Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Do Victoria's Secret Measure OVER your breasts?

Every week Lucy and I do online bra size consultations for women across North America. The majority of women who request a consultation have been fitted at Victoria's Secret and these are the women who invariably have the most bra complaints. These women are without fail wearing a band that is four to EIGHT inches bigger than their body as well as experiencing issues like straps that dig into their shoulders, cups that spill and straps that slip. The reason these complaints are so common with women who have been fitted at Victoria's Secret is because they measure for band size over the top of your breasts under your armpits. By measuring this way Victoria's Secret recommends that your band should be at least four inches bigger than your body, a fitting technique that is disastrous for full-busted women.
VS Fit Errors: Left: Band riding up, Center: Gore not against body, Right: Band not flush with the body
Victoria's Secret comes in for a lot of grief because good bra fit is not their main focus. Their models are often in the wrong bras in product shoots and runway shows and their over-zealous Photoshopping (to make models look skinnier or bras fit better) is legendary. In reality Victoria's Secret doesn't position itself as an expert in bra fit, they very rarely allude to bra fit at all. They are in the business of making a few bra styles and a few bra sizes in alluring colours and affordable prices that make you aspire to looking 'as sexy as an Angel'. The bra sizes and styles that Victoria's Secret do make are mostly suited to women with smaller breast volumes with closer-set breasts who need more band than cup ratio because their breasts are in a different position to full busted women.

Related Articles: The women who need to add inches to their band size

Victoria's Secret only makes 36 bra sizes and in practice there are over 175 bra sizes regularly available on the market (Butterfly Collection carries over 60 sizes) and over 148 other sizes available through specialty manufacturers. So you can see that the number of women for whom Victoria's Secret really can offer great bra fit is very narrow. The +4 measuring technique is appropriate for some of the women who can wear the limited size and style range from VS so that's how they can justify using the +4 technique. The problem is, Victoria's Secret will never tell you if their bras and bra fitting technique is not right for you (and let's face it, that's most of us). They'll never concede that your band size is smaller than those they carry or that your breast volume requires a cup size they don't have. Nope, they'll just use the same fitting technique on a full-busted woman and send her away in a bra that will causes a myriad of fit issues.

This is my greatest grievance with Victoria's Secret. Their lack of honesty about their fitting method's effectiveness leaves women feeling that their bodies are wrong, which doesn't make you feel 'as sexy as an Angel'. With their brand position in the market Victoria's Secret could be a hugely empowering influence on improving bra education and diminishing breast stigma in North America, but unfortunately they are part of the machine that perpetuates the idea that bra sizes outside of the 32-38 A-D paradigm is alien and that bra fit is secondary to looking sexy. 

No matter how dominant a brand is it's up to us as consumers to decide whether a product is right for us. Your breast health is too important to blindly put your faith in a gigantic marketing machine that tells you bras are just about push-ups and pouting. We need to be savvy shoppers who understand what good bra fit looks like and then decide whether Victoria's Secret bras offer us that fit (for many women the answer will be yes, but for the vast majority of us the answer is no).


How I Recommend Finding Your Band Size
I maintain that getting your band size right is the most important part of finding great bra fit because your cup size is determined IN RELATION to your band so without knowing your band size you can't begin to find the right fit.

Related Articles: Not all D cups are the Same and What Sister Size Bras Look Like

I recommend a good starting point for working out your band size is to wrap a tape measure around your ribcage directly under your breasts, against your skin where your band should lie. There's no need to breathe out or pull tightly, simply put the tape measure flat against your skin so that it is parallel with the floor all around your body. This measurement (in inches) is the best starting point for finding your band size (if you're an odd number then simply round up one to the next even number as your starting band size).

Related Tool: Bra Size Calculator

This is a starting point from which you might add or subtract inches depending on your physique. The reason that +0 is an impartial starting point is that as many women will need to add inches as need to subtract them so starting at zero means there's no weighting in either direction. As a very general rule of thumb, if you have a muscular, toned or just firm ribcage then you might have to add inches to your band size to allow for flexibility. If you have a fleshy torso or a springy ribcage then you might find that you need to subtract inches to find your band size because your band can't anchor to fat which moves up and down your body as you move so you need a firmer fit that account for the wobble of our middle bits (I wear one band size smaller than my ribcage measurement as my torso is squidgy).

