The bafflingly prevalent +4 method of fitting bras (of deducing back size by measuring the underbust and adding four or five inches) is a relic from the very beginnings of the modern bra. The old, stiff materials used simply didn’t have enough flex for details like breathing, and the ‘right fit’ came from underbusts four or five inches bigger than the wearer’s back circumference.
80 or so years later, and things are very different. Innovations in fabric and design mean that we have the technology and engineering to enjoy accurate fitting lingerie made from material that fits to our bodies, not the other way round. A band size today will fit the band size it’s made for.
So why are some companies still adding four?
All of the top lingerie engineers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with say that above a D-cup, the plus-four method is totally inadequate for properly fitting lingerie. By adding four, the band is unable to take its 80% share of the weight, and that burden is shifted to the straps and the cups. This results in sore shoulders, overspill, bad posture, broken lingerie and a misshapen silhouette. It’s fairly damning.
But chatting with fellow fit evangelist Cheryl from Invest in your Chest, I was incredibly surprised to find that curve champions Simply Yours – one of the sponsors of the very fit-aware Curvy Kate’s Star in a Bra Competition – still actively promote the +4 method to its customers. In the ‘expert how-to video’ a poor (desperately smiling) girl was fitted in to a 34F, which sat too low on the ribcage, smooshed the breasts down at the top, and sagged at the bottom. Using Simply Yours’ method I would be back in a 34E and revisiting the days when my badly fitting bras gave me no support, felt awkward, and meant I was forced in to clothes’ sizes that swamped my relatively petite frame. That’s not good for a curvy girl’s body image at the best of times, let alone when she’s trying to buy clothes from a specialist curvy clothes shop…..
Now, it is true that not everyone will be able to wear the closest fitting band to their size. Being very skinny or fleshy over the ribs, even the age or quality of the skin there, can make such a close fit unbearably tight. In these situations, going up a back-size can dramatically improve comfort for the wearer – absolutely the most important thing. But these are variables that will affect different women in different ways and be dealt with differently. That kind of problem solving comes later in the process: the starting point for a good fit should always, always be the underbust measurement itself.
I’m a big fan Simply Yours and love what they do for curvy women, but I’m afraid I think that this time, ‘simply’, they’ve got it wrong. I’d like to challenge Simply Yours to ask their friends at Curvy Kate to help them re-evaluate their fitting standards and create a new video for their fans. Every woman – whether she’s visiting a shop or working it out from home – has the right to a standard of fit that can truly enhance their life, comfort and self-image. Isn’t that what all lingerie companies want for their customers?