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What Influences Lingerie Sizing?


Journelle's Gia Demi Bra

The modern ready-to-wear lingerie industry is a blessing and a curse. On the bright side, it means great lingerie is widely available to many people, as opposed to just those privileged enough to have custom-made intimates. On the other hand, ready-made lingerie doesn't fit everyone.

No one fits perfectly into all available styles, even in the sizes they expect to wear. Plus, most lingerie labels sell narrow size ranges that sometimes leave consumers feeling excluded when they fall outside of the size chart. I don't feel like I wear a super unusual size--I wear a 34F or 32G bra, and I'm typically a ladies' size large in apparel--so when I'm sized out of lines I expect to be able to wear, I'm always surprised.

But those size ranges are crafted for a multitude of reasons--reasons that likely have nothing to do with excluding anyone. Even the biggest lingerie lines cannot start out by making every single style in every single size, and adding sizes takes more than simply deciding to do it.

So exactly what influences a lingerie brand's size range? I drew from my own experiences as a loungewear designer, and also spoke with designers from three very different lingerie labels -- Emily Lau from The Little Bra Company, Rania Abu-Eid from Journelle, and Dora Lau from Curvy Couture -- about the nuances that occur in selecting and expanding size ranges.

The Little Bra Company's Evie Bra

The Little Bra Company's Evie Bra

Initially, a size range is developed to satisfy a label's perceived niche. Marketing towards a niche is required for practically any business, especially for something as risky as lingerie. "Just like a petite pant is especially scaled for a petite figure, I did the same with bras," says Emily from The Little Bra Company, who currently makes sizes 28-34A-C, 36A-B, and 38A. "With an adjusted smaller back and closer-set cups, I was able to find the perfect fit [for people with smaller cup sizes]."

On another point on the size spectrum, Dora started Curvy Couture to make well-fitting bras for "the average American woman," and launched in sizes 34DDD through 44H. And Journelle's private label runs from 30C-G to 36A-D, with a focus on "larger cup sizes for smaller bands," to fill a need they saw in their stores.

I think many people get frustrated when they see a brand marketing towards a niche they identify with--be it petite, curvy, full-cup, or even "average"--and they discover they aren't within the brand's size range. Like other parts of the fashion industry, lingerie sizing varies wildly and has no official standards. The same goes for the terms that define those sizes; for instance, "full cup" might mean 32DD to one person, but 44H to another.

Lingerie brands select what they see as their niche, or what they think the majority of their customers see as their niche. Curvy Couture considers a 34DDD to be a "small band size with fuller cups," while Journelle, whose private label focuses on that exact same idea, stops at a 34E/DD. It's fascinating, but understandably frustrating.

It's confusing later, too, when customers constantly request a size on a lingerie line's social media page, and it doesn't appear in the brand's next season assortment. But don't assume the request is being overlooked; these developments are complicated, especially for smaller companies with limited resources. There are many obstacles in the way for brands to expand their sizes.

The Little Bra Company's Lucia bra, available in sizes 28-34A-C, 36A-B, and 38A.

The Little Bra Company's Lucia bra, available in sizes 28-34A-C, 36A-B, and 38A.

Fit limitations. 

Making additional sizes is not as easy as just scaling up the pattern and putting it into production--whether a brand is hoping to grow their niche or expand outside of core sizes, this growth requires a lot of trial and error for fit. Many of The Little Bra Company's customers request D cups, which are often seen as petite in today's lingerie market. "I'm considering adding this size range, but want to make sure that the construction of the larger cup is balanced with the smaller band sizes," Emily says. If the proportions and fit aren't right, the sizes won't sell.

Journelle's Veronique Low Balconette Bra is available in 12 core sizes from 30C to 36B, rather than the full 20 sizes that Journelle typically manufactures.

Journelle's Veronique Low Balconette Bra is available in 12 core sizes from 30C to 36B, rather than the full 20 sizes that the Journelle private label typically manufactures.

Fabric limitations. 

Larger cup sizes not only need sturdier materials for support, but also bigger materials, period. The pretty lace covering the cup of a 32B bra can't be used on a 36G if it's not wide enough, and finding materials suitable for many cup sizes is difficult. "Laces that are wide enough tend to be more costly or require custom development," says Rania from Journelle, "and with that comes high minimums." Most brands don't have the capital or are unable to meet the minimums required to go into custom development for suitable trims.  In a dramatic example, the Journelle Veronique bra shown above, a moulded quarter cup topped with a delicate French lace, is only available in a handful of sizes because the lace is too narrow for larger cups.

she and reverie Scallop Bralette

she and reverie's Scallop Bralette, available in sizes XS through L.

Physics limitations.

Some styles of bras just don't work for very many sizes. Yes, many labels could make bralettes and unlined lace bras for G cups and above, but they likely won't give the look the wearer desires, which means they won't sell. My indie loungewear line she and reverie makes sizes XS through L, which tops off at about a 40" bust for our bralettes. While I'd love to make larger sizes, we rarely sell size L bralettes as it is. Bustier customers typically want more support, which bralettes, simply because their soft, delicate nature, can't provide. Until textile scientists develop a thin, soft, comfortable fabric that holds up full cups nicely, or more full-cup women start desiring less support, I wouldn't feel comfortable expanding sizes.

Curvy Couture's Love Affair Plunging Balconette, available in sizes 34C to 42H.

Curvy Couture's Love Affair Plunging Balconette, available in sizes 34C to 42H.

Time limitations.

