Women are often faced with the less-than-ideal choice of buying a bra that doesn’t fit or taking out a second mortgage to pay for one that does. Even worse: Shelling out big bucks doesn’t seem to guarantee you’ll be wearing the right size.
I know because I recently visited two high-end retailers and a Victoria’s Secret to get measured. At one of the high-end stores, I was fitted for a 32G that cost $168. At another, I was declared a 30GG. And at Victoria’s Secret, the fitting room associate put me in a laughable 36D.
On some level, women are used to this. We know that the size we wear in shirts and jeans will vary from retailer to retailer and brand to brand. But when the same is true of bras, it feels particularly galling.
“Even in the same company, sometimes the bras all run differently, and a 34B [in one style] is not the same as another 34B,” Linda “The Bra Lady” Becker told HuffPost. The two boutiques bearing her name — one in New York City and one in New Jersey — are beloved for their highly trained staff and their comprehensive inventory of more than 275 bra sizes.
It’s frustrating to learn there isn’t an industry-standard set of sizing specifications upon which manufacturers base their designs. “Each brand grades their bras in its own way,” said Elly Corney, founding director of Bravissimo, the revered British retailer that just opened its first U.S. store in New York. (For busty gals, this is a very big deal.) “They will only wear-test one size and then will apply an incremental grade across the entire size range.”
This slap-dash approach seems like a problem the industry honchos should get together and solve. After all, a bra is arguably the most important piece of clothing a female-identifying person wears: The correct bra lifts and shapes, helping define your waistline and just generally making your clothes look even better.
“We wear-test sizes across the spectrum to ensure that the fit and support of a bra is excellent across the whole size range,” Corney said. “Many high-street retailers don’t do this. This is one reason why bras sold in local stores are less expensive.”
Bravissimo’s designers regularly fit women across its entire extended-size range — which includes cup sizes up to L — basing their patterns on the women’s measurements. In the 10 years that the company has been making bras, technical designers have fitted “hundreds, if not thousands, of women,” said Corney. “Our customers help us with this, as do the many women who work for Bravissimo. We currently have over 800 employees, and 95% of them are women, with an all-female senior leadership team.” The retailer also offers a full line of clothing designed specifically for women with more on top.
ThirdLove, which earned a spot on Forbes’ 2019 list of startups most likely to reach a $1 billion valuation, has taken it one step further. “Over 15 million women have taken our Fit Finder, and we use the more than 600 million data points collected from the quiz to inform our product decisions,” said Ra’el Cohen, the company’s chief creative officer.
Cohen said one of ThirdLove’s first “aha” moments occurred when they looked at the data and realized that more than a third of women fell between cup sizes. Hence, their quiet revolution: the invention of half sizes. In addition, their Fit Finder takes into account breast shape, asking you to describe them with terms like “East West” and “Bell.”
“When it comes to sizing, we have literally had to break the mold … but it’s worth it to offer women a better fitting, high-quality product,” Cohen said.
Maybe you can’t make it to Bravissimo’s New York store or you need something quick and can’t wait on a ThirdLove delivery. In that case, head to your nearest department store and check out Wacoal, a brand Becker recommends for consistent sizing. But, regardless of the brand, here’s how you’ll know if a bra fits, according to Becker:
The underwire should be behind your breast, not digging into it or lifting off your chest. It should comfortably circle your entire breast.
Check to make sure you’re not spilling out at the top or sides, which means the bra is too small. If there are gaps in the fabric, the cups are too big.
Make sure the band fits snugly without riding up in the back.
Because every woman’s body is unique, “you really need to try a bra on to see how it fits you, how you feel in it and which size is right for you,” Corney advised. “Once you know what to look for, this is easy, not a dark art!”
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.