March 07, 2015

Four Ways of Measuring

How exactly do you measure to determine a bra size? There are four methods that I know of and each one has its merits and pitfalls. 

METHOD 1 - RIB CAGE AND FULL BUST
This is the method used by bra fitters in retail stores everywhere. In fact, almost every website tells you to use this method to determine your bra size. Take your rib cage measurement directly under the bust. Add 4 or 5" (some websites say to add 6") to determine your band size. So if my rib cage measures to an even number such as 32", I would add 4" to obtain a band size of 36. Or according to some websites adding 6" would result in my band size being 38. If my rib cage is an odd number such as 33, I would add 5" for a band size of 38. 


Then, measure the full bust - that is the fullest part of the bustwithout compressing the breast tissue. Let's say that is 40". I then subtract the band size from the full bust measurement and I should come up with my cup size. So 36 from 40 is 4". Each cup size is equal to 1" so A=1", B=2", C=3" and D=4". If my band size is 36, then I would be a D cup. However if I used my band size as being 38, then my cup size would be B. So you can see where this method has a big downfall.




Understand that these measurements do not always tell the whole story. if a woman has a very small rib cage or a very wide back, these measurements will skew the bra size to appear larger or smaller than they actually are. 

METHOD 2 - HIGH BUST AND FULL BUST
This is the method recommend in my bra patterns where someone has only a tape measure and a mirror (and not their Fairy Bra Mother!) at their disposal. This method of determining bra size works very well for most women I use the High Bust Measurement (above the bust but still under the arms), and add NOTHING to determine the band size. After measuring over 10,000 women, I still find I am far more accurate measuring the high bust rather than the rib cage. I simply round up or down the high bust measurement to the nearest even number.  So in my case, I measure 36" on the high bust, so my band size would be 36. A 35.5” high bust measurement would also indicate a 36 band.


I still measure the full bust, but I subtract the high bust from the full bust, with 1” of difference equaling A cup, B cup is 2”, 3” is C cup and so on. My full bust is 40" so my bra size would be 36D with this method.


But once again, there are always some for whom the measurements don't tell the full story. if a woman has a very small rib cage or an athletic build, the high bust measurement can be skewed a little. 

METHOD 3 - BOTTOM CUP DEPTH
I have a third way of measuring – in fact, it is a very accurate and sure-fire way of measuring, but the downside is that you have to have a bra that already fits to do this. First measure the high bust to determine the band size. Remember that is over the bust, but under the arms. 


This method for sizing uses the Bottom Cup Depth. The Bottom Cup Depth determines the overall volume of the bra cup. No other measurement is as important as this one. This is the distance from the bra bust point to the bra wire line measured on the true vertical. You must wear a well-fitting bra in order to take this measurement.


In a perfect world, the bottom cup depth on your bra should measure the same as the bottom cup depth on your naked breast, but it often doesn't - because of the breast density and degree of flaccidity.The nipple will drift downward as the breast loses its self-supporting ability, which means that even if your bra size does not change over the years, your BCD will still decrease as you age. Nothing stops gravity.  So it is imperative to wear a bra that fits (not a foam lined bra, or a sports bra either). The bra is actually placing the nipple in the ideal location.

The Bottom Cup Depth (BCD) increases by 1/4” (6 mm) per size in not only my patterns and other commercial bra patterns, but as an industry standard.

Using the chart below, find the BCD in inches that corresponds to your own Bottom Cup Depth (measuring the bra from the nipple to the wire line directly below it. On each line, you will find the Pin-up Girls bra pattern sizes that correspond with that BCD. Just use the band size along the line that equals your high bust measurement. For me, that is 4" BCD and 36" high bust, so 36D

BC depth
Bra Sizes that use this BCD
2.25
30A
32AA
34AAA



2.50
30B
32A
34AA 
36AAA 


2.75
30C
32B
34A
36AA
38AAA

3.00
32C
34B
36A
38AA


3.25
30D
34C
36B
38A


3.50
32D
36C
38B
40A


3.75
30E
34D
38C
40B
42A

4.00
32E
36D
40C
42B
44A

4.25
30F 
34E
38D
42C
44B
46A
4.50
32F
36E
40D 
44C
48A

4.75
30G
34F
38E
42D
46C
48B
5.0
32G
36F
40E
44D
48C

5.25
30H
34G
38F
42E
46D

5.5
32H
36G
40F
44E
48D

5.75
34H
38G
42F
46E


6.0
36H
40G
44F
48E


6.25
38H
42G
46F



6.5
40H
44G
48F



6.75
42H
46G




7.0
44H
48G




7.25
46H





7.5
48H






Do not be discouraged if your ready-to-wear bra size and your bra pattern size are not the same. If the Bottom Cup depth is the same, the cup will fit the same way.

