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Can We Please Stop Making Women Scared of Their Lingerie?

"85% of women are wearing the wrong size bra."

I first heard that statistic five years ago, shortly after Oprah Winfrey dedicated an entire hour-long show to lingerie. One would think that number might have changed since then, but according to Debenham's latest press release, 85% of the women they surveyed are still wearing the wrong size bra.

Call me cynical, but I have a hard time believing that.

In the three years since I've started blogging, I've seen that figure several times, and I've repeatedly asked retailers, manufacturers, and designers where exactly this 85% statistic comes from. Yet I've not once received a clear answer (other than, "It's common knowledge.")... much less a link to a dataset or an independent research firm. As a matter of fact, I have never read a single "study" on bra fitting that was conducted by someone other than a bra seller. I don't have an MBA, but that sounds like a conflict of interest to me.

Now, I'm not denying the importance of a good bra fitting. And I'm certain there are lots of women wearing the wrong size bra even as I type this. But can we please stop it with the scare tactics?

There are lots of good reasons to wear properly fitting lingerie, and you don't have to use overblown statistics to make a case. Instead, why not talk about how a good bra not only lifts your boobs, but also your spirits? Or how the right bra can make you more comfortable, and therefore more confident? There are so many amazing things to say about lingerie, and you can say them all without telling women they're "doing it wrong."

But I want to hear your thoughts, dear readers. Do you believe there's any truth to the 85% statistic? Are you among the well-fitted 15%? Does a study like this motivate you to go bra shopping? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

41 Comments on this post

  1. Alicia says:

    Women fluctuate so frequently with weight that it is impossible to be constantly wearing the right sized bra 24/7 365 days of the year. Someone might have had a lovely bra fitting, and bought a few bras that fit them perfectly at that time, but 3 months later those bras will be too small for too big, because women are never the same weight. I myself have had so many different bra sizes, it would be impossible to be wearing the ‘right sized bra’ constantly without having monthly visits to the bra fitting shops.

  2. Colette says:

    When I shop for lingerie I do my own fittings. I’ll start with my current size, see if it fits and if not choose a new size based on what was ill-fitting until I find the right size.
    The sizing differences are crazy though. I’m usually a 10C (australian size) but have one in a 14D (however, it is a front closing bra so there isn’t the same flexibility in fit) and a 12B (10C cups were too big). I know that different cuts will have slightly different sizing, but going from a 10C to a 14D is a pretty big jump in size.
    I hear so much about how often bra fitters put people in the wrong size or recommend certain styles/brands because they represent that company that I figure it’s just quicker and easier to do it myself.

  3. TurboKitteh says:

    I am almost inclined to believe that the “85%” statistic is relatively correct, maybe not the actual number, but there are certainly A LOT of women wearing the incorrect sizes. When I first started to really be interested in wearing lingerie of course the first thing I did was go to my nearest VS for a fitting. The girl dutifully measured me and pronounced my size as a “34B”. Great! I know my size that’s what I will buy. So for years I would (try on) and by 34B bras, but something always felt “not quite right”. Sure I did find a few that really did fit well, but mostly not so much.
    Fast forward several years and I find myself hunting for something special in Nordies. I picked up my usual 34B in the styles I liked and headed off to the dressing rooms. The sales girl assisting me of course asks how I am doing and I had to admit not as well as I’d hoped for reasons XY & Z. She asked if she could measure me. Sure why not? After taking my measurements she brought back 2 different sizes each in 2 different brands. 32B & 34A. Guess what, they fit!!
    Since that moment I’ve discovered that the brand & cut of the bra determine the size I wear. And I believe that is what moset women out their fail to realize.

  4. LouLou says:

    What I truly believe about bra fit is this: it has NOTHING to do with size number and everything to do with the way the bra feels on. If you know how a bra is supposed to fit (i.e. where the straps and back should be, how your breasts should sit in the cups, etc), you are far better off than saying “I am such and such a size.” I always, and I mean always, try on a bra before I buy it. This makes it harder to find bras because it eliminates online buying, but I am happier in the long run.

  5. Soledancer says:
    Yes, the figure of 85% is actually understated. I have been a professional bra fitter for three years and I can tell you… most women not only the right fitting bra, but every women I fit are in department store bras that put 100% of the weight of their bust on their shoulders. There are some things women really should know both about bras and breast health, so I am currently working on a project to do just that. Most women are wearing a rib cage that is at least 4 inches too big in an attempt to get a cup that covers their breast. This is because there are typically only 28-35 different sizes available in department stores. Also, bras that compress tissue (underwire, sports and bras that are two small that create "muffin top" do impact healthy circulation and lymphatic flow. We need to think of our breasts not just as sexy or not… but consider our health. Shoes are another problem, but that's another issue ;0)

  6. mutive says:

    I could believe it, especially if we get into the nitty gritties as to exactly what the "right size" is.

