Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Final Response to the Vanity Sizing Debate

Recently I wrote a piece that was a response to a television segment about bra fitting that suggested modern bra sizes are built around Vanity Sizing. Many other boutiques and bloggers shared their opinions and the boutique at the center of the discussion has written a blog post to clarify what she says was a mass misunderstanding. The boutique owner tweeted to ask for my response to her piece so I have written my thoughts on particular excerpts from her post. This issue mattered to me because our collective approach to language around breasts (large breasted women in particular) is central to my work. xx

Excerpts in Black My Responses in Red

I suggested that bra sizes have changed in the past 10 years due to vanity sizing. Do you think this is the sole reason? Your statement was very finite and emphatic which left little room for the possibility that fitters and manufacturers got it wrong on any scale.

I was expecting some differing views on the topic, but I wasn’t expecting so much misunderstanding. My personal response to your interview was that I thought an isolated and loaded statement can be dangerous. Statements without context can be more harmful than beneficial. If so many of us had this ‘misunderstanding’ then evidently the point you were trying to make wasn’t clear or wasn’t accurate.

I used to teach a “plus 5” method (adding about 5 inches to the underbust measurement) as a general starting point. When my NYC shop opened about eight years ago, I started teaching a “plus 3-5” method. I did this to accommodate some of the changes that bra companies were making to their bra bands. Now, eight years later, I’ve migrated to a “plus 0 to 3” for certain women. For many brands the plus 5 method has not been necessary for over 20 years so this method is not newly-outdated.

It’s important to know that only a trained fitter is really qualified to fit someone for a bra. And it’s also important to remember that hundreds of trained fitters put women in the wrong bra so educating women to spot a good from a bad fit is vital. There are no standards in bra fitting so women are at the mercy of an unregulated system.

I think one of the reasons some women were upset with my comments in the article or TV spot was because of the word “scam” in the title. I have to be honest: “scam” was never my word. I completely agree and acknowledged this in my blog response “I know that…. a media snippet can be taken hugely out of context”

The way I see it, at least it gets women’s attention so that I can “braducate” them and help them finally figure out why their bras are no longer fitting! This is where we differ. I think the ‘Vanity Sizing’ statement was frightening (and misleading) which caused more confusion than education.

Don’t worry about what size your bra says – worry about the fit! This is just the problem, women DO worry about what their bra says and the biggest leap you have to make in achieving great bra fit (especially for busty women) is to get there mentally before you get there physically. The Vanity Sizing suggested their bra size is ego driven rather than physically driven. This pushes women farther away from embracing small band large cup letters. It’s yet more stigma for them to deal with.

When I moved to New York about eight years ago, I fit into a 36D perfectly. But since bra sizes have changed, I now fit into a 32G in the same brand. And no, I won’t start naming brands. I don’t intend to place blame on any bra companies here. I don’t see how naming brands could be blame placing because most brands now fit women inch for inch – if you measure 32 around then you’re probably going to need a 32 band. If you had to wear a 36 band 10 years ago but now wear a 32 then that manufacturer has changed which elastics they use and are labelling their bras correctly so where’s the blame? I would be fascinated to have at least one example of a company that used to make a 36D that would fit a modern day 32G and offers BOTH those sizes.

Another reason that my comments have caused a stir is because I’ve used the phrase “vanity sizing”. Don’t tell me women aren’t vain about their band size. I have women jump for joy when they find out that a 30 or 32 bra fits them better than a 36. Who doesn’t want to have a slimmer, smaller back?! We’re only human, after all. Most of the brands I carry fit inch for inch – if you are a 32 rib measurement then you most likely wear a 32 band – how is this Vanity?
It’s been a real mission of mine to help women understand that a G cup or up is totally common, now! It’s taken years of “braducation”, instruction, and care to help women get over the stigma of D+ bras and just wear what fits and supports them best. How is using the term ‘Vanity Sizing’ not adding another layer of stigma to women with large breasts and small backs? There’s no two ways about it “Vanity” is a loaded word.

These letters and numbers mean something to women and their ego, so they are reluctant to pick out a new size themselves. It takes going to a bra shop like mine and being professionally fit to finally get it. A professional fitting in only part of the story. It’s going to take changing our language around breasts, women and cup sizes. As lingerie fitters we do not hold the keys to fit we are accountable to our customers who deserve to know their own fit

Some women claim that no one wants to be a G cup or more, and that changing bands sized could not be caused by vanity. Well, some women don’t want to be an A cup. And some women don’t want to be a 40 back. I don’t think bra companies geared sizes toward everyone, just toward the small minority that fit into the old A-D sizes. Unfortunate, but true. So why not acknowledge that first and foremost if you know that for a huge proportion of women the ‘Vanity Sizing’ did exactly the opposite (made them feel worse).

I think bra sizes have changed. And I think vanity sizing played a part in why it happened. I said it and I’m not taking it back! I think this is what you meant to say from the very beginning “Vanity Sizing has played a part in changing band sizes over the past decade” which would have been a balanced and thought-provoking statement. Unfortunately I think you’ve hitched your wagon so tightly to the ‘Vanity Sizing’ statement that it’s alienated some people.

I’m dismayed by the lack of understanding and outcry from other women in the field. Many of the “other experts” who are providing their opinion on the matter have not been working full time as a bra fitter for 25 years. Most of them haven’t even been in business for 10, which is when things really started changing.

