Bra fitting at M&S

Today, after a visit to Bravissimo, I decided to nip into Manchester’s M&S. I initially planned on just trying on a 36G to show how poor a fit the +4/5 method gives..

Hand indicating where the wire needs to be

Hand indicating where the wire needs to be

Green lines showing roughly where the band should start and end on me

Green lines showing roughly where the band should start and end on me

Which it obviously does. With my measurements of around 30/43, I usually wear a very comfortable, very supportive 30JJ. Today, measuring closer to 31, M&S suggests I wear a 36 band. Pictured is a 36G, the size suggested by House of Fraser. All of the obvious signs of a poor fit are there: the wires are not flat against my ribcage, I have “double boob” at the top, the band rides up, and the wires are sitting on breast tissue at the side.

I was going to leave it there, until I saw an empty appointment slot, in just 20 minutes. Having been told that the fitters have been re-trained, I booked it and grabbed myself a 38F to be fitted from.

Black 38F

My fitter initially looked at my bra to see how it fit me. She quickly noticed the band was riding up and checked the label, seeming absolutely horrified that I was wearing a 38 back. I was hopeful for a good fitting…until she reached for the tape measure. She measured my underbust (measurement 3) at 30.7, and my overbust (measurement 1) at 36, and proclaimed me…a 36 band. 36. She then observed the cups were too small and went to fetch a 36G, a cup bigger.

White 36G

…It, of course, had all the same problems as the pink bra. I instantly put it onto the tightest hooks, which she did point out, explaining that the tighter hooks are for as it stretches. However, she did not suggest going down a back size, just re-hooked it onto the loosest. Once again, she observed the cups were too small, and went to fetch a 36GG.

White 36GG

Once again, I put it straight on the tightest hook. This time she remarked that the band seemed slightly loose, re-hooking it onto the middle hooks, but still not suggesting a smaller band size. She then looked over it and proclaimed it a perfect fit. And, to be fair, if you ignored the band it didn’t look half bad. For a completely unadjusted bra. However, if she had instructed me to scoop my breasts fully into the bra (as any good fitter will do), it looked more like this:

White 36GG scooped

It was still clearly too small in the cups, the wires were sitting on breast tissue at the sides, and I could easily fit my arm under the band. What really confused me was that she seemed to know what the signs of a poor fit were, but she didn’t recognise them in practice. She told me about overspill, about wires on breast tissue, about a firm band, about using the loosest hooks, but she still did not notice that the fit was all wrong. It almost seems as though the fitters have been re-trained to parrot the facts, but not to apply them.

Sign2

A good fitter should be friendly and welcoming, but also knowledgeable. She should be able to educate and fit the customer, preferably without the use of a tape measure. A starting point is fine, preferably one starting at the underbust measurement, but the result is not set in stone – I was shocked that my fitter remarked that the band was still slightly loose, but did not suggest perhaps a 34H. There was a sign saying they have bras up to a J cup right next to me, so it wasn’t as though they didn’t have them. A good fitter should make sure the bra is put on properly and all breast tissue is scooped into it. She should adjust the straps, and she should pull on the band to check it is firm enough.

M&S frequently advertise their fitting service with the fact that 80% of women are wearing an ill-fitting bra, but it seems to me that they are doing nothing to decrease that percentage – instead manufacturing gimmicky bras to treat the symptom, but not the cause. M&S is where most women in the UK go for a bra fitting, yet it is very clear that they are doing a huge disservice to women. A badly-fitting bra can lead to back pain, migrated breast tissue, depression, poor body image, permanent shoulder dents, migraines, poor circulation and so many other things.

Women deserve better than this.

EDIT: For comparison, here is a picture of me, properly fitted, in a 30JJ:

MS post - Properly fitted

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Founder and main author of Bras and Body Image. Anna is a Maths student, feminist, and bra-fitting enthusiast based in the UK.

31 thoughts on “Bra fitting at M&S

    • It’s pretty shocking. I couldn’t fathom that she was quoting how a bra should fit, yet not applying it to me. What does worry me is that a year ago, I would have believed her, and I would have carried on being desperately unhappy for it.

