who were buying 38 or 40 bands (because they used that +4 or +5 formula!) who should have been wearing 32s or 34s, and for them, they’re not used to wearing a bra that feels that tight. They will usually only size up one band size though.
Natalie: I would safely say that in all my 13 years of bra fitting, adding on +4/5 inches to the underbust measurement is cause for disaster. It has worked for 0% of my clients, especially as I have never used this method other than when my clients request it, even then I use this method to show them what poor effects this has on bra fitting. I can’t really imagine the +4 method working on any female, even those with a smaller bust. I measure all customers using the non-+4 method in all sizes, whether big or small, and they come out in the perfect fit.
Claire: Because Butterfly Collection only sells D-K bras, I never use the +4 method. The only time I add more than one or two inches is for expectant and new Moms who are experiencing displaced ribs.
So how’s a girl supposed to determine her bra size?
Natalie: Once they have [the underbust] measurement — that is what the band size is. If their underbust measurement is an odd number I advise them to try the smallest back size first, eg. if a customer measures 29″ around the back, I would suggest they start off with a 28 back, before trying a 30 back. The best starting point to ensure that any woman is wearing the right bra size to have the band size pinned down. All it takes it one measurement as described above.
In order to then work out the correct cup size I would always recommend using the same cup size they were in originally. With the correct back size, they will soon see that the cup in most cases will be too small. Gradually they can then increase the size of the cup, while maintaining the same band size.
All bras should be tried on, even if the above steps have been followed to ensure a correct fit.
Claire: I use the raw measurement to determine the best starting band size. So if the underbust is 34 I recommend a 34 band. When the underbust is between whole band sizes I round up or down depending on the measurement. For example, I would round down a measurement of between 34 1/8 and 35 to a 34 band and would round up measurements over 35 1/8 up to a 36 band. I would still point out that both these women could wear a band size even smaller than this depending on how they prefer their fit to feel.
Renee: If you measure the underbust in inches, for example 32″, that is a UK size 32. In smaller cups, I usually find if you measure as a 32D (with a full-bust measurement of 36″), you may need to go up in the band and down in the cup, so a 32D becomes a 34C.
Erica: The raw underbust measurement, while helpful, is only a starting point for determining the correct size band. Usually, I ask my customers what size they have been buying and how they like their band to fit. Some women are very sensitive to a tight band and would prefer to size up one or even two band sizes from what their underbust measures. Additionally, we may also have to size up based on the style of the bra. Certain styles that are lacier or cut with a smaller band require sizing up.
Linda Becker, more commonly known as Linda the Bra Lady, fits women into good bras in her brick-and-mortar stores in New York City. Additionally, her team of Bra Divas provide fitting advice over the phone, email and live chat.
Claire Dumican and her soon-to-be-husband Paul Syrenne are the people behind Butterfly Collection, an online bra boutique that provides Skype fittings, as well as in-person fittings for Vancouverites.
Erica Windle started A Sophisticated Pair with her aunt to help women experience “the ‘Aha!’ moment where she finds the perfect bra for her body and realizes how wonderful she can feel while wearing it!” Her store is located in Burlington, NC.
Natalie Jacobs runs her own lingerie company called Bosom Buddy in London, where she provides bespoke home fitting services.
Based in Melbourne, Australia, Renee Mayne the Bra Queen helps women build their lingerie businesses.
Whew! I sure learned a lot reading through these responses! I will soon edit my Bra Fitting page based on the views expressed in this interview. Thanks ladies for helping women find their correct bra size!