Are You Big Busted? Are You Sure?

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In the past I would have shaken my head a resounding, No. (No, I’m not big busted, and yes, I’m sure.) Now I’m learning it’s all relative.

I’ve been sewing for many years. Back in high school I was brave, and I would just buy a yard (one stinkin’ yard — Ha!) of interesting fabric, and then somehow fashion a top out of it. In college, I made several work-related garments, as well as curtains and house items. In grad school I made my first quilt. I’ve made wedding dresses, baby clothes, poncho coats for a wheelchair user, purses and pouches, etc. etc. When I decided to brush off my sewing machine again last year to make some summer clothes, I thought, I know how to sew. Measure yourself and cut out the pattern, easy.

Going strictly by the back of the envelope, I should have been making size 16. I found it hard to believe that I needed that size, because I wear an 8 in ready-to-wear. I know that the sizes are not commensurate, but in my estimation, I am a pretty small person. 135-140 pounds, 5’6″. A size 16 in patterns is a Large. In my experience, all big 4 pattern companies add wayyyy too much ease, so I made size 14. Wow, still so big around the neck and shoulders.

I realized I needed to make some alterations. I turned to the Internet, and I read my trusty sewing resource books. It was the first time I ever heard the term “Full Bust Adjustment”. I actually rather quickly flipped past this term, thinking, I don’t need that. That’s for really big busted women.

One of the resources I used was Nancy Zieman’s book Pattern Fitting with Confidence. Ms. Zieman uses a slash and pivot method that is different from the Palmer/Pletsch method of the FBA. She says to choose a pattern size based on the hardest to fit area: the shoulders. Her method includes measuring the front of your body across the chest from underarm crease to underarm crease. Mine was 13″, putting me squarely in a size 10 pattern. After choosing the base size, you compare your measurements to the pattern size and make alterations. That meant I needed to add about 7″ to the bust, and 5″ to the waist and hips. That seems like a lot of alterations. And if you need more than 4″ of change to the bust, you needed to make more complicated adjustments. This should have been my first big clue that my body was really different from the typical pattern. No wonder things weren’t fitting well. Still, I had a hard time believing I needed a Full Bust Adjustment.

I did more reading. Pattern companies and RTW base their sizes on a B cup woman. In other words, the full bust is only 2″ larger than the chest measurement. A woman doesn’t have to be terribly large busted to be 3″ or more different in chest than bust. I decided to pull out my tape measure to prove it. My chest measurement is 34, full bust is 38. Huh. Who knew? So Vogue Patterns instructions say I should choose a size based on my chest and then alter the pattern for a D cup. A “D”, eh? I could not believe it.

I don’t know why I was resistant. Maybe because I just have the same common misperception that most American women probably have based on shopping for bras at the department store. We are told 34C is the average. Jokes are made about large-busted women, wherein they are labeled “Double D’s”, and I don’t look like that, so how can I be bigger than a B? As I did more research, I learned about the bizarre practice of adding 4-5″ to your ribcage measurement in order to come up with the band size. I also learned that the average size in Great Britain is 32F. Well, what do you know?

A quick comparison will be educational, methinks. So a woman with a 31″ ribcage might be told in America to add 3-4″ to get 34″ for a band size.  If this same woman had a 38″ bust, she would be told to buy a D cup. (1″ difference between band size and bust measurement is an “A” cup, 2″ is a B, 3″ is a C, 4″ is D, 5″ is DD, 6″ is E, 7″ is F, and so on.) In Great Britain, the woman with the 31″ ribcage would be told to buy a 32″ band, and then with a 7″ difference between ribcage and full bust, she’d be put in an F cup.

The sizes are really not so different on the face of it. However, in the American system, we are putting most of the width of the bra into the back band instead of into the cups.

If your bra is always climbing up your back, consider a smaller band size and larger cup! Have your breasts changed? No. Should you run right out and start doing Full Bust Adjustments on all your patterns? Maybe. The point is to compare the size of the ribcage, the shoulder width, the waist measurement, and the full bust size. This should guide you in choosing a pattern size (and style) and in making necessary alterations.

Soon I will review a RTW company that specializes in clothing for the woman with a large bust-to-waist ratio. Even if you don’t consider yourself terribly big busted, this could be a coup for you!

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6 responses »

    • There are many pretty bras out there for the bigger busted woman. Getting your hands on them is easier said than done. If you are absolutely sure of your size, you could order from Brastop.com. They have really low prices for the brands they sell, and free shipping. However, if something doesn’t fit, you have to pay to ship it back to England (about $10 per box or more). Figleaves.com is more pricey, though you can search their outlet by size. It costs $5 to ship, and if you have to send something back, you pay to ship it back (domestic rates, at least, about $4 depending). Don’t over look Macy’s.com, where you can order and have shipped free to your local store. They had some pretty things for in the range of $30. Best of luck!

  1. Amen Sistah! I’ve written about this often. I’m one of those people with a 30 inch back and a 7.5 inch difference between under bust and bust. I often wear a 30FF. And, while I’m well endowed, I’m certainly not abnormal. So many women out there look just like me. I second Brastop and Figleaves is also great. So is Large Cup Lingerie (no shipping charges, even internationally). Hate that name, but the merch is probably best priced around.

  2. Ladies, I am almost a year late to this conversation, but check out Bravissimo. Ok, it’s another company in the UK, but they have the biggest and best range of nice bras for big busts. I am a 34J, I should know. They also have a clothing line, Pepperberry, which is a little expensive (hence why I am learning to sew and googling FBA!), but some nice styles.

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