Bra Fitting and the Body Positivity Movement
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Bra Fitting and the Body Positivity Movement

Today's guest article is by Sam Conover, a bra fitter, blogger and instagrammer from Secrets from Your Sister, a bra fitting boutique in Toronto, Canada.


Image of Steff Ivory Conover by Maxwell Lander

I have worked as a fitter at Secrets for Your Sister for over ten years and consider myself a bra fitting advocate. I strongly believe that a well-fitted bra can be beneficial to comfort, physical health, and even emotional health. I also consider myself an advocate for body positivity. In my opinion, all bodies are good bodies, and it’s important to celebrate and recognize the diversity of bodies that exist in the world.

Holly’s recent post coupled with my own ongoing thoughts has prompted me to write about how the body positivity and bra fitting movements interact. In many ways, the bra fitting movement promotes body positivity. Education and promotion of sizes beyond the standard rubric has allowed many to comfortably wear bras, to explore fashion, and to feel better in their bodies. However, there can be a negative side to bra fit evangelism that I’d like to explore here. The major problem within bra fitting advocacy is one of prescriptivism. By this I mean some fitters act as if there is one right way to wear a bra, one right body which is right for bra fitting and one right shape to have in a bra.

Bra Fitting "Rules"
Ideally, a fitting should be a collaboration between the fitter and the customer. My job is to use my knowledge and expertise to educate and guide the client towards a bra that is best for her needs. Unfortunately, from my reading and the stories I have heard, it seems like many fitters can be very prescriptive, ignoring the client’s specific personal wants and needs.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with bra fitting can probably rattle off the fit points of a good bra. But these points are an idealized guide which don’t account for the huge amount of variation in human bodies and personal preference. Sometimes we need to deviate from these fit points, and that’s okay! I think for most this strict adherence to perfect fit comes from a benign place of enthusiasm (I wrote a bit about the zealousness of the newly converted in the online fitting community, and got some pushback for it), but it also comes from thinking that you know someone’s body better than they do.

I’ve seen this recently in our Instagram comments, when a customer submitted a photo of herself in an beloved Ewa Michalak bra. A commenter kept critiquing the fit of the bra, despite the customer’s insistence that this bra was a comfortable favourite of hers. At the end of the day, isn’t the bra wearer’s personal comfort/aesthetics more important than blindly following Fit Rules?

Instagram sfys

This Image on our Instagram received critique because the bra fit was not 100% perfect

Bra Fittings Can Help Women of All Sizes
The most prominent media image of those helped by bra fittings is of fuller busted women. We often encounter smaller busted customers who are nervous to ask for a fitting because they assume this service is only for the well-endowed. Sometimes, there is even the perception that smaller busted women don’t need to wear bras, and therefore cannot benefit from bra fitting, or should restrain themselves to shopping at standard stores. The thing is no one needs to wear a bra. Bras are worn for many reasons: to provide comfort, to give a more "professional"** look, or as another way to explore fashion. Small busted women may want to wear a bra for many different reasons, and more importantly, they’re certainly not accountable to me! Bra fitters exist to help all people, no matter their size.

Just as the people who can benefit from bra fittings can be bigger, smaller, or somewhere in the middle, so can bra fitters. In the past, some fuller busted customers have been apprehensive when working with smaller busted fitters. The thing is, while it’s nice to trade in shared experiences, knowing what it’s like to be busty does not make a person more or less able to fit a person with big breasts. What’s necessary is training, product knowledge, and an ability to listen.

Little Bra Company 28A & Ulla 44N

Figure 1: 28A in The Little Bra Company & 44N from Ulla are the smallest & largest bras in the store: we're happy to fit all sizes!

Flattering is Subjective!
The last issue I’d like to discuss is the question of aesthetics and how it pertains to what shapes we consider flattering, natural,** or “good”. In fittings I try to keep my own personal aesthetics out of the equation. I’m really into a high, perky shape (usually via a cut and sew bra). Online, I notice many bra bloggers prefer a rounder, smoother shape. While it’s totally fine to have a preference when it comes to how your own body looks, no one should force this preference on others.

One part of bra fit training at SFYS involves trying on a bunch of bras to see how they fit and feel on your body. While training a newer fitter, I was surprised when she kept complaining many of the bras lifted her too high - it turns out she preferred a lower slung, rounder 1970s style breast shape. While I’m usually not keen on that shape for myself, it was important to take myself out of the equation, so when that fitter wanted a bra, I could help her find something that was right for her.

