Thursday, October 4, 2012

What's wrong with U.S. bra stores?

Sometimes, people will ask why I (and other bloggers) "hate on Victoria's Secret and/or [insert name of any well-known U.S. bra store here]." So what if those stores don't sell your size, people say. "You're just bitter because you can't buy anything from them. Just get over it!"

Honestly, I have no real problem with the fact of particular stores in the U.S. selling an incredibly limited range of bras. I know that bra departments and stores can't be expected to stock every size under the sun.

What I do have a problem with is these stores claiming that their size range will fit "every woman". That they'll push bras on to women to make a sale, even if the bras are a blatantly incorrect fit. That they use their position of supposed "expertise" to misinform women. That sometimes fitters insult women who are outside the small size range carried. That, in the U.S., there is an overwhelming amount of misinformation about bras, bra sizing, and how bras are supposed to fit - and it's spread largely by the bra stores (and the media) here - the very ones who are supposed to know better.

[I'm going to add here that I'm in no way trying to put down the stores I mention in general, but just bring attention to their incorrect fitting methods they use to keep customers within a very small range of sizes. Also, there are great boutiques out there with dedicated owners committed to meeting the needs of their customers in terms of fitting and sizes stocked. In this post, however, I'm just speaking in broad terms of what I and others have generally experienced, mostly in the larger, well-known stores - the stores that, unfortunately, tend to carry the most influence.]

Limited Sizing

Stores like the ever-present Victoria's Secret, for example, sell a grand total of 33 bra sizes (yes, I counted) - but only about 15-18 of those sizes are actually really found in the physical stores. Victoria's Secret often claims (overtly or by implication) that they have bras for "all" or "almost all" women.

Do they think that there are only 15-18, or 33, different body types that women have?

Other stores I've seen have an even more limited amount of sizes - in the 8-12 range. Again, I don't really have a problem with stores carrying a very small range of bra sizes. What I do have a problem with is their implication that all or most women should fit into this incredibly limited range. And that you're "fat" or "weird" if you don't.

In reality, there are more than (just counting band sizes 28-40 and cups A-K) 105 bra sizes that are made by many companies - and that's not counting the under-28 and over-40 band, under-A and over-K cup bras. Factor those in, and the number is in excess of 150 bra sizes that are made and worn.

This means that many U.S. stores like Victoria's Secret only stock about 10% of all bra sizes available. They also do not stock under-32 bands (besides a few A and B cups) - odd, since studies indicate that 28-32 bands are the "average" size that many women of "average" weight would ideally be wearing.

Thus, Victoria's Secret, Target, Kohls, Walmart, Macy's, Penney's, Frederick's, Soma, etc. etc. only carry bras that will truly fit a small percentage of the population. However, these stores repeatedly incorrectly fit women (generally by giving them a band that is too large and a cup that is too small) in order to make sales. They act like women are strange if they don't fit into the incredibly limited range that they stock. And really, why should they stock more sizes when they can get away with selling their 10% of sizes to around 80% of women?

Incorrect Fitting

If you were ever fitted at Victoria's Secret, I can pretty much guarantee that you were fitted incorrectly. Heck, I'm not trying to pick on Victoria's Secret in particular - I could pinpoint almost any U.S. bra store for incorrect sizing methods.  Nearly all stores will add around 4 inches to the ribcage measurement (adding inches is unnecessary for most women) to get a band size. Using these incorrect "fitting" methods, I would be deemed around a 32DD, a size that is completely, totally, laughably wrong. A woman who needs a 28D would be put in about a 34A, also completely and totally wrong. And on it goes.

I would honestly mistrust most larger bra stores in the U.S. in terms of bra fitting - yes, including Nordstrom (which, although better than most, still tends to push too-big bands and too-small cups). That's why I pretty much always just recommend that women measure themselves instead of leaving their fittings in the hands of stores that have limited ranges and incorrect, outdated sizing methods.

The reason that (statistically) about 80% of you reading this are (or were at some point) wearing the wrong bra size is at least in part because of the poor fitting methods in U.S. stores. What makes it worse for me is that too often, the poor sizing and fitting seems very blatant. That makes me just a little annoyed at them.

