Pinning down band size

There are many things that can influence what bra band sizes you should wear, and varies from differences on the manufacturer’s end to simply nailing down what sizes and styles work best with your body. Getting the right fit can get complicated, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that this is all about getting the right bras to suit you, not squashing yourself into bras that “should” fit. If you are having bra troubles, never direct your frustrations at your own body, but rather on these brands that don’t seem able to build a bra for your shape! We are all very unique and so are our breasts, so finding the right bra can take a bit of trial and error, but somewhere out there, someone makes a bra for you. Whether your ribcage measures 24″ or 50″, your cup size AAA to a P, someone’s got a bra for you. And if you don’t fit into those parameters, you can get them custom made. Whether you are a mother looking for cute nursing bras and lingerie, have asymmetrical breasts, have breast implants, or are transgender, old or young, someone’s got a bra for you.

That being said, there are many things that can affect band size, as well as cup size. It doesn’t help that some big differences can occur even between bra models from the same company – and even between different fashion colors of the exact same bra model from the same company! To these ends, I strongly recommend either trying the bra on in person if possible, or read up on the bra. Blogs and bra reviews (posted either on a blog or on the selling website itself) are often a good source of information, as is Bratabase. Different people may have different fit experiences, so the most beneficial reviews are often from those that have very similar shapes or needs to yours. However, those with needs/shape the complete opposite of yours can also be quite handy, as whatever works for them may not be the same for you, and what fit horribly on them can be a good match for you!

Today is just about band sizes though, as (in my opinion) cup sizes and cup shapes are much more complex to work with. 😛 You may choose to vary band sizes between brands and for other needs. Often those who fluctuate band sizes by brand just use the number numbers closest to their ribcage measurement – ie someone who measures a 35″ ribcage will often use 34 and 36 as their working band sizes. Keep in mind though, that usually when you select a different band size you also need to select a different cup size – a 38DD is NOT the same cup volume as a 36DD. The 36DD is actually in a completely different sister sizing system. If you go from a 38DD and try on the 36DD, you might think: Wow, this is really tight! Too tight, in fact. Clearly this is the wrong size… so I’ll stick with the 38DD. – That’s not how it works! That 36DD is not only tighter in the band, but it’s also an entire cup size too small. Too many people correctly figure out that their bands are loose, but neglect to add a cup size when they go down in the band. Similarly, if you go up in the band, you should decrease the cup size. Now, to make sister sizing more complicated: just because a certain row of bras on that chart all contain the same cup volume, it doesn’t mean that you can casually swap between wearing a 26K and a 50C. It’s the same cup volume, yes, but that 26K is made for a much smaller woman than the 50C is made for. Victoria’s Secret is often guilty of doing slightly less extreme versions of this – Oh, we don’t have a 34DDD in stock? Well, try this 38D on instead. For some people, that 38D might actually be their ideal size in Victoria’s Secret – but sister sizing should be used more to suit the needs of your body and accommodate overly stretchy or tight bands. You shouldn’t make do with a sister size just because they don’t have something closer to your ideal size. In this example, the person’s ideal and true size for the bra is 34DDD, so that 38D is NOT going to be a fun fit. In fact, it can cause the bra to wear out more quickly, and a myriad of problems on the wearer – anything from back, neck, and shoulder pain, to just a lack of support during work or daily activities. Yes, even if it looked okay in the dressing room. The best use of the sister sizing system is to make adjustments to what your base measurements suggest as your best fit. Take, for example, going up a band size because you have medical situations that cause a more snug band to physically painful, or going down in band size because you have a squishy back/ribcage and large breasts, thereby needing extra firm support. When bra shopping, here’s a few common reasons for choosing a different band size from your base measurements…

Some possible reasons for going up in band size (and down in cup size):