Even after all other obstacles have been overcome, it could take years for that oft-requested size to hit the market. Curvy Couture is hoping to expand up to 46 bands, but because the company fits each size individually, it won't happen in just a few weeks. We know these women want bras in their size right away," says Dora, "but we are not ready to put something out there until we stand by the fit 100%." If the fit is off the first time, customers probably won't try again, so it's important to get it right initially--even if it means waiting many seasons to release a new size range.

she and reveries Clamshell Bralette, in sizes XS through L

she and reverie's Clamshell Bralette, available in sizes XS through L

Cost limitations.

Yep. You saw it coming. This is the part that no one wants to talk about. At the end of the day, the more sizes a brand makes, the more money it costs them. Each size pattern costs money to grade, or scale up. Larger sizes naturally use more fabric, which means less profit per item. On top of all that, each additional size is an additional risk for the company. It's hard enough for a lingerie line to get funding in today's market; expanding sizes doesn't make it easier. Cost isn't necessarily the main reason for a line to limit sizes, but it's certainly (and understandably) a major one.

Not every lingerie brand makes every person's size, but there is a lingerie brand out there for nearly every person. It's easy to get frustrated when a line doesn't make your size. Instead, try supporting brands that specialize in your body type's niche. There's a category on TLA for nearly every size niche; take a look under the "Popular Categories" tag at the top of the page and find the brands that cater to you. You'll be telling the lingerie industry that your size is less of a risk than they expect, and you'll get lingerie that fits you perfectly.

Do you get frustrated by sizing when shopping for lingerie? Did any of these limitations surprise you?

Quinne Myers

Quinne Myers is a lingerie expert living in Brooklyn, NY, where she creates quippy written content, crafts dreamy illustrations, and runs the ethically-made loungewear line, she and reverie.

6 Comments on this post

  1. This is a great article! The limitations didn’t surprise me. I just wish more lingerie customers were aware of this. I see a lot of comments on IG of girls saying too bad they don’t make this in my size. It’s ignorant.

  2. This is brilliant. I own a lingerie store and try to stock as many varied sizes as possible. It’s hard to explain to some customers why the bra they like doesn’t come in their size, but this really explains it well and I’ll definitely be using it. Thanks.

  3. This. So. Much. This. As a store that stocks a wide range of sizes, I often have the unpleasant task of telling someone a bra they see hanging up doesn’t come in their size. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with the bra, the brand who makes it, or the person interested in it. It’s just for those reasons you so eloquently outlined above. Along this vein, I understand why some brands are slow to expand or limit their sizes, but I think some companies fall victims to the opposite issue: incorporating sizes they aren’t ready to adequately support (literally sometimes). There are some bras and brands which cater to a larger size range than what they should. By this I mean that there are bras out there in, let’s say 28-38D-J that really aren’t great in entire subsets of that size range. For example, when we first opened, I carried the Freya Deco in every size, but I realize early on that there are certain sizes within Deco’s range that just don’t work well (especially when compared with other styles on the marketplace). I’d rather a brand take the time to expand to make sure it is a worthwhile endeavor or not expand at all but truly succeed in their niche than expand too quickly and create a substandard product.

  4. FP says:

    Quinne, you are so right about this! It is frustrating to consider yourself petite and small-busted, and then to find that even a brand like The Little Bra Company doesn’t make bras small enough. I wear EU 70AA, and ‘sister sizing’ to a 65A is just not an option, since I am closer to a 75AAA – if such a thing would exist. And while you might argue I wouldn’t need a bra in the first place, well I like wearing a bra, thank you very much.
    The only thing left for me is the teenage stuff, but even as a teenager I didn’t like that sort of thing – I am not about to start wearing it now.
    But then I am aware that there are very few women out there with my size, so no brand will ever cater for it. And even the range of sizes simply boggles my mind. I consider a C cup very large indeed, but apparently that’s still considered small by everybody else. Strange world we live in ;).

  5. RL says:

    As frustrating as it is to be a small petite in a large busted “average global world”, I would rather companies ONLY make what they are experts in & create specific to the size. The mere “sizing up” or “sizing down” leads to imperfect design. E.g. do all 32A bras need an underwire, much less the strength of wire needed for a D+ cup? No. its a sign that design is being rolled out across sizes, instead of designed FOR a size. Many 32A-B dont fit “right” as they have wires that dig in (when wire is much less a necessity) , and the gore area leaves huge marks. Result a pretty looking bra in a size that was “supposed to” fit is returned for refund.
    On the side of a company, as mentioned in the article above, if the end product does not fit comfortably women will not wear & will remember the brand in a negative way. So I appreciate the brands who want to take the time to produce lingerie for the intended size… and who keep production costs in line so the end product can be afforded by at least some of their audience.
    Fast Fashion exists anywhere/everywhere… so its no longer a main issue of not being able to find a bra or shirt to wear. But rather to make products WORTHY of being made to begin with, and not just sold fast to end up in a landfill in 2 months. I would much rather see QUALITY of product than have to try on 23 bras of the same size to find the 1-in-the-bunch that was DESIGNED for my size.
    Every woman already has the sad reality that certain styles are inherently not “made for” (balconettes not for petites who are shallow in bust, or teenage style bralets for women for physically need bust support). I will try to continue my support (as a consumer) for the brands I feel are doing the best design & production work.

  6. Noire says:

    This is a great article one that’s especially poignant for me right now as I recently recalculated my bra side to be a 32E/30F and not a 32DD/30E. This puts me right over the edge of ‘normal’ and into ‘full bust’ so it’s frustrating that all the pretty things aren’t available in my size.

    That said, from my own sewing experience I know how it’s not as simple as grading up the pattern as there are other things to consider. This is another reason I love playful promises, they’ve really tried to cover as many sizes as possible, as they pointed out, these then need to sell for them to continue to make these sizes. At least that’s the logic I use so I can justify another pretty bra!

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