Misinformation about Bras

I can't tell you how many times I've come across women who think that "all D cups are the same" (not true - a 30D, 34D, and 38D are all very different sizes). How many countless times I've come across women who adamantly refuse to believe that they're a "D cup" or above - because "a D cup is HUGE!". Or who think that being a larger cup size means that they're fat, or a freak.

This is simply not true, lovely readers. "DD" doesn't equal being a large-chested bimbo, a porn star, a fat freak. (If you think I'm using strong language or being dramatic here, I'm not - I run across people who think this almost daily). I'm not going to get into correct all fitting misinformation in this one blog post, but suffice to say that cup sizes mean nothing without a band size. All a "DD" means is "about 5 inches difference between underbust and bust measurement." A 28DD woman will be built very differently than a 40DD woman, but both will have about 5 inches of difference between their underbust and bust measurement. Doesn't sound too scary now, does it?

But where does all this misinformation come from? Women have to be learning it from somewhere. In my mind, it's largely the "fault" of bra stores. In my experience, I've frequently come across fitters who have little actual knowledge of correct fit (not knowing that bands should be firm and straight, or that wires should not be touching breast tissue). I've frequently experienced fitters telling me outrageously incorrect things, such as:
-Bands below a 32 don't exist
-34 and 32 bands are for "tiny" people
-28 bands don't exist
-28 bands are for super, super tiny people
-Cups above "DDD" don't exist
-Cups above a C are huge
-The only options for D+ sizes are these ugly beige bras over here
-There is no demand for under-32 bands
-D+ women need to wear minimizers
-You need to wear a 36 band (with a 28" ribcage)
-You need to add anywhere from 3-7 inches to your underbust measurement to get a band size
-Women who wear D+ cups are usually large all over

This is not a one-time thing, everyone. This is constant. This was/is almost every time I go into a bra store. These are the fitters saying these things. Some of these are things I've heard even at stores that have a better range of sizes than most U.S. stores, like Nordstrom, Dillards, and boutiques  No wonder there is so much misinformation out there. No wonder so many women are wearing an incorrect size.

Insulting/Shaming Customers

I'm sure this is going to be a bit controversial, but I'm including it anyway because I personally have experienced this when shopping for bras, and I know many other women who have as well. Of course, there are many women who haven't - but I feel that the number of women I've come across who've experienced this is so large that it deserves mentioning.

I've experienced fitters/employees outright telling me that I'm not a 28 band/over a G cup (I'm actually a [insert a wildly-incorrect size that they actually stock]), telling me I should get a breast reduction, assuming I have implants, laughing at/disbelieving when I tell them what size I'm looking for, telling me my breasts are too large, and more. Again, these are supposed to be professional, helpful people. Imagine the effect these words would have on an uncertain busty teenager who's desperately trying to find a bra that fits well. Bra fitters (or anyone) should never, ever be insulting to their customers. I would hope that would be obvious.

In my opinion, it's bra stores who play a big part in spreading this (mis)information. And it's very, very damaging to women. The misinformation spread is my major problem with U.S. stores - the pervading poor fitting methods lead to an abysmally small selection of sizes offered and countless women who hate bras because "nothing ever fits" and "bras are uncomfortable", and who won't try a different size because "a fitter told me I was a 36C" and "wearing a larger cup/smaller band would mean I'm fat/weird".

So, why do you think there's so much misinformation about bras and sizing out there? Do you think that stores play a big part, or are there other factors at play?


  1. Admittedly, Lane Bryant is just as bad.

    When I first started wearing my Panache Andorra bras (LOVE) I went into Lane Bryant for a fitting. It was the same store that I had worked at for 2 years during college (and have not worked at for equally as long).

    The fitter measured me and said that I needed a 44DDD, when I know that my under bust measurement is 40" and my bust 53". I looked at the girl and I said "Yeah, I don't think that's right. I'm wearing a 40J and it fits great."

    She looked at me and said "Oh. That can't be right. Is your band too tight? Or is it an older bra that you've stretched out a lot? There's no way you're a 40."

    Me: "No. It's brand new. And no, it's not too tight. It fits. Let me show it to you."

    I walked her back to the fitting room and lifted up my shirt to show her how my bra fit - and quite well I might add.

    Her: "Oh. It does fit. Well, you know....some brands are made differently. We size women to fit them in our bras. You should still try on a 44DDD".

