Open Letter to Manufacturers: Bigger Bands != Bigger Cups

Hello Everyone,

I am not ashamed to admit that a few years ago I had no idea an H cup existed, and I am not alone.  Every week, a customer enters the shop who also has no idea companies manufacturer a GG cup, much less that she needs one.  In fact, head to your search engine of choice and enter “36HH bras,” and the selection is vastly greater than most would assume possible for a size many people do not know exists.  Are all of the options perfect?  Of course not!  However, the market continues to explore new fit techniques, to expand to better fabrics, and to create more innovative products for the market.

Now, return to your favorite search engine and look for “42A bras.”  The choices drop pretty drastically.  What astounds me most about this situation is how much earlier AA, A, and B cups became part of my bra vocabulary than a G cup did.  In the lingerie world, we often discuss underrepresented markets and consumers—of which there are far too many, but for today, I want to focus on the men and women needing 38+ bands and AA-B cups.  Part of my desire to discuss this topic stems from personal frustrations because I am researching ways to help customers who visited the shop in the past and were sized out of our inventory.  Our existing manufacturers assume anyone needing a 42 band should naturally be at least a C or D cup.  Why this thought-process is so pervasive perplexes me particularly because it stands to reason some people are not naturally well-endowed, regardless of their band size.  After all, as the small band/big cup ladies know, you cannot assume a woman is not busty simply because she wears a 24-30 band, so why is the reverse acceptable?  Women’s bodies are all different, and blanket generalizations about shape and size prevent manufacturers from accessing new customers and addressing their needs.

What’s Available

Amoena Lara:  One of the better reviewed bras in the size range.  Available in AA cups but only sizes to a 40 band.
Amoena Lara: One of the better reviewed bras in the size range. Available in AA cups but only sizes to a 40 band.

Certain sizes within this range will obviously have more choices than others, but common contenders are Ameona, Leading Lady, Anita, Chantelle, and Prima Donna.  However, the larger the band size, the fewer choices available.  Similarly, the selection for smaller cup sizes is worse than for those in the B-C range.  Stylistically, the options represent mostly unpadded bras, with or without a seam, without much detail and in basic colors only.  Or in other words:  It’s pretty bleak.  Scanning through the products for my research reminded me of how I spent my teens and early-20s bra shopping, idly staring at two bras and wondering if I wanted beige or black this time around.  Even the designs with colors or texture pale in comparison to phenomenal pieces we see in many marketplaces now.  Not to mention, many of the aforementioned companies offer more sports bras than actual bras, if they sell the latter at all in a size range.  That way, if you weren’t already upset your size is so hard to find, you now can enjoy the fact manufacturers only want to sell you a sports bra. 

The Fit Problems

While customers would be disappointed they cannot find a pretty bra in their size, I am sure having a basic style which fits, flatters, and feels fantastic would be a decent consultation.  Unfortunately, my experience and research has not been overwhelmingly positive.  First—and I have seen this firsthand with some of our manufacturers—an A cup is not an A cup.  It’s more like a B or C cup.  For the customer who originally needed the B or C, he/she can size down to improve the fit, but for the person needing an AA or an A cup, she/he now sized out of the style.  For example, far too many reviews for Leading Lady have indicated the cup sizes are exceedingly generous, leaving a trail of unsatisfied customer reviews in the brand’s wake.  Another possibility for why the cups are folding and not fitting in smaller cup sizes is that the designs, particularly those with a molded cup, are too tall.  Cups that are too tall can create gaping and puckering easily, even if the size would have been otherwise correct.  Most of these women in the AA-B cup range do not need chest-swallowing coverage, and in many cases, it’s this insistence on full coverage which causes more fit problems.  From working with these customers and researching the market, I know many of the women in this size range have shallower breasts and breast tissue extending toward the side.  As a result, styles with excellent side support from the wings as well as adequate coverage on the side of the cup help encase breast tissue while a lower coverage cup that is not too tall or open at the top prevent folding or gaping.  This is by no means the rule, but a woman wearing a 44A often doesn’t need something completely full coverage in order to give her shape and support.

Anita 5409:  A perfect example of what the market wants to sell this customer.
Anita 5409: A perfect example of what the market wants to sell this customer.