    From what I've been given to understand, band size = underbust width + 4". Then you measure full bust width, and for every inch above underbust + 4", you add a cup. (So someone with a 28" underbust and a 32" full bust would be an "A", etc. etc.)

    Let's start with that widths don't necessarily go in full inches (or 2" increments…while 33", 35", etc. exist, they're fairly rare). This probably means that almost all women are wearing the "wrong" size, if we're specific enough. (i.e. I have a 28" under bust width, and a 35.5" full bust width, which probably changes a bit due to hormones. Am I a 32D or a 32E? Regardless, I'm wearing the D as my chances of finding an E are slim to none…and it fits fine.)

    And I'm still in that "standard" range. Women who have less conventional body types aren't going to find stuff that fits…so probably will adapt. (i.e. I used to wear a 34" C as it was easier to find, and fits reasonably well, if not perfectly. It was only when I tried on a 32 D that I was like…OMG, everything fits perfectly now!)

  7. Ashlee says:

    I would be extremely surprised if that statistic wasn't exactly true.

    People don't like lingerie. It's something that is only worn for other people. Or they're embarrassed about having someone help them.

    Plus, just like other clothes, bra sizes differ subtly by brand. You can't just grab "your size" and call it good. You kinda need to try it.

    Most of the time I'm part of that 15% who wears the right size.

  8. Emmy says:

    I'm not sure that I would say 85% of women are wearing the completely wrong bra size. Yeah, there's probably quite a few gals wearing a bra thats a cup or band size of in one direction or another, but that may be because of the size that comes up when they measure.

    I've measured myself several times as well as having been fitted by a sales lady at Victoria's Secret. According to the numbers on the tape, I should be wearing a 32C.

    I tried on about three bras in varying styles in a 32C and they all fit horribly. The band was so tight I couldn't breath deeply, and my breasts were spilling out of the cups to the point that had I taken two steps out of the dressing room I would have been arrested for public indecency.

    I tried on a 34D, the size that was supposedly "wrong" for me according to the tape measure and statisics, and it fit perfectly in every style except for their "Ultimate Push-Up" or whichever it is that has the most pushup power and padding (it was a rather tight squeeze in the cups). A few weeks later I went back and bought two bras in 34D and they are the most comfortable bras I own.

    So, I guess you could say I'm wearing the "wrong" bra size according to the tape(the numbers keep telling me 32C, but that is not going to work, but as far as actual fit in real life goes, I'm just right.

  9. Butterfly Collection Lingerie says:

    As every lingerie boutique owner knows, fit it is the best and worst part of the job. Getting a woman into the right fitting bra is a wonderful feeling. Educating women about fit and how it is relative to style and manufacturer is a never ending job.

    I always say that you wouldn't expect every style of clothing to fit you in your dress size when you walk into a shop. You understand that depending on your shape certain styles will flatter you more. This is the same with bras.

    You may find that clothes from one particular designer suit you more than others. This is the same with bras.

    There is no one size that is perfect across the board forever. The big hurdle seems to be that we're not educating women enough or giving them enough confidence to 'own' their boob size. Boobs and bras are magnificent and as an industry we need to inspire not terrify women into loving their unique size, shape and style.

  10. Kirsty @ Quirky Card Designs says:

    I'm a Bra Fitter at a deapartment store in the UK (not mentioned before)and i have to agree that in my experience 85%is a good guess at a statistic that we will never truthfully know.
    For one reason or another, women can let the care for their breasts slide, that's life.
    For one thing, your bra size is not like your shoe size, it will change throught various periods of your life. Heck, sometimes it can change from day to day dependent on your hormones!
    I agree that women worry too much about a few numbers and letters (being a 34jj, i've kind of got past that now!) rather than the fit and feel of the bra.
    Ultimatley your body will tell you what is right. We are there to guide you and educate you, it is my personal aim to make sure
    every customer who is fitted by me learns to spot the signs of a good and bad fitting bra. It is something we should all be aware of.

