Breaking Up The Sizes

This post was really kind of inspired by a great undertaking that Christine at Boosaurus took upon herself last week. She has a post up right now for smaller bust resources, and is working on a plus size blogger round up as well.

In her choice to make a list of plus size bloggers, Christine kind of ran into the problem of…..well….what classifies someone as a plus size bra blogger? On the “higher end” of band sizes represented in the blogs, we have Georgina of Fuller Figure Fuller Bust (34/36), XL Hourglass (34/36), The Curvy Pear (34), All the Epic Proportions (36),  Yours truly – me (38/40), and Bra Nightmares (40).

**If you’re a plus size bra blogger and not listed here, PLEASE comment and let us know who you are!!!**

Christine’s question was “Should 34 bands be included as plus size?”

Of course, this is a topic close to my heart, being a plus size woman. I won’t say that my size defines who I am, but it certainly makes a difference in the things that I can and do wear, as well as the lingerie options that are available for me to try. So, to me, there is a clear divide between average band sizes and plus sizes. Where is the divide?

My natural inclination is to say that plus size bands start at a 38 and go up, with “average” sizes being 32-36, and smaller band sizes being 30 and down (to 24 or whatever else is needed).  Barring limitations on construction and the fitting of bras in different band sizes, I do have reasons for thinking that this is how band sizes should be classified. Let’s not forget my growing up in American culture. This is actually a jump for me, because if you had asked me a year ago where I thought plus size bands started, I would have said a 40 band.

When I worked at Lane Bryant, we sold mostly 40, 42, and 44 bands (and they only carried the occasional 36, some 38’s and up to a 46 band), and most customers came in purchasing sizes 20-24, with of course the occasional shoppers looking for smaller or larger sizes. Hopefully we have all learned at this point that clothing size is *not* indicative of band size, but it stands to reason that someone who accurately wears a size 26 top probably isn’t wearing a 34 band. When our 46 bands didn’t fit some of the customers, we would send them to Catherine’s, which carries up to a 50 band I believe.

If you search some of the major online retailers, here are the band sizes you’re given when you look for “plus size” bras:

  • Bare Necessities: Starts their plus sizes at a 40 band up to a 56. 
  • Fig Leaves: Surprisingly offers up to a 54 band, but doesn’t designate what is plus size. A search on the site leads you to many brands that offer up to a 40 band, so it’s likely that they consider 38/40 bands to be plus size
  • The Butterfly Collection: Seemingly includes some 36’s, most 38’s and absolutely 40 bands in their plus sizes.
  • Bra Stop offers up to a 46 band; no clear distinction
  • Large Cup Lingerie only carries up to a 40 band
  • Her Room is a bunch of junk, putting the name “plus size” next to sizes 0 and what not, but I’d assume based on the brands that they show when you search for plus size bras that their idea of plus size starts around a 36/38 band size.
  • Fresh Pair: no clear distinction, but they do carry up to a 52 band

At this point, I feel comfortable saying that a 34 is definitely not a plus size band, and a 36 is really on the cusp. For reference, someone that wears a 36 band most likely (and I’m not saying definitely) wears a clothing size 12-16. Keep in mind, these are US sizes, so that’s anywhere from a 16-20 in UK sizes. Again, this is just a guestimate. Sizes vary depending on height, weight, and build.

Now if you take this even more beyond and search for brands that are specifically designated as “fuller figure” – which means that the bras aren’t just scaled up in size but are made for plus size bodies, brands such as Elomi range from a 34-46 band, Goddess 36-48 band, and Elila 34/36-50 bands just to name a few. I’m still very much looking forward to the Panache Sculptresse line.

Okay, so that’s different, right?

**Let me just say that I have a problem with websites specifically listing a “plus size” section and then only stocking up to a 40 band. What the hell is up with that??? Is a 42 band too big to be plus size? They’re totally cutting off more than half of the plus size market.**

I think that as part of this conversation, it’s really kind of impossible to ignore culture in the discussion of sizes. For example, most of the brands listed here (and retailers) are from the UK or a location that is not the U.S. The most common size in the US? A 14 (UK 18); and beyond that is plus sizes. In the UK? A size 14 (US 10).  Thanks google searches. Also, if you have more facts about common sizes, please feel free to share or contradict 🙂 Google can only do so much.

