Ahhh, bra shopping: the bane of most women’s existence. Finding that perfect bra is somewhat akin to finding the holy grail; we all keep looking, but many of us have conceded that we’ll never find it.
Studies estimate that nearly 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra size. Most of the time, it’s because we’ve never been properly measured or sized since our teen years. Bra size can change with weight gain or loss, pregnancy, age, or for a variety of other reasons.
Also, most of us were measured “wrong” back in the early days of bra shopping, usually by a department store salesperson who had been trained on the “add five inches” method whereby you measure the under-bust area, add five inches to it to get the band size, and then find the difference between that and the fullest part of the bust for the cup size. This method, popularized by bra manufacturers and mass-market retailers, tends to put all women in an extremely narrow size range of bras. This helps them produce more bras at lower cost, so the manufacturers love it. Unfortunately, it puts most of us into bras that are far too big at the band and too small at the cup. This leads to strap slippage, back pain, shoulder and neck pain, and a lot of frustration.
What’s your true bra size?
The proper way to measure is actually to not add any inches to the band size measurement. And then do the subtraction to find the cup size. Here’s a calculator you can use.
The thing is, that can lead to a lot of confusion. Say you thought all this time that you were a 34C, and it turns out you’re actually a 30F! F, you might say? Is that even a size? Well, yeah, and it’s not even that big. Gone are the days when D-cup meant huge, because we’re not adding anything to the band size so the difference is actually more significant. Bra sizes up to H or beyond aren’t uncommon. Adding to the confusion is that, past D, American, British and European manufacturers don’t standardize their sizes in the same way. So you might be a DDD in one brand, an E in another, and an F in a third. It’s head-spinning.
This problem is compounded for us petites. Many — not all, but many — of us short ladies have correspondingly smaller frames. That means we often need bras in smaller band sizes than the ones sold in most mass-market retailers or department stores. In addition, since cup size can vary a lot among petites, we sometimes need that small band size to go with a larger cup size. Not all petites have small busts.
Take me, for instance. I measure 27.5″ under bust and 33″ at the bust. The old, discredited department store system would’ve put me in a 32A under this system, which clearly doesn’t work for me at all. Really, my “true” size is a 28DD.
Where are all the 28 band sizes?
The thing is, those 28 band sizes are almost impossible to find anywhere, especially here in Canada. Department stores usually have nothing below a 32 band. Ditto with mass market retailers like La Senza or Victoria’s Secret. Wandering into any store and finding a bra that fits is an exercise in futility.
So where to look?
- There are a few companies that specialize in small band sizes, like the Little Bra Company. But they make the mistake of wrongly assuming that petites with small bands automatically also have small cup sizes, so they make nothing bigger than a C cup! Change Lingerie is another retailer that is known for a better size variety, but their local stock of smaller band sizes is dismal, and I find their price/quality ratio to be pretty poor.
- There’s one specialty bra boutique here in Montreal that carries high quality bras in a variety of sizes: Lingerie DEBra. I actually love the personalized attention and professionalism at this boutique, and, despite the higher prices of its merchandise, I tend to shop there whenever possible. The problem is, though, most of their clientele are looking for larger sizes, so DEBra carries nothing smaller than a D-cup. Which would be fine in a 28 band, but they rarely have anything smaller than a 30, and even those are rare and generally require special orders. For comfort, I’d sometimes opt for a 30C in some styles instead of the tighter 28DD. But DEBra doesn’t stock those, and neither do mass market retailers. So I’m kinda out of luck on those.
- Which leaves me with online shopping. Bras are really hard to order online, since you kinda have to try them on to get a good fit. Beyond just band and cup size, there are a million other variables involved in getting a good fit, from shoulder width to bra shape to bust fullness. If, however, you already have a favourite style that you know fits, you can often find it online; I’ve had good luck ordering from Amazon, UK e-tailer Figleaves, and US e-tailer Herroom.com (the latter two with higher shipping fees and more difficult returns, mind you). It doesn’t quite solve the chicken-or-egg issue of having to know your style and size before you buy, though.
- Bra exchanges may be another option. I know, it sounds weird, but bras in these sizes are expensive, and tons of women have bras they’ve only worn once or twice — or sometimes not at all, with the tickets still attached — that they’re looking to sell or swap. For Reddit users, check out the extremely useful subreddit r/braswap, where people buy, sell and exchange lightly-used bras. I’ve found that the availability of hard-to-find sizes is pretty good there, and it’s easier to take a chance on a style you haven’t tried before when you’re only paying $5 or $10 for it, rather than full price. Shipping can be more expensive to Canada, but most Redditers will simply put it in a padded envelope and ship via regular mail if you ask them to.