I hope this helps you figure out whether your body and breasts fit one of the 36 sizes available at Victoria's Secret. If you are then you'll probably find that their over the breasts measuring method works for you, and if you're not then you've got another 300+ bra sizes to choose from! xx

33 comments:

  1. VS will be out of business as soon as enough women are informed of these absurd fitting practices. women will NEVER go back to the old once they try on a bra that actually fits them properly. oh well, totally and 100% VS's fault.

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    1. It will be so interesting to see if VS ever change their fitting approach as the pressure mounts. xx

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  2. You may have seen it already, but VS recently updated their fitting guide with videos, pics and added information. they have it at the top left when you browse bras, giving the impression that they do care about fit. However... all the images display absolutely terrible fits and I had to cringe whenever the model twirled in the video. Some of the written advice is sound, though. Still, it leaves me uneasy because such bad visual examples do a lot more harm than good, and an avid VS fan who sees it will be harder to convince that something better is out there. Thank you for this post and for all that you do to help women everywhere.

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    1. That's the worry that brand loyalty trumps fit knowledge. Maybe one day VS will work on both things. Thank you for your encouragement, it's good to know we're helping women figure out the world of bras xx

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  3. In my case, VS measuring technique would result not in +4 but in... +8

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    1. Oh my goodness! I wonder whether someone could look you in the eye and tell you a +8 really fit...?

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    2. That's horrible. I checked their method, and mine was close to that... +10

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  4. I'm glad you discussed how Victoria's Secret is not really about selling bras...they're about selling their version of "sexy." If you're looking for any kind of bra expertise or even variation in bra styles, VS is not the place. Great read!

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    1. You've hit the nail on the head. What they do, they do really well (selling an image) unfortunately millions of women think they're selling good bra fit... not so much. xx

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  5. Fantastic post. So much trouble with getting bra sizes right

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    1. I hope this helps to further demystify bras xx

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  6. I was fitted at Victoria's secret about 5 years ago (before I found Butterfly). They had me fitted into a 36 size band when in reality I wear a 32. Insane!

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    1. +4 again... it works for fewer women than +0 that's for sure! xx

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  7. Great article. I was fitted at VS and they placed a lot of emphasis on fitting me into a bra size they carry in store rather than be honest with me and tell me they don't have sizes 30-32GG/H. Fortunately I live right around the corner from A Sophisticated Pair and was amazed at how a proper fitting bra can change your life. Before my fitting I looked like Erica did in the video she made to disprove their fitting techniques (article and video are at http://sophisticatedpair.com/blog/?p=2119). I am so glad you ladies are getting the truth about the improper techniques that they use. I hear from a lot of my friends about how they feel terrible about themselves when they leave VS.

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    1. I'm so glad you have correct fit and you're so lucky to be around the corner from Erica's store - she's a fitting superhero! xx

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  8. Interesting article, but with 'closer-set' do you mean closer-together in the middle or a narrower root? I ask this, because my boobs are extremely close-set (even a bit symmastic) in the middle combined with a wide root. And I am more at the higher end of the cupsizes: 28K/30JJ. They are so close-set that I am mostly only able to wear plunges. Unfortunately plunges are very rare in my size. Even Bravissimo stops at a J cup. As far as I know only Ewa Michalak makes them in this size range, but unfortunately her wires are a bit narrow for my shape. Now I've ordered something from the new Chinese brand Braologie. It's the 'Lacie' with extra boning. A kind of longline plunge. I am very curious it.

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    1. I do mean close together, exactly as you describe. My heart goes out to you because lots of close-set breasts tend to be on narrow roots but if you have a wide root it can be terrible hard to find a good fit. I think you might have more success finding styles with wires wide enough for you then having the gore altered to be narrower for fit and comfort. Best of luck with your search xx

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  9. Hi I just found your blog and absolutely LOVE! I am a Lingerie Stylist at a bra fitting boutique and can empathize with your having to explain these things all the time!