Sam's preferred shape

Figure 2: This is my preferred shape to have in a bra

Bra Fitters Can Support the Body Positivity Movement
I think bra fitting is important to the body positivity movement for several reasons. For many, wearing a poorly fitting bra can cause discomfort and pain. Wearing a better bra can help customers feel more at ease in their bodies. Bra fittings can also expand the definition of what is “flattering” to different body types when a fitter brings in shapes and styles a little outside of the customer’s usual comfort zone. Often a client will be happily surprised when introduced to something new. For example, many small busted women who only wore lined or padded bras in the past end up loving the look and feel of unlined bras and bralettes. Lastly, far too many people think their bodies are abnormal or wrong because they are unable to find bras in their size. Bra fitting helps to spread body positivity by representing and normalizing a wide range of sizes.

Fit guidelines should be just that –a guide to help people find the right bra, rather than a rigid prescription. While fuller busted people may be the most recognizable face of bra fitting, all sizes can benefit –there is no correct size for a body to be in order to be welcome. And while everyone will always have their own personal preferences, those preferences shouldn’t colour how we help someone choose a bra. The thread that runs through all of this is how important it is for bra fit supporters to recognize the diversity of bodies that exist, to recognize that no body is better than another, and to trust the lived experience of the people who inhabit those bodies. In doing this, I believe the bra fitting movement can support the body positivity movement.

*A lifted and shaped bust, often with concealed nipples is seen by many as more professional. I think if you feel better braless, go for it, but I understand for many it’s more comfortable to follow convention.
**I hate the term “natural” in general, and especially when talking about breast shape. There is so much variation out there!

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.

17 Comments on this post

  1. Evan says:

    I work at a lingerie boutique and I love the ideas expressed in this article. We don’t even measure here because bra fit is so individual. We have more success just having people try on different shapes and sizes, then deciding what works for them. It’s part of our job to balance giving fitting advice and helping people find what works for them. It’s tough to balance their preference and their preconceptions, especially when someone is going through body issues. My philosophy has always been that everyone deserves access to nice things and it’s interesting to see people deny themselves livable bras(their old bra is literally bruising them, underwires stabbing them, back riding up) until they can lose more weight. Have you had these kinds of experiences and do you have any advice for a newbie because I cannot count the number of people who have cried in the fitting room, and I’ve only been doing this six months.

    • SFYSSam says:

      Oh my. I’ve totally been there! When I have clients who are planning on losing weight, I usually reiterate that a bra in the size that they are now will be the most comfortable. They may end up changing size, but having a bra in the size they are at this time is still beneficial. Not worrying about stabbing wires, riding bands and general pain and discomfort frees up some mental and emotional energy (which is important for everyone, but especially if they are undertaking a major lifestyle change). Plus, a better bra often looks better under clothes, so they can feel better when they look in the mirror right now (rather than later). I usually try to bring more affordable styles (knowing that this bra may be transitional) and look for flexible materials like stretch lace.
      There will always be some crying- for many women bra fitting is a very vulnerable, open experience. We can do our best to put clients at ease by relating to their experiences, joking with them and talking about things besides bras and bra fittings (I’ve had some great conversations on sci-fi, vintage fashion & art restoration for example). Even taking body image issues out of the equation, the vulnerability of being near naked in front of a stranger can open up the floodgates of emotion – similar to crying after a massage.

  2. Samantha W says:

    I have a deep, vehement appreciation for variations on fit preference being included here. One of the reasons I drifted away from the bra fit community was that it fairly often teetered into what felt to me a lot like body shaming with some of the language they used (“lift your boobs up where they should be” was a popular point on “bra fit bonuses” lists), the way they would target people whose breasts were not naturally self-supporting and round, and how insistent they were that people wear a size calculated by *this specific thing* and not, y’know, what they felt most comfortable in out of what was available to them (another thing people forgot about a lot: availability and financial restraints. Some people legitimately just cannot afford a $40 bra and saving up isn’t an option). There was this air of, because it was about bra fit, it meant your chest had to look a certain way, or you were doing it wrong and there was a lot of backlash for… Not being comfortable the way they wanted you to be, I guess. They also had a habit of going after anybody that had rolls where they didn’t think there should be rolls. (ex. back fat that’s “supposed to go away”??) The environment ended up feeling really uncomfortable and it’s made me really wary of bra fit conversations, even years later, because they slip into using harmful language without really realizing that it can be harmful. So, y’know, thank you for pointing out that personal preference and comfort is more important.

