Bra fitting : why are companies still ‘adding 4’?

Simply Yours Ultimate Bra Fitting Guide

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?

Check out the Simply Yours advice here…

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34 Responses to Bra fitting : why are companies still ‘adding 4’?

  1. Yes yes yes! I love Simply Yours’ range and thankfully know my size in most brands, but if I were a new customer I would be getting wrong advice:( x

    • It is such a shame – they are brilliant for curves and this video could mean some women don’t get the most out of them. So surprising too given their work with your friends Curvy Kate too. Not heard a peep from them yet. Come on Simply Yours! Do the right thing for your ladies! x

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  3. sophiajenner says:

    Such a great post, you beat me to it! I’m going to do a similar one soon, I’ll link this one when I do. I am such a Simply Yours fan, but cannot bear that they keep measuring in this way. You’re so right when you say “revisiting the days when..” the thought of going back into a 34, or actually a 36 which is what SY suggests for me, is just a bra disaster waiting to happen. I am grateful everyday when I put on my bra, that it’s a tight supportive fit 😛 xx

    • Thanks! Apparently it’s with Simply Yours’ fitting team right now so the more pressure we bloggers put on them, the more chance we have of getting their curvy customers better served! x

  4. Sonnenblume says:

    You are so lucky that the british system officially adds 4 to the measurement. If a women measures 34 inch, it is easy to tell her to wear a 34 instead of a 38.
    In Germany, when a woman measures 34 inches = 85cm, official tables tell to wear a 85-size. Using your recomendation, I would have to tell her, that she has to subtract 10cm, and to wear a 75 bra.
    I wish manufacturers would simply sew their bras according to their tables …

    • Wouldn’t it be easier to sew labels of the sizes they are? My Freya bras are 30 inches/65cm and I know it’s my size without having to do maths! x

      • Zoggi says:

        I think the issue is that in the UK/US we can easily say that a 30 inch bra fits a 30 inch ribcage, but a 65 bra is not 65cm, it actually measures 75cm stretched. (30 x 2.54 = 76.2)
        The european standard basically converts the old “add 4” method into metric and negates the addition of any inches, thus setting in stone the fallacy of the old measuring formula. This makes it a lot more difficult to convince anyone that they need a smaller band size, because we’re told that a 75 band fits 75cm, when it’s actually too big for somebody that size. If you take a 34 bra and measure it, it will stretch up to 34 inches. Take a 75 bra and it will actually stretch up to 80cm, but of course the EU standard doesn’t specify that the bra should measure the stated size *when fully stretched*

    • Zoggi says:

      If bras were actually sized according to the conventional measurement system, then an A cup would fit a bust measurement 5-6 inches bigger than the raw underbust measurement! As you can imagine, this would be problematic for anyone with a smaller than average bust… With the current situation, fitters can measure people and add 4 inches to make sure they end up no bigger than DD and no smaller than 32, but if they come out smaller than A cup they can put them in a smaller band size (eg if they “measure” smaller than 32A they can fit them in a 30A and it won’t be too tight.) On the other end of the scale, they can fit people into a DD cup by sizing up the band, when they actually need a smaller band and larger cup. The only area where a bigger size range is unavoidable is when both the band and cup need to be larger, which is why the DD+ lines usually start at 34.
      Basically, the whole idea of measuring people this way is a big con to get the majority of women to fit into the smallest possible size range of bras. It’s cheaper if you only have to make them in 18 – 24 sizes.

      • En Bouton says:

        “If bras were actually sized according to the conventional measurement system, then an A cup would fit a bust measurement 5-6 inches bigger than the raw underbust measurement! As you can imagine, this would be problematic for anyone with a smaller than average bust…”

        This method gives me 30A for my 28DD/E bust, so yes, it is problematic! If I wasn’t sure of my size and used this method to order bras online, it would not turn out well. As for the people who are *actually* a 30A, adding 4/5 inches would probably give them something like 32AAA…

        I’ve also seen instructions saying you should add 5 inches if your underbust is less than 33″, but only 3 inches if it’s 33″ or more. I’m guessing this allows manufacturers to fit more people into a size range that ends at 38?