  • You used to wear a bra with a band too large for your body (extremely common!!) and are worried the band will feel TOO tight initially and/or want to work your way down to a smaller band
  • You researched or tried on the bra, and the band seems to run tight
  • You tried on a smaller size and had various issues with gore width, underwire height, strap distance, etc (sometimes size changes can help, other times it’s just not the right bra for you)
  • You have small, close-set breasts and need to add inches to the band size to get the cups to fit around you properly
  • You have a bony back or ribcage, and tight bands are painful
  • You have a muscular build
  • You have medical reasons for not wanting or needing a firmer band

And on the flip side, a few possible reasons for going down in the band (and up in the cups):

  • You’ve been wearing the wrong size and want to change that!
  • You researched or tried on the bra, and the band runs very loose OR is said to stretch out quickly (Remember, when you first purchase a bra you want it to be supportive and well fitted on the LOOSEST hook, and upgrade to the tighter ones only after the bra gets older and starts to stretch out)
  • You tried on a bigger band size, and had various problems with underwire height, underwire width, strap distance, gore distance, gore height, etc (sometimes size issues, sometimes the bra just isn’t a good fit for you)
  • You have larger, wider breasts and need to take down inches in the band to get the right fit
  • You have a squishier back or ribcage (can be from fat, skin, anything), and need a tighter band to have the best support
  • You have a larger cup size, and need a firm band to get the proper support
  • Looser bands give you pain and/or cause the straps to dig in too much

These are just some starting points to consider. In the end, it’s your body and your choice. If it fits well, and feels good, go for it! It’s important to wear whatever feels most comfortable for you. To wrap up, I’d like to link to some fantastic posts that continue the band size discussion..
Braless in Brazil has a very in depth post about band sizing and factors that can influence them.
The Butterfly Collection talks about about both ladies who may need to add inches to their band size and women who may benefit from subtracting inches. (I’d like to note here that plush sized brand Elomi often has very firm bands, so subtracting may be less likely in that brand.)
Fuller Figure Fuller Bust discusses how sometimes even in a technically well fitted bra, problems can still arise.
XL Hourglass discusses the effects her ill fitting bras were giving her. She also has a lovely post showing how much the size and shape of the band can affect the often dreaded back fat.
The Lingerie Addict discusses the +0 vs +4 bra fitting methods, and draws some insightful conclusions.


Swoop, Scoop, and More: Are you in the right size?

I think one of the most important aspects of ascertaining fit is to ensure you are doing the “swoop and scoop” each time you put on a bra. Some of us do this automatically. Others do what I did before hearing this term, and sort of mash the breast around in other ways to get it to fit in a way that looks right – don’t do this to yourself! It conceals the ability to tell if the cup is a true fit, and too small cups very commonly lead to breast tissue migration. This is when the breast can’t properly fit into the cups so it takes any other way out it can – often pushing the tissue under the arms or all the way onto the back! A lot of women think fluff on the sides of their cups is just armpit fat, but it’s actually breast tissue and belongs in the cups. A properly fitted bra and daily swooping and scooping can migrate the tissue back into the rest of the breast. Venusian Glow has two great posts on that topic here and here. The swoop and scoop is also the best way to tell if you are wearing the right cup size. If you don’t do it, you might have an entirely different impression of how the bra fits you! Erica from A Sophisticated Pair has a great video here demonstrating the swoop and scoop, starting around 1:20.

Here are some common signs of a bad fit, and can happen regardless of size:

