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Linda the Bra Lady: On Bra Sizes, Bra Fitting, and 'Vanity Sizing'

A couple of weeks ago, Linda Becker (aka "Linda the Bra Lady") had an interview on Good Morning America where she said, among other things, bra brands were guilty of using 'vanity sizing' to make their customers feel like they had smaller backs and larger chests. Unsurprisingly, this point of view caused a lot of ripples in the lingerie community, most of them negative.

I reached out to Linda almost immediately after the piece aired and asked if she'd be willing to do a follow-up interview on The Lingerie Addict. Not only did she strike a nerve worth exploring, I also know how hard it can be to explain any point in a two-minute soundbite or 140-character tweet.

Though I briefly considered not publishing our interview (after all, this is "old news" by internet standards now), I decided to keep it because I believe it pulls together several different conversations that have been happening a lot in the lingerie blogosphere lately, especially among full-bust bloggers. Namely, it brings up the stigma attached to large breasts, bra sizing information/misinformation, the war on plus four, inconsistent sizing between brands, vanity sizing, and who gets to call themselves a bra expert. The vanity sizing issue in particular stuck out to me because it illuminated how much emotion is attached to those numbers inside the tag. I was also very interested on what some of my readers (especially readers who've been wearing bras for longer than I have) had to say regarding their personal experiences with any changes in bra sizing.

As for me, my position on bras and bra sizing hasn't changed. I don't believe every woman has to wear a bra; no matter your size, it's an individual choice. I don't subscribe to any one, true method of bra fitting because every woman's body is different and there is no formula that will work for 100% of women, 100% of the time. And I don't unreservedly recommend visiting a bra boutique, department store, or lingerie retailer to get fitted. Aside from the fact that it's not a realistic option for every woman, I also know from personal experience that professional bra fitters don't get it right all of the time.

Instead, my perspective is the same as it's ever been. Learn the 3 ways to tell if your bra is fitting correctly. Calculators, bra fitters, trial-and-error... whatever you choose, the most important thing is to get familiar with how a properly fitting bra feels on your body. Because once you know that, it doesn't matter what the number on the tag reads, what bra calculator you use, what boutique you visit, or what an expert says... you will always know what fits.

Just in case you're new to this story, here's a timeline of everything that's happened so far:

Original Linda the Bra Lady Interview:

Response from the Media:

Responses from Lingerie Bloggers:
Sweet Nothings NYC
Fussy Busty
Butterfly Collection

Linda's Follow-up Reply:
Linda's Blog (Note: There are a number of similarities between her response here and on my blog. Both pieces were completed at the same time, however mine is being published later.)

Responses to Linda's Follow-up Reply:
Butterfly Collection

Excellent articles on Vanity Sizing in the Fashion Industry from Fashion Incubator:
The Myth of Vanity Sizing (scroll to the bottom of the article to see all her posts on the subject)

And now on to my interview with Linda. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

1) Hi Linda! Thanks so much for agreeing to do a follow-up interview here on The Lingerie Addict. I appreciate you sparing some time for me and my readers. I know you're a busy lady, so let's jump right into it. After your interview on Good Morning America last week, several bloggers took offense to your use of the phrase "vanity sizing." I know how hard it is to convey a point in a two-minute news clip (or a 140-character tweet), so why don't you tell us more about what you meant by that --- both for people who are familiar with the news piece and who haven't seen it.

About 10 years ago, as I was fitting women day in and day out, I started noticing that a few bras were fitting looser in the back than before. As time went on, I continued to see the trend. A woman who would fit perfectly into a 36 band bra suddenly needed a 32 to get the same fit. In fact, this happened to me! When I moved to New York about eight years ago, I fit into a 36D perfectly. But since bra sizes have changed, I now fit into a 32G in the same brand... and (I'm not afraid to say it) I weigh about ten pounds more now! I'm using the same "good fit criteria" and brands as before. Bra sizes just changed. I think companies did it so that women could feel like they suddenly have a smaller back. It's the same with clothing!

Vanity sizing or not, bra sizes changed. But let's be real. I think it's naive to think that vanity sizing only exists in clothing and not in bras. I’m also not the first to mention this, as this NY Times article pointed out: 'Women Are Shocked by Their New Bra Size.'

2) I know for a fact that several people were bothered by the headline, "Bra Sizes are a Scam!" I didn't watch the live newsclip, but did you ever actually say scam? If so, why that particular word? And, if not, how do you feel about that word being used to describe your view on vanity sizing?

Scam was not my word. Sorry to disappoint! I think the media chose that word to amp up the "gasp" factor. It’s a bit negative, but I don't really mind it. It makes women take notice. And what I really want to do is help these women out. Those that have been wearing bras for more than 10 years now deserve to know that sizes have changed, that it's not just their imagination. I don't think that announcing that bras sizes have changed is terrible, a "scam," or “calling out” vendors. Industry standards change. It happens. I just think women deserve to know about it. What's most important to me is helping women find the best fitting bra --- that's what I've been doing since I started more than 25 years ago!

3) Now I haven't worn a bra for the last 10 years, so I can't personally speak to if my size has changed lately, but how did you arrive at the conclusion that bras are vanity sized now? Did you compare any bras from the past to bras today? Did you reach out to any lingerie companies? Or is this based on your experience as a bra fitter? And if it's based on your personal experience, how would you respond to claims that that's not a valid way of measuring changes in size?

Thank you for admitting that you haven’t been wearing a bra for more than 10 years. I think a lot of the people trying to stir the pot do not have the same years of experience that I have. I have been fitting bras for over 25 years. I'm not just the namesake of my company. I actually fit women all day long. I have fit literally thousands and thousands of women in bras. Again, my "good fit" criteria is pretty strict, and has not changed over the years --- including the importance of a snug bra band. After fitting women every single day for 25 years in the same brands... it was impossible not to notice the difference in sizing.