Because of the size differences that exist in the US and the UK, it would seemingly make sense to say that the UK defines women as plus size at a smaller starting point than the US does. That’s not to say that one answer is right or one answer is wrong (although, my idea of a size 10 woman is certainly not plus sized in the least – I would say that she is average).

SO, basically what I am saying is that, because of culture, a 34 band might be considered plus size in the UK, but not in the US. 

Tell me again how we make the distinction between small band sizes, average band sizes, and plus size bands?????

I suppose in all reality it doesn’t really matter how you label your band size – what matters is if your bra fits (should you choose to wear one). But, for the sake of experience, personal feelings, cultural analysis, etc…. I would say that plus size bands start at a 38 and go up, with average sizes being 32-36, and small sizes 30 and down. I could concede that a 36 is kind of that in between size.


***What do you think? How would you break up band sizes??***




17 thoughts on “Breaking Up The Sizes

  1. Oh my! What a topic! As someone who considers themselves ‘plus size’ about 14/16 dress size in North America and weighs 200lbs…I have an actual ribcage measurement of 35.5″ but have recently purchased bras in band sizes of 32/34/36 depending on the brand and style. It’s hard to say what ‘plus size’ actually is! I study Contour Fashion…and we label ‘plus fit’ for the cup sizes, anything over D…then differentiate between small bands (30 and under), large bands (40+) and then core sizes (32-38 A-D).

    • It is confusing. I recently lost a few pounds. And what I found for myself, is when I am wearing 16/18, my ribcage is about 35. When I am 14/16, it is more like 33. So at my heaviest, the “plus sized” bras never fit. My current size right now is about a 34H, while wearing 14/16 in clothing. Basically bra size purgatory.

  2. This is a super difficult subject and I think you did a great job at breaking down where the issues lie. The whole concept of what is/is not plus size is just such a complicated question. With bra retailers, it seems like searching by size is the best option, as “plus size” is so vague.

  3. Great topic!
    I think the thing is to distinguish between being plus-sized in clothing, and wearing a plus size bra – a lot of us who are definitely plus-sized in our clothing, have found that we actually do fit in the standard-bras band sizes – so in those, we are not plus size, as we don’t have to specifically look for bras offered in those sizes, like we do with our clothes.
    So I think the plus-size label for bra sizes will be most helpful for 38+, even though it will not include all the plus-size ladies in smaller band sizes. Because when it comes to availability, they don’t “need” it.

  4. Thank you so much for repeating that clothing size is *not* indicative of band size. The thing is you can have a short plump woman with a 36 underbust measurement wearing a 34 band and a tall skinny women with an underbust measurement of 32 also wearing a 34.
    Here in France, the sizes that are considered “normal” and easily available align with your definition of average. That limited range must have something to do with the fact that 80% of the women I know wear either a 32 or a 34 band.

  5. You really did a ton of reasearch!
    And yeah, it’s really difficult. Problem is that there is some correlation between body shape/firmness and band size/dress size, but it’s not direct, so we have quite wide ‘grey zone’. And I think that ideally misses and plus size ranges should be overlapping for several sizes (both in underwear and in clothes), so women could choose better fit and styles. So I think that the situaltion we have with bras when Elomi starts from 34 and Freya mostly ends at 38 is close to ideal, and with clothes – not so much.

  6. It’s tricky, for sure.

    I’m in that cusp of plus sizes area myself — I wear around a US size 16 in bottoms and a 14-16 in tops (or an XL usually.) But it depends on how it’s cut because while my base measurements usually place me solidly in a 16 on the size charts, I’m also one of those people who wears a 34 band (and I measure a comfortable 34 underbust, but can pull it tight to 32.5 thanks to recent weight loss) and my back is not that big. I also have a larger waist than underbust right now, by a few inches.

    What makes it trickier is that there’s still the bad sizing so prevalent in the US. So women who are decidedly NOT plus-sized are in 36 bands.

    I’d probably put a 38 as a plus band though, with a 36 as the bridge, with it in both categories. A 34 could be, maybe, but isn’t necessarily, as it’s more likely to be seen among non-plus-sized women (when I was a large size 12, I also wore a 34 band, although I was edging towards a 32 and probably could have worn one.)

