OK, so I know the internet is overflowing with women ranting about incorrect bra sizing recommendations and how they've all been properly measured and are really a 30F instead of the 34B they've been wearing their entire lives and lamenting the difficulties of finding bras in their proper sizes and actually being able to afford such things and it really doesn't need another.
But seriously, y'all, bra measurement today is ridiculous. Everyone is just going around reprinting the same sizing instructions that they've always encountered everywhere else without even stopping to envision what that would mean. They're certainly not manufacturing bras that fit their own measurement guidelines.
Oft-cited "oh, it's as easy as 1, 2, 3" bra measurement advice: measure around your ribcage at or just below where your bra band sits. Add five inches to that (and then also round up if you get an odd number) to get your band size. Measure around your bust at the fullest point. Subtract your band size from your bust measurement, and if it's a one-inch difference, you're an A; two, a B; three, a C; and so forth. (No difference or a very small difference would be a AA.)
Except how does this work in real life? Unless you have more than a five-inch difference between your ribcage measurement and your bust measurement, you should be wearing...a negative cup size? And even then, if you have seven inches of difference, you're a mere B cup?
Huh, anyone think this could possibly have anything at all to do with the oft-touted "studies" (read: likely entirely mythical, like the eight glasses of water a day thing) that inform us that 50/70/80/85% of women are wearing the wrong size bra?! (How insulting can you get? Women! You can't even follow a simple three-step measuring process (that leaves you with nonsensical results and has nothing in common with the bras actually sold in the real world)!) The only actual study I ran across was this, which I'm not going to pay $31.50 to read, but whose abstract claims that 100% of the women (admittedly a biased sample since it was women seeking breast-reduction surgery) were wearing the incorrect bra size "when compared with manufacturers' fitting guidelines."
Oh, manufacturers' fitting guidelines? How funny you should mention...
My adventure started out on the Champion website (this whole thing was sparked by my merely needing a real sports bra that doesn't come from Old Navy). "Fit matters," their sizing guide advises. (Just not enough for us to put accurate information on our website...) Sure enough, "Measure snugly and evenly around or just below your existing band. Add 5 to that measurement and round up to the next even number. This measurement is your band size. To double-check your band size, measure around your torso below your armpits. If this measurement is close to the band measurement, then your measurements are accurate. Measure loosely around the fullest part of your bust, keeping the tape even. Subtract the band size from the bust size. The difference between the two measurements is your cup size. (See chart.) Test fit with your athletic motion. Imitate the intended activity to check fit and support." (The chart in fact shows the normal 1"=A, 2"=B progression -- the one thing the entire internet can agree on, apparently.)
OK, my rib cage measures 30.5". My bust, 34.5". Over my bust, 33".
So let's see, 30.5 + 5 = 35.5, and then round up to an even 36
34.5 - 36 = -1.5 (depending on how one is supposed to round the bust size, that's a -1 to -2)
So, a 36 negative A to negative B. Awesome, because that's totally a real size. (How nice of them to tell me to compare it to my over-bust measurement for accuracy. Well, no, it's not close so is probably inaccurate. Except, you know, that's my actual measurements, so what are you going to do?)
Well, let's try Victoria's Secret. Their "how to measure" guide recommends measuring above your bust to get your band number and ignoring your rib cage entirely: "Hold the tape measure around your back at band level. Then bring it to the front, just above your bust. The resulting number is your band size.
Hint: If the number is odd, round down to the closest even number." (Ooh, rounding down. This shows promise.) If your bust measurement is a half-inch, they advise rounding that up.
So for VS:
34.5 rounds up to 35
35 - 33 = B
Gap, where I actually purchase my basic bras (in size 34C, though I actually do think it's quite likely that's the wrong size, but they at least fit on my body and contain my breasts), gives you the option of going up or down, which I appreciate: "Because standard band sizes are even numbers only, if you have an odd-numbered band size, you may need to go up or down a size depending on how you like your bra to fit." They stick with the +5 band size and also advise you can "double check your band size by measuring loosely around your back, even with your bra line, bringing the tape to the front just above your bra line" (but with, again, no recommendation on what to do if this is vastly different...which, you know, it is, except for people who happen to fall exactly in the range of having a volume of breast that bumps that measurement to exactly five inches more than the rib measurement).