    Me: "My bra fits, but thank you. A 44DDD isn't even close to a sister size to a 40J"

    Um. no. I know that from working at LB, and being one of the best. damn. fitters. that they had, that LB does not need to add inches to their bands for customers to get the right fit; and yet this woman was SO convinced that my size was all wrong. As if it's preposterous for a full bust woman to NOT need a +40 band.

    I then was greeted by another associate who clearly suffers back pain. She was probably something like a 28 or 30 J, but she was wearing a 38DDD. I asked her if she had problems with her bras and she told me yes. I was able to pull her band almost 8" away from her body. I told her that she needs a smaller band and a bigger cup, to which she responded "No, girl, this bra fits. I wear a 38. I'm not skinny!".....but she was actually quite petite and thin. Oh dear.

    1. Yeah, I've heard not-too-great things about Lane Bryant fittings... :/ That's neat to know that you worked there, though, and I know you must've been great at it! Have you thought about working as a bra fitter (there or anywhere else) again someday?

      That's really sad that even the fitters at many of these places are themselves very ill-informed and have a bad relationship with their own bras, as it were. I swear that every fitter in Victoria's Secret is wearing a terribly ill-fitting bra every time I venture in there. If only we could fit the fitters! (It sounds like you at least gave some helpful advice!)

    2. I managed to get the good fitter at Lane Bryant once. The first one who was fitting me was really unsure about what to put me in and was surprised at my assertion I was a 36 band. She called their other fitter over, who took one look at me (still clothed!) and said 'Uh yeah, she's a 36, that's correct.' Now I know I probably still wasn't in the right size, but I also knew the balconettes ran a little tighter in the band and I wasn't in the right size at the time anyway.

    3. I've thought about it, but haven't really put *that* much thought into it. It's so hit and miss at LB. When I worked there we had a great team of about 3-4 fitters that were AWESOME (I worked at the Home Office store). Since I stopped working there, so have alll of the other fitters that I worked with. Blah.

    4. Lane Bryant tried telling my wife she was a 44 G (2 sizes above a DDD). She tried on the bra in question. She was floating around in it for the cups were too big.

  2. I think that one of the factors that most of women are used to discomfort, not only from bras, from shoes, too tight jeans, not breathing fabrics etc. We are not used to listen to our bodies and seek comfort. We are not used to search information how to make our lives comfier. We often tend to assume that if we are uncomfortable that it something wrong with us. That makes we easy targets for VS and others.
    I know that I was there. "Bras are painful" (of cause they were, with wires sitting on the tissue!), "4" heels are ok for everyday wear" and so on.

    PS The most ironic thing about Vicki IMHO is that they try to sell you a wrong size even if you are in their size range.

    1. I think that's a really good point... I've heard many times from women that "bras are supposed to be uncomfortable", or they just accept that fact. Not true!!

      And great point about VS... It would be awesome if they just were able to focus on correctly fitting women into the sizes that they actually do carry. Unfortunately for them, that would mean turning a lot of potential customers away from lack of sizes available.

    2. I visited a few different clothes stores on holiday in the US, and one of the things that struck me was how many bras were explicitly marketed as "comfortable", with "features" such as non-slip straps, bands that wouldn't dig in... one bra even had a label claiming it wouldn't give you a weird/awkward shape under clothes or something to that effect. It seemed as if manufacturers knew there was demand for comfortable, well-fitted bras, and were trying to meet that demand by tweaking their styles to make them "comfortable", not by expanding their size range to truly fit more people.

  3. Victoria's Secret became a joke not too long after it was sold to a large corporation and yes, I used to shop at one of the original VS boutiques so I know. I took my teenager there because the look is young but they had nothing to fit her 32-34DD figure and suggested she try a 36C. Never went back except for panties. In Soma they were just downright rude when I asked if they carried cup sizes bigger than E (they don't). Intimacy will never get my business after my insane experience there. First they said they were doing me a favor allowing me to try bras on without an appointment. Then they told me I was wearing the wrong size, told me I knew nothing about being fitted, insisted on me trying on bras with cups way too small & bands way too big then telling me there would be alteration charges. Thankfully there are a 3 independent lingerie boutiques & a big Nordstrom store all within 60 minutes driving time.