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  6. Zoggi says:

    After watching the simply yours video, I think the crucial thing that companies are not being consistant on is the *way* that they measure. It’s all very well to say “add x inches” or “just use your underbust measurement” but by not specifying exactly how the measurement is taken, people are left guessing and they end up with a totally different size. The Simply Yours video tells us to breathe out and pull the tape measure as tight as possible. For me, this would be 27 inches, meaning that I’d be in a 32 band. I actually wear a 30, so it’s only one size too big. Most companies tell their customers to add 4 or 5 inches, but they don’t say anything about breathing in. If I use a comfortable measurement of 30 inches, I would end up in a 34 band which is way too big.

    • Zoggi says:

      sorry, that should have read: “they don’t say anything about breathing out”

    • No, this is true – and also I take your point about the euro sizes: UK brands selling to Europe have 65cm measurement for 65cm bands, but it’s absolutely impossible to find Prima Donna etc in a small back size because they come up so massive. It shouldn’t be that confusing. Can’t help thinking that the reason Freya, Panache and Bravissimo are all doing so well is because they’ve simplified the process and give simple and clear guides to getting a perfect fit. Long may they reign…

      • Zoggi says:

        I’m not sure what you mean by UK brands having a 65cm measurement for 65cm bands. All my bras (both UK and European brands) are labelled “UK 30 Euro 65” so it is clear that a 65 is equivalent to 30, but 65cm is not 30 inches. 30 inches is 76cm, not 65. The European sizing system is based on the idea that it’s simpler not to have to add anything to the measurement, but it’s still the same as the old “add 4” system, just converted into metric. This is why a 30 is a 65 even though 30 inches does not equal 65cm, and if you want the same fit that we get from not adding the 4 inches, you have to subtract 10cm from your metric measurement.

      • This is wildly embarrassing but does explain my total confusion: an unfortunate incident with a tape measure in a tiny changing room meant I thought 65 was 30 and that Freya and Panache were trying to streamline the EU sizing to make more sense. But no, they are subtracting 10 (while France add 5 – even stranger). Why not just label it the size? Thank you for setting me straight – though I’m clearly mortified! Think when I’m back in Amsterdam I need to try and make more sense of these EU sizes. Though all the 65s I’ve tried in EU have been absolutely massive – do you find yourself subtracting 15 to get a decent fit?

  7. I’m an ex-pat Brit spreading the big-boobed gospel in Canada and it is an uphill battle to stop people using this archaic form of measuring. I only sell larger cups so it’s essential that the band is right. The two big department stores in Canada still profess the add 4-5 inches as the approved method – maddening!! So many of my customers have been fitted into a loose band by a ‘professional fitter’ so I have a job re-educating women – but who doesn’t love a challenge!! I’m doing an interview this a blogger in Nova Scotia so hopefully I can start to revolutionize the band measurements over there! Keep pushing the message that this is out-dated and damaging fitting advice – THANK YOU!!

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  9. Zoggi says:

    @ bustsforjustice (there’s no reply button)
    At the time that the EU standard on bra sizing was drawn up, the “add 4” system still reigned supreme, although it didn’t work any better than it does now. The powers that be decided that the number on the label should refer to the actual measurement (makes sense) but rather than go back to the drawing board and come up with a measuring system that actually works, they simply converted the “add 4” system into metric *facepalm* so you end up with the same size that you would get by adding 4 inches. For example, if you measure 30 inches/75 cm, you would either add 4 to get your UK size or use the metric measurement to get your EU size, hence a 34 back is equivalent to a 75. Of course, we know that adding 4 inches means you end up with a bra 2 sizes too big, so if you’re measuring in cm you need to subtract 10cm.

    • ‘metric facepalm’ might be my favourite phrase ever! It is crazy how we have just piled confusion over confusion: I wonder if a brand would be confident enough to ‘etch-a-sketch’ bra sizes back to the underbust and start all over again… What a selling point it would be!