Speaking of shape, a lot of the styles tread more into a pointy or conical shape when a rounded, lifted shape would be better.  As a result, even if the bra fits and feels comfortable, the person is not happy with the silhouette under clothes.  This can be especially true for unpadded, cut-and-sew cups—a style which is not as popular here anyway on account of the lack of nipple protection and indiscreet seams.  Moving beyond issues with the cups, I have read a lot of complaints about the band, namely that they can sometimes run too tight.  As a result, the person who needed a 42A now needs a 44AA or a 46AAA.  It’s important for manufacturers to examine the unique needs of a market and work toward addressing them rather than either scaling a pattern to fit or slapping something together and expecting consumers to buy it out of frustration.  The most common requests I hear from people in this range are:  a comfortable, supportive band preferably with smoothing; lower coverage on the cups; inset straps to prevent slippage; and light padding for a rounded shape.

Leading Lady 5044:  Get your sexy on people!  A-DD Cups up to a 48 band
Leading Lady 5044: Get your sexy on people! A-DD Cups up to a 48 band

The Male Factor

Brace yourselves:  Some men wear bras.  Whether for medical or personal reasons, a growing number of men buy bras, and more than a few fall into this exact category.  Those suffering from gynecomastia may have a better selection depending on their cup size since C cups are a lot easier to locate than AA-B, but many still experience fit issues, some of which are identical to those experienced by females.  With men with gynecomastia, they may have fuller breasts, but they typically have broader chests and backs which require a superb band to provide support.  Underwires and soft cups alike can frequently fall short of encapsulating all of the breast tissue on the side.  For men purchasing bras and lingerie for themselves, they have an added issue: It’s all basic. I mentioned earlier how dreary the options were, and for men, it’s no different.  If you are experimenting with lingerie and want something sexy but you happen to wear a 40A, it’s going to be a challenge.  While there are some companies addressing this, like Homme Mystere, the size range is usually more limited, meaning men with broader chests are sized out of the frillier bras.  In fact, I would love to see a new company surface who specifically designs bras for men, both those needing them for gynecomastia as well as those who enjoy lingerie for its own sake.

Available in S-XL sizing. XL accommodates up to: 45"-50" chest
Available in S-XL sizing. XL accommodates up to: 45″-50″ chest

Concluding Thoughts

Now, I have mentioned in the past that less common sizes tend to be ignored for the sake of increasing the availability and diversity of more common sizes, and there are valid reasons why this happens, both from a retail and from a manufacturing process.  However, someone needs to be addressing these issues, and I know, as a retailer, that while this market is not going to overtake other demographics in sales, it’s still prevalent enough for me to have spent the last two days banging my head on the counter out of frustration while desperately evaluating which company deserves my inventory dollars.  In the future, I would love to see a company focusing specifically on plus-size small busts.  I have always said I would rather a company specialize on a niche market and offer exceptional products for them than to muddle through a broader range of sizes.  Ideally, this company would be a bridge line with prices and quality in the $45-$65 mark and would offer a mix of basics and pretty bras, even if the fashion is not updated as frequently as other lines.  Finally, I want to note my intention with this post is not to pit sizes against each other, merely to draw attention to an issue far too many people grapple with on a daily basis.  One of the reasons I think the full-bust market has exploded in the last several years is how many women were raising awareness about the issues, and I want to pay it forward to another market.

Erica

Open Letter to Manufacturers: Bigger Bands != Bigger Cups
Erica
Erica is a lover all things lingerie and is passionate about helping people find the bra which fits and flatters. Side passions include reading, writing, hiking, dairy-free food, walking her Jack Russell terrorists, and dying her hair everything from black to red.

24 thoughts on “Open Letter to Manufacturers: Bigger Bands != Bigger Cups

  • March 13, 2015 at 4:21 pm
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    Great post, I am in the extreme opposite direction but it’s good to learn about all kinds of underrepresented markets and I think this is the biggest one.

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    • Erica
      March 13, 2015 at 4:54 pm
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      Thanks! It really puts things in perspective for me when I see how many options I have as a 32HH compared to someone who is a 42AA. It reminds me to be a little more grateful too. Of course, there are other women in crappy markets too like those needing KK+ for example, but I think a little more awareness helps everyone.

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  • March 13, 2015 at 6:38 pm
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    “Underwires and soft cups alike can frequently fall short of encapsulating all of the breast tissue on the side.”

    So true! My partner has a reduction for gynecomastia twenty years ago. He still has some tissue that a bra would support well. However, he’s also reasonably buff and I don’t think an underwire would work very well in how in wraps and re: his pecs. If he wanted a bra, I don’t know what would work for him. The same is true for women born assigned as male, perhaps?

    Thank you for addressing this!