    1. I really don't know too much about the background of Victoria's Secret... I'd love to hear more about original VS boutiques and how they were different from today's stores!

    2. Wow, that is so opposite from my experience at Intimacy! Mine was absolutely amazing, and I wish we had one where I live.

    3. I've really heard mixed reviews on Intimacy. I haven't had the greatest luck there personally (since they don't have 28 bands, and very few cup sizes above G for small bands that I've seen), and I've heard of fitters not putting women in correct sizes. But I've also heard of great experiences, too! It may really depend on location. I definitely think they have the potential to be really good, and I do recommend people at least checking it out if they live near one.

  4. I had an interesting experience at VS last time I was there. I was mostly ignored and sized myself by their sizing methods into a 38DD (the largest size they had in store, their methods would have really put me 40D!) to see how terrible it was. Afterwards, I was wandering around admiring some of the pretties and one sales associate offered to size me. I declined and told her I was sized out. Then she told me she was too, she was a 32GG (and she was delighted when I told her my 34GG size.) She looked more like a 28 or 30 band to me, but at least she knew she was out of their range. I gave her a bit of a look though, since you really couldn't see it, and it was so obvious she was in a poorly fitted bra that was multiple band sizes too large, she looked so lumpy. I ended up giving her the names to a few good UK bra stores.
    And I can't tell you how many times I've been measured above the bustline in department stores. It's not just VS that does this.

    I also am always amused by the assertions that a 34 band is tiny. Hi, I wear a size 16. I weigh around 210. I am not tiny, and I wear a 34GG. I also don't look like I am as full busted as I am, and I've had professionals express doubt that I'm really a GG, but then they see me in a bra and realize I'm right.

  5. Great post! This has always been such a huge conversation, with us (the people who know bras and how they should fit)vs. them (the general population that has been brainwashed by VS sizing). Victoria's Secret sells really, really cute stuff. I wish that they would abandon fitting altogether and just let it be self serve (better than convincing someone they are a size that they are not), OR (the better solution), throw a crapload of money (God knows they have it) in to getting all of their employees properly fit certified and own up to the fact that they do not make bras for everyone, and that is OKAY! No retailer makes bras for everyone.

  6. I remember when I lived in the US, I went to Vitoria's Secret, and was time and time again offered 38D/DD's. And when I told fitters that it didn't look quite right, they said "Well, you can't expect it to look exactly like on the models" which the teenage me translated to: "You're too fat to look good in a bra". I was quite a bit leaner back then, and I now wear small 34bands, sometimes even 32. Don't know what my right size was back then, but sure as hell not a 38D.

    I also agree that the worst thing about those stores with a narrow range, is that they present it like it is all there is. For example, I find Triumph has a range with a tag saying "up to BIG cups" with a drawing of 'big cups' on it. Well, it goes up to a US G-cup = UK F cup. That can just drive me mad. That's not "up to" anything, really.
    And, even though Change really is doing something to make larger sizes more mainstream, I do find it annoying that they label them selves as experts in big cups, when in fact their larger bras are not specifically designed, and they have like 2 bras in UK H-cup. And yet they state: "At Change we are proud to offer you the widest selection of bras." Well, I'm not included in even the widest selection, then what am I to do?
    Oh well, rant over ;)

  7. I live in the UK and as such I do have access to a much wider range of bra sizes than ladies in the US - many of the large high street chains have woken up to the need and now stock up to a G cup commonly and usually go down to a 28 back.

    I need a 30J usually, so still have a little difficulty finding much in my size, so thought on a trip to the states I'd set myself a mission of finding something to fit me which I couldn't get in the UK. I naively thought that everything is bigger and better in the US - there must be loads of choice and selection that we don't have in the UK!

    I was shocked when in EVERY store I went into (there were loads - we were on a three week roadtrip and crossed about 8 states) I was told I was something like a 38D (which doesn't even compute if you count the inches you need for a 30J - OK they're different, but not that different) and then when I pointed out the absurdity of this, I was variously told that the US sizes differently (when is an inch not an inch?), or "try it and you'll see I'm right" etc...

    After a few of these I gave up and decided to re-educate a few bra fitters on my trip, showing them the miraculous difference between what I was wearing when I walked in and what they were trying to get me into. most of the bras they were pushing me into I was spilling out of, top, bottom and sides, and grabbing the next size up wasn't working.

