Search

Why the Fashion Industry Still Dismisses Large Breast Sizes

And what you can do about it


Bust Photo by Elijah O’Donnell from Pexels


The dreaded button-down shirt gap…

Giving-up on strapless/backless dresses and tops…

Buying for your bust size and losing any indication of a waist…

Avoiding empire or higher waistlines at all cost…

Calculating if it’s worth the time/money of having something altered…

Feeling like you won the lottery when you finally found a cute, modern bra…

Having all eyes on your chest as you step into the pool…or the gym…or the beach…or work…or anywhere, really, regardless of activity or intent…

Being asked if you’ve considered a breast reduction…

Overshooting on size when ordering that bandeau bikini top thinking you’ll be safe only to find it’s barely large enough to be a censor bar…

Spending a small fortune on your dream dress telling yourself it will work, only to discover…it won’t…


Chances are, if you have a bust larger than a D cup, you’ve probably experienced at least one, if not all, and probably more than what’s listed above. Sure, you can probably find some adequate clothing that will get the job done, but when’s the last time you were able to choose something based on style preferences (even better something gorgeous or gotta-have) versus just trying to find something that fits? Once in a blue moon? Never as an adult?

You’re not alone.

Over the years, my personal bra size has evolved from a B-cup to a size 30I (yes that is an “i” as in “is-that-even-a-bra-size?”). While I’ve grown to appreciate my body, the ability to find gorgeous clothes that I love and adore and that flatter my curves in all the right ways feels like a fairy-tale. While body inclusivity and sizing has definitely grown leaps and bounds even in the past decade, I would argue that there’s more work to be done. Fortunately, we’re living in an era of exponential innovation and change and the power to influence those changes are right at our fingertips.




Why don’t More Brands Carry D+ Sizing? Having worked in the apparel industry for almost a decade, I have never once worked on or known of any projects involving garments intended for fuller-bust individuals (the closest would be plus size clothing which doesn’t necessarily accommodate a larger-than-average bust — more on this later). When I have encountered other brands who carry them they tend to be:

  1. Located outside of the U.S. (often the U.K. and some from Eastern Europe)

  2. Limited edition collections

  3. Not-so-sleek versions of the “standard” bust sized clothing choices

If the average American woman’s bra size is supposedly a 34DD, then why isn’t this being captured in the marketplace?*

If we look at the history of U.S. women’s size standardization, we can see where some modern-day issues could be stemming from. Up until the early 20th century, it was the norm for women to either make their own clothes or purchase custom made if they could afford it. Thanks to the industrial revolution, ready-to-wear clothing increased in availability and was more in demand as women continued to enter the workforce. Lacking logic and reason, however, apparel sizing underwent an evaluation by the Bureau of Home Economics during 1939–1940 when they gathered 59 unique measurements from approximately 14,000 women across the country — who were albeit all white and mostly fairly young. The intent was to find the simplest, most accurate way of determining women’s sizing while reducing cost and rate of purchase returns. The data from this study has long since been re-analyzed, added to, and eventually discarded as brands started massaging fit by employing vanity sizing as a marketing strategy or by once again creating their own consumer specific standards. In recent years, large studies have been done using 3D scanners on thousands of individuals, and brands can purchase that data for a pretty penny.


A somewhat disturbing illustration of the “average” female in 1940 Source


The key take-away here is that in order to create standardized sizing, measurements are averaged, a correlation is found, and then those measurements are either scaled up or down in a process called grading. If your ratio of measurements happens to fall within those exact same standards well…great! If not, you’re left with a less than satisfactory fit. The majority of clothes to this day are still designed to accommodate an “average” cup, which usually works out to be around a B — including Missy, Women/Plus, & Curvy sizing. It can vary by brand, but this tends to be the norm. If designed to be loose or have fabric that can stretch, garments can be more friendly for larger bust sizes, but if designed with stable, rigid fabrics and a closer fitting silhouette, then darts and cut lines will be made to match closer to the B cup — resulting in a not-so-flattering fit if you are #blessed.