My response to the claims from other fitters saying that experience is not a valid way of measuring changing sizes: really?! I would love to sit down and measure every bra from every company dated from every year for the past ten years… but there's no need. I've been fitting the same bras, the same way, on thousands of women. They’ve changed.

I have been working closely with lingerie and bra manufacturers for years, and they didn't actually come out and say that their sizes changed to boost sales and egos. It's my educated guess that bra companies saw the tiny women with full busts on TV and adjusted their bra sizes to help reflect this. Don't tell me women aren't vain about their band size. I have women jump for joy when they find out that a 30 or 32 bra fits them better than a 36 or 38. Who doesn't want to have a slimmer, smaller back?! We're only human, after all.

4) Have you heard from any bra brands in reply to your interview on Good Morning America? If so, can you share what they had to say?

No. They know I'm right. Bra companies call me up frequently to discuss the way their new styles are fitting, get feedback, etc. They know what's going on. In the end, it’s my job as a bra fitter to adjust to what’s going on in the industry. Also, I never called out anyone in particular. This was an industry change.

5) There have been a lot of new lingerie companies on the scene lately. Do you think the vanity sizing issue applies to all brands and all sizes or is concentrated in certain areas like full bust sizing or European bras or high-end brands or something different? Are there any companies in particular that you believe are now using vanity sizes?

Please remember that I can only comment on brands that I've been carrying at my stores. Here's a list. The brands that have been around for many years are the brands I’m talking about. Although a very few have not changed, the vast majority have. New brands just followed the new standard in the industry, which is a bigger band.

Every brand fits differently, and so does every style within a brand. And no, I won't start naming “vanity” brands. HA! I don't intend to place blame on any bra companies here. I just want to enlighten women to the adjustments that the bra world has made to bra sizes.

6) On a related note, one of the things that comes up a lot around bra sizing is the lack of standardization across brands. And several people have used the GMA piece as an opportunity to reiterate their issues with the plus four size method. Do you think vanity sizing is at all related to either of those things?

Oh, believe me, I wish there was a standardization of bra sizes across the globe, but that’s unlikely to happen. Even if there was a strict set standard that every company followed, different fabrics would fit differently, and each woman’s unique shape would still require a slightly different bra. Until there’s a standard in the shape and size of a woman, I don’t think we can ever truly have standard sizing. This is why only a trained fitter is really qualified to fit someone for a bra. But, since not everyone can make it in to a shop, these DIY measuring methods are meant to help them find a place to start and enlighten them to the possibility that they could be a whole new size.

That being said, I’ve supported the War On Plus Four in theory (you and I have tweeted much about this), and I’m glad that women are updating their measuring methods, but there’s also not one standard for measuring either.

For example, my bra fitters go through months of Bra School before they are certified to fit. I used to teach a "plus five" method (adding about five inches to the underbust measurement) more than ten years ago as a general starting point. When my NYC shop opened about eight years ago, I started teaching a "plus 3-5" method. I did this to accommodate some of the changes that bra companies were making to their bra bands. Now, eight years later, I've migrated to a "plus 0 to 3" for certain women. And, my goodness, sometimes my fitters and I even have to subtract inches for women with certain shapes! Some people think that adding four inches to an underbust measurement is never OK for a good bra fit. For most of my customers, this is true. But that's because I help a lot of very full busted women. Let's be clear: every bra band needs to be snug to fit properly. But the bigger the bust, the snugger the band needs to be. It's working harder! A bra size is dependent on the way the bra runs, the material, the brand, and the woman's size, age and comfort. And there ARE women who need to add more than zero inches to get a good fit.

Good fitters know, and I know, that measuring the underbust and adding inches (or not) is just basic a guideline for a bra size starting point, and that there is no one-method-fits-all way to do it. As fitters, we take into account a million more factors than just this one measurement.

7) Another conversation that's coming up a lot now is how bra sizes are getting bigger. Several newspapers in the UK just published a piece saying the average British woman's bra size has gone up from a 34B to a 34DD. Do you think that's because of vanity sizing or are women's breasts actually getting larger? Or are the two things even related at all?

I think both things could be happening. For one (and remember, I live in the USA where the average dress size has also gone up), breasts are getting bigger, and girls are getting breasts at a younger age. I’m not a doctor, so I won’t even try to tell you why (though I have several opinions on the matter), but it is happening. Also, I think larger cup sizes are more popular because back sizes fit larger. For a woman who could fit perfectly into a 36D ten years ago, she would now need a 32DDD/F just to get the same cup size in the new back size. I think the vanity sizing was really based more on the notion of a slimmer back and the fuller cup size is a result of that.

I don't think bra companies thought about what this would do to women who already had small bands and full busts. Suddenly, someone who was a 34DD 10 years ago would now need about a 30G or H. I'm very happy that these D+ sizes exist --- women really needed them before, and they especially need them now. But most women are not used to such high letters. In fact, it's been a real mission of mine to help women understand that a G cup or up is totally common, now! It's taken years of "braducation", instruction, and care to help women get over the stigma of D+ bras and just wear what fits and supports them best. These letters and numbers mean something to women and their ego, so they are reluctant to pick out a new size themselves. It takes going to a bra shop like mine and being professionally fit to finally get it. But besides great fit, I want these women to understand that bra sizes are different now, and not to feel strange picking out a brand new size.

8) Now that you've had a little time since the interview, how are you feeling about it? Anything you wish you could have said differently? Would you say the same thing again? Have you had a spike in visitors to the store? Tell us the fall-out... good and bad!

No regrets!

Of course I wish there was more time in the interview to explain all of the factors that go in to a good fit, or what criteria would cause a woman to have to add inches or not to her underbust measurement, etc. But, I’m aware that a short spot on TV is not the place to try to squeeze in all of the Bra School training. They hit some good points about changing sizes, proper care, etc. I do wish they had shown the before and after fittings and the braducation I taught those young women. Phew! One woman went from a 40DD to a 30K!