      • Zoggi says:

        I fear that if the industry was forced to admit that adding inches makes no sense, then we would just be back to square one. They would still add the inches, just change the label size so I’d have to start wearing a 26 instead of a 30 (I measure 29.) This is what happened with the EU standard, the idea was that the label size should correlate to the actual measurement, but the people who drew it up just copied the old system, just without the need to add inches. The fact is, the industry is happy for women to wear the wrong size bra as long as they spend money, so the idea of making the band four inches looser than it needs to be allows them to fit people into a narrower size range. Forcing them to change the sizing so that the band size matches the underbust measurement would just mean that our bras would suddenly become four inches larger.

    • KJ says:

      I just wanted to say thank you for the clear explanation. I’ve been wondering why the conversion of band size between inches and cm doesn’t match… This makes sense.

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  14. DW says:

    While I’m 9 months late for the conversation, I wanted to thank you for posting this… I’ve been boggled for years by “correct” bra measurement. If they even gave a reason… but no, an arbitrary +4, trust us, we’re experts, and that’s it. I have no patience with tight-lipped “experts” anyway.

    I’ve had about a 37″ rib cage for years (with a 48″ bust, talk about needing support) and until recently wore a 38″ band size because otherwise the ladies, being not the most perky of their kind, would be leaking under the band. Even in a more rigid bra, this is true. I put on a little weight and found a 40″ was more comfy, even though I’m still measuring 37″ (don’t ask me, I just use the tape measure). I finally did a search and am pleased to find someone else who can’t understand this strange determination to get women to add so much. A 42″ band would have me tugging and tucking all day.

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  16. Nic says:

    I am also late for this discussion but I came across this whilst trying to find a size guide for my 12 year old daughter. About four years ago I had to have a bra fitting following an operation, I had been wearing a 38 C cup for years, I was amazed to discover that I had been wearing the wrong size bra for most of my adult life. I went into a 36 E cup and immediately my posture and comfort improved. Since that fitting my shape has slightly changed and I currently wear a 34 F or FF, it is amazing how a correctly fitting bra improves your shape and your confidence. I have wandered off point and I apologise, my daughter has been wearing a 32 or 34 B cup for some time now. Recently I noticed that she has slimmed down round her torso so I decided to take her measurements, and see how well her bra’s were fitting her. She is measuring 29 under her bust and 33 on her bust line. The majority of size guides online are putting her in either a 32 or 34 A cup !! I’m astonished by this .. if she tried to wear an A cup she’d be spilling out all over the place and an underbust band would ride up under her arm pits. A 34 A is so completely wrong for her, even I can tell that is never going to be the right size. Tomorrow we are going to buy her some new bras and we will be going into a lingerie shop with trained fitters and I am assuming we will return home with one or two bras which will probably be either a 28 or 30 D or maybe DD cup size. At 12 she’ll probably be horrified to be in a bra with such a large cup size but that has got to be preferable to having ‘saggy tits’ when she is in her 20’s which many of her classmates will have due to not having the correct support at this age. I’ve been trying to get my Mum into a correctly fitting bra for ages so I’m taking her along with us, she needs to be fitted also. Thank you for reading this .. and thank you for writing this post.

  17. Brianna says:

    Hi! I would like to cite the information about the old sizing system being because of inflexible materials, but I’m not allowed to reference a blog. Do you have the reference you got the information from? I can only find the reason of vanity sizing on wiki. If you could get back to me ASAP, that would be great. Thank you so much for your blog!

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  19. Bethany says:

    I was the Curvy… website looking at their bra size help, and their information these days still says to add inches, and to start with your old cup size and go up or down cups according to you “new” band size. Which is still unhelpful since if you’re staring with a wrong cup size, you’d still likely end up with a wrong cup size doing this, but whatever.

    The thing that got me was that in their help video, they’ve got a model who is wearing an incorrect 38C bra. She measures and comes out at 29.5″ in the underbust. Her new, “correct” size is 34DD. So, ok, she went down two bands and up two cups, but why on Earth was a woman who is only 29.5″ around in a 38 band to start with?? If you’re adding 4, then she’d have needed to be 34″ in the underbust for a 38 band to be anywhere near close to fitting correctly. There has never been 4.5″ of hooks on any bra I’ve ever bought, so surely she would have bought something with a smaller band by the time she’d lost 4.5″ off of her ribs.

    Add in that they have no nursing bras over a 40 band on a site for plus size lingerie and I don’t know that I’d be trusting their advice on what to wear.

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