The War on Plus Four: Calculation vs. Education

This week two seperate fitting guides were released on two major lingerie sites but oh my, what a difference there is!

The first is the much anticipated updated Brastop fitting guide. I’ve known this video has been in the pipelines for quite some time so I’ve been foaming at the mouth as I waited for it to come. OK, so there may be a little biased, but you only have to have a play about on the site and watch the video to see why it’s so highly praised. The last fitting video got over 10,000,000 hits, although how many of them were men having a good look at the stunning Laura Butler we’ll never know. Here’s their latest offering:

Now, what’s interesting here is how they’ve approached fitting. We all know it’s a minefield and for those of us that haven’t learned the ropes after years of practise and blogging…well…it could reduce a grown woman to tears. Brastop seem to acknowledge that (and that a lot of their customers would fit themselves at home) and tackle the problem by educating the viewer on how a bra should fit. Interesting. Now, I will admit there is a slight downsize to this. Here’s a little confession of mine – I don’t think the tape measure is the devil incarnate. But before I get booted out of the lingerie blogging world, let me clear this up. I’m totally against the plus four method and I don’t think it is the correct way to fit someone, but I DO think it’s a starting off point. You see I’ve been subject to more bad fittings than hot dinners in the past, and 99% of these were caused by tape measures. But the real culprits are a. a lack of fitting knowledge and b. the plus four method (more of that later). But think of it this way – you know that finding a good fitting service on the high street is like finding a needle in a hay stack and whilst the advice on what a good bra should look like is very helpful, you don’t even know where to start. What then? Well, instead of burning all those tape measures, why not use it as a starting off point? This brings me to the next fitting guide that’s popped up.

Ann Summers and their bra calculator. The high street and female friendly sex shop that both Cheryl and I are fans of. Whilst neither of us can technically fit into their products, we are in no way offended by them. As a company they’re great fun, successful and Jacqueline Gold is frankly an inspiration. But this lunch time, as I nursed my sore throat over a pint of Earl Grey, I spotted a dreaded tweet…

Excuse the pessimist in me, but I had very little faith. Maybe it was the use of the word calculator, maybe it was a blogger burned by too much poor advice from big companies, but lo and behold, plus four had taken over again.

For my own amusement I followed the instructions and somehow my 30G’s had turned into 34DD’s. Was I surprised, sadly not?

I decided against turning this blog into yet another plus four rant, because we’ve done it time and time again. If you do want to familiarise yourself with the antiquated curse that still has its hold on the lingerie industry, click the following link to see our previous posts:

Invest In Your Chest vs. plus four. 

So yes, we’re angry and hurt by Ann Summers for letting the team down, and there will be plenty of drum banging until the blasted thing disappears, but the point of the post focuses on these two very different approaches to fitting.

I could pick faults in the Ann Summers option until the cows come home but it’s old news and I’m poorly. And I could sing praises about Brastop for just as long, but again, no one wants to hear that.

For me, Brastop is almost a perfect example of an online fitting service (so Lord only knows how good an in store option would be, but a girl can only dream) yet that little niggle is the lack of numbers (and letters). We all need help sometimes, and I can’t help but thing a basic fit calculator could make the guide perfect. A great example of this can be found at A Sophisticated Pair.

Now their calculator is simple (without adding any inches) and gives you a perfect starting off point. I’m lucky that it did actually give me my correct size, but they do stress that it is a starting point, but that’s all it SHOULD be. If you have a rough idea on what to even try on to begin with, you can then apply all that lovely knowledge about a correctly fitting bra. It should be so simple!

Now, if you go back to the Ann Summers calculator and enter your measurements WITHOUT adding 4/5 inches, it will probably give you your correct size, or one very similar. It’s a miracle! So why adding those extra inches and thus completely ruining such a helpful tool? That’s something I don’t think any of us will ever understand…

The Ann Summers guide still wouldn’t be perfect – there is nothing to educate women on a well fitting bra, but by simply omitting that phony fact, their calculator would certainly do a good job of lending a helping hand, and be a lot better than a lot of sites out there. So why don’t they just get rid? Well, here’s hoping they will after some campaigning by enthusiastic bloggers and their readers…

And so what have we learned today? Fitting sure ain’t easy! But you already knew that, right?