Sure we’ve had a few more visits to our online shop and store, but I’m happier to help spread the word about the benefits of a good bra. It’s always nice to have a new outlet to get the word out.

I was a bit surprised about the backlash and misunderstanding from others in the field. I think some people thought that I was saying modern bra sizes aren’t necessary. Not so! I carry those sizes! I think most just don’t have the right frame of reference since they haven't even been in business for 10 years, which is when things really started changing. Regardless, my stance on proper bra fitting and my passion for helping women has always been very clear, and they should have known that. Regardless of what these other experts think, it's more important to me that women realize that bra sizes have changed, rather than why.

I think bra sizes have changed. And I think vanity sizing played a part in why it happened. I said it and I'm not taking it back! Vanity sizing or not, it doesn't matter to me. It's more important to me that women wear the bra that fits and supports them best, regardless of the size. And it's extremely important to me to help women navigate the tricky world of bra fitting.

Thanks again for taking the time to talk with TLA readers, Linda! You've given us all a lot to think about.

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. Cathy says:

    I’m glad to see that. It helps us large breasted women. The reason is that girls breasts have been getting bigger, I’m sorry to say but it’s a fact and that girls are starting to develop at an earlier age.Cathy

  2. Olive says:

    I bought (or my mum bought really lol) My first bra 15 years ago when I was ten years old, which was a 10C in Australian sizes and 32C in US sizes I believe. It’s bizarre to now be as small as a 14 (36) and up to an 18 (40) at the age of 25 when I’m a fully grown adult now. Surely there should be a bigger band size difference? Of course, being a JJ cup means my size 38 band is larger than the band of a 38C. Still, there’s definitely something going on.
    I was comfortably a 38H seven years ago but suddenly went up to a J cup maybe 2 years ago (part of that is my body disliking my implanon but I’m certain part of it is changes of sizes also) and down to a 36 and sometimes 34 in the band. Also, since my bust is bigger I need a smaller band size to give me proper support. In terms of reducing band sizes below your actual measurements, I think this especially applies to people who have more fat in their mid-back/where the band goes, since it does have to ‘squeeze you in’ a bit if or no other reason than to get the cups to sit flat. Personally, if this is vanity sizing, it’s causing me more problems than it’s solving since getting cup sizes above an H is difficult (I can only order online so I can’t even try them on) and above a K is almost impossible. It would be better to have smaller band sizes I think, at least that way you can use a bra extender clip and still get the right cup size.

  3. Evie says:

    So now we can’t be pleased with finding a bra size that’s more supportive, comfortable and attractive, because that makes us “vain” and we should be ashamed of being suckered by “vanity sizes”? Sorry, but no.
    Besides, this all sounds pretty fishy to me. I’ve been wearing bras for 26 years, and for the first 24 of those, I wore them fitted by the conventional plus four method. They never fit properly. As a young teen I dealt with the same problems “plus four” sizes give me now: back band riding up, quadboob. I just assumed it was the way bras were.

  4. Angelz says:

    can you be skinny with large breasts? I’m not talking huge but say compared to a back size of 30 and have an f cup bra

    Cause I think every since I was young I’ve worn the wrong bra size I used to jiggle hard in 34B cup bra at 12 and now that I think of it I could have been a larger size even then

  5. Larissa says:

    As someone in her mid-thirties, who worked as a bra fitter in the 1990s (and works as a daywear/sleepwear designer now), I absolutely agree with Linda.

    When I was a teen, I wore a 34D. My underbust measurement was 29″ and my full bust measurement was 37 1/2″. My band sat straight and parallel to the floor, the cups did not spill over and the wires tacked flat against my ribcage. My bras fit well, looked good, and caused me no trouble.

    20 years later, my underbust measurement is 33″ and my overbust measurement is 41″ I now wear a 34F. My back is 4″ larger than it was 20 years ago, and yet my band size has not changed.

    Something strange is going on in the world of foundations.

  6. T. Jantsang says:

    NONE of the bras I’m talking about have underwires, not mine, not Gramma’s and also not my mother’s.

    I absolutely know the sizing is way off, incredibly way off. I wish I still had that old raggety bra, I could prove it. I had been saying that something was way off long before I heard about some show where someone talked about vanity sizing. I wore bras in the 60s and 70s. Then in the 80s, for a long period of time, not working, I didn’t have to bother with them. Then in the late 1990s up to now, if I go out fancy dressed, dancing, etc, I have to wear them – so I had to buy them. And right then, I knew something was way WAY off with the sizes – and it was many various manufacturers, from one expensive bra to many cheap WalMart or K Mart bras.

    The one bra I had, from way back then, the cups and shoulder straps were fine , but the whole rest of the bra was raggety and I had to get new ones. And I NOTICED. I went to the store, since everything was the same size as I was, I even have clothes in good condition from the 70s, and bought a 36B bra. I didn’t try it on in the store, I was rushed – I just picked one up to try on at home later, when I had time. It looked off, but then I tried it on at home and there was no way I was going to fit into it. It was small. Way way too small. So, I figured they got the label wrong on this cheap 3 dollar bra. How wrong I was. They changed the way they size them – OH YES THEY DID – as I found out when I went back and tried on MANY brands – and none fit. And so I tried bigger sizes until I got some that fit. OH YES they changed the sizes! I did not get bigger. I still had that old raggety bra and the cups fit. NONE of the new bras I tried on were right, they lied about cup sizes.