  1. Awful :(

    I did get excited at your photo saying they now carry J cups and immediately went to the website. Sadly J cups seem to start at a 34 band. Come on M&S get your act together

    • Yes, sadly they only seem to go to about a G below that – bah.
      What I find slightly worrying is that, to make them, they must recognise that they’re needed – but when they fit with +4/5, it’s quite possible that they’re fitting women who are something like a 30KK/28L into them…

      • Very disappointed in M&S

        Thank goodness we have Bravissimo (and to a lesser extent Debenhams) on many UK high streets providing a decent range of sizes.

  2. Oh my god, what a joke! This makes my heart break for every single girl who doesn’t know what she’s looking for and leaves M&S thinking she’s got herself a good fit. Fume. Great post – make sure you send this to them x

  3. Yikes… I’ve had my share of bad bra fitting experiences (just did a post about that!), but it’s really strange how, like you said, the fitter “knew” the signs of a poorly fitting bra, but couldn’t actually put them into practice! Some people might say, “Oh, well, you personally should just shop somewhere else,” but they (and other stores like them) really do a huge disservice to women who don’t know any better and would buy and wear an ill-fitting bra at their advice.

    • It really was strange. She was saying things like “see how well supported you are?”,”see how the wires are flat in the middle?”…Well, no. I certainly don’t. When I lifted my arms I fell straight out of the bottom :/
      So many women get fitted at M&S. I really don’t understand how they can continue to deliver this level of service.

  4. I don’t get how anyone could say that these were good fits. It was obvious that something was wrong with how the bras were fitting your. SMH I don’t get how they were convinced that it was a good fit.

    Another thing, I saw that your measurements were 30/43, mine are the exact same, and I fit into a 30J, which brands do you tend to wear?

    • Even before scooping, I clearly had the “sagtastic cleavage” look, showing my boobs were just sitting in the cups completely unlifted. It seemed fairly clear I needed a bigger cup and a smaller band :/

      I usually measure about 29.5/43.5, to be precise, so that could explain the difference? It could also be differences in fullness, shape, etc :) So far I’ve found that Bravissimo bras fit me best. Saying that, I have recently ordered a couple of Cleo bras in a 30J – we’ll have to see!

      • Right. All the signs were clearly there for her to see that you were not fitting in the bra. Way too large of a band, and too many cups too small.

        Mine are 29.5/43 more precisely, but that could explain it. Mine aren’t that full, haha. I have to stay with moulded cups for that reason. Which Bravissimo bras do you favor? I’m only worn Curvy Kate-showgirl collection in 30HH, 30J, and 28J because of the difference in material and all that.

        • Hmm, I can’t fit into the showgirl collection, they all seem to run small! I only have a few unpadded CK bras – I usually have to size up to a 30K, and I don’t tend to like the shape they give. I am pretty much limited to unpadded styles, as (other than Ewa Michalak), pretty much nobody makes JJ+ moulded/padded cups.
          My favourite Bravissimo bra is the Luxe Heart, as I find the shape, support and uplift fantastic on me. I also like the Alana, although it gives a pointier shape. Similarly, the Dotty Spot is the prettiest bra I own, but it is a seriously 50s-esque pointy shape. I’ve written about them all in more detail in previous posts/on Bratabase, if you want to look :)

          • That’s so odd, my only problem was the Tempt Me being a bit small, but other than that they have been running too large for me to wear a 30J. I see what you mean, I’ve noticed that my next cup size doesn’t have the styles that I prefer, as I’m very prone to get the pointy shape because of how my breasts are naturally.

            I’ll definitely check them out, I’ve been looking for bras that I’ll probably need to invest in within the next two months, as I seem to already be growing out of the Curvy Kates.

  5. Oh M&S, why do they make it so hard to find a nice fit… I’ve been skeptical of calculators and tape methods, and bra fitters in general for a long time. Some years ago, believing M&S’s prescription of 36B, accidentally picked up a 36D that was on the wrong hangar… I didn’t notice until I tried it on and was bewildered by what I saw in the mirror… round, full, lifted boobs, that were literally singing to me about how comfy they were in the larger cups.