  • You can’t wait to take your bras off after work, because wearing them is uncomfortable
  • Your bras don’t have enough lift or make you feel “perky”
  • Your underwires or straps break, distort, or pop out/off within a few months of wear
  • Wearing a bra for a long time causes back, shoulder, or neck pain
  • Wearing a bra leaves red marks in your shoulders
  • You feel shortness of breath when putting on your bra
  • You have bad posture, especially while wearing a bra
  • You have to either tighten the straps all the way or loosen them all the way
  • The band isn’t completely level and parallel to the floor
  • You are able to pull the band 2″ or more away from your body (if you can fit your fist under it with ease, it’s too big!)
  • Anything on the bra moves or wiggles around if you lift your arms up, bend over, etc
  • You don’t feel supported in your bra or willing to take on strenuous exercise
  • The center gore (the part that joins the cups in the center) isn’t laying COMPLETELY FLAT against your chest
  • You are able to pull the center gore so far away from your body your breasts can drop out
  • The underwires cause you pain in the sternum or armpits
  • You can immediately fasten the bra on the tightest hook or have had it on the tightest hook for a while
  • When you look in a mirror in profile, the underwires are not completely touching your ribcage below the cups
  • When you look in a mirror in profile, the underwires aren’t fully encasing your breast (typically you shouldn’t be able to see any of the breast near your sides/armpits)
  • Careful examination of the sides and bottoms of the cups show wrinkles when worn
  • You “swoop and scoop” and STILL have either gaping or spillage, anywhere

For visuals of some of these fit issues, see Breakout Bra’s Guide, Susannah’s Guest Post on FFFB, Boosaurus’ post with some fit solutions, and FFFB’s post that also shows you what the correct fit should look like.
Most of these are sizing issues, though some of these or other issues will still crop up in a bra that’s the right size, but the wrong shape. I’ll be covering shape issues in later posts.

If you suffer from any of these issues, measure yourself! Your size changes all the time so it’s a good idea to measure frequently, especially once your current array of bras start stretching out or wearing down. Here’s a link to one of the best fitting guides out there. I’ll reiterate a bit of that info here:

  • Step one: Get naked. With measuring tape.
    • Lean forward so your body is parallel to the ground, and measure around your back and over the fullest part of your breasts (usually the nipples). This measurement should be relatively loose – it shouldn’t be cutting into you at all, but it shouldn’t be gaping or hanging off on your sides either. This is your bust measurement.
    • Now measure your ribcage, all the way around and just under the breasts. This measurement should be very snug. This is considered your ribcage or underbust measurement.

The ribcage/underbust measurement is generally going to be your starting band size. Band sizes only go in even measurements, and if you are very close to an even number (within .5), take that as your initial band size. If you get more of an odd number, you’re between sizes and should try both the band numbers below and above that size. Do NOT automatically add +4! That is a very antiquated system that just doesn’t work with our modern elasticized bras. Only add 4 is that’s what you absolutely require to be comfortable. The best starting point size is often the closest to your true ribcage measurement. So for example, say you measure 32.1. Try the 32 band first. On the other hand, if you measured 33, try both the 32 and 34 bands.

  • Special considerations: If you feel that you have a bony ribcage, you may want to either go up a band size, or purchase a bra with a cushioned underwire like Victoria’s Secret’s bras, or just get one with a softer underwire like the Freya Deco. If you have more cushion there, you might need a significantly smaller band size in order to receive proper support. Additionally, those with larger busts may often find the tightest bands most supportive to them, while smaller busts can often get away with bands a bit looser. If you sport a softer ribcage with a larger bust, you may receive the most benefit from pulling the tape measure absolutely as tight as you can and using that measurement or a size down as your band size.

Now, take the number you took for your bust measurement, and subtract the number you choose for your band size from it….

1″ – A
2″ – B
3″ – C
4″ – D
5″ – DD
6″ – E
7″ – F
8″ – FF
9″ – G
10″ – GG
11″ – H
12″ – HH
13″ – J
14″ – JJ
15″ – K
16″ – KK
17″ – L
and so on.

I’ve posted the size ratios for UK cup sizing, because those are much more standardized than US sizes, which vary radically after D cup. In US sizes sometimes DDD means E, sometimes it means F, sometimes means neither. This means G cups in American brands can all mean very, very different things. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to find these sizes in a store. How confusing! US lingerie companies have a LOT to work on. Moving along now…

So let’s say you measured 31 under the bust, 41 on the bust, and want to start with a 30 band. This is an 11 inch difference, and in UK sizing the bra size would be 30H. Don’t freak out if you get a ‘scary’ size like this, D cup does not mean what you think it does. Cup sizes are very proportional to a person’s band size and a “G” cup on a 50″ ribcage will not look the same as on a 26″ ribcage. Cup size is much less about appearance and more about how the distance from the ribcage correlate with the size of the ribcage itself.

