Clothing and Bra Sizes for the D Cup and Up: The Fit Factor vs. the Risk Factor

When manufacturers and stores say there isn’t enough demand for clothing or bras in our size, it’s easy to feel incredulous because we’re connected via the internet to full-busted women all over the world who share our frustrations with fit.  Are these businesses blind?

Not necessarily. They just want to stay in business. For many companies this means doing what has always worked and avoiding risk. Women have been forcing themselves into their size ranges for years. What’s the big deal now?

The big deal now is the thousands of niche markets that are surfacing all over the internet. It’s the Long Tail. (If you haven’t already read this book by Chris Anderson, I highly recommend it.)  For example, we used to live in a world of  blockbusters–everyone watched the same few movies available for a limited time in theaters.  Now we live in a world of Netflix where anyone can watch anything they want at any time. Even the most obscure movie has an audience.

We’re developing the same expectations for clothing sizes:  every woman should be able to find something in her size. Unfortunately, most of the garment industry continues to operate in the world of blockbusters.

Given the difference between streaming a video and producing a physical garment, this is understandable. Each new pattern requires extensive and expensive research and development. This is one reason Rebecca & Drew held back for such a long time before offering their shirts in H cups, and as you read last week, it took Claudette 18 months to develop a G cup, and Good Night Gilda two years to develop a bra line for C-F cups.  Only a small percentage of the development cost is reflected in the actual item of clothing. That cost must be recouped over time as more of the items are sold (otherwise the cost would be prohibitive . . . which is why the cost of couture clothing is prohibitive).

Before making such an investment, manufacturers have to be pretty certain there are enough buyers for the new size. To complicate things, their retail accounts must also be convinced that enough women in these sizes will visit their stores, like the styles, have enough money, and actually purchase them.  At Curve last month, I spoke to a boutique owner who was hesitant to place the required $500 minimum order for a wildly popular new brand because she needed a guarantee that the bras and panties would sell.  She explained how when she first opened her shop in 2008, everyone assured her that Cosabella would sell.  Maybe it sold everywhere else, but not in her store.  She finally got rid of the last dusty Cosabella thong last January.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues as I read calls for 26 backs and more G+ bras.  I don’t believe that corporate greed and designer laziness are to blame for the dearth of full-busted size options, although I’m sure they’re part of the story. I believe the biggest factor is risk and who is willing to bear it.

Take Ewa Michalek. Her customers can’t say enough good things about her, and the closer I examine her designs and philosophy, the more interested I am in trying her bras. But even she doesn’t keep inventory in every band and cup combination. Her website states, “If you do not see their bra size drop-down menu, please contact us and we will sew it for you. Please note, however, that such orders are not refundable/exchange.”

Who bears the risk in this situation? The customer.

I’ve been daydreaming about ways to either (1) remove the risk entirely; or (2) spread it out amongst willing market participants (which is what Ewa Michalek has done). I’ll be sharing some of my daydreams in future posts.

What about you? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments or even in a guest post. (And if you blog about this elsewhere, send me the link so that I can include it in my next Full Coverage Reading Roundup.)


  1. OK, I have just checked and Freya, Curvy Kate and Panache all have full ranges of bras for sale there in the full range of sizes and at comparable prices to the UK – For example a Panache Tango was 40 dollars for a 28JJ with free delivery and returns — not my favourite bra but many women like it. Freaya and CK don’t seem to do free delivery though. My advice is go up a cup size in CK and Panache both good if your brests are widely spaced compared to Freya. Freya bands a re generally a bit looser, too. Get a couple of cup sizes to try just in case so be prepared to do returns.
    Demand creates supply!

  2. Yes, it’s difficult. I was chatting with one retailer that had to drop Freya because of their order minimum.
    I also followed one of the discussions on (German brafitting community), where a store fitter explained that there are many people coming in that need a G+ 32- bra. However, that might be because people are scared off after having been fitted into wrong sizes or been previously told that their size did not exist elsewhere. Thus the demand wasn’t even created.

    • Sorry, I cannot edit my post, I meant:
      (…) I also followed one of the discussions on (German brafitting community), where a store fitter explained that there are NOT many people coming in that need a G+ 32- bra (…)

      • Thanks for clarifying. I wondered if that’s what you meant. June over at Braless in Brasil thinks that demand will follow education on proper fitting, and I tend to agree, but it will be a very slow process…partly b/c there are so many bra fitters themselves who must be converted first.

  3. I actually just bought a CH Onyx from Ewa Michalak on 28HH, one of the non-returnable sizes. Although it is a bit risky, the staff was very gracious and helped me on every step of the way to assure the bra would fit and I wouldn’t regret it. I have to say I couldn’t be happier about the fit!

    But I do agree with what June says, and I hope to do my part to reach that goal. It it SO important to get some bra-education out there, and it surely would make a big difference in size range availability in lingerie stores.

    I’m brazilian and I know the bra drama in a country where bras with cup&back sizes are rare (they’re usually sized like normal clothing: 36, 38, 40, 42, etc.) and even underwired bras are quite unusual. In the very very few stores where you can find cup&back sized bras, the sizing tends to stop at C cups, D if it’s a very very special store. I’m between GG and HH depending on band size and I’ve spent more than 10 years loathing my body before I finally found out about good bras.

  4. After reading the article you mentioned, I think there’s hope for us yet. As someone very large busted, I try on garment after garment in stores and the fit is hideous. I buy clothes to alter at home more often than I buy clothes I can wear the next day.

    There has been a resurgence in interest in DIY and sustainability, and I think it’s made more people realize they can buy less and get higher quality goods. You can buy apparel for dirt cheap these days, yet even teens are on the lookout for a higher price point because they want quality. It think it’s slow, but a combination of those two trends will lead us to more people doing it themselves to get a better garment with personal fit. I’m lucky enough to be able to sew for myself, but I hear more and more online about visiting a tailor. And, with the idea of online niche selling, I hope there will be more and more brands appealing to the tall, pear-shaped, large-busted, and other markets in desperate need of fitting clothes.

    • Darlene C. says:

      Hannah Jean, it makes me so happy that you seem to be noticing this trend as well. Lower labor costs overseas have lulled us into thinking we can have everything quickly and inexpensively, but the truth is that clothing that is customized (whether fully or partially or simply altered) takes time and, because it’s made for a smaller group, more money. I believe we’re going to have to analyze the tradeoffs carefully for each garment we choose, ie., what’s more important–cost or quality, cost or fit, etc.

      • Darlene C. says:

        P.S. I love your blog! I found it 2 weeks when I was looking for dart solutions for my largest-bust shirts. If you post about the alterations you make to accommodate a larger bust, please alert me so that I can link to you (one of these days I’ll return to Google Reader). And if you’d like to do a guest post or series on the subject here, that would be amazing.

        • Darlene, I’m no expert but over the next few months I’d love to build up an alterations series. I’ll contact you whenever I make another post on the subject, okay?