    These days I reside fairly happily in 34DD/Es… but it’s very hit and miss… I’m still at a loss whenever I look at online calculators, with my measurements (33 underbust, 40-41 bust) giving a whole range of sizes, from 34G to 36C to 38FF!

    Perhaps its time to shake off my mistrust for bra-fitters and venture into Bravissimo?

    • It’s amazing how wrong they can get it.
      Going by your measurements, I would suggest perhaps trying a 34FF/G, if you can? Possibly even a 32G/GG. If you can get to a Bravissimo (or a Leia Lingerie?), you definitely should! Though they might not have all styles in stock, they can almost always make time for you and the fitting service is generally spot-on :)

  6. I don’t get what’s wrong with the band in the last bra pictured? Yes you can fit your hand under it in the back, but if it’s any tighter than that, how on earth are you supposed to close it?? I have a 26″ back measured around like you would measure your waist – NOT pulled tight – and wear mostly 28 (some 30′s but they are a tiny bit loose). The 28′s that I have I can fit a hand underneath but sometimes have a hard time closing them because you need room to do so. I am going to say I’m getting tired of seeing all these posts about measuring super tight around and that’s what you wear and then seeing the product of such a result with fat/skin spilling all underneath the band at the persons breasts and under their arms. How is that a good fit? I think if you went up a cup size or two in that last bra it would have fixed a couple of the issues. Maybe I’m seeing you from a different prospective but your ribcage does not look like a 30. What does it measure at if you’re just holding the tape around and not super snug?

    (FYI, I’m not trying to be rude, I’m honestly baffled by a lot of the fit advice I see lately, because some of you beautifully shaped women look like you cannot breathe in your bands)

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. I assure you, the band was very loose on me – I did not have to stretch it at all to fasten it, and it was very clearly riding up, even on the tightest hooks. I have no problem fastening and wearing most 30 bands. Of course, when I thought I was a 34 back, at first even a 32 felt very tight, but that was only due to not being used to it.

      I measure ~73cm pulled tightly and ~78cm more loosely. I don’t know your proportions but I have worn 32 and 34 backs and the support just is not there at my bust size. Smaller busts may be able to get away with slightly bigger bands, and of course some women may find they prefer a looser band, but it just does not work for me. I think I would have needed about a 36HH in that bra to fit in the cups, and yes, that definitely would have fixed the overspill. However I really could not wear a 36 band. Even pre-fitting I wore a 34 band, and it did absolutely nothing for me. I have found the most comfort and support in 30 bands – even 32 bands ride up and rub painfully.

      I agree that I don’t look like I measure 30″ – especially not in these pictures, with my boobs sitting completely unlifted on my waist, and the band creating back fat. I think this is due to a combination of a “flattened” ribcage and low-sitting breasts.

      http://tinyurl.com/7fhp52v
      As you can see, in a 30JJ I do not have skin or fat spilling anywhere, I can breathe perfectly well and I am fantastically supported. I am definitely not advocating all women wear their underbust measurement, as it does not work for everyone. Some women may need to size up, and some even need to size down. My biggest concern here was that the fitter used +4/5 and stuck to it, even though she noticed that I was putting it straight on the tightest hooks, and she said herself the band was still loose. I was literally falling out of the bottom when I lifted my arms – it was definitely not supportive.

      • Daily weight fluctuations must prevent you from wearing such a tight band, no? Even with myself I find I’m dying to take off the (supposedly) loose 28′s at the end of the day because I can breathe better and it gets rid of the heart burn. My mom is the same way and I’ve measured her before with a 31/32″ ribcage, she finds 36 to be the most comfortable and supportive (though her boobs are 4 sizes smaller than mine at a 36AA cup). I know You are not advocating directly for every woman to use this method, but I have read through similar blogs who strongly advise it and it is just not right.

