Not only do we know very little about bra sizing, but we have also developed a host of beliefs about what bras do, don’t do, or are supposed to do. All of that thanks to, you guessed it, our magnificent mass-produced lingerie industry, but also thanks to new-age pseudoscientific hoaxes and general lack of proper education about bras. So here I’ll be debunking quite a few myths about bras, from size to fit and general health.
Myth #1: Bras cause breast cancer.
Yeah, well, sorry guys, but that’s just not true. The only study coming to that conclusion is sketchy at best, and at worst, totally unscientific. The two people who conducted this study possessed absolutely no qualifications whatsoever regarding human healthcare or proper research protocols and ethics. Their conclusions don’t hold up to properly controlled trials, which is a result of what we consider today to be bad methodology, lack of evidence to support the existence of the mechanism considered responsible for bras causing breast cancer, and poor control of alternate explanations for the results (i.e. concluding a link of causation when all there is to observe is a correlation of two variables). This myth became widespread because the authors published a book called Dressed to Kill, in which they self-published the results of their study. It’s nothing but pseudoscience.
Myth #2: If you don’t wear a bra, your breasts will sag.
Sorry again, but wearing bras does not prevent sagging, which is a natural process caused by age and the effect of gravity on your precious friends. One study pointing to the opposite (that wearing bras could hinder the growth of muscle tissue, which would prevent sagging) had a couple of methodological pitfalls (we don’t know if the women were really representative in terms of breast size and we don’t know if those who wore bras were the best size possible for them). Comparative studies with indigenous peoples who don’t wear bras are inconclusive because of a ton of other variables to take into account. What is true though is that breasts over a certain cup size will naturally drop below the inframammary fold line, because your body can only support so much tissue before it can no longer be self-supported, this phenomenon is not the same as sagging. Weight loss that affects breasts may also contribute to sagging tissue, which can be surgically fixed but is a totally normal and healthy status. Another thing that can damage breast tissue is binding too much, for too long, or with unsafe materials; any person, but especially trans people wishing to bind regularly, should follow a few rules to prevent injury, pain and damage to the breast tissue, ideally binding only with a garment conceived for the task, and never with bandages or duct tape! What is also true is that you should always wear a properly fitted sports bra when practicing impact sports, as not doing so can quickly cause discomfort and pain to breasts, and break down the ligaments holding up your girls, which may lead, overtime, to premature sagging.
Anyway, who says sagging is ugly? Society does. You get to decide for yourself if you buy into that or not. The bra industry, like many beauty-oriented industries, feeds off fear tactics to convince you that you need their products. That’s not to say you don’t need them, but you should get to decide for yourself if bras are necessary for your well-being and health or not. So, by all means, do what makes you the most comfortable!
Myth #3: Bras are supposed to give cleavage.
A well-fitting, supportive bra will rarely give cleavage. A bra is supposed to separate, encapsulate and lift breasts, not shove them up people’s faces. While plunge models can give moderate cleavage to people who have more breast tissue towards the centre and people who have rather close-set breasts, not everyone will achieve this even with the right kind of bra in the right size. Victoria’s Secret and other mainstream bra brands like to maintain the myth that bras are supposed to give cleavage, oftentimes shoving their models in bras with tons of padding and using makeup to enhance cleavage, and this belief makes many women with smaller chests or breasts that are wider-set have self-esteem and self-image issues. It also helps those brands sell less than ideal bra sizes by abusing the customers’ lack of knowledge about bra fitting.
Myth #4: It’s useless to know your ‘true’ bra size because it’s going to vary too much anyway
While it is true to some degree that you will not wear the same size in all models and all brands, bra sizing isn’t something every brand pulls out of its ass. There are a few basics to bra sizing, including that the band size corresponds to the max stretch provided by a band, and that the cup size is the breast volume in relation to the band size, calculated by the number of inches between the bust and underbust measurements. While the shape of a cup can influence fit (moulded cups in general run shallow, which may force people with projected breasts to size up, while cups with a lot of projection may force sizing down in people with average or little projection in their breasts, if they fit at all), size should remain relatively consistant from brand to brand and model to model. It’s normal for me, a 30F, to find a better fit in brands that run big in the cup, like Empreinte, in 30E, or in brands that run small in the cup and band, like Fortnight, in 32F (which is one cup bigger than 30F); it’s normal for me to size down to a 28 if I find a bra that runs a full size too big, or in 32 in a bra that runs a full size too small. But I should technically always float around the same size, which will be the best fitting size in most bras I will try on, and normally it should be the same for you too.
Myth #5: The average bra size is around 34B or 34C.
Because of the very common +2, +4 or even +5 sizing advice given to find band size in mainstream lingerie stores, most people who are not plus-size wear a band size bigger than what they’d need for optimal support. While 34 sounds like a good average if you take into account people of all shapes and sizes, it’s rather uncommon that someone who was fitted in a 34 at Victoria’s Secret actually needs a 34. Most people think standard band sizes are 32, 34 and 36, and plus-size is 38 to 42… but band sizes actually go as small as 26 (and some people would actually need 24 or even 22 bands) and as big as 56 (and even beyond). While 34 is possibly an average, taking into account that 32 = small, 34 = medium and 36 = large is not only grossly inaccurate but it may explain why so many people content themselves with a far from perfect 32 or 36 while they’d actually feel better, and by a lot, in something much smaller or bigger.