    When I was a kid, my head (height) came up to the underside of my Gramma’s breasts, I’d hug her, my face was sideways against her belly tight, in a hug, and her breast stuck out, laid across the top of my head with about 1/2 inch past my head. I used to play a game and sneak my hand up to tweek her and she’d yelp. This happened a lot, too, it was a game and everyone laughed. That means that from her chest, just under her breast, to the tip of her breast, she was sticking out 1/2 inch further than my head from side to side. That’s 6 inches. She was considered big among some American people that were AA cups. The AA size (smaller than an A) was considered small at the time – and the AAA was considered flat chested; but Gramma was normal for my family. Her bra size was 40C and this was the 1950s. The bra was full fitting, it wasn’t like she was half out of the bra. It covered her in full; wide shoulder straps, 3 hooks on the back. 40C. She wore the same bra size into the early 80s, then she passed away.

    A good expensive bra I have, bought in the 2000s that fits me perfectly with full coverage is a 36D. I’m fine with the 36. But D? I say, NO WAY. NOT possible, yet that’s the size. I should be a 36B or almost C, like I was before, not a D. It depended on the bra brand too, some 36Bs fit perfectly like my old raggety bra.

    When I first wore a bra (got sent home from school with a note telling my mom to get me a bra) I was a 34C, but my breast would also fit into a 36B. One number size up, one cup size down. (So a person who was 35″ around could fit into a 34C or 36B.) The 36 was too big around at the time and the 34 had to be taken in a bit as it was, so I was a 34C for years, with the back taken in, then later it wasn’t necessary to take it in. When I got a bit bigger all around, in my later 20s, I was a 36C, barely – the B was a bit too tight, the C was a bit loose. But around I was 36″. As I said, I had one favorite bra, it fit perfectly, and it was a 36B. Very well made – it’s the one I had that became raggety just sitting in a drawer unused for years.

    So I have the experience of HAVING a bra from the late 70s, and then buying a bra in the later 90s. The CUPS on the old 36B and the new 36D were THE SAME. They not only looked the same, they also measured the same and fit the same. I threw out that old bra – I should have saved it, just to prove a point. The sizes around have not changed, after all, anyone can measure themselves around. But the cup sizes have been drastically changed.

    The sizing is so off it’s a joke. I have some WalMart cheap 5 buck bras that are 38C, but they hardly cover my breasts, which means I can wear them with low cut blouses. They are comfortable. Again, NO WAY. My mother was a 38B and she was bigger than me. That’s the size she wore in the early 80s. I saw it. I should not be able to fit into a 38C and certainly not a 36D. But that’s the size on the bras – and they are by different manufacturers, all bought in the 90s and 2000s.

    I remember that a “normal, regular, well built” size was 34B. All the girls wanted that. Everyone with a good figure wanted to be 34B, like June Cleaver or the other women we grew up with on TV. Blouses back then had darts sewn into them for the breasts, and the 34B size fit a size 34 blouse perfectly, no left over material that you’d see on women who were 34A, and not tight so that the buttons pulled if the woman was bigger than 34B (like I was – blouses always pulled). A 36B was considered big by American standards, men often talked to the woman’s boobs instead of to her. Size C was va va voom, oh my god, boobs on feet – and nobody knew anyone that wore a D unless they were very fat older women. Size D was gimungus – boobs bigger than a whole person’s head, sticking out further than a person’s head from front to back. HUGE. There was one fat older woman who wore a 38D – even while fat, she was HUGE; my cousin’s grandmother.

    So I KNOW the sizes are so off it’s a joke. I now see women, what we used to call small chested, now wearing a B, or claiming to. They should be wearing a double A, size AA is smaller than an A. A was an OK size too, not flat. B, as I said, was the desired goal for an hour glass figure.

    A friend of mine gained a bit of weight, but still had a good figure, but she fit into a 38DD and STILL she was not as big as Gramma – at least 2 inches less sticking out than Gramma. 2 inches is a LOT. A breast only sticking out from the chest about about 2 inches was an A cup.

    I KNOW the sizes are way off. As I said, I HAD a very very old, falling apart bra that was a 36B and looked at it next to the 36D when I just bought the 36D – and the cup was the same. It FIT the same.

    A real 36D? I should be sticking out about 8 or 9 inches. I’m not. The size is a fraud. Perhaps this happened very slowly, but for me, since I stopped wearing anything around 1980 and only started wearing them again when I go out in 1997, I notice a HUGE difference. If it happened slowly, it might not be noticed, or a woman might think she got bigger. This is not my experience – I HAD that old 36B bra when I bought the 36D. SAME.

    The D+ sizes came around in the 1990s, so some critics of “vanity sizing” state. Imo, there was no need for D+ sizes because the D was so huge that it would “more or less” fit huge women and huge huge women. For someone who was a too big for a C, but not quite big enough for a D, she could opt for a tight C bra, or go one number size bigger in a C and take it in the back, or go for the D and let it be loose, or tuck it under the bottom. Just as I said, for awhile a 36B was a tad tight but a 36C was a bit loose. I should have elaborated. Some 36Bs, like my raggety bra, were perfect. And some 36C were so loose I’d swim in them. There was a pretty big difference between an A cup and a B cup and a C cup.

    You have to measure yourself with a measuring tape around to know the number size. It’s the cup sizes that changed – and if I kept that raggety old 36B, I could prove it. Old 36B = new 36D, as I said.

    Oh, heh, and for any woman that goes into the bs about women NOT being vain about breast sizes? Please. I remember hearing the agonized whining of flat chested girls, tons of them – and even girls that were “only an A” – and an A stuck out about 2 inches from the chest, it was small, but it was a good size. As I said, 34B ws the goal. Developing girls constantly compared. I got stared at through grammar school and in first year HS because I didn’t wear a bra. I wore a little girl’s undershirt, the kind of thing worn back then. I was also only 12 in 9th grade HS. Compared to what I saw in my family, I didn’t NEED a bra. And my first bra was 34C, at age 13 – so I guess I needed a bra by today’s standards. I was bigger than MOST girls I was in school with. I saw they wore bras and I thought they didn’t need them. Even today, I’d say that some of them REALLY didn’t need one – they were as flat as men. The average was 34B, and that was a good sized bosom.