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    • Erica
      March 17, 2015 at 11:18 am
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      Hi Lee! That’s another good point about transwomen facing some of these same problems. It’s really hard to find a solution, and often times, people will just settle for whatever works best, which I know is frustrating. In my first “Open Letter,” I mentioned that manufacturers get into trouble scaling some of the bras, and this is very obvious with the fuller-bust market. However, I think it’s equally valid here because often times these men and women have a different shape than the customer for whom the original bra was designed. Natori is expanding to bigger bands as has Wacoal, but they often start at the C cup mark. I’m hoping that they will continue to work on expanding the cup sizes to incorporate these customers.

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  • March 13, 2015 at 9:42 pm
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    I definitely have a friend who i would guess is a 46B possibly 48A but don’t know for sure cause she’s never found anything below a C to try. She actually only wears a strapless bras to keep the too large cups from gaping. Its certainly a gap in the market that could use some attention.

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    • Erica
      March 17, 2015 at 11:23 am
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      Have her check out Leading Lady. They do carry A cups, and I would be interested to hear if they run truer to size or too generous. She may also want to check out Amoena too as they do have some available. It’s appalling what these customers must do in order to get a semi-decent fit. 🙁

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  • March 15, 2015 at 8:42 am
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    I always learn something from your posts, Erica!

    I’m looking forward to learning more about Sojourn. You probably have already heard of them, but I was so surprised that their initial size range extended to a 40 band (for one) and _also_ carried the full A-DD/E cup range all the way through the 40 band.

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    • Erica
      March 17, 2015 at 11:39 am
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      Actually, I hadn’t heard for them, but I love the look of those longlines! Very attractive! The colors are lovely too, and I would love to hear more about fit and quality. It’s always good to have another company to recommend to customers. 🙂

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  • March 15, 2015 at 9:25 am
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    Check Samanta.eu with A335 style, A479 and other with sizes you are looking for
    Marzena

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  • March 15, 2015 at 2:07 pm
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    One of my best friends fits into this category, while I’m the complete opposite (similar to your first commenter). She’s frustrated at not really being able to find *anything* in her size, much less something fun. Having experienced the difficulties in finding small band/full cup bras for myself, I definitely feel her pain and that of others in her shoes, and hope manufacturers & potential manufacturers listen!

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    • Erica
      March 17, 2015 at 11:41 am
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      Yeah, finding something that fits is challenge enough without throwing in “fun” or “sexy” in the mix. 🙁 I was a really disappointed by how many sports bras were available in these sizes but not regular bras. It really bothers me. It’s hard to explain to people that they are in a tough size range to find because you don’t want them to feel weird about their bodies, but sometimes manufacturers just take some time to listen to the market.

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  • March 18, 2015 at 9:21 pm
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    Excellent! I run a small lingerie and maternity wear store in Alaska and the number of women I’ve sized at 40-46A-B are almost as equal to the women who are 40-46KK-LL+(UK sizing). It’s so frustrating not being able to help women feel comfortable and beautiful with their bras!

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    • Erica
      March 19, 2015 at 1:23 pm
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      Your comparison is similar to what see here. Our 40-46H+ customers equal the women in the 40-46A-C cups, but the latter has to purchase bras elsewhere. I’m still doing research, but I’m really not pleased with how neglected this market is.

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  • March 20, 2015 at 9:17 am
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    As a guy who enjoys wearing lingerie, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this post Erica. I usually wear breastforms with my bras, so my 42 band size isn’t a problem then, as there are very nice bras I can wear in that range. One of the best bras for breastforms in the larger band sizes is the Elomi Amelia, in my opinion. Just a superb fit with great support. When I just want to wear a bra without forms, I need a 42A, and as you pointed out, the alternatives are slim to none. I wear the Leading Lady line in that case, the only choice I can find. I’d love to see a bit higher end line in more colors and fabrics in the larger band/small cup combination, but I really don’t see it coming from any manufacturer. As far as lingerie or bras made just for men, that’s not something I see as having much potential. Most guys who enjoy wearing lingerie desire to wear women’s lingerie and really have no interest if it’s made for specifically for men. I know that might sound a bit nonsensical, but believe me, it’s true.

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    • Erica
      March 20, 2015 at 10:41 am
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      Amelia is a pretty amazing bra in general because of the use of flexible spacer fabric. It works so well for different body types, and the underwire shape is nice too. I wish Elomi and Goddess would scale more items down to the A or AA cup because the quality of their products is much nicer.

      It’s interesting that you mention lingerie made for men may not have as much potential on account of personal preference because I have heard the same thing from other men too. Out of curiosity, if a line marketed their products to both men and women, in your opinion would that change how men felt about wearing them?

