Are 8 Out of 10 Women Really Wearing the Wrong Bra Size. Retailers are fixated on a pervasive statistic that says 80 percent of women are buying the wrong bra. Why?
Illustration: Sarah MacReading
Walk into a Victoria’s Secret, and the hundreds of colorful, lacy options lining the walls and piled upon tables — bralette, demi-cup, wireless, racer back, sport, strapless — will swallow you. But before you grab a few bras to try on, you need to hedge your bets on what size you wear.
The staff at Victoria’s Secret, along with many scientists and even, famously, Oprah, say you have a 20 percent chance of choosing right. That number — the idea that 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size — has been ingrained in the minds of shoppers for decades, becoming a puzzle that no one can seem to solve.
That’s because the statistic is bunk.
There Are No Size Standards
Researchers and retailers acknowledge that the 80 percent number isn’t foolproof, but they often use it to illustrate a widespread problem: ill-fitting bras.
“We were actually encouraged to talk about that statistic,” said Carrie Gergely, who worked as a Victoria’s Secret bra fitter and store manager from 2003 to 2008. Ms. Gergely recognized that the size on the tag wasn’t the real issue. Knowing how to look for the right fit was.
Women, she said, didn’t know how the cups were supposed to fit. They didn’t know where the chest plate between the breasts was supposed to lie, she said, and “they didn’t know how the straps were supposed to rest, or where it should hit on their back. They just had no concept of how they were supposed to wear the bra.”
Regardless, the “wrong size” became a mantra. One man, the plastic surgeon Edward Pechter, gets credit for it.
Dr. Pechter first published the statistic in small 1998 study, writing in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery that 70 percent of women or more were wearing the incorrect bra size. The article outlined a new method for measuring breasts, with which he hoped to standardize sizing for augmentation and reduction surgeries.
But Dr. Pechter didn’t reach his estimate through surveying a large and diverse sample. Instead he used anecdotal evidence from publications like Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal and the Playtex Fit Guide. (He also studied only women who reported wearing cup sizes AA through DDD. Today you can find bras in sizes up to an O cup.)
Jenny Burbage, a sports biomechanist at the University of Portsmouth in Hampshire, England, has made studying breasts (and how to support them) her life’s work. In one of her studies, “Evaluation of professional bra fitting criteria for bra selection and fitting in the UK,” Ms. Burbage noted that “it has been suggested that 70 to 100 percent of women are wearing the wrong size bra,” citing Dr. Pechter’s work along with few other small studies to reach that range.
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