So again, 36 negative A-B. Or if I go with the over-bust measurement, 32B-C or 34AA-A, depending on which way I round each measurement. (It occurs to me that regardless of how one has to round to get to a band size that's sold, one should probably compare the actual measurements of the one with the actual measurements of the other when determining cup size. Not that anyone recommends that. So, let's see, a 1" difference between overbust and bust, so a 32 or 34A? Never mind. Or using the ribcage measurements, that's a difference of four inches, which would be a D. But certainly not a 36D, right?)
Old Navy has the same info as Gap but in a different format, while Athleta has the same except specifies to round down for the band and up for the bust. So a 30D?
Maidenform has this to say: "Most women measure their ribcage under their breasts to get their band measurement. [notice their complete lack of ownership of your results; "most women" also wear the wrong size bra...] Double check this measurement by wrapping a tape measure snugly around your back, under your arms and across the top of your chest above your breasts. Because your ribcage expands and contracts as you breathe, taking both measurements will help you find your most comfortable fit." As this is under the heading "Band Measurement" and there is no follow-up, dare I assume we're not adding anything to anything? This shows promise. Except there's also no hints on rounding, and 30.5 either rounds down to 30 or up to 32, which isn't quite even... So, let's see, a 30D-DD if I round the rib measurement down, a 32 B-C if I round up (or 32D if I determine my cup size before doing any rounding), or a 32B-C or 34A-B going from the above-bust measurement. Well, that's basically every size possible, now, isn't it? But then there's also a sizing conversion chart included that lists under-bust measurements of 30-31 inches corresponding to above-bust measurements of 36-41 inches, which correspond respectively to 36AA to 36DD. I assume this is just pasted in from elsewhere and doesn't actually reflect their bra sizing philosophy (it seems to align more or less with the +5 measurement style).
Calvin Klein, another retailer from which I have personally worn multiple bras (though again, likely ill-fitting ones, as they simultaneously ride up in the back and bulge breast tissue over the cups in the armpit area, but if I sized down the band and up the cup like I've heard most of us should do (and would agree with), that would leave me wearing a 32 D or DD, the former of which still leaves breast tissue in my armpits and the latter of which doesn't exist, because heaven knows nobody is allowed to be a DD unless they have the large band size to match (40DD, say) or are a porn star (who apparently deserve not to have well-fitting bras either, the hussies; that'll teach them)) starts to sound vaguely like how I would recommend measuring for a bra, based on what size bras have historically fit me. "Wrap a measuring tape closely around the rib cage, just below the breasts. If this calculation results in an odd number, round up to the next even number. this number is the band size." So a 32C-D.
Playtex has a video about fit, presumably as an attempt to attract younger women, but this younger woman is a text-and-chart kind of gal, so we're not off to a terribly good start. (Also, the woman does a lot of shimmying and looking terribly proud about everything. And says "the girls" in the most incredibly ridiculous wink-wink kind of way. I'm sorry, I am not in possession of girls; I have breasts. That you are supposed to be teaching me how to fit appropriately.) They hedge a whole lot, with the text preceding the video warning, "Most women wear the wrong size. Are you one of them? It's always best to get a professional fitting, but here's a guide to measure yourself. We know how important the right fit is and that it’s specific to every woman, so remember that this video is just one way to measure yourself and get started." Then Ms. Shimmy-Shimmy in the actual video recommends that you schedule an annual bra-fitting appointment just like you would a doctor's visit, but then says, "It's always tougher to measure yourself, but if you want to try at home, here are some tips to help you." I'm pretty sure the measuring oneself is not what is the tough part of this whole process, as I imagine we've all come to see by now...
At any rate, rib plus 5 (and then round up if necessary to get an even number) unless 38 or more, in which case add 3. Double-check by measuring above (round up to even, but no adding). This puts me again at the tiresome 36 negative something-or-other cup size. It's also amusing that there's a sharp line at 38, which leaves a 35.5" ribcage and a 38" ribcage wearing the same 42 band size.
A variety of oh-so-helpful online bra calculators churn out the following sizes (respectively): 36A, 34D, 34B, or 34D ("Note: many bra manufacturers, especially in the US, will add four, five, or even six inches to the band size." No they won't, they'll just tell you they are and then look at you like you're insane when you could shove an extra person into your bra band with you.).