If you are using another bra pattern other than mine (and really...how could you?), check the BCD on your ready-to-wear bra against the pattern that you have. Make sure you are measuring between the seam lines, and not to the outer cutting line of the pattern.  If the Bottom Cup Depth of the bra pattern is the same as yours, you are in business!



METHOD 4 - SAMPLE BRAS
The fourth and final method is the method I use in all my classes. This is the most accurate method of measuring but it is only used by custom bra-makers and of course bra-making teachers (myself included). I have a set of sample bras in every BCD size. Once you get used to guesstimating the size of the breasts, you can quickly put a woman in a bra size that fits. My rule is to use the bra size that fits the best with the least alteration.

So there you have it - 4 different methods to determine bra size. Which method do you use and have you tried these others? I want to hear from you!

25 comments:

  1. This is the first time I have seen the bottom cup depth method. It puts me at 34AAA. Method 1 & 2 put me at 34B. I find 34B wires to be the best fit but there will always be too much volume in the cup for me....guess that is why I sew my own!

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    1. Ha! Ditto here, and I suspect similar stories for a lot of women in our size range. Though my sizes by the first two methods are 32AA and 30A, there's no way I could wear them--I quad-boob out of a 30B, and a 32 band rides up my (28") back, but my breast tissue's spread all over my torso, with wide and tall roots. I make a 30C and reduce bottom cup depth...and now I'm going to need to look up how much I reduced it, because I'm curious if it aligns with Beverly's table. :)

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  2. Making your own means you can customize the wire as well as the cup and the band...and the bridge width!

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  3. Great article! Tomorrow night I'll have to try them all. Unfortunately at the moment the best fitting bra i have is a (thin) foam one with no seams, but I'd really like to be able to sew one and get it to fit. I must do it! I have both your craftsy class and a pattern of yours I win last year on Erin's giveaway, so no excuses!

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    1. You can do it! Once you have a bra that fits, you'll never settle for anything less!

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  4. Beverly, this is a brilliant post, very helpful to all of us. Thank you. I can't wait to see your next class on Craftsy and after that the next one and the next one... ect.

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    1. Actually, the second class Sewing Bras: Designer Techniques is scheduled to release tomorrow, March 9! I hope you enjoy it!

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    2. Woohoo! Look forward to it!

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  5. Terrific addition to bra fitting. I always found it suspicious that a 3 dimensional object was determined with 2 measurements. Seems impossible. I also think that measurements should include a consideration for breast width. I suppose that is covered with wire widths. Thanks so much for article. Look forward to the Craftsy class!
    Anne

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    1. You are correct - the width (diameter of the wire) provides the third measurement in order to complete the draft of the cup itsslf

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  6. Thanks for this post Beverly! Method 1 is a disaster for me - yields a 38F. Method 2 HB and FB yields a 34J, which is too big.
    Method 3 BCD is closest, yielding a 34G (which is too small cup, too big band for me). In the Shelley pattern I adapted the 32H to fit by widening the bottom of the band about 1" total, and moving strap attachment downward, which effectively decreased upper cup volume a bit... yielding a pretty decent fit. Omega shape issues :) The Shelley bra is a truly great one! I wish you offered them in PDF format to save us on shipping costs!
    LP

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    1. Agreed, PDFs please!

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  7. This is very helpful information. The BCD may be the thing that helps me zero in on my correct size. Method #1 is a total disaster for me. It isn't even in the ballpark. Method #2 gets me in the ballpark, but it isn't exact.

    You mention using sample bras to access starting size in your classes. Do you ever rent these sample bras out? This would be very helpful for those of us who cannot attend a class.

    I made a couple of tester cups for the PU Girls Classic bra, and from a bra kit I cut the one that seemed right. Before I could sew it up I lost a large amount of weight. I am going to have to start over with sizing. I sure hope that I am still in the size range of patterns I purchased. If not I guess I buy new patterns for the Classic and the Shelley (which is the actual style I intend to use once I have a well fitting pattern).

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  8. Is the wire line (for determining BCD) the top of the casing, the bottom or mid-way? Thanks!

