Thinking about cup sizes

[Drafted this post and then I saw this news article today – 600 year old linen bras found in a castle in Austria (!)]

I’ve been on a bra-fitting odyssey recently; hang with me for a second and it’ll wind back around to topics sewing-related. I knew the supposed factoid that more than half of American women are supposedly wearing the wrong size bra, but as it always goes you figure that must mean other folks, not you. But I was monkeying around online and found a bra size calculator (at butterflycollection.com) that gave a different size than I usually wear. So I ordered some bras to try and a couple worked pretty well – they are one band size down and two cup sizes up from my previous size.

So apparently I was one of the woman wearing the wrong size bra. It’s a different silhouette that to be honest I’m not used to yet – I feel like I’m all boobs now when I look at myself in the mirror. The received wisdom is that it’s better to look busty than chunky, but I’m already chunky so I’m not sure I want to be both!

If you’re interested in bra sizing the blog busts4justice.com is a great place to get info. The usual advice about how to figure your bra size is to add 4-5 inches to your underbust measurement to get your band measurement, but this blogger convinced me, at least, that that is nutballs, and you should forget adding inches and just start from the exact underbust measurement. This reminds me a lot of how a lot of new sewers start with a pattern size that matches their full bust measurement, but then learn that for most of us that results in something that’s way too big in the shoulders and it’s better to start with a smaller size and do a full-bust adjustment (AKA the famous FBA).

All this got me thinking about cup sizes in sewing patterns. Most sewers know that the big American pattern companies use a B cup in their drafting, although they now offer some patterns in multiple cup sizes, and the indie pattern companies all have their own tendencies and figure types.

But here’s the thing – the way cup sizing works is a little weird. In bras, cup size is relative to band size. A 36D is equivalent to a 38C is equivalent to a 40B in absolute volume of the bra cups, or at least it’s supposed to be. So as lovely as multiple cup size patterns are, they don’t really make sense if you think about it. If, say, you’ve got sizes 16-22 and cup sizes B, C, and D all in the same pattern, the pattern will have different tissue patterns for each of the cup sizes, ranging across the size range. But, according to bra sizing, a 16 D should have the same room in the bust area as the 18 C, although with different shape in the rest of the bodice, the shoulder, etc. In my experience with cup size patterns, that’s not been the case.

It really does your head in if you think about it too much. Figuring out how to grade a pattern, for pattern designers (or clothing designers), is a question of how to fit the most people possible, not to do it the right way for every person. As sewers, we have to somewhat reverse engineer the patterns to fit us, not some abstract average. I’ve learned more about my body and its variations since sewing than I ever did before, and sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier to just learn how to draft patterns from scratch from my measurements. Learning how to draft is considered an advanced skill, but it seems like it can’t be as hard as some of the complex alterations I’ve seen people have to make to patterns.

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