bras · fitness

So I’m wearing the wrong bra size? It’s not me, it’s you

How many times have we seen articles about how 70% of women are wearing THE WRONG BRA? Answer: A LOT. If you haven’t, you can start here and here and here and here. One brand decided to up the percentage for maximum stern effect:

Bra, with obligatory stern comment about how 85% of women wear the wrong bra size. Argh.
Bra, with obligatory stern comment about how 85% of women wear the wrong bra size. Argh.

How can this be? Let’s break this down.

  • Women want bras that feel supportive and comfortable and look the way they want them to.
  • Women spend time and money and effort shopping for bras, which come in a variety of non-standard sizes, shapes, materials and structures.
  • But 70–80-85% of them get it wrong. They’re walking around in the wrong bra size.

Yeah, that’s about it. We’re wrong. Our bras are wrong. Our bra sizes are wrong.

Maybe wearing the wrong size bra is even bad for our health:

Please don't worry. The people who wrote the article saying that there are dangerous health effects of wearing the wrong bra totally made this up.
Please don’t worry. The people who wrote this article totally made it up. I’m not linking to it, as it’s irresponsible and wrong. More than 80% wrong, even.

So where did this myth about women not understanding/appreciating/accessing the correct bra come from?

This New York Times article hunted down the source:

One man, the plastic surgeon Edward Pechter, gets credit for it.

Dr. Pechter first published the statistic in small 1998 study, writing in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery that 70 percent of women or more were wearing the incorrect bra size. The article outlined a new method for measuring breasts, with which he hoped to standardize sizing for augmentation and reduction surgeries.

But Dr. Pechter didn’t reach his estimate through surveying a large and diverse sample. Instead he used anecdotal evidence from publications like Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal and the Playtex Fit Guide. (He also studied only women who reported wearing cup sizes AA through DDD. Today you can find bras in sizes up to an O cup.)

But it is true that good-fitting and comfortable and supportive bras are hard to find. Ask many women (me, for example) and they will tell you about spending loads of money on expensive bras that were uncomfortable, unsupportive and just not wearable. The NY Times article identifies several problems:

  • There aren’t any industry size standards for bras
  • Women’s breast sizes fluctuate over time and cyclically, during pregnancy, etc.
  • Women whose breast sizes are outside the standard cookie-cutter sizes have more trouble because of variations in bra design
  • Maintaining a steady supply of well-fitting bras requires advanced tape measure proficiency and twice-annually reassessment, followed by more bra shopping

Women do have more buying options now. We are being deluged with ads from newer bra companies on social media. But once again, women are being told they have to shoulder the burden of more labor just to be able to go out the door in decent chest shape and comfort and appearance. More shopping. More returning. More trying on. More outlay of money. More attention and fuss to manage a part of us that is not weird or troublesome or surprising to anyone– it’s just our breasts.

Okay. I’ll check out loads of bra types, research and calculate my sister sizes and carry a tape measure in my bag, always at the ready should my breast sizes change suddenly.

But stop telling me it’s my fault. It’s not me, it’s you, bra industry.

Readers, any good bra/bad bra stories you want to share with us? We’d love to hear from you.

10 thoughts on “So I’m wearing the wrong bra size? It’s not me, it’s you

  1. Wow, thank you for the research. This “issue” only dates back to 1998?! It seems like it’s been a lifetime.

    My biggest bra woe is that every time I’ve changed size, I’ve needed new bras. Each time my size/shape would stabilize, I’d figure, “I’m done. This is my new normal, time to buy a wardrobe,” and then a year or so later, things would shift again. Did that SEVERAL times before I became the size I’ve been for 5 or so years now. In any case, I had about 15 nice, barely worn bras of various sizes to donate to Goodwill at the end of it. No idea of folks buy used bras, but I can say with confidence some of them were only worn a handful of times before I couldn’t wear them anymore. And they’re so expensive! Probably gave away $1000 in bras.