    I know this – I remember seeing girls after the 70s and I never saw such unshapley girls. No bust, no shape – built like boys. No hour glass. If they had nice bosom, they had no butt. If they had nice butt, nice hips, they didn’t have a bosom. I and many others commented on this and noticed it big time because we WERE built like hour glass. Like June Cleaver (on Leave It To Beaver show). Later on I noticed girls got back to what I grew up on as normal. I don’t know what caused this.

    There is one woman I see at the beach, she’d a size H; they’re real. She is NOT as big as my cousin’s grandmother who was the only size D I ever met back then. So the cup sizing is BS. And yeah, it is purely for VANITY. I hear some even today, woman at the beach with her brand new implants, “Oh, I’m a double D” and the woman is not bigger than I am. Mehhh. Double D my a$$. Big separation in the center of the two breasts – obvious sign of fakery.

  7. Erica Z. says:

    I can counter this myself, actually. I have been wearing a bra for about ten years now and I am a 28E/F (brand dependent, in some brands that run small I can get away with a 30 band). A 32 band size is big on me, period. I was going through my mom’s old clothes and found an old 32D bra from 1990 (yes I looked up the model). The 32 band size fit the exact same way as my 32 bands fit in 2012! Maybe it was a brand thing, but I don’t know. And this bra still had the tags on it (my mom liked to shop and didn’t always wear everything she bought).

    Do I have a small back? No. My underbust measurement is 27″ now and when I Was thinner it was 26″. I have a tiny rib cage, and I have always worn sub 32 band sizes. Never in my life have I actually been a 34. I think sub 32 band sizes have been fairly consistent. It’s 34+ band sizes that are not (especially in the cheap stores).

  8. Sam says:

    I agree with whoever said above that it’s over estimating most women’s bra knowledge to say they want smaller band sizes. Most only pay attention to the cup and have no idea what the band size is supposed to mean, and they frankly don’t care. Bras were vanity sized before, and here’s why. Many people will be nice enough to say it’s because these were the days before elastic (I’m talking waaaaay back when) so they say the materials had less stretch thus why a 32 band could fit a 26 band women, etc. I don’t believe this is true. The bra was invented by a man. Just saying. But little has changed since the industry has been taken over by women. Little has changed in general. BUT. 32, 34, 36…the numbers we know to be common department store band sizes were meant to be mistaken for the full chest circumference, not the rib cage circumference. So that a slim women back in the day with a 26 inch ribcage and maybe a 30 inch chest. Might believe she is 34A or something instead of 26D. Obviously to women now who know more about bras, the 26 D is going to sound more like vanity sizing..:but here’s why it’s not. We focus on the letter in regards to big or small, without (most women) worrying about the band number (a measurement in inches)…back in the day….what did “A” mean to a women? Probably nothing. But in a time where it was much more common for a women to make her own clothes or where clothing sizes where more directly correlated to body measurements in inches….most women were familiar with their body measurement in inches. Thus it was vain to think “Oh, I’m a 34!” Claiming that ad your CHEST measurement, when you maybe measured 30? See? If she was in a 26 D, just because it sounds more ideal to us now…doesn’t mean it’s vain. The key here is it would only be vanity if it was false. If the 26 D bra in question has a band that STRETCHES to 26 or so and houses around 30 inch breasts on a 26 frame, the sizing is correct. Small backs and large cups are only vanity sized if the label is falsely implying a smaller back and larger chest bit it doesn’t match up. Vanity sizing exists. I don’t doubt that for a second. But it’s not responsible ( in most cases) for the smaller back larger breast thing. As a women with a 26 inch ribcage and 37 inch chest. I measure as a 26H. Though as breasts are fairly full all over I find a cup up better personally. As 26’s aren’t readily available I take a 28 H. The bra I am wearing now is not vanity sized. As the band starts at around 23-24 inches and stretches ONLY to 28, no larger. However, I will say I have a freya 28 band that stretches to 32 brand new. THAT is vanity sizing. It a women’s measurements correspond to her size..:whether she likes it and finds it ideal…it’s not vanity sizing. If the size she likes and finds ideal really shouldn’t fit her body measurements but runs large and does, that IS vanity sizing. Like jean measurements. Say a women has a 29 inch waist but fits into size 27 jeans. Vanity sizing. So the key here isn’t if women are happy about their size or find it ideal. The key is does it fit like it should or is it labeled falsely? Plus I should also add most women are upset and scared by large cups and a smaller back, not happy about it. I’m sure there are exceptions. But what I mostly see is denial and “No I couldn’t possibly be that large.” Because we think of cups sizes as set it stone. And think our clothing sizes make us big or small…instead of realizing we are the size we are no matter what the tag says. Are we vain? Sure. But that’s not what’s at work here indefinitely. Some brands run larger and others smaller. But that’s beside my point.

    • Janice says:

      bra was invented by a women. It was a businessman who made it into business and mass produced it.

      In fact, the first bra was just for the sake of “decorating” the breast, not for support. The first bra was made with handkerchieves and ribbons

  9. Traalene says:

    Bra used to be made out of different materials. She forgets to mention that. They weren’t always made of the high stretch quick wearing fabrics they are now. Also women are getting bigger. Each generation we are getting taller, broader, and stronger than previous generations. I don’t like it being deemed vanity sizing because now bra sizes make much more sense. Think about it. If a 34 now fits a woman with a 34 inch band surely that is a good thing? I have also heard reported that bras were originally made smaller to flatter women into thinking that had the perfect proportions of the time 36 – 26 – 36, so a woman with a smaller band would wear the 36 because it was the size “in”. And actually a 36D and 32G are the same over bust measurement so only the band would have actually changed. Which really supports the theory that it isn’t vanity sizing but more a change in materials that has made the effect described by Linda.