A) So much outcry and ‘misunderstanding’ as you say should tell you that the piece wasn’t clear.

B) I’ve never claimed to be an ‘Expert’ because there's always something to learn and putting all the people who challenged your thoughts in quotation marks suggests you’re rather derisive of their opinions.

C) Longevity doesn’t equal infallibility. Some of us women who have been wholeheartedly and passionately in business for less than 10 years have new perspectives to bring to the table.

Regardless, my stance on proper bra fitting and my passion for helping women has always been very clear, and they should have known that. Despite what these other experts think, it’s more important to me that women realize that bra sizes have changed, rather than why. This whole paragraph sounds frustrated which is a shame because as bra retailers we should be working together to learn from each other. In my response about your GMA piece I didn’t mention you, didn’t link to the piece and even stated “I know that the boutique at the center of this storm is deeply committed to good bra fit”. The objective around my response was to reassure the D-K cup women that I work with that their size was not based on Vanity and they must not take one statement out of context because “A little bit of bra information is a dangerous thing”.

Vanity sizing or not, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s more important to me that women wear the bra that fits and supports them best, regardless of the size. The words “Vanity Sizing” may not matter to you, but they upset and confused other women – I think that’s the point you missed.


  1. I would have to agree that I find the "Vanity Sizing" term quite misleading and troubling. I don't understand how it's "Vanity Sizing" to wear a 28" band when my ribcage measures 27". It is what it is! It would be one thing if bands that stretched to 32" were labeled as 28's, but that's not the case. From everything I've known (and I admit I'm certainly not as knowledgeable as many), the +4 rule has been outdated for quite some time, on the order of 20+ years, as elastics and fabrics have changed.

    I, too, would be interested to know what brand it was that changed its sizing and elastics so recently! I know that 8 years ago, I was wearing 36D and 36DD bras that fit me terribly, to the point where I was considering a breast reduction quite seriously (at age 15). My ribcage probably measured around 30", and I would've loved to be in a correctly-fitting 30FF or whatever it was that I needed back then, but I didn't know there were other options. I do know, however, that I certainly did not need to add +4-6 inches back then any more than I do today.

    I appreciate the discussions that are being had in regards to this! Even when people have to agree to disagree, it can be a learning experience all around :)

  2. I think sizing would be much easier if women's clothing sizes were based off measurements, like men's are. I have a 28 inch rib cage, so I should wear a 28 band! My waist is 26 inches, I should wear a 26 waist! Etc.

    This post was excellent, and clarified my general unease when I was reading the original blog about how she was correct in calling it "vanity sizing"...

  3. Thanks for writing this =)
    My measurements aren't vanity sized, my well fitting bra isn't either!

    Ejay x

  4. Excellent response! Thank you for voicing the frustration so many small back/fuller bust women felt about that "expert's" declaration.

  5. it really is the word vanity that hit a nerve with many women. i'm not feeling flattered by having trouble finding a bra in my size, nor is it flattering to have to spend $100 in some boutiques when my girlfriends can run to sears and spend $40. i'm not feeling particularily "vain" when shirts pull and dresses don't fit either. I am greatfull though for lovely online stores like Butterfly and supportive blogs like yours. thank you.

  6. I used to teach a “plus 5” method (adding about 5 inches to the underbust measurement) as a general starting point. When my NYC shop opened about eight years ago, I started teaching a “plus 3-5” method. I did this to accommodate some of the changes that bra companies were making to their bra bands. Now, eight years later, I’ve migrated to a “plus 0 to 3” for certain women. For many brands the plus 5 method has not been necessary for over 20 years so this method is not newly-outdated.

    Yes, it's outdated which is why she said she "used to" teach this method. You see, eh?

  7. Yes, I couldn't really see how it made sense to call band sizes aligning with actual measurements vanity sizing. My ribcage measures 34-35. I wear a 34 band quite comfortably. In a few bras I suspect I can do a 32 because they're so stretchy, but my sports bra is a 36 because it's NOT very stretchy. But if I were regularly being sized into, say, 30-32 bands then it might be vanity sizing.

    I can guarantee that the 6-year-old bra I have in a 36 band is too big on me. I bought it when I was definitely a 34 band (maybe even a large 32) and it is terrible. Cups don't fit either... it was hardly ever worn so it's not stretched out either.

    I also took issue with the implication that her 25 years of experience meant she was the MOST qualified and nobody else would know what they were doing. I think I can fit myself pretty well at this point, although I like getting other opinions.

    The word vanity is loaded. It implies a negative value judgement. I can sort of get that it's the same way that a size 6 is different now than it was before, although I've also seen a logical explanation for that change (and if you look at patterns you can see what the old measurements were; I wear around a 22 in pattern sizes, but a 16 in most modern.) But in this case, these are not arbitrary numbers representing a deviation from an arbitrary standard: they are measurements. Shouldn't a measurement size fit that measurement?

  8. While I doubt it's because of purposeful vanity sizing, I have to point out that "if you are a 32 rib measurement then you most likely wear a 32 band" is very, very much not the case for me. I measure 35.5 and I've had to start looking into 32 bands, because every 34 and 36 band I've tried has been simply too stretchy. They stretch to 38-43"! That's not 34 and 36 at all. And it means the 32 bands stretch to 36"! Obviously that's not going to fit someone who has a 32" ribcage.