I personally feel that getting a correctly fitting bra has to be a result of both calculation AND education. I measure 30 inches around my rib cage (sometimes 29.5, sometimes 30.5, curse you fluctuating weight!) so I’m going to generally go for a 30 back, and with a 38.5 measurement around the fullest part, I will wear a G cup. That’s logic. BUT education takes these basic measurements and means I, like so many others, know that how a bra feels and looks is the greatest indicator of a perfect fit. Sometimes I wear a 32FF, sometimes I wear a 28H, and sometimes bra styles just don’t work for me (Freya Deco and Masquerade Lula Mae, I’m looking at you with tears in my eyes). Calculation and education are both equally as important. Well, maybe education actually reigns supreme, but that’s because I’m lucky enough to have some grasp of fitting by eye…but if that’s not the case then of course calculation marches right back and takes its rightful 50%.

So, what do you think? Do you think education is paramount, or do you think there is a place for that pesky measuring tape?

Whatever your opinion, one things for sure…plus four isn’t quite dead! Fingertips at the ready girls, we’ve got some educating to do!

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34 Replies to “The War on Plus Four: Calculation vs. Education”

  1. I live about a million miles away from a store where I could try on a bra in my size – Japan, land of small boobs. The measuring tape saved me countless dollars spent on shipping costs, because I had *no idea* what size I was, after years of being a “36DD” at Victoria’s Secret. I ordered from Brastop recently, after trying a calculator – possibly the one from Sophisticated Pair, it was one recommended here and a few other blogs – in a range of 32F, 32FF, 32G, 34F, 34FF and a couple of styles and brands. I was lucky enough to find a good fit in that bunch, and sent back all but one bra, returning for a batch of 32G and 30GG bras (our measurements are almost exactly the same – I’m a 29-30.5 depending on time of month/what I eat and 39-39.5 bust). The calculator certainly helped, as I NEVER would have believed that size range was correct otherwise; I initially thought I should be ordering 34Es, so brainwashed was I by the plus fours and lack of letters.
    In other news, THANK YOU. Your blog is the second I came to (Fuller Figure Fuller Bust being my gateway blog), and y’all have changed my life.

    1. Aw Gayle, that’s so nice to hear! And a really valid point too – if I think my UK high street is bad, God only knows what it’s like in other countries!

    2. Hi Gayle, thank YOU for commenting. So happy to hear you’ve benefited from mine and Georgina’s blog – that’s great news!! It just goes to show that nothing beats the good old fashioned fitting method: common sense. Try before you buy for the best fit. x

  2. First, thanks for linking to our calculator! You are absolutely correct that we only intended the calculator to help women establish a starting point size. As you mentioned, we all need to change sizes from brand to brand or even style to style, which is where the measuring tape will fail. I’ll be posting a blog this week about the feedback we’ve received from people who felt the calculator was inaccurate in case you’re interested to see what problems we’ve found. In the future, I’d love to add a breast shape component once I can establish a strong correlation, but again, it’s really only a starting point, especially for women who do not have the option of working with a professional (and let’s face it, ethical) fitter. At the end of the day, there truly is no substitute for actually trying the bra on and evaluating fit.

    1. We LOVE your calculator Erica, I think it’s such a revelation! Of course everyone would love a good fitter but it’s just not a feasible option, but if there’s a calculator that actually works then bring it on we say. The breast shape component is a really interesting point as well, would love to hear more about that.

      Would love to see the blog, so please keep us updated.

      1. Here’s a link to the blog we posted:

        Interestingly, we’ve had a few women advocating the +4 method in the suggestions. However, I’ve had the best results on band size accuracy, so I won’t be changing that any time soon. It seems like women with breast that are either equally full on top and bottom or just fuller on top have some of the issues with cup size value. Once I know more, I can see what else can be fixed. It’s just a matter of getting the data!

        1. Brilliant, thank you so much! I think that the main issue is the back size – most calculators come up with a much more accurate size (although not spot on) if you use your true band size…but I do think you’re right about it being different for individual breasts and the fullest part.

    2. I tried your calculator the other week, and it was one of the ones that told me I was a 30DD (I’m a 34C). This whole conversation around the +4 method and online bra calculators and determining fit is very interesting to me, especially since the current “just use your underbust measure” approach still doesn’t work for every woman.