        I can see now the difference between the looser bands and the tighter one, but I do see mimnal smoosh in that link (I realize with some women this is just not possible to avoid, but it shouldn’t be pushing your skin down on the sides) as well as a strained hook & eye closure, which looks as if it’s seperating from the band too. Something else to look out for is the straps. Though your shoulders are somewhat narrow so it’s understandable that straps may be wide set, the back of the straps are too far to the sides – the cause of a strained closure. This appears as a “U” shape, or even a bowed U when looking at the bra from the center back. It should be in the shape of a “V” – without touching of course.

        I’ve gone to stores before that were strongly in use of +4 (one of those being Nordstroms!) and they tell me 30 is my size and I always disagree with them. One of the stores wouldn’t even let me adjust myself in the bra, I was barely doing so too, just enough so the wires were on the very outside of breat tissue, the migrated stuff was still around my back and under my arms. Every time I did they yanked it back up so the wires were sitting on top of my boobs at all points. So I can understand the frustration associated with this method. Personally I think +2 and even 3 works better depending on the person.

        • Not at all…I could honestly sleep in my bras. They tend to have a max stretch of about 31 inches, are very comfy. I get a lot of pain and rubbing in a 32 back as it shifts about too much. Bras in smaller cupsizes supposedly have tighter bands, so that could possibly account for differences in preference.

          Any slight smoosh I get is much better than the pushed-down back fat and pain I get in bigger bands :P As for the closure separating from the band, what I think you’re looking at is the ruffle along the band. I don’t know how well I can describe it, so here’s another picture: http://tinyurl.com/cecc479 I’ve had this bra since January, the first pictures were from March, and it is still in great condition.

          I do often have problems with straps due to my shoulders, but Bravissimo’s bra straps are meant to give support in a U-shape: http://tinyurl.com/cvjw6ke I will admit I don’t know about if this is the same for all brands, but logically vertical straps just make sense to me. I’ll have to look into it more, really, to be able comment on it. All I can really say is that in the vast majority of cases, I genuinely do need a 30 band.

          That’s quite worrying about Nordstroms – that’s one of the only places I can recommend for E+ cups in the US :/ I think either a neutral or at most +2/3 approach is a good starting point. Of course you have to adjust based on how it feels for you, and how supported you are. I know for a fact I can’t wear true 28 bands, but I am perfectly comfortable in a 30. The fact that anyone would put me in a band a full three sizes bigger really worries me.

    • I know that this was discussed a fair while ago but reading this I can’t help but wonder… perhaps the cup size that you are wearing is too small? It sounds odd but I’ve found from experience that this can alter how the bra feels in terms of tightness, because in a cup size that is too small for you, your breasts will push the cup away from your chest and force the band to pull tighter to accommodate for this.

      I’m speaking from experience here I believe, because a few years ago I was having some body issues regarding cup sizing, and decided to convince my mum to buy me this 34D, thinking that I’d feel better about myself in a D cup than in a C. I can’t help but think nowdays that it was incorrectly sized, but I couldn’t wear that bra for more than half an hour with horrible, chest crushing pain all through my back. I could hardly breathe with it on, yet I put myself through it anyway thinking that it would make me happier with myself.

      Now considering that you’d probably think I was wearing a band way too small, but these days now that I know about proper fit, I tend to wear 28 bands, and my underbust hasn’t made any dramatic changes over the last couple of years either makes me think that its likely that the perceived tightness was more from the cup size being too small, and this could be your problem Heather.Of course this is merely speculation.

      • @Ari….it depends on the bra. Sometimes the style doesn’t suit and the cup being too small creates that problem. But this happens even in bras where the cup is too big. I can tell the difference between supportive and too tight, 26′s are definitely too tight. The wires bend, the cups get distorted…could be the brand though. Oh, when I say 26 they’re not real ones. I bought a couple of the Freya demi styles (Daphne and Patsy) and altered them down accordingly to have the correct stretch and unstretch. Even before doing so they seemed rather flimsy, I’ve never been able to try a real 26.

        Right now, and my ribcage has gone up about an inch, 28′s are starting to become small but if I move to 30 the cups will not be suitable. I have prominent lower ribs because of spine curvatures (so does my mom). I’ve only recently come to the conclusion I cannot wear firmer bands because of this and for other health reasons too – this is the main reason why I can’t breathe in a 26 – I never realized this 1.5 years ago, haha!