    • Sam says:

      Yes!!!! Thank you! I mentioned these points in my post as well. It was the vanity of having an ‘ideal’ 36-24-36 figure! Great post :).

  10. Jenna says:

    Ok, maybe it’s the brands I favor, but I haven’t noticed a change. My underbust normally measures a 34″ with a measuring tape, and 34 band sizes fit the best.
    I’m wondering if it is possible that wasn’t the case once upon a time, and bands used to be made larger than the actual measurement, but are made to measure now. Definitely education has changed things.
    I’ve been wearing bras as long as Linda has been in business. I remember the shock 15+ years ago that I was a 34I size in Goddess brand. I remember being startled when I found a few years later that there were actual other bra companies that carried my size, incensed that they were all overseas makers, and delighted that they came in colors! with lace! and matching panties! I stayed the same weight/size for about 15 years also, until I had my son Feb 2012. (Thank goodness for Hot Milk and their larger nursing bras.) I currently am about a 36JJ; yay for lactation. I’ve been known to buy up a few band sizes to get a correct cup volume, and pay for band alterations. I’m having to do that less now.
    Despite this supposed “vanity” sizing (HATE that descriptor!), my friends who measure 26-30″ underbust and have proportionally larger breasts STILL cannot easily find bras that are labeled as 26 or 28, let alone actually have larger cups sizes or fit well. VS still carries 34 and larger for the most part. And my smaller friends that I’ve helped correct their sizing are excited that they are not A-cups, yes. But they assumed that, since they were small, they must be A-cups, and never got fitted properly. Again, not vanity, just knowledge and education.
    This industry, particularly in America, has a very long way to go to make me a happy customer. I am not alone in this feeling, that’s for certain. Voting with our dollars will change this over the long haul.

  11. Lady says:

    I think we’re forgetting that most women don’t know how band sizes even work. Most people think that both cup letter AND band number relate to how big your boobs are. People don’t know that if someone has a small ribcage and large boobs, they can’t possibly be a 38DD. Saying that women want both a small band size and large cup size is overestimating the amount of bra-fitting knowledge that the general public actually has.

  12. Thanks for interviewing me :D This has brought up a lot of interesting viewpoints! xoxo Linda the Bra Lady

  13. Catherine says:

    I would like to raise a point of pedantry :)

    It wsn’t that the UK reported a rise in the average bra size – it’s that Debenhams, a store that exists in most towns an pretty much all cities, released a report saying that the size most often bought from them this year we 34DD whereas last year it was 34B.

    From this we can mostly conclude that Debenhams have a great PR department that will make a press release out of anything.

  14. Avigayil says:

    Sorry, but what is people’s problem with the term vanity sizing? The fact they are upset about the term really puts more weight on the term… we are vain. We care what size our breasts are. When I waver between a 38B, 38C, 40B, 40C… do I care? YES. I care. Would I prefer to be a 36D? Hell yes. I think it is stupid to ignore the fact that we want the ideal breasts, or the vast majority of women want smaller backs and larger breasts. Vanity sizing DOES express women’s desire for perfection… and i don’t think it blames anyone. it more addresses the reality.

  15. Frank says:

    I can only speak to the occasional frustration I’ve seen my wife go through over the years. As we went through the interview and the comments, she noticed a few really jump out to her:

    ‘The term subtly puts the blame of the sizing the change on the consumer whose ‘vanity’ just can’t take the ‘truth’.’ -LL – Well, pretty much says it, and the labels are wrong.

    ‘Bra shopping has become like jeans shopping—a nightmare of frustration.’ – H
    – The Mrs. has long had a theory it’s not just lingerie. Forget anything being standard, and it makes your blood pressure go down. I’ve even noticed variables in the same brands and sizes of, say, mens jeans, but they haven’t *changed* over the last ten years like they seem have for her.

    ‘I just want to have one size and be able to buy it in person. Is that asking so much?’ BM
    – Join the club, and apparently, Yes it is. Honestly, I’m seeing this more in Mens clothing, but nowhere near as bad as she sees it when shes shopping.

    Overall, her reaction to what Linda had to say: ‘Thanks and Amen’

  16. Nikki says:

    Even though my size isn’t in many stores this way, I like the idea of the band size matching up with my ribcage measurement. It just seems simpler that way than adding inches. (I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s a good starting point for the majority.)

  17. Jodi says:

    I realize I am a sample size of one, but I have been wearing bras for several decades and haven’t found the sizing to have changed. Jeans yes. Bras no. I did find several years ago that up one cup size, down one band size fit better, but that’s a small difference.

    The big problem is sorting through all the different definitions of an “inch”. Just because two bras have the same band size label doesn’t mean they are the same length. And the same cup size can mean wildly different things depending on the brand or even the style.

  18. Nicole says:

    I hear what Linda is saying, and why she is saying it. But I still don’t agree. I guess what bothers me is that it seems like she has to be right and everyone else is wrong. The whole attitude behind it is what turns me off from even really wanting to open up and listen to what she has to say. Her tone put me on the defensive before I could even really think about the things that she was saying. Saying that only a professional fitter can help women is wrong. How do we even define who a professional is? I don’t own a boutique, and I didn’t go to school for bra construction. But, I know how a bra is supposed to fit, because I have spent years of learning and figuring it out because I had to. Being plus size AND having a full bust put me in the position of learning how a bra is supposed to fit, or face being uncomfortable for the rest of my life.

    As it has been a week or two since this all happened, I have been thinking about how I feel about Linda’s remarks, and have been trying to figure out how to put those feelings into words. I honestly feel as though the Lingerie Lesbian put it best; the semantics behind the phrase “vanity sizing” are quite loaded.

