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How Vanity Sizing Spoils the Bra Industry


by Julia K Szopa January 20, 2016 0 Comments

Ever wondered why your 36 band size bra expands to over 40 inches? Why you need to go down the band size to have your breasts supported?

Like most of us you are a victim of vanity sizing, a marketing technique used by mass fashion brands to make you feel better about yourself. And who wouldn’t pay for that, right?

Countless studies, like this one, have shown that women would rather pick garments labeled ‘small’, even if identical ones labeled ‘large’ had the same fit quality. Many ladies want to be labeled smaller than they really are. It’s bad to be big, as the mainstream media have told us for decades.

Manufacturers of ready-to-wear clothes, particularly in the UK and the US, have been labeling items with smaller and smaller numbers since the 50’s. Even though sizing standards do exist, treating them too seriously would hinder the chances to sell more. After all, a label that says 'extra small' sells much better than 'medium', even with same dimensions of the garment.

Unfortunately, this has happened in bra industry as well. Most women would rather be told they have narrow torso and big bosom.

The lingerie brands have adapted to that expectation, making bras with stretchy bands and small cups. For bra sizing this is particularly bad. Shouldn’t consistent sizing standard be a reliable way to find the best fit, and not a marketing hack?

At the very origins of brassiere making a bra size number (like 32, 34, 36 etc.) was equal to the arithmetic average of underbust and overbust measurement, in inches (source: Bare essentials), and a letter (A, B, C...) roughly corresponded to the difference between both. The logic behind it is a little bit twisted and counterintuitive, but at least it is consistent.

In continental Europe, where they use centimeters, the bra number would technically denote the underbust circumference and the bra’s band (like 70, 75, 80 etc.)

With introduction of elastic fabrics to mass manufacturing the infamous “plus 4” rule took its toll on the bra sizing logic.

The rule says that in order to find your band size, you should add 4 inches to your actual underbust measurement. So if you measure 30 inches, your bra size would be 34.

Why? Picture this: 1965, you have your good old sewing templates that you've used to make bras from non-elastic fabrics. But one day you get these fabulous new textiles that stretch even by 50%. To accommodate for the stretch, you probably add a few inches here and there, but the template “size label” remains the same. And so you tell your clients: hey, just add 4 inches, so the bra doesn’t feel too tight!

Once brassiere became mass-manufactured, the sizing got out of control. How do you keep it consistent when different fibers have different elasticity?

At Wellfitting we’ve been struggling with the plague of vanity sizing.

Since we don't sell size labels, but real bras that could help you feel better, we absolutely boycott vanity sizing. And even though most of our clients who exchanged decided to go with a looser band, we still get messages like this one:

The bra is fabulous and have never felt so good before, but I feel kind of weird knowing its band size is 38 when my Freya Deco is 34.

I know. It's hard to get rid of the habit. But let's try together, for the greater good. 

Here is how you can deal with the obnoxious spread of vanity sizing:

1. Remember what a label says has absolutely no meaning.

Do you tend to say things like “I’m a D cup",  "I’m size 4”? Wrong. You’re neither a cup, nor a size. You are a human who happens to find the best fit in this or that particular garment.

2. Never be afraid to try on different sizes.

Bear in mind, that almost every single brand uses a different system, and even within one brand sizes are inconsistent

3. Don’t get attached to a size that once fit.

Not only your body might have changed, but more probable, the manufacturer might have changed their sizing chart.

4. Bear in mind that high-end brands tend to boycott vanity sizing

Don’t be surprised when a size 10 dress from a luxury brands turns out to be waaay smaller than a dress from Target. Check this great infographics (source):

High end brands don't do vanity sizing

5. Last but not least, look for brands that keep loyal to their customers, not the other way round.

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Julia K Szopa
Julia K Szopa

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