Industry used dress forms in Missy Curvy sizes 2–14. Bust size and overall body proportions are consistent throughout all sizes. Source



Brands create basic clothing pattern blocks with these standardized sizes that quite literally become the building blocks from which they base all of their designs. Fit models, dress forms (mannequins), and samples are all developed according to the fit size that they have established. Unless there is a financial incentive to spend thousands of dollars to create new sizing blocks, fit forms, etc to acquire a new consumer, you are hard pressed to find a brand adding several different customer size types. As new manufacturing technology and practices evolve, it will hopefully become easier for brands to be more size inclusive. Yet in addition to needing a shift in manufacturing, there also needs to be a shift in mindset.

The apparel industry is notorious for being a dinosaur. There are often individuals who work at brands that want to add in new sizes and will go through the effort of spearheading a project, only to be shot down by product buyers who have dated attitudes and ways of thinking which stymie the ability to launch those new ideas. Or, on the other hand, maybe they do run a test launch of a specialty sized clothing line but it’s poorly executed or marketed and customers barely know about it? It automatically becomes a fail??

I once designed bralettes for a major women’s clothing retailer that sold its own internal private labels in addition to other well known brands. Realizing that I would never be able to wear my own designs, I inquired about the ability to make fuller cup options; their answer was that the buyers felt that THAT particular need was met by other product lines on the retail floor. Hmmm so we are okay to design MORE bralettes in a category that is already saturated with like-product in the same A or B cups, but launching a new line that meets a need with next-to-no competitors is not worth our time?! I call B.S.

Finance is so often used as the excuse for not pressing “go” on these initiatives. Designing for a fuller bust individual takes time, ingenuity, and creativity but it’s not impossible. Sure, styles need to be engineered in the right combination of materials and design features in order to accommodate a range of subtle size variations in a flattering way (otherwise you would be looking at creating a huge number of sizes in order to create a perfect fit for everyone), but this shouldn’t be viewed as a complete obstacle. What’s holding them back more likely than not are deeply rooted biases.



Oil & Water Recently I came across an Elle magazine article that interviewed several women on their personal experiences and methods for dressing a fuller bust. One revealed how she would try to minimize her breasts as much as possible as it’s simply not considered “chic” or “stylish” in the fashion industry to have them. A few had been questioned about whether they had considered getting breast reductions (something I’ve also been asked before). The following line really resonated:

“The thing is, nothing that is made for big boobs is remotely cute. Everything is heinous.”

Oof.

The vibe of the interviewees felt mild-humored and a little tongue-in-cheek, but the undertones of dealing with mediocrity and making-do definitely felt present.

Sadly, what these women have experienced is nothing new. Until we can truly decouple the connotation of breasts as clunky, un-chic, hard-to-style or design-for objects meant to be hidden, there will never be fair representation of fuller-bust women in fashion. One might think, “It’s 2020 — body acceptance is real and we are well on our way moving past the objectification or shaming of women.” As lovely as this sounds, one simple web search for “fashion industry attitude towards large breasts” will result in a plethora of regressive articles such as the following:

“6 Reasons Why Small Breasts are Trendy in 2020” by Nabanita Dutt. It’s an article written as web content for a cosmetic surgery practice. All 6 points are extremely toxic and dismissive towards anyone who might have a bust larger than a C cup (and I would argue equally offensive to women with cups below a C by creating vapid generalizations). For starters, she discusses how, with the rise of athleisure, small breasts are the perfect “accessories” for women who are in search of a gym-toned body which exemplifies “discipline, self-care, determination, and youth”. Right, so calling breasts “accessories” is definitely not a form of objectification and good to know that if someone has larger breasts…well let’s just say they’re not 100% suited for the active lifestyle…

Wait…what?!

If this next line doesn’t perfectly encapsulate the overall industry’s thoughts towards larger breasts, then I’m not sure what else does:

“Big boobs and fashion go together like oil and water.”

That’s right. She goes on to say how a larger bust will “ruin” and “spoil” the correct fit of the garment. Not only — in her opinion — do large breasts not have a place in fashion, they are a literal impediment to it.

