Dear Bra Manufacturers,
During my yearly statistical analysis series, I briefly explained how poor sales in certain size clusters could be attributed to poorer quality options produced by manufacturers. While the materials and craftsmanship remain unimpeachable, the fit of a bra can deteriorate rapidly depending on the size. Mainstream sizes for brands seem to include UK 32-40 C-G, and while this customer can often struggle with fit problems too, there seems to be enough options on the market to find at least one or two bras. However, venture outside the mainstream, and suddenly fit problems multiply, leaving women in these less common sizes frustrated and unrepresented. When the scaling process fails and the design no longer translates, a slew of repercussions follow. Most notably, manufacturers assume that women ostensibly have “options,” but the poor fit deters women from purchasing them, especially at full price. Alterations become a standard practice which increases the price of the bra and the potential risk of worsening the fit. In turn, women request more styles or size expansions only to have manufactures callously claim “Those sizes don’t sell well.” We have entered a dangerous cycle where women’s buying habits are being judged on the basis of the horrible selection offered by the manufacturer. If you create a product no one wants to buy, is it fair to criticize them for not buying it?
Furthermore, if a manufacturer steps outside the proverbial comfort zone to offer new sizes or styles, they are too often choosing polarizing colors or prints. For example, Freya finally expanded their best-selling padded half-cups to include GG and H cups, but the color palettes are brown and black or brown and ballet pink. Why not add a colorful solid into the mix? Moreover, Elomi offered a new longline bra up to an H cup, but the wildflower print and denim accents lacked broad appeal.
Returning to the original complaint, I want to give a cursory analysis of some of the issues I have seen as a bra fitter for several of the size clusters in question.
Women wearing 28-30 A-C sizes in particular have an appalling lack of options with precious few companies addressing their needs. Speaking more generally, many women in this cluster (although not all) have shallower, bottom-heavy breasts which create fit issues, especially for molded cups. Freya’s designs, for example, not only allow too much additional space at the top of the cup but also fail to taper the edges of their foam cups for a smoother finish. Meanwhile, the Panache Porcelain series frequently produces an awkward winkling and pulling at the center gore and base of the cup. While fantastic options exist, such as the Wacoal Embrace Lace, Natori Calais and Feathers, the Panache Andorra, and the b.tempt’d Ciao Bella, far too many brands offering bras in these sizes do not redesign the shape of the underwire and cups for the demographic. One of the challenges with this size group is providing a firm but comfortable band as well as cups which taper or fall closer to the top of the chest to prevent gaping. Foam cups need to be flexible, but the shape should not be flattening or widening.
28-32 H+ Cups
Designing a bra for the small band/large cup customers requires ingenuity because the style needs to support a heavy bust on a smaller frame. Quite a few of these women have deeper breast tissue, thus necessitating narrower underwires and deeper cups, but manufacturers usually offer wide cups and wires with short bands. As a result, the extra space on the side of the cup inadvertently functions as part of the band of the bra, which enables the underwires to rest too far back on the ribcage (see below). Furthermore, the underwires used vacillate between too firm and too flexible, the latter of which creates tacking issues. Freya suffers from this with most of their H+ cup designs regardless of band size. Not to mention, to compensate for the larger cup, manufacturers scale the height of the cup and underwire to be taller, and women who are petite, short-waisted, or have high set breasts feel as though the bra will chafe or poke their sides. Finally, strap placement expands too far on the shoulder, making it nearly impossible to wear the straps as intended. If the bra was originally designed for women in the 32-38 DD-G range, then simply scaling the bra to a 28K will not work as the body types are vastly different from your target.
34-40 H+ Cups
Like women with small bands and large cups, this size cluster also experiences issues with underwire firmness, tall sides, wide set straps, and shallow cups; however, cups can also become increasingly full in the front with underwires digging into the chest and sides. In fact, women with very close-set breasts cannot even wear high underwires because they rest on breast tissue—a fit issue completely ignored by most brands. Aesthetically, the wider wires and center gore often splay breasts across the chest too for a very wide look under tops.
38-50 A-DD Cups
Manufacturers assume all plus-size women have larger breasts, and options in smaller cup sizes can be limited. Typically, what is available features matronly, out-dated designs without an underwire. These women crave cute, sexy lingerie too, and I have seen frequent requests for push-up plunge bras to offer added shape. Similar to women in the smaller bands/smaller cups category, these customers can have shallow breasts and need styles with less upper fullness in the cup. Moreover, underwires for larger bands and smaller cups need to strike the right balance between anchoring to the body but being flexible to contour to curves, and the bottom of the bra should ideally be bandless and arched to allow room for the tummy region.
42+ Bands and E-G Cups
For women in plus-size bands with an average bust, the market provides more alternatives, but the need for bandless designs persists as does a remedy for rolling on the bottom part of the wings. The lower band of elastic flips upward as these women sit and move as if it is not firm enough to truly anchor and stay in place. In my experience, Elomi and Goddess can be particularly prone to this problem.
42+ Bands and GG+ Cups
Plus size women with larger breasts have as poor a selection as women wearing small bands and cups. Far too many legitimately need a UK H+ cup in 46+ bands but are left squeezing into something smaller. The styles are ugly, usually only available in that insulting “nude” color, and rely too heavily on the straps for added support. Wireless bras abound too, and the underwire options quickly become distorted from flipping the bra around the body.
The problems enumerated above by no means apply universally nor are they exhaustive of all the fit issues experienced; however, I felt it necessary to describe exactly what bra fitters are trying to fix. Personally, I believe manufacturers need to stop scaling the bra and start thinking of the design process in terms of size clusters. Identify the needs and wants of each cluster, and then tailor the bra to meet those demands. Be honest about the size limitations of a style because it does not matter if a bra is offered in 28-40 D-K sizing if it only works for 28-30 E-H. Stop penalizing women in the less mainstream sizes for not buying products which do not fit them properly. For example, the Panache Tango balcony bra has been used as a litmus test for sales in certain sizes on account of the 28-40 D-K size range, but the fit in many of those sizes is problematic at best. Of course, women will not purchase a bra, especially at full price, which does not work for them. Likewise, do not expand sizes in risky colors or prints. One of the best bras on the D-K market is the Panache Jasmine, and with a few tweaks, I think it would translate well to the 28 and 40 bands. Nevertheless, the prints are always so polarizing (dark mauve paisley anyone?), and women are not going to be happy about settling for an ugly bra for the sake of fit.
Perhaps most importantly, listen to your customers, both the retailers who buy from you and the women who support you. We know what works and what does not, and we can help you. Consult with women in these size clusters. Fit them with your products and listen—really listen—to their feedback. Together, we can help you improve your products, expand your lines, and gain further success. As a bra fitter, I know limitations exist with bra design, but if we collaboratively work to find solutions for these limitations, then we will succeed. Not only will you sell a great product, but you will have ensured that customers understand how much you value them.