    In Linda’s own attempt to clarify what she meant, I lost a lot of respect for her. I recognize that she may have good intentions, but she was completely unwilling to recognize how she had hurt people with her words and seemed unwilling to compromise on many of the ideas that were being brought forth to her in contradiction to her ideas about sizing. Conviction and passion are important – that’s for sure. But at what cost?

  19. Susie says:

    I’m a 32B but interestingly, I found years ago the width of a C-cup started to fit better. Though, I find some brands are still a perfect fit in my B size. Plus, I dislike that almost every B-cup bra out there is usually heavily padded (especially Victoria’s Secret). I like my small boobs! I don’t need them to touch my chin or form a little shelf to place dinnerwear on.
    Also: I was only ever fitted twice like 10 years ago and they said I was an A cup. But that was the worst fit of all! It looked and felt awful. So I just find what fits perfectly, and I really don’t care what the # size is. I have bras in the following sizes: 34B, 32C and mostly 32B. All different brands of course, and they all fit great.

  20. Hibiscus says:

    Bra shopping has become like jeans shopping—a nightmare of frustration. I was a 36B “forever”, put on 50 lbs, and am now a 38D, according to Wacoal. I am a 38D no matter what brand I try on, it’s a matter of style whether something fits or doesn’t fit.

    I have two lace Christian Dior 36B bras in my “keepsake clothing” bag…and they are TINY. I am a large framed, broad shouldered woman, and I cannot believe I used to be that small, AND that a 36B is that much smaller than a 38D. I haven’t gotten out my tapemeasure to check, but I am tempted now.

    I am not really agitated over what the size on the tag says–though I DID stop shopping at VS when they had to go into the :”special drawer” to get me a strapless in my size. (hmph!)

    So many women get breast implants….so where does the upset at “vanity” sizing come into play, exactly? If you WANT big boobs, and your bra is a big letter, isn’t that a good thing?

  21. Bonnie M says:

    Bra sizing is a JOKE. I wear anywhere from a 36E to a 40B (only one style fits in that B cup size). and yes, I have bras in each size that fit perfectly.

    It’s illogical and causes me no end of grief, and the upshot is that even though I have three theoretical band sizes and 4 cup sizes (I’ll throw out the B as only one bra I’ve ever tried on in that cup size fit properly), I STILL can’t find good bras in stores and must order online. Stores pretty much carry 32-38A-D and the band size gets me every time.

    And the measuring? Add 4. Don’t add four. Adding four makes you a B cup instead of an E. Oh wait, how about the high bust measurement? Throw that into the mix.


    I just want to have one size and be able to buy it in person. Is that asking so much?

  22. Honestly, my real objection (which I still have) is to the term “vanity sizing”. The term subtly puts the blame of the sizing the change on the consumer whose ‘vanity’ just can’t take the ‘truth’. Firstly, the idea of any kind of truth in sizing, which is an arbitrary determination, is naturally somewhat fallacious. Secondly, ‘vanity sizing’ has been used consistently as a way for thin women to blame larger women for supposedly distorting sizing and as way to shame them by saying it’s their vanity that is changing everything– even while these women have very little to do with the actual determination of these sizes. There was also no acknowledgement here that the sizing among full-bust and small-bust bras is remarkably different– the sizing methods that work for me at a 34A (+4 or +5) do not work for many larger busted women at all (for reasons I am not entirely sure of, but I thought I would mention it). I also don’t like the idea that a professional bra fitter is the only answer– in many ways knowing your body and how a bra is supposed to fit can help you figure out what fits and what doesn’t without a ‘professional’. While I think they are immensely helpful for many women, it’s not cure-all and many bra fitters are no better (or sometimes even worse!) than the average person.

    Also– is the change in sizes really THAT bad? Whether I think I’m an A, B, C, D or Z doesn’t matter as long as I have a bra that fits and is comfortable. I’m not entirely convinced that the new system might not be better, if the majority of women do have bras that fit them. Of course, that may not be the case, but whether vanity sizing is the culprit I am really not certain.

    • En Bouton says:

      “The term subtly puts the blame of the sizing the change on the consumer whose ‘vanity’ just can’t take the ‘truth’. Firstly, the idea of any kind of truth in sizing, which is an arbitrary determination, is naturally somewhat fallacious. Secondly, ‘vanity sizing’ has been used consistently as a way for thin women to blame larger women for supposedly distorting sizing and as way to shame them by saying it’s their vanity that is changing everything– even while these women have very little to do with the actual determination of these sizes.”

      Thank you for articulating all of this so well. This is why I cannot stand much of the discourse about “vanity sizing” – it’s just divisive and patronising.

    • Sweets says:

      Thank you, yes, this is what bothered me the first go-around and still bothers me now. I don’t take issue with Linda’s assessment of sizing technicalities; I defer to her years of experience. I take IMMENSE ISSUE with the fact that she still hasn’t addressed the very hurtful feelings that the term “vanity sizing” provokes, and which many women reported to her. As someone who works and has worked with thousands of women, surely she would want to listen to those women (her loyal customers) when they say certain words are more harmful than helpful?

    • Frances says:

      As a small-ish person, I feel the need to weigh in on “vanity sizing” being a way for thin people to blame large women for screwing up clothes. I firmly believe that the changing sizes are a result of the companies, not of women. Due to our cultural obsession with size a company figures if a lady wears a 12 in one brand and fits into an 8 in their brand, she’ll go with the 8 because then she can brag to all of her friends about wearing an 8. Of course, this shrinks everything else and women who used to wear an 8 are now down to a 4 and wondering what happened. I think if the companies had it their way, they’d try to get every woman’s clothing size down into the single digits! They might have to resort to fractions, though.
      I do agree about the big-bust and small-bust fitting issues being entirely different. There’s so much press about the new size 28QQ bras, perhaps because America does seem to have a thing for tiny women with insanely inflated busts, that it seems almost taboo to talk about the 34A and its neighbors.

