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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.