  7. Heather, the first time you wear a bra that’s the correct cup AND band size, the band will feel very snug on the loosest hook – that’s to give the elastic room to relax. You may think at first it’s “super tight”. It’s not – you’re just not used to it, as it sounds like you’ve been wearing bras too large around for your frame. If you can fit your hand into the back of a new bra in the dressing room, then it’s not supportive enough. The band is meant to do 80% of the work. Think of a bra as a modified corset – it’s supposed to hold you up from below.

    Back fat is not a product of the band being too tight – it’s the result of too small of a cup (the breast tissue tries to escape, pushes against the cup, and the cup is pushed away from the body, pulling the band into it). I have no back fat with a 34H, but I have plenty with a 40DD.

    • No I am used to it, I’ve been wearing size 28 for the past 5 years. 30 is loose, 26 would be too tight. I’ve made them before and I had a hard time fastening them on even the loosest setting, not to mention they killed my ribs. If I can fit my hand into the back of a new bra that means I can close it.

      Back fat is the product of a looser band, yes. But it is also the product of too tight a band. I’m not talking about the fat that’s under the armpit or just around back where the straps meet the band – THAT is migrated breast tissue. I’m referring to the fat that is squashed out of the band on the bottom of it from fat that is normally located there (front, sides and back), and more so the heavier you are. Similar to wearing too tight of pants and they cause muffin top. I have back fat with a 28 but not so much with a 30.

      • I read your remarks to Anna above, and then to mine. I wonder if the relative size of the cup to the ribcage plays a difference regarding preference to fit method?

        My under bust is currently 32″; my full bust is 10″ larger. I’ve lost weight at my ribcage since being fitted into a 34H (US size), which at the time measured 33″ rather than 32″. It’s just a 1″ difference, but that’s enough that the weight of my breast tissue drags down the cups and causes the band to rise in the back. It’s both annoying and uncomfortable.

        From your remarks about your mom’s preferred size, I think I’m correctly interpreting that I’m both a larger framed person than you and that the difference between my bust/ribcage is proportionally greater. I understand that it’s more comfortable to you to add 2″ to find your size, but at my size, it’s just not for me.

        I will say that my reaction to first trying a band that matched my under bust measurement was “You’re insane, I’ll be miserable!” to the fitter, but I found that suffering the tight band until the elastic relaxed (I was on the middle hook in about a week) well worth the trade off of the more supportive fit for me.

        Thank for engaging – this is an interesting discussion!

        • I typically wear 28FF, though according to my measurements and following the add 0″ rule I should be in a 26G, so you are bigger but proportion-wise there isn’t a huge difference. I honestly don’t look that big and have hardly any fat around my frame so that could be a reason why I prefer adding 2″, for comforts sake.

  8. I measure 31 approx and find that often the 30 band is the most comfortable. I agree with Anna that a 32 can move around and rub, on me it will kind of sag down and rest on my stomach fast instead of sitting snuggly round my ribs. I’m wearing a 30 band today and have had it on since 7am, it’s now 11pm and I’ve only just reached the point where I feel I could do with taking it off, with a 32 band that usually happens after a couple of hours.

    However I do think we can get too hung up on the numbers, they are only a guide and sometimes the sizing seems a bit weird. It’s the same as any other clothing and varies with the brand. Sometimes I need a size 12 in trousers, sometimes a 14 depending on the shop. It works the same with bras. In some Bravissimo styles I need a 32 (or an extender) and one Freya style I would have needed a 28.

    My advice is to start with what you consider your main size (after a good fitting) but if it’s not comfortable size up or down until it does fit right. Worry about the fit and not the number.