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  2. My current bra woe is finding something to accommodate my new situation-a tissue expander temporarily in place (ahead of an implant) after a single mastectomy on one side, and my normal breast on the other. I, too, find myself saying good bye to bras that contained now painful underwire that were not cheap. Since my surgery in August, I’ve pretty much gone braless, but funny how societal norms have me scrambling to tuck the girls into something for my return to work. I can handle a sports bra for the maximum hour workouts I’ve returned to, far from full work days ahead of me in a couple of weeks. For now, I invested in cheap genie bras from Walmart, but I still may be in the bathroom stall at work, peeling my bra off for some relief!

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  3. This bra narrative (about how we’re all doing it wrong) makes me mad. Thank you for calling it out! My first criterion for a bra is comfort. And basically bras are not comfortable, so I operate on a more or less continuum with respect to this criterion. Despite the many things I’ve heard about how more expensive bras are better, I frankly haven’t found that. My go-to are CK bras that I buy in two-packs from Costco and replace every few years. Even then, the bra comes off pretty much the minute I walk through my front door. And I bet I’m not alone.

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  4. I got fitted for bras while in Scotland, and it was…so bizarre. There were no tape measuring or anything she asked me what size I was wearing right then and grabbed the 4 bras I had an interest in. Not one of them were the same size because she acknowledged that sizes across brands, and us vs uk sizing were all different. Each bra she handed me actually fit perfectly. I’m not convinced I didn’t find some kind of boob wizard. I got excited when Target was advertising their new bra line and extended sizes because I hadn’t bought new bras since I went to Scotland, but so far their claim to sell a g cup in store seems to be a lie.

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  5. As a large-breasted woman who has waited over 20 years and finally gone forward with breast reduction surgery, I have been thinking a lot about my breasts recently. I am a feminist mom of two young daughters and am lucky to have done a crap ton of breastfeeding. I am wading though my thoughts and some strong feelings about breasts and bras. I recently learned that many women who wear a bra at night dramatically increase their chances of breast cancer because their lymph nodes don’t drain properly (or something like that…I need to follow up and do my own research). So for the past two weeks I have been sleeping bra-less (sleeping bra that is, I also take mine off and switch the minute I walk through the door). I also heard that going bra-less can help keep your breast-holder-upper muscles strong and healthy. Now that I’m getting used to flopping around more freely (and being careful about not rolling over onto them in bed) I do still sometimes question my upcoming surgery, because I feel an odd acceptance, and a comfort, but also some discomfort, about found bra-less. It still doesn’t feel 100% natural and I’m constantly having to question my assumptions about feeling ‘put-together’ or ‘professional’ because of how my breasts present. I do believe that women need to dress for how they feel and yet I hold onto these assumptions somewhere deep down. I also have, like most women, experienced some sexual trauma and so it has really brought back a lot of those early memories and relationships with pubescent boys and their hypersexual gaze. Which is not something I enjoy thinking about, as a mature, evolved, sex-positive, somewhere-on-the-spectrum-but-still-pretty-cis-woman. I think intersectionality writ large (way larger than my own experiences) plays a part in this. And I hung out and felt safer with a lot of those boys, and they with me, so I was privy to far too much of their language and thoughts. Is it these boys in their absolute youth and boy-ness who betrayed me, and today somehow keep me listening to bra company BS? Ugh. Yeah. I’m done with bra companies and these studies.

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    1. I got a breast reduction surgery when I was 19, I’m 53 now. Best decision for me ever. I’m not sure that breast holder upper muscles would be anything more than your back muscles since breasts are just sacks of fat and mammary tissue.

      for my recover I wore cotton tanks and then just wrapped a big ace bandage over that since getting in any kind of a bra was pretty hard. I’m sure that the surgery is somewhat different now.

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  6. Even plastic surgeons don’t seem to know bra sizes either…it’s baffling! A good resource is the ABraThatFits reddit…they are seriously amazing with their own fit calculator. Now that I know my actual size (which is several cup sizes above and several band sizes below what Lane Bryant was telling me), I’m way more comfortable and supported

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