*cue me flipping a table*

**Oh, wait! Never mind, I almost forgot that that’s probably too much exertion for my overly large chest. :| **

Jokes aside, the pervasiveness of this sort of thought permeates society and influences the apparel offerings available on the market. It reinforces the mindset that there is only one ideal body type and that you will never be tall enough, thin enough, symmetrical enough, etc to fit in. It may be more straight forward to design for a figure with less curvature, but when this is a recurring message from the runway or from the fitting rooms of our leading apparel brands, it creates a cascading effect of silhouettes that only flatter a small percentage of individuals throughout the rest of the apparel industry.

Our clothing should be made to accommodate us and make us feel amazing — not the other way around.



Work Around It We’ve learned that once upon a time the government gathered a large amount of (biased) data to create a system of mass standardization. We’ve seen how this data set and those that descended from it may not benefit all body shapes (or if the more advanced studies that have taken place in recent years reflect more accurate body types, this info comes at a price). We live in a society that is learning, yet still holding onto some stigmatizing ideals.

What can we do?

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” — Michael Jordan

I like this quote because it’s a reminder that sometimes we just need to take a step back and see the bigger picture. If we always viewed things as “impossible”, we would never get anything accomplished. At times, I’ve definitely felt excluded by the industry I work for. More often than not I would resort to making or altering my own clothes to have things I liked. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends tell me about their dream purchases and that I should check out “X Brand” for me to say, “Yeah would love too…but unfortunately they don’t carry my size.” It’s a line that so many women know all too well.

Backed with my apparel industry knowledge, personal struggles, and dream of wearing clothes that look stylish and feel great, I’ve determined that it’s time to put my skills and experience to use. My goal is to establish a brand featuring fuller bust apparel that feels fashionable, feminine, and relevant called Lorsque (meaning “when it will be” in French). I am realistic in the sense that I know it will be difficult working with an industry that has been stuck in its ways and that there will be logistical design & manufacturing puzzles. However, there is a resounding message around the lack of clothing that will accommodate a fuller bust, and I believe that with consumer research and thoughtful development, it is possible to make it a reality.



Can’t Do it Alone If you or a friend has a fuller-bust and would like to provide influence and valuable information that would help guide Lorsque garment creation, I invite you to hop on the link provided in order to complete a short questionnaire. I want to know what your pain points are, what your dream clothing looks like, as well as get a few basic measurements that will help determine specs for garment creation. For those who are interested, I will also be running 1:1 video chat sessions or calls to dive deeper into consumer needs and interests. Those few moments of your time will be invaluable to getting one step closer to creating product made specifically for you. In exchange I would love to keep you informed of brand development and insider information as Lorsque begins to go live.

This is a unique opportunity for you to directly influence what you would like to see on the marketplace. I look forward to working with you soon!



References:

  1. Johnson, Maisha. “What’s the Average Breast Size? And 9 Other Things to Know”. https://www.healthline.com/health/average-breast-size#takeaway.

  2. 1. O’Brien, Ruth. Shelton, William. Women’s Measurement for Garment and Pattern Construction. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Miscellaneous Pub. №454. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uva.x030354167&view=1up&seq=5. (1941). Pgs 5, 9, 49, 51

  3. Felsenthal, Julia. “A Size 2 is a Size 2 is a Size 8”. https://slate.com/culture/2012/01/clothing-sizes-getting-bigger-why-our-sizing-system-makes-no-sense.html. (2012)

  4. Fleming, Olivia. “Seven Stylish Women On How They Dress Their Secret (Or Not So Secret) Boobs”. https://www.elle.com/fashion/advice/a28991/how-to-look-chic-with-big-boobs/. (2017)

  5. Dutt, Nabanita. “6 Reasons Why Small Breasts are Trendy in 2020”. https://drbryanmcintosh.com/6-reasons-why-small-breasts-are-trendy-in-2020/. (2020)

*It should be noted, however, that due to the inconsistencies amongst bra brand sizing and the fact that women will wear bras differently based on their preferences, it can be difficult to use bra size as a true metric for what the national average bust size is