Into the (Bra) Crazy

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I hope this information helps somebody out there, because it is possible I have crossed into the Land of Zealotry.

I had an idea that I could compare the back width of my body to the back of the perfect bra, in order to determine what band to try for best fit. My method is probably overly simplistic, but it gave me some basic information.

I took my measurement from the outer edge of one underwire, across the back, to the other underwire. Then I pulled out all the bras I currently own, including many that I stopped wearing months or even years ago (and one beauty that I only wore once, eight years ago, sigh). I measured each one and did some calculations in order to make this tidy chart for you.

Several notes and caveats are in order, but I’ll put those at the end, because I hate reading a bunch of disclaimers first. Show me the chart!

Name

Size

Right (Hooks)

(Inches)

Left (Eyes)

(Inches)

Total Length (Inches)

% Stretch

Can Fit

(Inches)

Calvin Klein Customized Lift

34DD

7.25

7.5

14.75

73

20

Freya Dixie

34E

7.75

8.25

16

80

20

Merckwaerdigh CUPL 16 View 2

32G

5.5

6.25

11.75

73

16

Panache Superbra Porcelain 3371

34E

6.25

6.75

13

73

18

Triumph Amourette 300WHP

34DD

6.75

7

13.75

73

19

Unknown “Decorative” Lace

34

8

8

16

67

24

Victoria Secret Demi 209

34B

7

7.5

14.5

70

21

Victoria Secret Full Coverage (in very bad shape)

34C

7.5

7.5

15

57

26

Victoria Secret Push Up

36B

6.75

7.5

14.25

57

25

Wacoal 20421

34DD

7

7.5

14.5

80

18

Ok, notes:

1. I have listed the bras in alphabetical order by maker. It might have been better to list by size, but them’s the berries.

2. With the cups facing down, I measured the right side of the bra (with the hooks) across level from the top or near the top of the underwire to the hook. I did not angle the tape measure (see photo). I suppose you could have measured across the bottom, but this is just how I did it.

Keep tape measure level.

3. Then I measured the left side to the middle set of eyes.*

4. I measured the amount of stretch in the back elastic like this: I measured 4 inches, and then held the tape measure while stretching the bra to a reasonable but not distorted, almost maximum length.

4″ stretches to 5.5″ on this model

I figured out the amount of stretch by dividing 4″ of original length by the stretched length. For example, 4″ stretched to 5″ is 80% elasticity because 4″/5″ = 80%. In this manner, 4 stretched to 5.5 is 73%; 4 stretched to 6 is 67%; 4 to 7 is 57% and you better be throwing that shit away. (Scavenge parts first if you want to sew your own.)

5. The “Can Fit” column is the total expected length that the bra can reasonably stretch to fit. It was determined by dividing the actual length by the stretch. For example, a 12″ band divided by 80% stretch is 15″, meaning, the bra can stretch reasonably to 15″ during wear, give or take.

Here is where we can start our analysis.

Note that the 34” backs can fit from 18” to 24”, discounting the very ratty VS bra. The 36” back can fit 25”. Think about that. Clearly, this bra is going to be way too stretchy and slide up your back all day even if your ribcage is actually 36″.

Now for fun! Measure your own “back” from the outer edge of one underwire to the other underwire. I wouldn’t technically call that my back, except for bra-comparison sake. My back is 18”, and my bras all slide up my back to some degree, except for my custom me-made Merck with a back length of 16. Well, go figure. I would say after a day of wearing that Merck is actually a tad tight, but I’m going to ride it out to see if it stretches with wear. I am thinking a full-stretched length of 1″ less than your back length might be the way to go. Depending.

Measure your body in the same way to find your “back” length, going from wire to wire level across your back.

The first caveat I offer is this: the cup size and material (is the cup stretchy?) will contribute to how much the back stretches out to surround you. If the cup is too small, it will pull the back, making it stretch more, even into the realm of unreasonable and uncomfortable. Note the top two bras listed in my chart. The CK rides up my back all day while the Freya mostly stays put. Both have a Can Fit of 20″, but apparently the Freya doesn’t need to stretch as much maybe because the cups fit. (Also note, if the back needs to stretch a lot, it will also pull the cups out of shape, making the underwire migrate outward and flattening the cup.) The second caveat is that you should consider your measurements while sitting. If you are like me, you sit most of the day, so taking a measurement while standing may not be super accurate. When I sit, my ribcage and waist expand, making a bra feel tighter when I sit. Also, the bottom of the band can rub hard under the bust where the belly rolls up when I sit.

Shall we look at sports bras? Ok. Let’s. Slim pickings here, but I found these results:

Name

Size

Right (Hooks)

(Inches)

Left (Eyes)

(Inches)

Total Length (Inches)

% Stretch

Can Fit

(Inches)

Freya Active Sport AA4492

30FF

5.5

6.5

12

80

15

Lily of France Sport 2111350

36B

8.25

8.5

16.75

80

21

I admit, the Freya is impossible to wear without welts, so I have been using a 2″ extender, which makes it perfect.

Since we are having all this fun, wouldn’t it be fun to see what’s inside a push-up bra? Here you go. The tiniest, flimsiest little packet of fluid, surrounded by a load of sponge padding.

I hope this was informative, and at the very least got you thinking about band size. It is making me want to start sewing that second Merck bra, but that will have to wait until my first one is in service for a month. Then I will be sure to take lots of photos and notes to share with you.

*Which hook should you wear your bra on? It’s another controversy. I had always heard you should buy on the farthest hooks out, but I recently read something that makes more sense to me. You should buy a bra that is comfortable on the middle, to leave room on either side to accommodate minor weight gain and loss, monthly hormonal changes, loss of bra elasticity, etc. If you buy it on the outside hook, hoping to tighten it up when it stretches out, you should be throwing that baby out by the time you are moving to the farthest inside hooks because the rest of the bra will be overly stretched and not supportive. Whether this advice is true or not, the middle hook seemed like a reasonable place to measure for my chart.

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5 responses »

  1. Wow – what a catalog! I’m in favour of buying for the loosest hook to start. I’ve never had a bra that didn’t stretch out enough for me to eventually get to the tightest hook. Because I have such a large wardrobe of bras, I can rotate them frequently, so most of my bras have lasted for years (barring fluctuations in size). Were I to buy for middle hook, they’d wear out that much more quickly. Mind you, my bias is towards a very snug fit. It’s what feels comfortable to me. Everyone is different though.

  2. I so need new bras. Part of the reason I hate finding new ones is exactly what you have been demonstrating; they are all different. Even the same size in the same brand sometimes fit different. UGH!!! I’m waiting until Belks Department store has a professional fitter in store so I can stand half naked in the dressing room while she runs to get me another size/style. Yippee.
    Thanks for putting all this together. Now I KNOW it’s not just me!! 😀

  3. I think hook position may also depend on where you fit on the brand sizing. I wouldn’t want to buy a bra that only fit on the loosest setting, but I don’t know that I’d be hard and fast on middle vs tightest hook. Bras can be so fascenating when you really look at the details.

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