  7. oh wow, talk about a questions with a multiple answers. I don’t like to think of bras as average or plus size because no matter how you divide the sizes it just never seems right. I think the main dividing line in bras is not necessarily band size but rather cup size. I would like to divide bras into average support and full support based on cup sizes… I know this is totally different than all bra manufacturers label but it makes more sense when you are fitting. I think over an F cup is full support regardless of band size. If you are going over a 40 band then I would say women that those women usually have to wear “plus size” clothing, so if you wanted you could then use the plus size label. But like I said I’m not really a fan of plus size bras or the word plus size. If you want to define body types I like to use the word curvy rather than full figure or plus size.

  8. Oh, I have too much to say on this topic….

    About it being cultural: First, you’d have to decide what is plus-sized in terms of clothing to even get started in terms of bras. Here in Brazil plus-sized clothing often starts at about a US size 8 (although obviously in Brazilian sizes) so what constitutes a plus-sized bra band (if women were remotely fitted into the correct size) would be very different than in the states. However, assuming that you’re talking about a US size 14/16 then it matters a lot what body type that women has. For instance, for me having rather straight hips I was only wearing a 14/16 when I was well into the obese category in terms of BMI and was around a 36 band then (if I remember correctly), probably a 34 band for 14’s and by the time I was on the cusp between obese and overweight BMI I was wearing 32 bands and a US size 8. So do you define plus-sized as purely a clothing size or where a women is in terms of health? Because there are certainly women who can be healthy that could wear 14/16’s (as in tall ladies with large bone structures and wide hips).

    The other issue with plus-sized (and this is where I think it should be defined more) is what are women’s needs in terms of clothing? A plus-sized body tends to have a higher body fat percentage so the back would be squishier and that SHOULD be taken into account when constructing a bra band. Additionally, women might need more side support in their bras and wider bra straps so they don’t dig into the softer shoulders. Now, the problem with this is that depending on a women’s age, weight loss/gain history, height and body frame she might need these items even at smaller band sizes. Due to a number of factors I have a pretty squishy back even being in the smaller band sizes and would love bras that take that into account but most bra manufacturers assume small back sizes=teens/juniors and they wouldn’t include many of these features.

    Now, if I had to pick a sort of cut off between plus-sized bras, I’d probably pick 34 bands. Mostly it comes down to my underbust survey: and where I found that 34 bands were most typical of women in the obese range and those with 35″ waists and higher. There were a few exceptions with women who wore 34 bands being overweight and I believe 1 or 2 who were at a normal weight but these were definitely the exception more than the rule. Obviously, BMI isn’t everything but waist size tends to be a more accurate measurement at least looking at size charts (Lane Bryant I believe starts at around 34-35″ waists in their size chart, for instance) so another reason that if I were a designer I would probably start plus-sized friendly styles at 34 bands. Morever, the average (there’s A LOT of variation here, though) is for a women’s underbust to be about the same size as her waist (give or take a few inches) so if plus-sized clothing starts at 34-35″ that means that plus-sized bands would need to be 34 or 36 bands.

    Certainly, there is the added caveat that there’s almost NO consistency among brands (or not nearly enough) so one women can own bands in a few different sizes…

  9. I think your initial impulse to go with 40 bands as the start of plus sizes is correct. In part because I find US bands a lot tighter than UK. Eg’s). A 40 band in Playtex, Olga, or LB measures the same as my 36 Freyas. I have two 38 Triumphs much tighter than my Freya 36s, & Lepel Fiore 36 that is bigger than any UF 40 band I’ve seen. I’m currently a 36GG/H in Freya, but today wore a 38G Lunaire that was was also snugger in the band than Freya or Fantasie.

    I’m 5′ 9″ with an hourglass shape & defined waist. When thin & in great shape, I was a 36DDD US (34F UK) & I wouldn’t consider that a plus band either. True, I don’t care for super tight bands, but i do like a comfy snug fit. I also noticed that most women I knew in the UK wore a 34 or 36 band & 36 was definitely not considered large by either the shops or the women themselves. Anyhoo, I’m the lone voice who considers a 38 – & definitely a US 38! – within non-plus range.