Then there are the bra calculators from people who appear to be aware of all these crazy problems (by which I mean linked to by or embedded in blog posts by the aforementioned enraged internet denizens) and do something akin to measuring your ribcage, measuring your bust, calculating your cup size from the difference, and then finding a band that seems appropriate (this is actually much easier and much more in line with actual bras; why do women's magazines and manufacturers cling to their varied and silly ways?), which would put me at (respectively) 30DD, 30DD-E (if I want a "very snugly"-fitting band) or 32D ("moderately snugly"), 30C ("Please note that we do not use the plus 4 method, so this calculator may not be suitable for women up to a C cup." Funny, I thought this adding-extra-inches-everywhere method (though five everywhere I actually saw, it's frequently referred to as "plus-four") was least likely to work for people up to a C cup...), or anywhere from 32C to 32B to 34AA to 34A depending on how I round each half-inch.
Oh, that cleared up everything. I can wear a 30C-E, 32B-D, 34AA-D, or 36 from negative cup sizes through an A. (It's especially worth pointing out that nowhere (at least not these manufacturers!) actually carries 30" bands in cup sizes over B, 32 in over a C, 34 in less than an A, or 36 in less than a B.)
It's especially interesting that most of these manufacturers or sites explain how to determine poor fit -- the band shouldn't ride up (too big), breast tissue shouldn't spill over (cup too small) or gape (cup too big), straps shouldn't fall down (cup too large) or cut into your shoulders (cup too small, I assume). Combining any manufacturer's sizing guidelines with their fitting guidelines leaves one entirely throwing one or the other out the window. As I said before, CK and Gap bras more or less fit at 34 C but their bands ride up (especially when they stretch) and there's tissue spillage. So I should go down to a 32" band and up to a D to find the proper "sister size" (a 34C and 32D and 36B theoretically all permit the same volume of breast tissue; since cup size is dependent on band size it's not an absolute measure of anything on its own). Then, assuming the 32D does actually fit my breasts themselves the same as the 34C, I should go up another size to eliminate the spillage issue. This puts me at a 32DD, which neither manufacturer carries. A 32D doesn't fit in either (pushes half my breast out my armpit), nor does a 34D (simultaneously leaves me with armpit boob and front cup gapping).
The internet community of women who care about these things loudly encourages everyone to get a professional bra fitting (not at a department store, where it will be more of this +5 nonsense and/or advising you they don't carry your size) and then special order bras (by the truckload--preferably from England--since every manufacturer differs). Which is absolutely insane, given that I'm actually perfectly normal and average body and chest size. I should not need to special order undergarments unless they are actually building them bespoke. Bra companies are simultaneously completely failing to provide bras for large women (which we all knew, I think, given that I have never in my life seen a bra in a store with a cup size larger than DD, and I'm not sure I've seen any band sizes over 42), small women, medium women, and anyone else. What with sister sizing, there is a terribly narrow range of actual breast proportions that are acceptable. (If 32D = 34C = 36B = 38A, you can really only have about one cup size's worth of variation before you run out of appropriate band sizes on either end even if you're a smallish to mediumish band size to start.)
So yeah. I feel like I should spend today trying on every single bra the Victoria's Secret in my mall has and then yell at them about how their sizing chart doesn't reflect reality (even though that gets closer to a bra size I would actually wear, I know from experience the bra sizes they recommend for me aren't the size of their brand of bras that actually fits me) and then dissolving into tears while throwing bras across the store. Or taking fitting-room pictures of me wearing the size bras manufacturers recommend and sending them to them with "???!!!!" captions. Or going up to hapless sales clerks and asking them whether they think I'm a 36 negative-A or 36 negative-B, because I'm between sizes, you see, and don't know which way to go.
Instead I'm likely going to just keep wearing my crappy Old Navy sports bras (size: medium) and stretched-to-hell ill-fitting underwires. So keep the sanctimonious moralizing to yourself, cheery women's magazines citing astonishing "studies" of huge percentages of women who don't know how to even fit themselves for a bra. Those who do know how to fit themselves can't find bras to wear, and those who don't have a good freaking reason. (Isn't capitalism supposed to solve these problems?!)
Or, you know, I'll actually turn into a bra burning feminist.