  11. Lingerie says:

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  12. Evia says:

    I think most women just do not want to accept the fact that their bra size CAN change and that not all styles fit every bust. For example, I know that plunge bras just don't really fit the shape of my breasts (gaping near the armpit plus a good spillage in the middle) so I steer clear and save myself the time.
    Also, most women are still not ready to accept the fact that they most likely need a smaller band and a larger cup, AND the fact that the cup is very relative to the band!
    I mean, my sister claims to be a 36D and obviously has much more cleavage than I do (34DD/E). I know finding a good bra after a D cup, albeit now easier than ever, is still quite a task, and again – people, D cups aren't THAT big! nor are, in fact DD's or even E's.
    I personally have not been professionally fitted yet but I think I'm smart enough to know how a proper size should fit. However, I might just drop in at Debenhams and see what they might offer, hehe.

  13. Jennifer Lynne says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that women wear the wrong size. As a lingerie designer and woman of a "larger than a b cup", the first important thing to do is get the correct band size. Once you get the correct band size, try on three different cup sizes, one should fit. In the US, most "professionals" say you add 4" or 5" to your under bust measurement. This is just plain wrong. You add 2" or 3", which accounts for the hook & eye. it should be snug. If you raise your arms and your band moves, you are wearing a band size too big. If your bra is digging into your underarms, your band is too big. If you have back fat bubbles, your band is too big. I wear a 34F or 34G depending on brand, VS put me in a 38C. Imagine how that fit?

  14. @thelessyouwear says:

    By way of disclousure we are a high-street lingerie shop in Ormskirk UK, so we do promote our fitting service and also believe that, from experience, many woman do wear the wrong size bra. But that's because so many woman don't get measured up for their bras and just guess at what their correct size is. And many women also think that one fitting will last a lifetime. We change shape constantly so we need to get measured constantly. And regardless of if the stats are true or not, well done in drawing attention to the need for women to get fitted.

  15. Dixie Rising says:

    I think, from personal experience, that each bra manufacturer and each bra type fit differently. I wear a 36C generally- unless it's a balconette or if there's no padding I may need a B or I may need to go up a size. My breasts determine the bra I wear- not a manufacture's retail assistant or fit chart. She can measure me and tell me I need a particular size but ultimately my breasts make the decision as well as my own personal comfort. I think more people should step away from the measuring tape and tell women where and how their bra should fit- gapping issues, pinching, tight straps, bulging- and what the best bra for them may be… we aren't shaped the same so a "standard" can't really apply.

    I think the number of ill fitting bra's is lower than 85% but I do think that women will keep a bra that no longer fits them, because it's in their drawer or they think it's pretty or they really liked it when they bought it, but I think they KNOW it's the wrong size/type of bra for them. I think that's typically the bigger culprit.

  16. Karen says:

    Being a bra fitter from major department stores in Australia. I notice a lot of women are willing to die by the measuring tape. So much so that I'm hesitant to use it, and have a customer walk away thinking they're a hard & fast size.

    So after measuring, I always re-iterate that sizes vary brand-to-brand and style-to-style. Then try to explain the principles of a well-fitting bra. Such that they will be their own best critic come their next bra fitting =)

  17. Zoggi says:

    "It's so surprising that 85 % of women are using the wrong size of bra. I guess I agree with you that it's hard to believe. I personally dont think its do hard to know your bra size"

    I'm not so confident that knowing your bra size is that simple. It's not that the sizing is complex, it's more the social and psychological issues surrounding the subject that can intimidate women. I think the barrier for a large percentage of women is that the size they really need is regarded as not normal, or worse still, women are not aware that their size exists. Women needing sizes outside of the 32-38 A-D range are assumed to be a minority, whereas the reality is that this range only covers a small lucky section of women who can actually buy a bra in a high street store without having to go to the "plus" section. And I'm not talking about large band/large cup bras, I'm talking about smaller-than-32 bras with large cups too.

    I would be very surprised if there had been no improvement in the percentage of women who know how to recognise a good fit – after all, here in the UK, some of the major department stores have massively increased the size range of their lines over the last 5 years, so that suggests a noticeable shift in sales.

