Monday, January 21, 2013

Is Holistic or Tape Measure Bra Fitting Better?

First of all I should probably explain what Holistic Bra Fitting means. Some of you may have been to a lingerie store where the assistant helping you hasn't used a tape measure to determine your size but instead has just looked at you, maybe asked what size you're currently wearing and brought you a bra size to try on.

Holistic bra fitting judges which size you need based on how well your current bra fits, your build, height and posture. Considering how many stores use a tape measure incorrectly to figure out your size (Hello Plus Four Method!) it's not surprising that some stores choose to avoid it completely.

The five main fit signs used to assess size in the holistic approach are:

1) Are the cups spilling over or wrinkling
2) Is the band too loose or tight
3) Does the gore lie flat against the body
4) Are the straps digging into the shoulders
5) Is the band at the same height all the way around the body

Determining your bra size using a tape measure uses the difference between your ribcage measurement and the measurement around the fullest part of your bust to figure out the best band and cup sizes to start with. There are lots of other factors that affect your bra size so this is why the tape measure method should only be used as a starting point as we explain in our Bra Calculator.

Lots of people think that the holistic approach to bra fitting is better than using a tape measure and others think that the tape measure is better. My personal approach is that these two techniques are not mutually exclusive and you should use both to find and maintain your best bra size.

The five fit signs are hugely helpful for working out whether you need a smaller band, larger cup size etc. The reason I don't think you should rely on the holistic signs alone is that they don't give you a base size to work from or towards. Let me explain.

The fit signs are essential for figuring out if you need a different size e.g. a spilling cup says you need a bigger cup

Lots of women who contact Butterfly Collection for a free bra size consultation are wearing a bra band that is six, eight and even ten inches bigger than their body which means they can be up to five band sizes away from their best starting size. If these women relied solely on the holistic approach then they may come down just one band size and still be uncomfortable in their new bra size leaving them more disillusioned with bras and potentially giving up on finding the right size. It would take an awful lot of trial and error to find out which band and cup combination you need based solely on the holistic approach when you're five or six sizes away from your best fit.
Full explanation of Sister Sizing
I recommend using three steps to figure out your best bra size starting point. Let's take an example of a woman wearing a 40E whose bra band is riding up, cups are spilling and straps are digging in. She can find her best bra size starting point this way:

1) She measures around her ribcage and finds that she's a 32 band. She realizes that this is four band sizes smaller than she's wearing right now. This gives her a band size to work toward.

2) Using the sister size chart she works out that to get the same volume on a 32 band as she has now on her 40E she needs to go up four cup letters to a GG.

3) By assessing all of her fit signs she realizes that she is spilling over her cups (NB this might be because the band is so loose the bust isn't contained) She decides to try one cup size larger to stop the spilling so she arrives at a size of 32H.

Left just to use the holistic approach this lady may have just come down to a 38F and would still have significant issues with her fit. By measuring at least around your ribcage and knowing how to use this in conjunction with the fit signs and understanding the band to cup ratio you stand a much better chance of getting to your right bra size faster. xx


  1. This approach makes so much sense! I think a tape measure can be a good tool to start with, or to check in, but knowing how a bra should look and feel are also important. I would never say that the tape measure is the end-all and be-all, but it can definitely get you off the right start.

  2. I've been measured both ways.

    Your right about the holistic approach, I complained about the band moving around on me and they only brought me down one band size. Which I thought was okay at the time but it stretched out quickly and I learned I needed to go down two.

    The I was measured with a tape but they automatically added two inches (at least it wasn't four, or I'd be back to what I came in with, which clearly wasn't working) so that wasn't helpful either.

    The holistic approach fit me better in the cup, I think they squeezed me into a smaller size with the tape, of course they didn't instruct me to make sure all my breast tissue was in either.

    Honestly, this site and others on the internet have been a greater help to finding my size. It's just a matter of getting the information you need to fit yourself and finding some place with a decent selection in person.

    1. I'm so glad you've found sites like our useful to get your best bra fit. By knowing how to use a tape measure along with the holistic technique you can keep an eye on your own fit and know when you're being fit badly by someone else xx

  3. I think this is really helpful for people buying on line. In a boutique, we can manage without a tape measure as we can get the customer to try on additional sizes if we need to but if you're buying on-line, this is a great way to aim for the correct band. Although it would be even better if you had someone (with warm hands!) holding the tape measure to check it is straight all the way around the body.

    1. Good tip about the warm hands Helen! You're so right that this is a good method for customers like ours who shop online xx

  4. Hmmm, you don't seem to take into account that a lot of bra manufactures make their bands a lot smaller than the actual underbust measurement which is where the +4 method came from in the first place. It all depends on whether the brand use the traditional way of cutting patterns, or the new way.

    1. Good point Katie, however, it's very much the exception and not the rule in the full bust market (which is the only group we cover here). Does 'What Katie Did' use the +4 method in design? I'm a 32GG in regular full bust bras, would that mean I am a 36FF in WKD?

      Most of the full bust brands we deal with have an at rest length that is about 6 inches shorter than their band size (e.g. the average 34 band is 28 inches at rest). I'm yet to find a brand with a 38 band that is actually 28 inches at rest. I would love your insight here because WKD is very respected for full busts xx