So that's why your bras never fit! We sent a 32C model bra-shopping – and found she needed a different size at almost every store
09:40 GMT, 15 March 2012
Second skin: When Carol Ann had an expert fitting at Rigby & Peller, she was
found to be a 32C
Pinched flesh, unsightly bulges and backache — the wrong bra can be misery. But according to a new report, eight out of ten of us are wearing badly-fitting bras because the traditional method of measuring bust size is outdated and just doesn’t work.
According to academics at the University of Portsmouth, using a tape measure to find your bra size is a waste of time because women’s bodies have changed dramatically since the system was invented in the 1930s.
The traditional method of bra-fitting, still used by most shops, involves two measurements: one from under the bust and around the ribcage, and the other from around the fullest part of the bust.
The first measurement gives the back size in inches, and the difference between the two measurements determines cup size (A denotes a difference of one inch, B of two inches and so on).
But according to the academics, this method is hopelessly out of date because it was designed to go only up to a D-cup. Half of women in the UK now exceed that size.
The secret to finding the perfect fit is to take a five-step approach: assessing the length of the straps, the shape of the underwire, how well the back fits, how well the cup fits and whether the front band is in contact with the breastbone.
This doesn’t surprise expert bra fitter Dita Summerfield from Rigby & Peller, underwear fitters to the Queen. ‘The huge majority of women coming to us for a fitting are wearing a completely wrong bra size,’ she says. ‘Most wear their bras too loose on the back and too small in the cup. But 80 per cent of the support
given by a bra comes from the band around the middle — not the straps or
the cup — and if it’s loose, you are not getting enough support.
‘You get ten per cent of your support from shoulder straps, which are often worn too loose, and ten per cent of the support from cup size, which so many women wear much too small.’
‘Women tend to decide their size and stick to it — they see something pretty and buy it in that size without trying it on. But sizes vary hugely in different shops. You cannot rely on the number on the label to find the perfect fit.’
We sent 45-year-old model Carol Ann Dunbar to Rigby & Peller to be fitted with the perfect bra.
Carol Ann thought she was a 34B but according to Rigby and Peller she was a 32C. With this in mind, Carol then tried on 32Cs in six High Street stores to see how well they fitted — and then Dita helped her find the best fit in each shop.
H&M: 32C was too tight, 34C fit but hurt
Multi-function push up bra, 9.99
Bad fit: The 32C, left, is too tight, while the 34C fits but hurts
'What a disaster!' says Carol. 'These were the most uncomfortable bras I’ve ever tried on. The 32C was so narrow I could hardly do it up, and the underwiring was so harsh it dug in and made my skin red. The 34C fitted but was still uncomfortable.'
DITA WARNS: 'One thing to look out for in cheap bras is the underwiring. Good underwires are flexible and comfortable against the skin. The underwires here were rigid and uncomfortable — you couldn’t wear these bras all day. The selection of sizes was bad, too. We struggled to find many bras in a C cup; most were in A and B-cups. But the average woman is now a D-cup.'
NEXT: 32C cups were too small, 32D was a better fit
Green perfect plunge bra, from a set of two, 18
Not quite perfect: The 32C cups were too small, left, but the 32D was better
Carol was stunned that she is a D-cup: 'I thought I was a small B‑cup. I can't wait to tell my boyfriend!'
DITA WARNS: 'The cup size of the 32C in Next was much too small for Carol Ann — her breasts were overflowing in the bra and the band around the ribcage was a bit too loose on her,’ says Dita. 'The way to tell if a band is too loose is if it rides up in the middle at the back. In this shop, we settle for a 32D for Carol, but it’s still a little big round the ribcage. Ideally we’d go for a 30D here. But Next, like a lot of shops, only starts its sizes at a 32, which is ridiculous. Lots of women need a 30in band, or even a 28in.'
BHS: 32C was all wrong, 32D was an ok fit
Secrets Bra in Coral, 15
All wrong: The 32C was too small, left, and the 32D was only an ok fit
DITA WARNS: ‘The sizing in Bhs was all over the place; completely wrong. ‘Carol was literally falling out of its 32C. The cup
size was much too small and it was too big on her back. In this shop,
she’d need a 30E, which is ridiculous — there’s no way that’s her real
size — but Bhs didn’t stock that size anyway. So we compromised on a
Carol was not impressed either: ‘The fabric was cheap, and when we adjusted the straps it started to fray’
MARKS AND SPENCER: 32C had tight wiring, 30D fit perfectly
Silk floral print padded bra, 22
Perfect fit in 'wrong' size: The 32C, left, had tight wiring but the 30D fit perfectly
DITA WARNS: ‘The underwiring was quite narrow in
the M&S bras. So when Carol tried on the 32C, the wires
were digging into her breast tissue. When you press on underwires it
should hit bone. It should be encasing your breast on your ribcage, not sitting on your actual breasts. The 30D was a perfect fit.’
says: ‘The 30in band is much narrower than I would ever normally wear,
but Dita says I need to get used to wearing a snugger fit because my
usual size is too loose. The fabric was soft on the skin and I loved the
JOHN LEWIS: 32C was too wide, 30D fit perfectly
Spotty t-shirt bra, 25
Good service: Staff gave good advice but the 32C was too wide, left, making the 30D a perfect fit
DITA WARNS: ‘Our John Lewis experience showed just how much size varies. We picked up three different bras, all John Lewis’s own make and all described as “T-shirt bras”, but in each one Carol was a different size. In one style the 32 was huge on the back, but in another the 32 was too narrow. In one the C-cup was perfect, in another it was much too small. Carol was a 30D in her favourite design, the spotty bra. On the plus side, John Lewis was the only shop that offered to help us, so hopefully its staff would have helped Carol to navigate the sizes.’
DEBENHAMS: 32C was the perfect fit
Comfortable: The 32C is ideal
T-shirt bra, 7.60
‘This was a really comfortable bra: it fitted perfectly.
'I loved the colour, and the price was great,’ says Carol. ‘I would definitely buy this one.
‘Dita told me I should tighten my right shoulder strap more than the left.
'That’s because my right shoulder slopes after years of lugging a bag around.’
Dita was impressed too: ‘Debenhams had a huge selection of bras and its fit was very good — it ran true to size.
‘Such a shame then the staff were so rude.
'Nobody offered to help us and the shop assistant was quite brusque with us, getting annoyed that we wanted to use the same changing room.’
FIVE STEPS TO A PERFECT FIT
STRAP LENGTH: You don’t
need to adjust your straps to the same length on each side. Many of us
have sloping shoulders, perhaps from carrying bags around on one side
for years, and so it could be that one strap needs to be tighter than
UNDERWIRE SHAPE: If you
press on the underwire of your bra, it should press on bone, not breast
tissue. The underwire should sit on your ribcage, encasing your breasts
but not digging into them.
BACK FIT: You should just
be able to fit two fingers under the band. It should feel snug —
perhaps tighter than you’re used to, but not uncomfortable. If it rides
up in the middle of your back, it’s too big and won’t give you enough
CUP FIT: Nine times out
of ten, women are wearing too small a cup size. You should not have any
breast tissue spilling out the top of the cup — known as ‘double boob’.
The average woman is now a D-cup, yet most think they are a B-cup.
FRONT BAND: The middle
should sit flat against the breastbone. If it’s pulling away, leaving a
gap between the middle of the bra and the skin, the cup size is too