Ultimately, the only way we’re going to get more bras in band sizes below 32 is by educating consumers to create more demand. The fact is, there are plenty of women who should be wearing these sizes, but aren’t, either because they have no idea they’re in the wrong size, or because it’s too much of a hassle to find them. If the demand for smaller band sizes increases, companies will respond with more supply.
A few brands to consider
Fit Fully Yours
This is a Canadian company that makes a variety of bras in harder-to-find sizes. My go-to bra for everyday is the Maxine t-shirt bra, which is such a great seller at my local bra boutique that they always seem to stock tons of them. It’s incredibly comfortable, has lovely wide straps that are centre-set so they don’t slip off, and gives a nice shape under a t-shirt. I own three of them, in fact, and wear them pretty much daily.
The upside to Fit Fully Yours is that, unlike the European bras I list below, it’s a brand that’s quite easy to find here in Canada. Their bras are on the expensive side, but they’re good quality and — with care — last a long time.
The downside with this bra is that the smallest size it comes in is a 30D, which is technically too big for me. It’s a fairly full-cup bra, too. This means that I don’t quite fill out the cup, especially at the top. I wear it anyway, despite all this, because of how comfortable and practical it is. I do wish they’d make it in a smaller size, though.
I should note that Fit Fully Yours can be a bit hit-or-miss with its styles. I also own a Smooth Sweetheart deep plunge bra, and a Felicia strapless bra. Neither of them get much wear, because I find they don’t fit nearly as well as the Maxine bra does. I reserve them for special occasions when I’m wearing clothes that require those particular features.
Freya is a British company that makes a really great range of practical everyday bras in hard-to-find sizes. They tend to be good quality, and they’re pretty. The downside is that they’re incredibly difficult to find here in Montreal, so I’m generally stuck taking a chance by ordering them online.
I currently own one bra in my true size, a 28DD. It’s the Freya Muse t-shirt bra. It’s hands down the best-fitting bra I own. I don’t love the narrower straps that feel flimsier than my FFY bras, nor do I like how the straps are wider set. But the smaller band size helps keep them from sliding off my shoulders, which really speaks to the importance of getting the right size.
Curvy Kate — another British company — is one of those love-it-or-hate-it brands. The styles are pretty, and their bras are often available at good discounts. The thing is, the fit isn’t quite the same as with other brands; I’ve found it necessary to size up a band size from my usual size, to a 30C or 30D depending on style, because I find their sizing runs small. The cups also have this weird triangular fit in a lot of styles.
I own one bra by Curvy Kate, the Princess Balcony bra in a 30D. The Princess is an okay bra for when I’m in the mood to wear something a little frillier or lacier, but I wouldn’t exactly call it my go-to bra for everyday. I also tried — and returned — the Smoothie Deluxe t-shirt bra in the same size, since I found the straps just wouldn’t stay on my shoulders that well.
Yet another British company (notice a trend?) that specializes in bras in a variety of sizes. I have owned several Panache bras over the years, including the Andorra lace balcony bra, which is cute, and has a great side support panel built in. I never found I wore it all that much because it ended up being a bit scratchy, digging in uncomfortably. Which is one of those things that’s tough to assess in the dressing room, but becomes apparent once you realize the bra has sat unworn in a drawer for a while.
Overall, I haven’t been as successful with Panache as with some other brands, simply because I find their styles tend to have wider-set straps that don’t work as well for my narrow, sloping shoulders. Most bras in Panache’s Cleo line do come in a 28 band, though, and they have a wide variety of styles.
This one’s a bit different: It’s a Polish brand that is well known worldwide for being the best — sometimes only — option for women who need a band size smaller than 28. They don’t advertise it, but they will accept special orders for 26 and 24 band size bras.
There are some downsides, though. I’ve never tried them myself, but I’ve heard reports of poor customer service and inconsistent sizing. The bras are also on the expensive side, but then, that’s pretty much a given across the board in these sizes, unfortunately. I may take the plunge (haha) and try one out at some point, and if I do, I’ll update this post with a review.
The struggle continues
For petites, there are more options than there were a few years ago, but they are mostly expensive, hard to find, and only available online. In bricks-and-mortar retailers, the hunt for bras in band sizes of 28 and below is an ongoing struggle.
This chart, via FullFiguredChest.com, shows the economics of bra sales. With less than 10% of sales coming from sizes below 32, retailers are clearly focusing on the 32-38 size range, which is what you’ll find in most department stores.
It’s a chicken-or-egg situation, though; are they not selling because they’re not available? Or are they not available because they’re not selling?
Of course, this is the exact same problem that exists for petite clothing in general. Retailers argue nobody wants it, so they don’t order or stock it. Manufacturers argue nobody’s ordering or selling it, so they don’t produce it. And consumers, frustrated with the lack of options in petite clothing, buy ill-fitting regular sized items out of desperation or frustration.