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  • March 20, 2015 at 11:32 am
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    I couldn’t agree with you more about Elomi and Goddess offering A and AA cup sizes. I am very partial to Elomi bras and panties and have several sets. I’m limited to buying only the full coverage bras when using breastforms, else the form will show outside the cup, so I’m not able to buy some of their other less full coverage styles, such as their plunge bras. If they would offer A or AA cups in at least a few of their bras, I would purchase them in a heartbeat. I am not holding my breath over this however.

    The one thing I do give credit to Elomi for is their bra sized babydolls. These do work very well for men as they offer the same large band sizes as their regular bra line and the cups are underwire. You have to use lightweight foam breastforms with these as the cups are not very supportive, but it’s the only babydoll that I could find that would work for me. I recommend these highly, for both girls and guys.

    Regarding your question about a line of lingerie or bras marketed to both men and women. No, I’m afraid that isn’t going to work either. I would consider that a unisex product with as much feminine appeal as one usually associates with unisex clothing. Wearing lingerie has many attractions for the men who choose to do so, and it simply isn’t how it looks and feels, although that is very important. It also includes the feminine appeal I mentioned before, the mystique of wearing something that is exclusively made for women. Once you say an item of lingerie is made for men, or men and women, you have essentially removed on of the most desirable aspects of wearing lingerie.

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    • Erica
      March 25, 2015 at 10:58 am
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      One of the things I encourage of all my customers and readers is to be their own advocates with lingerie companies. Please write to Elomi/Eveden or post on their FB page asking about smaller cup sizes. In some cases, I think companies like to “play it safe” with the sizes they already carry, but in others, I don’t think they realize how many people would appreciate if they expanded to incorporate more customers. I am constantly telling sales reps and anyone else who will listen what feedback I hear from customers, but I know demand from existing/potential customers would be even more appreciated.

      Thanks for the feedback on potential unisex items too! Again, I think this is an interesting discussion to have, particularly because the options can be so limited already. Using breast forms definitely increases the selection available, but you’re right that it would be nice for men to have the option of finding bras/babydolls which fit their natural breasts too.

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  • March 20, 2015 at 1:57 pm
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    Thank you for your excellent observations throughout this post, especially the paragraph regarding men. One year ago, I wrote to Goddess and asked them to consider bras sized for men, with slightly smaller cups in large band sizes. I’m a 48B-C and I immediately encountered the sizing frustrations and lack of choices you discussed. I love Goddess bras, but I think the design department is still rolling on the floor with laughter after reading my letter. Many cup sizes are larger than listed , even in C and D cups. Many of the underwire bras need more space between the cups and wider wires to encapsulate a man’s breast properly. More rounded cups would help too. Pointy cups make me look like a circus act. Goddess and Elomi would do well to offer more of their underwire bras in cup sizes smaller than D and a wider underwire. Maybe that is just a dream, but it can be done. I have been getting many more compliments on how nice my chest looks recently. The women who notice it love it. many are surprised to learn that I have gynecomastia, and that they grew naturally form medication side effects. So far everything is good. There is no shame in a man wearing a bra, especially if n=he needs one! Thanks for all your help and observations!

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    • Erica
      March 25, 2015 at 11:01 am
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      If they are laughing at your request, Paul, then they are complete idiots. That may seem a bit harsh, but the entire point of this post is to prove that there are precious few options for men and women in this size range. In an industry as successful as lingerie, you’d think they would take the feedback and find ways of a) expanding their market influence and b) taking sales from potential competitors. Eveden knows how to make a great bra, and if they can apply their skills to the AA-B cup market more, I think they would quickly decimate their competition. Never stop being an advocate or pestering them about size expansions. The more they hear there is a demand for a better quality product for this customer, the more likely they are to design it!

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  • March 27, 2015 at 11:44 am
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    I’ve had a similar struggle at my shop, Revelation in Fit. I try to fill as much of the size matrix as I can, but there just isn’t much available in the 40 – 46 A – C range. Right now, we carry Goddess and some Ewa Michalak in those sizes, but it’s very sparse. The market is wide open for someone (maybe Elomi, maybe someone new) to come in and dominate that range. We need the equivalent of Little Bra Co. for those sizes!

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    • Erica
      April 1, 2015 at 5:21 pm
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      I wouldn’t even be as bothered that the selection is lower *if* what was available was fantastic. Five or six amazing choices would be better than 12 that do not fit or flatter the figure. I mentioned it in my original open letter, but I feel like this is another area where manufacturers gauge demand based on sales without considering that some consumers do not purchase anything or want to spend extra money simply because what’s out there is not good enough. It becomes a self-fulling prophecy where the manufacturers blames the consumer for not buying without understanding why. I know when I wasn’t happy with my bras, I didn’t want to spend extra money on them or buy a lot. What was the point if I hated them anyway?

      Reply
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