  3. Ms. Pris says:

    “The thing is no one needs to wear a bra. ”

    I am very disappointed to see this old horse trotted out yet again, and on TLA. Yes, I do NEED to wear a bra. Without one, I will experience not only discomfort, but pain: pain in my breasts and back. I will also get rashes and skin degradation under my breasts from sweat and chafing.

    Saying that “no one needs to wear a bra” is extremely arrogant and ignores the experience of those of us who DO need to wear a bra.

    • SFYSSam says:

      You’re right, for some fuller busted people going braless for an extended period of time is a no-go because of some or all of the issues you described. As a fitter I’ve also encountered full busted folks who prefer to wear a fitted tank top, half camisole (or “sports bra”) or nothing at all rather than experience the pain and discomfort they have from wearing a bra (often this can be remedied by a better style and/or size, but some people just find bra unbearable, no matter how many they try). I myself fall somewhere in the middle (admittedly, I’ve never gone braless for a very extended period of time) – without a bra my back and breasts get sore, but I certainly don’t have as bad an experience as you do.

      The wording I used was not ideal. I can see how my choice of words ignores yours (and others) experience. And that’s obviously something I’m trying to avoid! The thought I was trying to get across is that no one has to wear a bra if they don’t want to and that no one deserves to wear a bra (or have access to bra fittings) more than others.

  4. “Sometimes we need to deviate from these fit points, and that’s okay!” THIS! In the 4 years we have been open I have seen a lot of women who need to depart from the traditional good fit criteria because of medical and personal reasons. In particular, the band preferences is where we see the most variance, and that’s okay! I like how you describe a fitting experience as a collaboration to find the right balance. Wonderful article!

  5. sol says:

    This is a great follow up on Holly’s post.
    I’m loving these articles.

  6. Jeanna says:

    Fabulous article. Reblogging everywhere. Thanks for writing this, Sam.

  7. Catherine says:

    “What’s necessary is training, product knowledge, and an ability to listen.” YES!! As someone who worked as a bra fitter, I just want to say thank you SO much for saying this. Measurements can only go so far – they don’t necessarily take into account other important factors. (One I always use as an example when explaining this to people is two women might measure exactly the same, but one might have more flesh on their shoulders than another, which might suggest different sized straps, or a different material for the straps for comfort.) This is why the customer’s voice is so important. I would never force a bra on a person – after all, the customer is the one who has to wear it every day. Bra fitters are there (or should be there) to offer experience, expertise, comfort, and confidence! Loved reading this article.

    • SFYSSam says:

      “I would never force a bra on a person – after all, the customer is the one who has to wear it every day” Yes! So very, very true!

  8. SFYSSam says:

    The top photo (with the caution tape) should be credited to Maxwell Lander ( My apologies for the typo- I was super excited to write this!

  9. Ivory says:

    Thank you TLA and Sam Conover for supporting the Body Positive Movement – women of all shapes and sizes stand to benefit from this amazing wealth of knowledge, and this article really puts bra fitting into perspective for the general populous. WAY TO GO!!!

  10. Isis says:

    Thanks for a great article, I’d never realised fitters could provide advice on shape! The ones I’ve been to (UK department stores) just measure me and suggest the standard fit for someone of my size (38DD) which you give as the “rounded 70s shape”; which is fine, and I have many lovely bras in that fit which are very comfortable. But sometimes I’d like the “perky” look as well, and having never been asked what my preferred shape would be, I’ve no idea what sort of bra would provide that and which size to buy.

    • SFYSSam says:

      Many seamed bras can provide that look – it’s tricky as I’m not familiar with the selection in UK department stores, but some great examples available in your size are Prima Donna Menton, Empreinte Thalia, the Fantasie Smooth Tshirt bra and Freya Rio.

  11. Robin says:

    Can we talk about underarm fat and wired bras? Seriously? Every bra fitting I have gone to have told me I need wires and that I will get used to them. Well I never do. I just can’t get used to giant bruises in my armpits. I need a solution that does not look like a jog bra. Why cant the shape be sewn into the bra with a less-stretchy chest band to provide the support without wires?

    • SFYSSam says:

      1) While wireless bras won’t provide the same sort of lift and shape as wired, there are still supportive options!
      2) The shape and size of the wire may be at fault – I’ve worked with many people who’s discomfort with wires was due to the wire being too small and too narrow. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trying a different brand (Marie Jo is great for smaller busts, Prima Donna or Elomi is great for fuller busts).
      3) Bra construction is still a work in progress! Wireless options really are limited (especially for fuller busts). I’d love to see more styles to offer our clients!

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