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    1. Great question! Measure from the seamline between thee cup and the wire. If there is no seamline there (as in a partial band bra) then measure from the topstitching along the inside edge of the wire to determine the BCD

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  9. Hello Beverly! I found this very interesting! I have been a bra seller for 4 years in total, in a big department store and a smaller chain, and as you point out we use method number 1. But I have never come across the advice to ADD width from your ribcage or under-bust measure. this is unheard of in my business, we REDUCE it! I find that a bra usually fits excellent if between 10 and 15 cm is taken off. That is 4-6 inches. (And we follow every single customer into the fitting room and look at them wearing the bra, and a customer usually tries on 4-10 bras to get a good fit, so I have seen a lot of bras! )
    Now, this measuring method do have some negative effects too. The bra band will fit very tight around the body, often causing quite bit of flesh sort of "oozing out," mostly in the back. The customer has to be convinced that this is not a problem with the bra size, but her amount of time spent in the gym :)
    There is also a limited number of producers that make a sufficient number of sizes, especially the ones most needed, with a small band ( sizes 30 and 32) with large enough cups ( let's say DD-G) so I sometimes ended up not having the size the customer actually needed.
    So all in all, a less serious seller, with a limited number of models, types and shapes, (as in a small chain selling only their own brand ) may end up not being totally honest with the customer.

    But I live in Sweden, and my bra selling all took place in Stockholm, and habits can be different in other countries? I have actually never asked for bra- advice anywhere else so this is just from my limited horizon.

    But apart from that little surprise I find your instructions absolutely clear and correct, so keep on the good work!
    I have myself only just started to try to make bras, and it's an exciting new area to say the least!
    Best regards, Tina

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    1. I have found that European bra manufacturers differ greatly from their American counterparts, so that's why you can subtract and we have to add. That's why it is frustrating to buy bras, as a customer is almost always on their own, unless they have a good bra shop nearby that has trained fitters.That's why we sew our own - to customize the fit!

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  10. Hi fairy bra mother,
    I have your pattern, and I have ordered a kit I love the colour Fuchsia pink . and would love to have a go. I am not what you call competent at sewing person .
    I have searched for a bra to fit for years.
    I have breast feeding tissue under each arm which in it's day gave milk.I am now 62 years so my breast tissue is limp almost fluid.
    When you talk about getting all the tissue into the bra where does this put me. I am a small framed person and I seem to be around a 30 E or DD ,when I mesured your way I came out at a 32 C, but it is not a fit I have to much tissue.
    Is it better to have the extra breast feeding tissue outside the bra or in. the 30 E seems to fit better( Freya ) but the top cups are loose, whilst standing but if I bend over the breast tissue fits into the bra cup. Hence what I said about fluid tissue.I am sure you have come across women like me but I am not sure what to do. the kit I ordered was for 30 E. Help please

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  11. The breast tissue should ideally be inside the bra cup, and sometimes it takes a few months to re-direct it in there even with a correctly fitting bra. What did you measure using the BCD method. I suspect you will be the 30E and perhaps without any more info on my part, that would be the place to start. I don't use DD (that is E in my patterns)

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  12. I've wanted to take your first Craftsy class for a long time, but none of the pattern sizes sold on your site will fit. I'm a very large woman and always have a hard time finding bras to fit me. My underbust is about 55-56", so if I add 4-6" to that, I don't even think they make bras that big. Another issue is measuring the full bust. Since there is a lot of "side fluff", that measurement is hard to get and isn't really a good indicator of how big my breasts are. The "fluff" goes all the way around the side into the back, so the measurement ends being around 65". Some of that can be scooped into a cup, but not all of it, so I'm not sure how to find out my proper size. I currently buy 54C or 54D, which has pretty limited options and none have underwires. I buy front-close bras because it's impossible to reach around back to close a bra. Is it hopeless? Do I just stick with ready made bras?

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    1. No it is not hopeless but your best bet would be the use the Bottom Cup Depth method of measuring. That will allow you to see how large the actual breast is (in volume, so to speak) apart from the band size. Once you find the equivalent cup that fits, we can easily make the band larger as needed. Don't give up on this - I am certain we can get you into the right pattern!
      It may take a bit of customizing but the results will be well worth the effort!

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  13. Hi Beverly; I have your Craftsy pinup pattern. This posting was very informative as I too have side tissue that refused to get with the program and spills out over the sides. You mentioned that with the proper bra it could be trained back into place, so this gives me hope. Also wondering if there is enough fabric in the kit for me to make a panty or should just order more of your fabric??

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    1. The duoplex in the kit is not very stretchy, not nearly stretchy enough for panties. You could, however use a bit of it as a front panel, just to get the colour and fabric into the panties as trim.

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  14. I measure 37.5" rib cage, 42" high bust and 48.5" full bust. my bra cup depth is 5" and my wire size is 54, what size should I actually make, because if I use the wire size i'm a 42 H, if I use the high bust subtract the full bust I'm a 42 F/G, and if I use the bra cup depth I'm a 40E or 44D, please help me choose?
    thanks,
    T

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    1. I trust the BCD more than anything, unless there is a huge difference between that 40E/44D and your RTW size.
      What size are you in RTW. You didn't mention that. I would advise you purchase the purple pattern and start with your ready to wear size. The pattern has 20 sizes in it, so you can assess the fit of the first try and go from there.

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