Boosaurus has compiled a great listing of some bra bloggers out there. You can see that there’s a lot of diversity in bra sizes! Check them out, maybe one of them also has your size 🙂

In general, I’d personally advise doing the measurements yourself. Sometimes local boutiques can be good, as well as Nordstrom, but it’s not always definite. Whatever you do, DON’T get fitted at Victoria’s Secret! If you need help, there are some amazing online resources to help you out!

  • A Sophisticated pair has a bra calculator if you’re having trouble selecting a starting size
  • Butterfly Collection will do an online fitting via Skype if you wish, and they can also be contacted by email.
  • A Bra That Fits is a great online community about bra fit, and you are able to ask them any questions you have about size, shape, fit, etc that crosses your mind!
  • Bratabase is also a fantastic resource and I strongly recommend looking up any bra here before purchasing it! You can also use it to request fit advice, post “bra adventures,” compare bra shapes and measurements to other bras, and even buy or sell bras.

Don’t have a measuring tape? You can also use paper/yarn and compare against a ruler, or buy a tape measure from ebay.  You can also purchase home fitting kits here or here.


After a bit of self debate, I’ve decided to set up a blog space here to catalog my many thoughts about bras. (It’s my first ever blog, so it’s a bit nerve wracking, haha!) I’ll be linking to bra fitting guides I like, as well as posting some reviews and such trying to find my own perfect fit.

I don’t remember too much about bra fit from when I was younger, except that I hated it! I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a properly fitted one when growing up because I remember lots of discomfort and self consciousness. I do recall that most/all bras I had were far, far too loose in the band. They rode up in the back pretty badly, which I mistakenly thought meant they were too tight! I got no support and felt really terrible about my breasts and the shape I was(n’t) getting. I ended up just wearing sports bras… Lots and lots of ’em. Supportive sports bras are great but if it’s essentially a cropped tank top, especially on a bigger bust, you might not feel too happy. Sometime after that (maybe just out of high school), I started wearing 38Ds. Most of these caused the same general lack of support (although some of them DID give lots of cleavage..), I had quadboobing everywhere. I actually pushed my breasts into the far sides of the cups and wore a lot of undershirts, so as to try and prevent overspill in the front. Not sure why I never at least went for a 38DD, I think a combination of not being able to find them easily and not wanting to accept being a larger cup size. Overspill/quadboobing and lack of support weren’t the only problems, however. I would get terrible, terrible back pains that I always just blamed on working too much or too long (it took about 3 hours for the pain to kick in). I’d come home so sore I didn’t wanna move at all, and my posture was (and still is) pretty horrendous. Most of the time I didn’t even realize how hunched over I was, but it put more strain on my shoulders/back and made me look larger. In addition to that, I also suffered shortness of breath or feeling lightheaded/foggy. Very often this came about even from just light walking around or sitting on the bus. I always attributed it to being out of shape (which I’m sure is part of it!) but recently, I’ve come to realize this was also another problem resulting from very poorly fitted bras.

I’ve only just very recently (in the past month or so) began my quest for a well fitting bra, so some of these changes will take a bit of time, especially as I am still learning! However, being in my new bra size I feel so much better – the bands are tighter and yet I actually have space to breathe! My posture is already straightening out, and already I feel neck/back/shoulder pains and headaches much, much less frequently.

Currently my best fitting bras are as follows…
1. 32G Freya Deco, black
2. 32GG Panache Harmony, chocolate
(Taking sister sizing into account, between these and the bras I was stuffed into before the difference is an entire 4 band sizes and three cup sizes!)

Thank you for stopping by, and feel free to share your own thoughts!