When it comes to cup size, most people also don’t realize that C cups are actually on the small side (NSFW, real women in bras). What most of us see as a C cup could actually be more along the lines of a DD/E/F cup (here’s what it looks like (NSFW, real women in bras)). The belief that A = no boobs, B = tiny boobs, C = average boobs, D = big boobs and DD = ginormous boobs couldn’t be any further from reality. While not all women wear a too small cup per see, it’s not uncommon for people to wear a sister size that is at least 2 band sizes bigger than what would give them optimal support. I recently got one of my friends refitted from an ill-fitting 40DD to a 34G (the sister size of 40 from 34G is actually 40E, so she was not actually wearing a much too small cup size, but was wearing a band 3 sizes too big). Cup sizes can actually come as small as AAA and as big as KK (which means a 16″ bust and underbust difference in UK sizing, and equates a P cup in EU and US sizing) and beyond.
Myth #6: Support comes from the cups and straps of a bra.
Most of the support comes from the band of a bra. Too small cups can cause the band to ride up and feel tighter than it should, so properly fitting cups are also important in the fit of a bra, but they don’t do the supporting thing, they take care of the shaping part. Most people complaining of straps digging into their shoulders are actually letting the straps compensate for a less than ideal band length with, quite likely, smaller cups than ideal.
Myth #7: You should always try on a bra on the middle hook.
The logic behind this myth is you supposedly want to be able to make the band looser during your period and firmer when you need more support or when you need the bra tighter as it wears out. But that’s not how it works. Bra hooks come in more than one column for the sole purpose of you being able to tighten the band as it wears out. While it is true that band size can change during or before periods, you should either purchase bras specifically for your period (especially if you experience variation of your cup size as well), or use a non-stretch extender if your only variation is the band size (but that is quite unlikely). It is also likely that people advise this based on the fact that most women wear a band looser than ideal and a cup smaller than ideal, so letting the band get looser during your period would then allow more space for your breasts to take up by pushing the cups further away from your body. It is much better though to take the time and money to invest in periods bras, which will last longer than your regular bras anyway, so you can have optimal support and comfort all month long.
It is totally legitimate to try on a bra on the tightest setting if, for example, you are sister sizing into a bigger band because the size you want is unavailable or because you’re in-between band sizes, but I would then strongly advise the purchase of a Rixie clip (available on Amazon), which lets you tighten the band beyond the tightest hook, that way you can keep your bra for longer. But when available it is best to choose the right band size to begin with, as the same cup size in a bigger or smaller band (for example, wearing a 34E instead of a 32F, or a 30FF instead of a 32F) will have differences in width, depth and shape, which could cause discomfort.
Myth #8: A good quality bra can last forever.
As I explained in #7, the reason for hooks to exist is because it is expected that the band will stretch and wear out eventually. If your bra hasn’t stretched out, it’s most likely because it was bigger than what you’d need for optimal and not actually supporting much, or it may also be that your underbust measurement got bigger as the band stretched out, so it never actually became too big for your liking. The band of a new bra can take about a week or two to break in correctly. Even if your bra costs $200, it’s not likely to last much longer than 2-3 years of regular wear (some will not even last a year, and yes, I’m looking at you, Empreinte).
Myth #9: Bra bands roll up because they are too small.
As counter-intuitive as it might seem, a lot of bra bands roll up and cause back fat to show more because they are bigger than needed. You read me well. The reason why that is is because a band that is bigger than needed will try to rely on your squish to hold in place, but the squish moves with you, and so will the band. A band that fits securely and snug enough will fit over the squish and hold it in place instead of depending on it to stay in place. That is not to say that you might not accidentally be wearing a band that is too tight. By all means, if a band feels too tight, check out your size with this calculator, and try your bra upside down with the cups in your back to check the fit of the band (too small cups can make the band feel too tight). If you have more than 2″ of difference between your snug and tight band measurements, you will most likely want to go between the two instead of rounding up to the next even number from your snug measurement, but you should not go under your tight measurement (for example, someone with a 38″ snug underbust but a 34″ tight underbust will most likely get their best support in a 36 band).
Myth #10: A bra is supposed to fit like a tight shirt.
Have you tried wearing a tight shirt in lieu of a bra? If you’re a true D cup or under, it might’ve worked not too badly. But for me, a 30F, it’s literally impossible to get support from a tight shirt. So why should a bra fit this way? A lot of people actually get surprised at how snug a bra is supposed to fit, and I don’t want to blame them for holding this belief, but it’s really not how things work. Since, as highlighted above, most stores fit people in bras that are bigger than optimal for them, it makes quite a lot of sense that people expect bras to fit like a tight shirt. In reality, the band of a bra is supposed to fit like a tight elastic, quite tight in fact, but not hurtful.
Whew! That makes a lot of things we falsely believe about bras.
Stay supported, and see you soon, next time with a review!