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When I logged onto Bandit, one of the many new startups aiming to bring bra shopping into the digital age, I was expecting to take an extensive quiz, picking my boob shape out of a lineup or answering questions about my current fit problems.
To my surprise, I found none of that. Choosing a bra at Bandit, which specifically caters to women with larger chests with an affordable subscription model, doesn’t involve any algorithms, as startup True & Co. is known for, or the types of surveys you’ll find on ThirdLove or Adore Me. Instead, using the site’s “Find Your Size” section, you input your rib cage and bust measurements yourself (yes, you’ll need a tape measure) and click to get your “true global size.” There was nothing crazy or shocking about the process — until my size was revealed.
Bandit told me I was a 30G. And when the two bras I ordered arrived, the labels said 70G.
Bandit uses what it calls “global sizes,” or what’s really a combination of regular inches and European cup sizes. In Europe, cup sizes go by letter without any weird doubles — A, B, C, D, E, F, and so forth. The band sizes are measured by number, as in the US, but since Bandit’s bras are from Europe — the site sells styles by two Polish brands, Nessa and Gorteks — the bra labels are in centimeters.
The idea is to have the shopper focus on her raw measurements rather than whatever size she’s used to identifying as. And that’s an especially big deal for women with large breasts, says Simona Goldin, Bandit’s founder and CEO.
“There’s a lot of stigma around any breast size thats bigger than a DD,” says Goldin. When women are told they're above a DD, she says, “they feel like that means you’re overweight, that you're fat.”
Goldin believes that’s why the typical American sizing system, with its AA-through-DDD range, is basically a “novelty sizing system.” She says, “In Europe, they just go through the alphabet.”
And yet because we’re so attached to our sizes, it can be hard to let go. Like so many other women, when asked for my bra size, I respond with the declarative, identity-affirming, “I am a 34DD.” Not “I wear a size 34DD,” or “Most of my bras say 34DD.” We carry our bra sizes around as a piece of our identities, deceptively simple letter-number combos freighted with meaning.
From movies, TV, and song lyrics, we’ve been taught that “double Ds” imply sex, or at least someone with a look-at-me personality. Pop culture would suggest A cups are shorthand for shyness or immaturity. And for women with boobs bigger than a DD, an F or G cup size often just seems like a synonym for “fat.”
Thus, so many women don’t venture past D cups at all, languishing in ill-fitting bras in that murky D, DD, and DDD range. And that’s partially because once you get past size D, the system is a tangled, inaccurate mess: What’s a DD in one bra brand may be closer to a D in another, thanks to the variation or A or AAs that precede it. UK cups are another thing altogether if you happen upon a British brand, as are French cups sizes and the “EU sizes” used by Bandit and others.
“That’s the frustrating part of the bra industry, and it’s my biggest pet peeve,” says Goldin of the wildly varying sizing systems. But it’s unlikely to change soon; even if the global lingerie industry could get itself together to agree on a unified size chart, “universal sizing” has its flaws.
“Variance in sizing is necessary for ready-to-wear brands,” says Cora Harrington of The Lingerie Addict. “If a 36DD fits identically across every brand and style, what do you do if that particular bra doesn't fit you? You can't simply try another company anymore; they've all been standardized. Those subtle variations, as frustrating as they can be, are the only reason most of us can find any bra at all.”
And so the best we can do is arm ourselves with our measurements and a good conversion chart. Thankfully, more and more bra retailers these days offer such resources, from online measuring tools at traditional companies like Wacoal and Triumph to the in-depth quizzes on ThirdLove and True & Co., which promise to algorithmically conjure up your perfect bra. (For what it’s worth, they seem to really work.) Even VictoriasSecret.com features a sizing quiz these days.
Those retailers and brands may each ultimately have drastically (or subtly) different sizing. But to navigate within them, all you need is your measurements — and the refreshing notion that your cup size doesn’t dictate your identity. In fact, you’re probably not one cup size at all; you may have been wearing a B your whole life, but grab the tape measure and click to a new bra site you’ve never shopped before, and you may just be a D. And in another brand, a DDD. Or — take a deep breath — a G.
“Who cares what size you are, as long as the fit is great? It shouldn’t matter,” says Goldin. “My big component of Bandit to me is bringing that body positivity up to the front, and making sure that women feel confident in their own skin.”
That might take some getting used to, though. My size 70G bra from Bandit, it turns out, fits perfectly. But next time I’m asked for my bra size, it’ll take a concerted effort to not just unthinkingly reply, “I’m a 34DD.”