    3. Hi Erica, thanks for commenting. You’re welcome about the calculator – and the thing we link best about it is how clearly you state that it IS just a starting point, and then go on to explain HOW it should fit. We love! x

  3. The Ann Summers one doesn’t believe in people with boobs bigger than an H cup, I try putting mine in (I believe my measurements are 33 and 44, being a 32HH/J), and it tells me “Please read the instructions carefully and enter the correct bust size”! Trying with random numbers, it seems it’ll go up to a 32H but no higher!

  4. I think education is most important. I feel the measuring tape is still important so you have a starting point. I think the measuring tape will give a very accurate band size, but cup size will forever be changing and the bras just need to be tried. It is also important for women to know and realize how cup size changes with the menstrual cycle. I believe it was A Sophisticated Pair who wrote one time to avoid bra fitting during menstruation. (Avoid fitting all clothes at this time, too!) It should also be avoided up to a week prior to the onset of menstruation because cup size increases 1 or 2 cups sizes at this time, too..

    1. I did write the part about menstruation, but I’m considering adding a revision! I’ve had a couple of customers who are truly two different sizes during the month, and they actually need bras for different parts of their cycle. However, when you come in for your first fitting (unless you are aware of the cup size problem), I recommend waiting until you’re not menstruating. Plus, let’s face it. That time of the month isn’t any fun, and staring in a mirror in your bra probably isn’t going to put you in a good mood!! 😀

  5. The Ann Summers one also won’t let you enter a band size like mine, 26. A dialogue box comes up admonishing you to read the instructions properly and enter the number again! I tried with 28 – nope – and then 30 – yes, you can enter that. But with my overbust measurement of 34 it tells me I’m a 30 DD (if I remember). Oh dear! But no surprise I guess.

    1. Yeah we can’t say we were surprised much to see that AS had gone for the obvious and easy +4/5 calculator method, but you’d hope that brands would put a little bit more thought and effort into their fitting guide a la Brastop who have done a great job in my opinion. x

  6. When I ignored Ann Summers advice and put in my actual measurements (+1 to my actual band size since 29 inch ribcages don’t exist, of course) it gave me the same result as the Sophisticated Pair – 30G US. I currently wear a 30FF UK and (according to this chart I am looking at) a 30H US. I’m looking at going up to a 30G UK/30I US, if I can find any to try on.

    I find it so sad that Ann Summers is advocating the +4 method. When I first started getting interested in my measurements last year, the only way to calculate my bra size that I could find was using the +4/+5 method. That made me incredibly sad, because I was wearing a 34C and my was it uncomfortable! I was googling all sorts of different calculators and measuring methods, desperately trying to find one that would tell me that the bra I was wearing was wrong, not my boobs.

    Fortunately, I found Venusian*Glow. From there, I found here and Busts 4 Justice. Now I am savvy enough to wear comfortable bras, although sadly the choice in New Zealand is so poor that I don’t get many style options to test my boobs in.

    1. So glad you found us, Contrary Kiwi! We love Busts4Justice and Venusian*Glow too 🙂 So glad we can all learn together what a well-fitted bra looks and feels like beyond what the calculators dictate 🙂 Hopefully one day all of the World’s boobs will be as fortunate. x

  7. I had the same result, Nicola! When I put in my actual measurements (34/46) into the Ann Summers calculator, it told me to “read the instructions carefully.”

  8. “I’m totally against the plus four method and I don’t think it is the correct way to fit someone, but I DO think it’s a starting off point.”

    You might want to rephrase that, it sounded for a moment like you thought +4 was a good starting point rather than tape measures generally 🙂

    But in general I agree that tape measures are a good place to start. Given it seems professional fittings are often as much use as +4 calculators and many people need sizes hard to find and try on in shops, giving someone the tools to work out what ballpark they should be in is really important.

    1. Ah thanks for pointing that out! I think I was too much on a role with typing that I got a bit muddled! If only we could erase the +4 mindset, then everything would be OK, Men In Black style! Why don’t those memory erasers exist yet?!

  9. Boux Avenue reckons a model with a 69 cm underband measurement should be wearing a 32 band bra! Then the video proceeds to show a bra gaping away from her body.

  10. It’s funny that 1.the calculator works (ish) if you ignore the +4/5 information for some, and 2. if AS don’t stock your size it seems to want to tell you your bra size doesn’t exist?!