    However, I think the percentage of women being incorrectly fitted is still contributing to the 85% statistic. I would be willing to bet that the reason it's still so high, is not that there hasn't been any improvement, but that it used to be more like 90% 5 years ago, and now it's dropped down to where we thought it was before…

    I'm bored of hearing the same statistics repeated time and time again, especially by retailers who are actually part of the problem! However, I do think that women need to know that a large percentage of us wear bras that don't fit, and I don't believe that retailers are intentionally deceiving anyone with statistics. 5 years of TV programmes, campaigns, online communities, blogging and bravangelising must have had *some* effect, but change does not happen overnight, especially when you think that not everyone is as bra-obsessed as we are…

  18. says:

    It's so surprising that 85 % of women are using the wrong size of bra.
    I guess I agree with you that it's hard to believe.
    I personally dont think its do hard to know your bra size. In our store in Brazil we make sure to help every costumer on picking the right bra. I also think that its important to pick the right model for the right activity. Like wearing a comfortable bra style on a day a day basis and leaving the ones that are not so comfortable for special occasions.
    There are many different kinds of bras and which one of them are better for different situations. :)

  19. aspyre says:

    I have this issue even within just Victoria's Secret. Each one has a completely different fit. I have ill fitting bras that I've bought online from them, and then others in supposedly the same size that fit perfectly.

  20. Ashe @ Dramatis Personae says:

    "I've gone to VS before and KNOW they fit me in the wrong size."

    I'm with Courtney– I know VS tries to fit most women in to the sizes they have, as opposed to fitting them well. I can't tell you how many times I got fitted and told a 36 D, when there's no way my band is a 36 or my cups will fill a D. I wouldn't be surprised if this is why so many women DO wear the wrong size, when supposed "professionals" are giving them the wrong size in the first place!

  21. Kayla @ TheEclecticElement says:

    You know…I believe I've been fitted correctly. The only thing is a lot of different places carry different sizing-I'm a 36 C at Victoria's Secret, but at JC Penny's, I'm a 34 DD.

    That's where I get confused usually.

    But I do think the scare tactics are just unnecessary-I mean, personally, it makes me not want to go shopping at all because I just get so frustrated!

  22. Jodi says:

    I was wearing the wrong size, and, like HMS's clients I didn't even know my correct size existed.

    That said, you're right, I've never seen any scientific backing for that stat – it just gets repeated over and over.

    And it would help if there was some consistency in the sizing – or at least an acknowledgment of the differences in styles and brands. Why not label the bras with both a size and a description – 34D average, 34D shallow, 34D full, etc).

  23. Creatrix Tiara says:

    Yes yes yes!! It's not like the bra companies can agree on what a size is, and how do we determine "proper fit" anyway? I've had bras fitted in sizes that don't exist anywhere else, sizes that hurt me with some companies and do well with others, I have bras from teen years that fit me quite well, my mum and I have different bra sizes but sometimes hers fits me. Wouldn't this depend on what you were after *at the time* (comfort vs support vs just to cover up) anyhow and how your body is like tactile-ly?

  24. Annmarie says:

    Looks like some previous comments here touched about the reason for that ridiculous statistics, and that is MARKETING.
    Businesses in general , especially in the uber free-market called USA, try to persuade us that we're not worthy/there's something wrong with us/ our life will be so much better, unless we buy their products.
    Same goes to bras. They're often not that comfortable to begin with, even when properly fit. Add to that the fact that our bodies often change, we are led to believe that if only we buy this or that bra we will feel so much better and our lives will change forever.

    Well, guess what? Life is more complicated than that. And while many of us wear the wrong bra size, many of us do only temporarily due to the constant changes mentioned earlier.

    I would bet my retirement fund that 85% is an intentionally hyped figure.

  25. Anonymous says:

    As a personal bra fitter, who has worked in several New York lingerie stores, most women coming in to me are wearing the wrong sizes. That doesn't mean you are one size across the board, you could be 2 or 3 different sizes depending on the company.

  26. Layla says:

    I LOVE that you are raising this issue! Bravo!

    I also find it to pure marketing bs in that the truth is that no woman is ONE size, if the statistic was 85% of women wear a bra that digs in at the straps or rides up their back I'd be more apt to believe it, but the truth is that can be because of low quality and the age of a bra just as much as it is about the size. We shouldn't be putting so much emphasis on a woman's size, but instead on how she feels in the bra she's in.

    I do believe a lot of women could use regular re-fittings because our bodies fluctuate with time of the month, age, weight loss or gain, and all of these things call for us to be loving and accepting of our figure, and well fitting underwear/brassieres is just the beginning of that healthy relationship/consciousness of our bodies.

  27. Reed says:

    I am a new lingerie business owner and I have to say that many women are shamed of their bodies and how they would look in lingerie. I thank you for this blog posting because I agree with you in loving and embracing your body on matter what size you are.

