(But Maybe You Should)
NB: All research described below was carried out pre-Covid — please do not put yourself or anyone else at risk for the measurement of your boobs.
After a fairly mundane chat with my friends about their bra sizes, which fluctuated far more than I had expected, it occurred to me that I had always assumed — naively, perhaps — that bra sizes were standardised. They had numbers, and I was sure those numbers represented inches, and therefore, someone who was a 32C must be a 32C (or close enough) in every shop, like with men’s clothing (which, as I understand it, are measured in inches if not subjected the ol’ S/M/L treatment). Those who usually buy women’s sizes will understand what an exciting premise this is, as currently I have clothes ranging from a women’s size 8 to a size 16 that all fit me, and items from an 8 to a 16 that don’t fit me at all.
I was sure that bras were different, and it occurred to me that I’d never actually checked. Wouldn’t it be incredible to have just one item of clothing that I could be certain would fit me every time, no matter where I bought it from? Was it too good to be true?
Like any decent scientist, I decided that the best way to confirm the hypothesis was to get my tits out. I would have my bra fitted in six different shops — three high-street favourites (John Lewis, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer’s) and three lingerie specialist stores (Boux Avenue, Victoria’s Secret and Bravissimo), compare the results and reveal, once and for all, if I could trust bra sizes ever again.
The bra I wore going in was a size 34D from H&M, a size I knew was incorrect. I would love to tell you I made this choice out of journalistic integrity to ensure a seasoned bra fitter would notice, but the truth is that it was the only bra I owned of which I wasn’t ashamed (this wouldn’t last long).
First up was John Lewis, booked in advance by appointment only, and we got down to business straight away. As soon as I took my t-shirt off, the woman looked me over, sighed, and said, “who’s done this to you?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had done it to myself, and it brought about a shame the likes of which only a mother could manage. She asked if I would prefer to keep my bra on or take it off, told me off for wiggling my boobs into the cups, and all in all, was very professional and efficient. I was measured at 32F, already a jump in cup size.
Debenham’s was next up to bat. Again, I booked in advance. The changing room was freezing cold, but I realised that I would much prefer anyone who was contractually obliged to touch my boobs to not have to touch sweaty boobs, so fair play to them. The fitter used a measuring tape and gave me a handy tip to recognise whether a bra fits correctly — when you hook your fingers under the straps, you should be able to pull them up about an inch and no further. The lighting was harsh to humbling, but the whole experience was perfectly adequate. I was sized at 32G, which was yet another cup size increase.
I headed off to the final high street hero — Marks & Spencer — with my optimism waning. It didn’t look good for my standardised size theory, but what’s a cup between friends? I had my first ever bra fitting in Marks and Spencer’s at the age of thirteen, when the bra fitter told me that I’d marry a foreign man because my nipples point out to opposite sides, which put me off showing women my boobs for a while (but not forever). The M&S fitting rooms were also cold, but as previously mentioned this may be a blessing in disguise, and had a much nicer layout and lighting, with the option to use an accessible fitting room with a seat and handrails. The fitting itself was nice enough, but the standout was the M&S Sumptuously Soft T-Shirt Full Cup Bra. This was the comfiest bra I’ve ever worn and I would award it #BraOfTheDay, a title I’ve just made up and won’t ever use again. The bra fitter showed me around the shop afterwards and was very polite and helpful, so I can happily recommend Marks as my top high street bra fitting service. She didn’t even mention my wall-eyed nipples. However, my size here was 34E — a new cup size and a new band size. Things weren’t looking good.
Crestfallen, but determined, I soldiered on to the first of our lingerie specialist brands, Victoria’s Secret. The Glasgow branch opened to queues around the block in 2018, but I had never set foot inside. I always thought that my big boobs weren’t the right kind of big boobs because they accompanied fat elsewhere on my body. Maybe this was a generalisation, but the tall, thin “Victoria’s Secret angel” marketing made my chubby little legs carry me elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong — thin people deserve nice lingerie, too — but I wasn’t sure I was their target audience. However, considering their status in underwear lore, I had to give it a shot. The shop was enormous and dim-lit, gaudy-plastic-chandelier-sexy. It was a Saturday afternoon and the place was rammed, and I could smell about six different perfumes at once, for some reason. There was nothing to indicate there was a bra-fitting service available in-store and it took me so long to wander around and find it that I forgot my family’s faces. Eventually, I found a fitting room and asked if I could have a fitting. The woman working there said yes, she could do that, and asked me to wait in a cubicle.
I had been so worn down by the day’s activities that I now yearned for someone to tell me my bra was shit and give me a new one to wear, just for a moment. What I hadn’t realised was that the fitter also had to run the changing rooms whilst fitting me, was extremely busy and actually, didn’t have time for my nonsense. She was very helpful and didn’t break a sweat bringing me bras to try, but from my experience in similar jobs I knew I would have been seething. I took the first bra she brought me and told her it was perfect, thank you, and let her get on with her shift before realising that what I thought was a 34DD was, in fact, a 34DDD. Yes, a triple D. Frankly, I found it was all getting a bit ridiculous now with the not-matching sizes. We’re at 0–4, for those playing along at home.
After the rushed and overwhelming experience at Victoria’s Secret, I was looking for luxury as I continued to the next lingerie specialist, Boux Avenue, and boy, did I find it. This was another walk-in, and I was taken to a carpeted changing room with a vintage-style phone for calling for assistance. There were three lighting options — dusk, night, and day — which were very welcome after a day of looking in full-length mirrors and over-analysing my body. My fitter was lovely and helpful, and was the only one of the day who I decided to tell about my entire experiment. She laughed very politely, which she absolutely didn’t need to do for me. The bras are all given women’s names and my gal was Avril, in a buxom 32FF. A great experience, but another new size and, by extension, another letdown.
The final stop was Bravissimo, and I was hoping for just one match at the eleventh hour to make it all worthwhile. This was a walk-in service, and I was asked to wait in a nice little couch area separate from the shop floor and given a magazine with lots of smiling curvy ladies in it to read while I waited. When I went in for my fitting, I was given a little robe to wear between bras, a lovely touch, and once again, my fitter could not have been more pleasant or helpful. The moment of truth revealed that my Bravissimo size was… a 32H. Another jump and bitter, busty pill to swallow.
After everything, unfortunately, it seems that my advice to you would have to be trying on bras in every shop that you want to buy a bra from and getting a fitting if you can, too — I now have a list of sizes for the six shops that I can consult when buying new underwear. Although the band sizes were fairly standard at a 32 or 34, the cup sizes went all the way from a DDD to an H and hit just about every size in-between. I’ve since learned that DDD is American sizing and equates to a UK E, but it’s too little too late, I’m afraid, and I won’t accept it.
Moreover, I cannot in good conscience recommend a tit-tailoring marathon as it was an exhausting exercise both physically and mentally. If you have a better relationship with your body than I do, go for it, but be warned — those Debenham’s lights will get you every time.
I have taken a few lessons from the experience — firstly, looking after your boobs and making sure you have a bra that fits you is important for your comfort and posture. Secondly, you should make friends with bra fitters as they’re either absolutely lovely or brutally honest, which we all need sometimes and is quite funny.