  11. Ladies, I know only too well of the troubles you write about. I’m a Fitting expert at a well known department store in Cardiff and having ‘mystery shopped’ all similar services in the area know that there is very little consistency in the training they are given. On my 1st day of my new job (about 2 years ago now…) one of my colleagues correctly fitted me as a 34JJ and have had no problems since. In fact, I have never been so comfortable. Through other fitting experiences, I was told i was a 40GG, a not so far off 36HH and by one store that I could not be helped (!)
    As I’m sure you all know, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to bras and how they fit, it takes very much a trial and error approach, but with knowledge and perseverance we will get there.

    I completely agree with Becky on both counts; That tape measures should NOT be burned, they are there to guide during the fitting (not measuring) service and that the Men In Black approach to Plus 4 would be greatly appreciated. A lot of these online ‘tools’ hinder more that help and just keep adding to the statistics
    I do my best to coach the ladies that i fit, to help them discover why a bra is right or wrong for them and even after this, still have women coming back to me to ‘just check’ any new purchases they make, which I love

    Sorry to ramble on, but I just want to thank all you ladies to contribute to the blog for being so passionate about this and sharing your passion, knowledge and enthusiasm. I just wish there were so much more in the industry like you to help.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments Kirsty, and I’m glad you agree we shouldn’t burn the tape measures completely! I think it some cases they’re completely necessary…we need more fitters like you in the world!

  12. I think that lingerie manufacturer should pay more attention to the bra and other types of undergarments fitting. For example, with each sold lingerie article they can give a small broshure, where will be pictures explaining the bra fitting.

  13. I don’t come in here a lot (and have not been reading as many other blogs as I used to), but I LOVE your blog! Finding the right bra for me has been my mission this past year, and I’m nearly there… I have one that is great, a good sports bra, and there is another batch on their way to me now. I’m 3 or more hours to the nearest stores that a range of sizes that would suit me (my measurements are nearly same as yours… 30.5 band, 38 full bust). Mostly I’m finding the 32’s work best, but it varies.

    I’ve been mulling around an idea to put together a brochure or pamphlet for our gym (it’s at a large state office complex). During the summer I talked about bras and boobs quite a lot, my own discoveries and journey. I can’t quite go up to a woman I don’t know and say “have you considered that you might need a better fitting bra?”! One woman did tell me that because of my gabbing, and I sent her links in an email, she finally got her daughter fitted properly, and they are both very happy about that.

    I also know that many, many “smaller” women are also not wearing the right bra. My neice, who is very tiny all around, wears a 34B. One day I whipped out the tape measure (out of my knitting bag) and had her measure her underbust (over her slim fitting dress)… 27 inches. Oh, hon, I said, I think you would do well in a different bra. And, so as not to shock her, I suggested maybe a 32C. I really think she’d do well in a 28E as a place to start. Her response? “But I’m a “B” cup”.

    I think we have to get around the idea that B is B is B, and also educate women about the relative nature of these cup sizes.

    I’ve queried smaller breasted women in a knitting forum, and they also have fit issues that I believe are related to the same fit issues larger breasted women have… straps slip off, cups right up, band rides up… all indicating a too large band and too small cups.

    I don’t have the link handy, and I’m afraid if I go look for it I’ll loose this comment page, but there’s a great youtube video showing a petite woman finding her right bra. She always wore a 32A because that’s what she could find at Victoria’s Secret. She tries on a bunch of bras in the video, over her cami, and she gabs and giggles. She’s young, she’s modest, but she shares everything she learned.

    This year I think I’m taking the neice for a fitting. And her sister.

    1. Hi! Thanks for your comment! I think you mean the video by Jen frmheadtotoe, which I’ve seen. It’s a fantastic video which shows that even small bands and cup size need a ‘proper’ fitting – perhaps just as much as fuller busts! Thanks for commenting and spreading the good word 🙂 x

  14. Regarding the back band in the brastop fit video, have you other ladies found you can get yours to sit so low? I’d love to wear a low-cut back top with a bra that low, but my bras ted to sit at the bottom of my shoulder blades, not like the one in the video which seems almost to her waist. I suspect that my breasts sit high on my chest, so that could be part of the problem.

    1. That might be the case Hannah, I suppose it’s all about getting your band parallel to your boobs…mine sit just below my shoulder blades. Interesting point, not thought of that one before!

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