Stop Telling Us We’re Wearing the Wrong Size Bra

Photo: Frederic Cirou/Corbis

Jockey has announced a bold move in the sphere of brassieres: For their new Volumetric Fit System line, the underwear maker will ditch the A-B-C-D cup system and restore accuracy in band sizes. Instead of measuring around “the fullest part of your breasts” to determine cup size, a shopper will pour her breasts into measuring cup-like devices to determine breast volume. Band sizes will correspond with the actual measurement, in inches, of the band. (Traditional band sizes are approximately the length of the band in inches, plus four.) So instead of 34B, for instance, you might be 2-30. Jockey explains their new system here.

I am of two minds about the Volumetric Fit System. On one hand, restoring band size accuracy is a step toward honesty in bra sizes. I’ve always been jealous of menswear practices that allow a man to simply put a measuring tape around his neck and call it a day. If womens’ clothing were that straightforward, we wouldn’t waste so much time in dressing rooms.

On the other hand, Jockey’s press campaign comes packaged with that irritating statistic that appears at least once in every issue of every womens’ magazine: “85 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size.” Shut up about what I’m doing wrong with my underwear, already.

I have been a peddler of bra size anxiety. In my late teens, I spent summers and holidays working in the bra department of now-defunct midwestern department store Marshall Field’s. I would march around with a pale pink measuring tape draped around my neck, shouting chipper Hellos! at strangers and offering to measure their breasts. I learned to size bras in approximately 30 seconds during a “training session” with a sales rep from Wacoal. You measure two places on a woman’s body, then you add a number to one number to get the band size, and subtract one number from the other to get the cup. It’s a system that encourages shopping — just hard enough to confuse a woman brandishing a measuring tape for the first time in her bedroom, but simple enough for a teen sales girl to learn between smoking breaks. (If you want to learn how to size bras, go here.)

The system was not invented to confuse. (The disparity between a band’s inch measurement and its numerical size is a vestige from garment-construction practices. The size corresponds with the inch measurement of the area above your breasts, like so.) But its opacity aids sales nonetheless. Victoria’s Secret hosts regular bra sizing events to get shoppers into their stores. Women describe their new bras as revelations. “It can change your life,” Jezebel exclaims. Getting a new bra size “literally performs miracles. It can reverse aging. It can make you look ten, even twenty pounds lighter,” Oprah says. We are told that the moment a sales girl instructs us to discard every single bra we already own to purchase all news ones is, in fact, liberation.

That is ridiculous.

Yes, a bra that fits is better than one that does not. Yes, a good bra can make elements of your life more pleasant. Yes, some women have great difficulty finding bras that fit, and when they do find them, it makes them really happy. Good for them.

But can we stop obsessing about bra fit now? The source of those bandied-about statistics about wrong bra sizes are, after all, marketing research firms financed by the same companies that once paid for me to wear a measuring tape around my neck in the bra department of Marshall Field’s. (This week’s “85 percent” figure comes from Jockey’s Volumetric Fit press release. Its source is a study from corporate consulting firm Griffin Strategic Partners entitled “Consumer Validation of New Bra Concept.”) In reality, however, there is only one universal truth when it comes to fit, and it equally applies to bras, shoes, pants, socks, and wedding bands: If you put it on and like how it looks and feels, then it fits just fine. Your bra is not wrong. Your bra cannot be wrong. Your bra is underwear, a value-neutral object to be worn, replaced, stuffed, discarded, celebrated, hidden, or exposed however you want.

Stop Telling Us We’re Wearing the Wrong Size Bra