      • Hey, I definitely didn’t mean to say that all smaller women do that or that women who complain that they are petite for clothes don’t have actual issues– I’ve just heard this a lot from women who are skinny and view that as a virtue rather than a mere body fact and like to throw around the word ‘vanity sizing’ as a way to shame other women whose size ‘ought’ to be larger. I’m definitely on the smaller end of the spectrum and I still hate hearing “vanity sizing” when it has a tinge of “ick, fatties are ruining everything, including my moral superiority that comes from being a size 4.” Definitely not saying that all slim people feel that way!

      • Cassie says:

        There are definitely different issues for small-busted women. I’m small in the cups, but apparently I’m pretty broad around the ribcage, or else the pain component of my chronic fatigue syndrome has jacked up my sensitivity. Whatever the case, I am 4’11” tall, weigh 88 pounds at most, and have found the most comfort in a 36A!

        I’ve given up on finding a bra that’s not asking me to push this up or shove that out. This bra accommodates my wider-spaced breasts. So it’s a tidge loose in the cup? The cup shapes back down over my breast where it starts to flatten out, which is more than I can say for most! That’s what’s missing in a lot of manufacturers — the idea that a woman might have a different silhouette. Not the wrong silhouette. Just a different one. I don’t mind being broader-backed and smaller-fleshed in principle. It sure would be nice, though, to hear from other women like me.

        I’d love to see what Linda the Bra Lady would make of me, but the aforementioned CFS makes it impossible for me to travel to New York. I wonder if she’d do a side trip to Rochester…?

        • Cassie, one of my Bra Divas is from Rochester! If you ever get a chance to hop down to NYC, put Linda’s on your list. You are so right that every woman has a different shape – not the WRONG shape. So true! xo Linda

    • denocte says:

      well said!
      I don’t like the term vanity sizing either, but bra sizes ARE changing. That’s really obvious.

      but still, bra fitting is such a personal subject. It depends on SO much. the body, the muscles, the personal preferences, the bust size, everything!

      xoxo denocte

    • faeriestorm says:

      In addition to the condescension inherent in the term “vanity sizing,” its use in this context is pretty insulting to women whose large busts have resulted in a lifetime of snide remarks, ill-fitting clothes, mockery, and sexual harassment. No, actually, I DON’T want to have to wear cup sizes that most people think are so ridiculously large they only exist in jokes. Especially when a lot of the unsolicited comments I get from men about my chest size include comments about how I’m so big I “must be a DOUBLE D,” as if that gives them the right to treat me like an object instead of a person. And I’m supposed to WANT to be actually many sizes larger than a DD? No. No, I bloody well don’t. And do you know how often I’ve heard women talking about KNOWINGLY buying the wrong bra size because they can’t bear to think of themselves as being bigger than a D-cup? Whose “vanity” is this supposed to be serving, exactly?

      • Ai says:

        I’m glad you posted your comment. I agree that it’s pretty irritating when people think someone has a larger cup size that it’s due to ‘vanity sizing’. I’m a 30H, which doesn’t really bother/excite me. Most people don’t seem to realize that a size like mine, isn’t as *quite* big as it sounds, yet it does create a lot of clothing issues, and I’ve pretty much given up anything with buttons, since I’m ‘big-chested’, yet extremely petite. And as you stated, there’s the extra ‘attention’ it causes.

        I wore a 34D for the longest, but found it was to loose. 34C & 32D-they barely covered me. 32DD-a bit better, yet I still slipped out every so often. 30E&30F-Covered me, but had quadraboob issue. Got sized to a 30H-Awesome! I’m finally covered and not spilling out.

        So when people say it’s vanity sizing, it like saying I’m vain because I actually want my nipples to stay covered by my bras, instead of *mostly* covered by them.

        So, 30H actually was the right size for me.

  23. Ann Courtney says:

    The one thing we can’t get away from is that if we want a good fitting bra it’s going to be trial and error. And
    remember that the so called “size” on the label is a guide which no one can see once you’ve got your bra on so all that matters is that you get a good fit. Or am I being too simplistic?

  24. Alice says:

    Bra sizing HAS changed. And I hate it! Since I’ve started wearing bras, my breasts haven’t changed too much in size (based on how clothes fit,how they fit in my hands etc.) but my cup size has gone up from a B/C to a D/DD and my ribcage down from a 32 to a 30 despite the fact I’ve a substantial amount of weight. How does one GAIN weight but go DOWN a band size?! And few things make me panic more than discovering I’m nearly impossible to size outside of speciality stores I can’t afford :(

  25. astrid says:

    I’ve been wearing a bra for more than ten years (I’m thirty-something, wore my first bras around age 12 and got fitted for the first time when I was 16), but I don’t have a firm opinion on how band sizes have changed in the past 15 years or so, because I know longer fit the brands I was wearing at the time.
    I do believe that vanity sizing is a loaded word though and I don’t really see the appeal of a smaller back. A smaller waist? Yes, sign me in! But a smaller back ? Depending on you height, bone structure, back shape, muscle tone, etc. you could be a band size 30 and still chubby or a band size 34 and quite slim…

    • Angelz says:

      What’s wrong wit me? I feel like I’m losing more and more weight cause I’m not moving up the bra size for a while I was stuck at 34C but then I tried on a 32DD and fit perfect but when I look for more 32DD bras they were too big in the cups?

      Either I’m really smaller than I think or they’re made for a “larger” woman and I’m a skinny girl wit nice sized boobs

      It’s hard for me being so skinny

      I have a small chest but my funbags are bigger relatively to my chest so I’d be hard to measure correctly as well. then i have a prominent breast bone which goes IN not out like regular women so that too makes it hard for me

      I just want a proper fitting bra.

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