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  10. Thank you so much for this article. As an AA I don't fit the description of your clients, but this was still really informative. I always wondered why my bands seemed to fit so tightly even though I'm less than 33" around and wear a 34" bra. I'm one of the "skinny/muscular" ribcage women with small, close-set breasts to boot. It didn't make sense until now. Thanks!

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    1. Hello Brie - every woman is welcome here and this information applies to all boobs :) Your breast position is significant in determining which band length you need. It sounds like you need a longer band with a style that has a narrow (or plunge) gore. I hope you find your best fit very soon xx

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    2. Oh, and PS: When I was in college I was naive enough to get fitted at VS who tried to put me into a 36B. Not even close. It was humiliating. I actually feel sorry for the fitters, they're just doing the job they're paid to do and unfortunately in the process are being completely misinformed about their own bodies.

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  11. When I went for my first bra fitting, the lady measured under my armpits, loosely, and came up with 46 D. My underbust measures 39 inches. After informing me that "Oh, we don't carry that size!", she brought me a 42 C, and I had to point out the major quad boob and band creeping up my back. I really don't understand how measuring under the armpits works for anyone.

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    1. I'm so sorry that was your first bra fitting, that sucks! Sound like you should be more like a 38G or 38GG. Hope you managed to get a good bra fit in the end xx

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  12. I had a VS associate look me in the eye and tell me to buy a 34C even after I pointed out fit issues - band very loose and MAJOR quad boob. In reality, I'm a 28I and VS will NEVER carry anything in my size. My friend who won't wear anything but VS, just laughs at me. Oh well. I guess she enjoys the back pain from her terribly fitting bras.

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  13. I know VS is one of the worst offenders, but maybe you could make a post listing the worst 'just put her in a size we have' offenders, or places that use the add-4 method or measuring under your pits? I do know where to go but just in case I can't get bras from there, I feel like I should know where NOT to go! Thanks!

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  14. Hi, I'm 17 and I have been wearing VS bras ever since I hit puberty. Even though I'm young, I have always had back pain and strap riding up my back. I'm currently wearing their 32D and then I tried your measuring method; it's 28FF. Now I have to learn how to tell my mom to buy your bras instead. I really need relief from my back pain.

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    1. Back pain is definitely something that could be eliminated with a more supportive band. When your band rides up you're definitely in a band that is too big for you. We have a whole section dedicated to parents of busty teens to help them understand why support is so important. You'll find the section under our tabs at the top right of this page. That might be a good place to point your Mom so she can learn about better bra support. xx

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    2. Thank you and VS had always made me feel terrible about myself by putting me in a bra that does not fit. I'm glad I read this.

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  15. I know this is an old thread and I don't know if anyone might be reading to the bottom of it, but I thought I might share my experience with VS, as I think it might be informative. At around age 35 I could finally afford VS bras. I got fitted as a 36 C and their over-the rib cage measurement technique worked fine. Then I lost a little weight and so I fit a 34D, still fine. But then I hit 40 and oh boy. I couldn't even figure out if my existing bras were too small or too big, so I was leery of bras salespeople telling me what to buy. I stayed in stretchy bralettes and ill-fitting bras for about two years while I dealt with other things. By then the fit was getting ridiculous in a shaped bra. So I decided to go to Nordstrom Rack and look around to see which bras were actually the size and shape of my breasts. It turned out that a Natori 32 DDD is now the right fit. It's not so much that my breasts are bigger in total volume than they were at 34D, it's rather that they are less "fluffy" on top and instead project out further to the front and bottom (though thankfully w/o any sag). So the cup size, which is a measure of the projection has to increase, and then I need styles with a less full upper part to the cup. The current VS method would have me at 36B instead, which wold give me both saggy and spilling over the top of the bra cup.
    Conclusion, their fitting methods work well for average-sized women with fuller, closer-set breasts or smaller than average, but very pendulous, breasts.
    I don't know what would happen if I actually tried one of their 32 DDD. My experience is that in most brands you get a very narrow compartment for each breast, where the breast projection is really huge. Great if you have small but very pendulous breasts, but entirely wrong for me.

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