  9. Using the traditional +4 method they all want to put me into a 36DD. I can’t imagine ever wearing something that horribly fitted. I wear a 32G in most styles! I was actually just thinking, what if I put on my best fitting bra and went from shop to shop and took a picture of what each saggy teeny-cup bra looked like on me alongside the +0 method I wear daily… What if a ton of ladies did that? Would that finally be the body of evidence (yes, pun totally intended) to convince women they are probably wearing the wrong size and that they are actually a whole lot more beautiful than they feel in their ill-fitting bras? The closest city with a specialty shop that carries my size is over 160 miles away so I would have to bring my own bra to demonstrate there is another way for voluptuous women to look besides dumpy. Would you or Busts4Justice promote a project like that?

  10. I’m chiming in a little late but I just found this blog (great reading btw). I agree with spacelib who said we get too hung up on numbers, they should serve as a starting point only. If your underbust is 30 inches then by all means start with a 30 band and size up or down as needed, just because that’s your measurement it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the right fit or comfortable for you.

    I personally measure as a 28dd (sometimes 28e during pms) but since I am thin with very little flesh over my ribs I often find the 28 bands dig in to my ribs too much and are just too uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful to wear. A 30 band is much better and I only drop to a 28 band if it has more stretch than usual. Maybe girls with a little more flesh over their ribs have more room to move down in bands as their flesh protects their bones from the pressure of a tighter band. Also, since I am at the smaller end of the scale in cup sizes the band still provides enough support for me. Obviously the bigger your breasts, the more support you need from the band and maybe the need for a tighter band.

    I think we all have our own individual preferences, problems and quirks with bra fitting, but if something is working for you, run with it :)

  11. I am 65 years old and as I have large boobs have always been too embarrassed to go for a fitting but decided to finally face the humiliation. I went to M and S where the assistant saw me looking through the racks and asked if I needed help. I explained my situation and she said she was due to go on her break but could fit me in. I was measured and brought 2 bras which fitted fine in the cup but barely met at the back and it was very tight to fasten. She assured me that this was needed to give proper support and seemed in a rush to go for her break. I decided to buy the bra but have had to use an extension at the back for extra comfort. What exactly is “back size” as I can’t see any mention of it on the packaging of any bra and how do I use it when buying. Whose bras are best for actually supporting a large bust as even in this new one I am still tending to sag. Is there anything that will actually make me look and feel more assured after years of misery ?

    • Hi Shirley, sorry for the slow reply!
      I can’t quite give you specific fitting advice as it being hard to fasten could be due to many things. It could be the band is fine (or even too big) but the cups are small, or the cups could be fine and the band too small. I’m guessing since you went to M&S you’re in the UK? Are you anywhere near a Bravissimo? They have a very good range of sizes, and are the only fitting service I am comfortable recommending, with the exception of Leia Lingerie if you’re in the London area.

      The back size of your bra is the number part, which is usually equal to the circumference of your underbust in inches, and your cup size can be estimated by the difference between your underbust and bust measurement. 1 inch is approximately an A cup, 2 inches a B cup, 3 inches a C etc, though this tends to vary more than the band measurement. For instance, my underbust measures approximately 30 inches and my bust is about 44 inches. My “usual” size (varying with brands) is a 30JJ (30 inch underbust, JJ cup). Do you have access to a cloth tape measure? If so, a good starting point could be to take your measurements and use this calculator: http://www.sophisticatedpair.com/bracalculator.htm
      You can then try on these sizes at stores if seeing a fitter makes you uncomfortable, though I have to say, Bravissimo fitters are generally very good and have never failed to put me at ease.

      As for good brands, Bravissimo, Panache, Freya, Curvy Kate and Ewa Michalak are very popular, depending on your breast shape and needs :) A good fitter should be able to identify your breast type and recommend the best kind of bras for you, I really would recommend visiting a dedicated lingerie outlet if you can.

  12. Went into M & S Hedge End (hants) last week lovely lady measured me at 31.5 inches underbust & said “add 5 inches to give a 36E”. By my measurements I am a 32J but I am still trying to find the perfect bra. I e-mailed M & S after seeing this website & many other which state the add 5 inches is out of date but there e-mail states ” we don’t feel the way we fit bras is outdated”.
    I suggest if you are looking for genuine advice you go anywhere but M & S!

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