    • I have a friend who wears 34″ band and really thin, but she is 5’11”. On the other hand I know petite girls who are on the plump side in 32″ bands. It really depends. If only everybody could think about ‘plus size’ bras as additional support and soft tissue friendly bras, without all those emotionally loaded stuff connected with term ‘plus size’.

      • I agree. It’s great that the too big band/too small cup issue that is so common is being addressed, but I think reverse band/letter size phobia is the other side of that coin. And when a 36 or 38 band could be considered plus size, I think we’re tipping into that territory. I can think of only a small number of lean, athletic, healthy women I know who would properly fit into smaller than a 34 or 32 band, unless they are extremely petite, with a very slight frame.

    • I think that reverse band/letter phobia does exist, but it’s not very common (after all too tight bands are very uncomfortable). June aka bralessinbrasil has some statistics about that here and it looks like size of ribcage varies quite significantly for healthy and under BMI and there are a lot 24″ and 26″ ribcages in her data, yet there are some 34″ and 36″ there. May be if there had been more participants from Scandinavia it would have been more 32-36″ ribcages in healthy and under BMI.

      • Interesting point. Muscle just doesn’t compress like the fluffy stuff does. Ironic: the kind of lean, flat muscle you acquire on your back & shoulders from kayaking, snowshoeing, etc, makes you look thinner & firmer – but weigh the same if not more. And it makes sense that a fit, larger framed woman would need a larger band than a woman of the same physical size, who is a bit fluffier. That would explain why I have only gone up one band size from when I was in the shape of my life, to my current, still quite fit, but a llittle fluffier shape. =o)

  10. HI! Jenna from Of Epic Proportions here! Thanks for the mention. 🙂
    I absolutely hate the label “plus size”. I hate the term, I hate the stigma, and I hate the ambiguity, which is what we’re discussing here.
    For bras specifically, there are so many variations, I wouldn’t put any size in a plus size category. I wear a 34/36 band, and apparently I’m a 36K (UK). I’m tiny in the ribs compared to my bust. I need to wear what qualifies as “plus size” clothing, but my waist and band size fall well short of that size grouping.
    Lane Bryant and the like have made it clear that they are not here to cater to my size or fit me. I wrote about my experience with them for bras, and I *might* be able to sister size my way into their cups, as long as I have the bra bands altered. I always look at their lingerie, and am always disappointed that something which needs support from a bra band (like a cupped babydoll) only has a number size listed. And multiple sizes on the same tag to boot!
    My bustline and hips are dead-on average size or low plus in the US, but I have yet to buy a single thing from Lane Bryant – everything looks like a tent on me there. Torrid fails in bras, but at least I’ve found jeans, capris, and pencil skirts there. I wear stretchy tops from H&M, and they don’t have a plus section at all. My jeans routinely come from a chain that does not have a plus section.
    So here I am, definitely not plus size (as I’ve been told rather snottily by quite a few plus size women), yet I have a 47″ bust and 49″ hips. That’s definitely not average.
    This brings me to my conclusion; I’m not straight-sized (I hate that one, too), I’m not plus-sized. I’m CUBTI – Consistently Underserved By This Industry. I think I’ll pronounce it “cutie”.

    • I can totally relate, I think our shapes are quite similar. I have pretty much always “sized out” of LB. I can’t wear the bras, once I was properly fitted, I found out I was more like a 36H, and they never offered an H in the 36 bands. I could never wear the shirts, they mostly were too big. Or too small in the bust, and too big in the waist. Completely unflattering. The skirts were mostly matronly. I did have a handful of skirts. Dresses were too long, and fit mostly horribly. And then the pants? Well they were crappy too. I did find a few jeans over the years. Probably about 4 pairs in my 12 years of wearing 16-18. But my number one beef doesn’t even make sense. Occasionally I would find a close enough fitting pair of pants. But unfortunately, average height at LB means a 29 or 30 inch inseam. And I am only 5’4, but that was always too short. Ankle length on me. And most of their “trendy” jeans only come in average length. So I was SOL time and time again. Basically, even though on paper I was solidly in their size chart, nothing ever fit. (At my top weight, my measurements were something like a 45 (36GG) – 36 – 47.)

  11. Pingback: The Naughty Bits: Lingerie News for 2/10/13

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