    So hopefully a few of them took note and have recommended the brands I mentioned to other women who can find them on line if not in their high street. The rude, insensitive, thoughtless comments and the high handedness I put up with really put paid to "the customer is king" culture you see everywhere else in the US.

    On one occasion I was wearing a bravissimo vest top with built in bra and the fitter was so amazed she made a note of the brand so she could order some for herself - I did point out that they only start at a D cup....

  8. Oprah had a show about ill-fitting bras and the bra-fitters showcased that women are wearing bras that are too big in the underbust and too small in the cup. B sized women were given bra "makeovers" and were amazed to find that they were in G cups! TV news segments were all the buzz and ladies at the office were talking about it. At the time I thought, great...women will be armed with this new knowledge and demand change from retailers. Well, nothing changed. We're really screwed when even Oprah can't make a difference.

  9. I'm a teenager and I wear a 36DDD, so bra shopping is generally horrifying. I have had several less than awesome experiences with the Victoria's Secret where I live - they are as unhelpful as you described, and generally rude as well - but when I went to the one in the large city closest to me, the store was much larger and the fitter there was great. She had me put on a new bra in the size that I thought I wore (mine was so old it was almost non functional) and checked the fit. She then took me up a cup size and down a band size. There was no measuring involved and she didn't pressure me to buy anything. My bra fits perfectly, and when I did measure myself, this is the size that I came up with.

  10. I'm from the U.S. but I now order bras from that is in the UK as I can't buy a bra in my size even in specialty stores in the US. I've always had a large bust in relation to the rest of me but a few years ago they just kept getting bigger (as did the rest of me admittedly; however, my bust was still disproportionately large to the rest of me). I tried everywhere and as a last resort I went back to Victoria's secret hoping they had some tip on where to go. The lady 'measured' me and threw a bra in my fitting room. I don't remember what size she threw me in but it was probably the smallest band/largest cup combo. I called her in and stated that this couldn't be right. She said, of course it is. I put my hands up and pointed at the bulge spilling from the top. She was no help. The day I found Bravissimo was the best day of my life. Their customer service is great and they are prompt on returning emails every time. They also have swimsuits!!! And dresses that are true to size...order your dress size and they add fabric to the bust so you don't have to deal with buying a way too big size and having it taken in. I hope that America can get with the times sooner than later. Bravissimo has been around since 1995 or something like that. It's seriously the worlds best kept secret.

  11. oh yes. last time i went into a vicky's secret and asked if they had a 40D, the size was barely out of my mouth before the associate snapped "no, we don't carry that here". i turned around and walked out. now i size myself and politely refuse anyone that tries to help me.

  12. I realize this thread is pretty old, but I just purchased my first Lane Bryant bras online. I was able to buy two for $12.50 each in my proper cup size with a holiday promotion. They don't carry my band size... I'm a 36FF in UK sizes or a 36H in US sizes, but I have tried on Lane Bryant bras in the past and found their bands tighter than most (So they are right about that, I suppose. I really think their bands may be sized down somehow.). They don't usually stock above a G cup in stores, and yes, I've had store clerks try to push their 38F and 28G bras down my throat, but I've decided to be authoritative about this -- pick up the bras when they come in, try them on on the spot and return them immediately if they don't work. And I'm prepared to refuse their fitting "advice" even if they think I'm being rude.

    I've had similar problems with poor fitting advice from "nicer" stores like Nordstrom, Lord and Taylor and even Saks. It took trial and error -- and a LOT of wasted money on $70 high end DDD and G cup bras and ONE purchase of an H cup at Nordstrom Rack on a whim -- for me to realize that poor bra fit was a major reason I was suffering chronic back pain. I was told such ridiculous things: "You have naturally occurring cleavage, so the center of the bra won't come all the way to your body even if it fits correctly. Really, you're definitely a DDD, maybe you should try the 38 band size..." UGH... So, fingers crossed. I need a reliable lower end day to day bra that I can turn to without making a major investment for once... We'll see.

    1. Sorry, typo, I meant 38G, not 28.

  13. Soma refitted me to a 32DDD from the 34DD I was wearing and it is sooo much better.