  28. Panty Buns says:

    Fit is in the way it feels to the wearer and in addition to being in the eye of the beholder. It's nice gaining knowledge that will lead to better comfort and looks but statistics like that are usually not exact and don't contribute much to achieving the desired result. I suspect that people like me who don't have natural breasts are not very qualified to make a judgement. I might be better off trying a mastectomy bra and learning about what to put in one.

  29. Catherine says:

    I expect to be different sizes in different styles, to some extent, and for some styles to just not work for me full stop, same way as with any item of clothing. Oh, and don't even get me started on my variations across the course of a month.

    What I do not expect is for shop staff to behave as if me not wearing the bar size they decide would be best is some sort of crime! Yes, I could take a back size further down, but I have enough issues with my skin being over sensitive to pressure as it is, thank you very much, and I don't want to have to explain a complicated and mostly mysterious neurological disorder to you, a total stranger, just so that I can take home the bra I want.

    Mini-rant over :)

  30. Bluemara says:

    The reason Victoria's Secret is consistently wrong is because they have HOURLY sales goals. If they don't have your size, they don't care – they just need to sell to keep their jobs.

  31. Elisabeth Squires says:

    Plastic surgeons believe that more than 85% of women wear the wrong size. Bra manufacturers have the challenge of trying to meet the needs of women's unique shapes and constantly changing boobs. It's tough to "fit" a moving target.

  32. Treacle says:

    Thanks for the comments, lovelies! :)

    I definitely agree with what several of you have said re: the lack of consistency in sizing between companies.

    It makes me wonder if the issue isn't so much women wearing the wrong size, it's women wearing a bunch of different sizes.

  33. daisychain says:

    I agree with what others have said…if bra sizes were consistent we'd know our size to start with! Even within the same brand I can need anything from an AA to a B and a 30 back to a 34. Meh.

  34. looloolooweez says:

    I think Courtney brought up a great point: even though bra sizes are *supposed* to be standard across brands & styles, they're really not. For example, I've got a 32 B plain cotton T-shirt bra from Hanes and a 36 C convertible push-up from Victoria's Secret and they both fit the way they're supposed to! Is it vanity sizing? It isn't surprising that a lot of women don't really know which size bra they're supposed to be in, but that doesn't necessarily mean everyone's walking around in ill-fitting undies.

  35. Courtney says:

    That's very interesting! I had never realized that all these stats are compiled by bra companies.

    I've gone to VS before and KNOW they fit me in the wrong size. I think knowing the basics of how a bra should fit is more important than knowing what size you are especially since certain brands may fit differently just like clothing. Different cuts fit differently, too.

    Also, since my weight fluctuates within three pounds very often, that can easily influence my bra size. If I'm wearing the wrong bra size, it's because 2 months ago it was the RIGHT bra size. And I don't usually have enough money to run out and buy new bras every time I lose or gain a pound!

  36. Miss Kitty Plum says:

    Hi Treacle

    I agree that these survey results don't appear very legimate. On my personal experience of having a lingerie boutique the stats are even higher for new customers walking through the door. I think it's more to do with the fact women who do get fitted get such a poor service. Which Magazine in the UK did a survey and found women had a less than a 1 in 3 chance of getting a correct fitting in a high street or department store. Debenhams did not fair well in the survey! Here is a link to an article about the survey

    Oh yes most definitely time for a Bravolution.

  37. HMS says:

    Oh tell me about fitting. I _knew_ I was a 80E but that some brands in 85D fit me rather well. I went to a high end lingerie store to treat myself. The saleswoman told me I was wrong about my size, measured me and gave me a 95B!
    When I indulged and tried it on and told her I could probably remove it without unfastening it, she said I had to tighten the straps…

  38. HMS says:

    Yes, I believe it is true. As a custom lingerie maker, I can attest that the majority of my clients who send me their measurements and bra size wear the wrong size.
    Thin women with a small torso should wear a 75 or 80 (French) band and most don't know those sizes even exist. They generally wear a 90 or a 95 if they have large breasts…
    Most clients think breast sizes impacts on the band size. Women I know who want surgery want to go from a 85B to a 95B…
    The most popular brands you can find at the mall do not make these ladie's size, which is why, bottom line, they wear the wrong one. I'm a 80E and it took me 30 years to realize it. I wore a 90C and was miserable.

  39. En Bouton says:

    I was fitted at a shop (one of the biggest lingerie retailers in the UK) that advertised their fitting services with statistics like this; they gave me a slapdash fitting and a glaringly wrong size. I wonder how many women in the 85% (or whatever percentage it actually is) have already been "professionally" fitted?

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