Sizing or Bust

Bra sizes are a notorious quagmire. Like everything else in feminine clothing, it relies on a close match between specific items and specific wearers but isn’t priced or made available in a way that actually enables that kind of tailoring, and the end result is that different regions, times of day, brands, weather patterns, and Pokémon swarms all seem to influence how well a particular bra fits. Getting one’s bust sized is as much art as science, and that gets messy for bra wearers whose proportions are at all unusual and/or who have reason to be wary of or insecure around common sources of this information.

I’ve been on estrogen for seven months. I have experienced breast growth since before that, during the month I was on spironolactone alone. My bust is currently substantial enough that I’d need a binder or similar tool to hide it, or a heavy coat in whose fluff it could vanish. It even clearly looks like something in a (padded) bikini, when most bathing suits reduce one’s apparent heft fairly dramatically.

Getting a handle on my bust size has been a long-term challenge. One problem is fairly obvious: I’m still growing, and very well might be for a year or two to come. Another is that, between being a two-puberty transgender woman and having mild kyphosis, my upper back’s shape and proportions are somewhat confusing for me, let alone for erstwhile sizers. But growth is an incremental process past the literally-overnight that got me started, and even my curious posture isn’t that much of a mess for standard bra patterns.

So I’ve gotten sized. A bunch of times.

My first bras, which I purchased at La Senza before I received my prescriptions, were 36B. I based that size on home measurements and the Internet, and the examples I picked fit well enough that I didn’t think anything of them. Before my growth began, I wore them with “chicken cutlet” bra inserts to give them shape under my clothes. There was enough of a gap between the inserts and my clothes that having wads of plastic in my bra wasn’t even particularly sweaty. Once I started growing, I rapidly reached the point where the inserts became hot and uncomfortable, as I closed the gap between them and my skin, and stopped wearing them.

On 18 March, after my initial growth period and then some, I visited three lingerie stores in the Bayshore Shopping Centre to see what they’d say about me, and to get an idea for what the usual professional process is for sizing an ordinary consumer’s bust. On 12 April, I did it again, this time at outlets of the same three stores at the Rideau Centre. This is what happened.

La Senza

La Senza is not particularly warm or friendly. Brightly lit like a standard clothing store and featuring its well-known blonde model in advertisements that took up the entirety of both of its front windows, its marketing promotes unsubtle, excited, in-your-face sex appeal. Like most mall-outlet clothing stores in Ottawa, it had an employee greet me within a minute or two of entering. The employee produced a tape measure and sized me over my clothes on the shop floor, exactly where I’d been standing. Under those clothes was the 36B La Senza bra I mentioned earlier, but no plastic inserts. She measured me the way I read about and the way friends recommended, below the bust and then around it at its widest point. Her reading was 34C, a relatively common size but larger than I expected. She pointed me to the fitting rooms with a card bearing a series of lines and my name and size, where the attendant handed me a drawer of examples of that size in various styles. La Senza’s 34Cs fit beautifully, definitely better than the 36B I was used to, despite the two nominally being “sister sizes” that most women can wear interchangeably. The balconette option fit more closely than the standard-shaped alternatives. The attendant marked my card on my behalf, and was disappointed to learn I wouldn’t be buying anything.

A month later, I visited the Rideau Centre location to compare measurements. The measurement process was similar, but the result this time was 34B. I wasn’t there to try on items again and didn’t have a lot of time, so I did not compare the fit of their 34Bs to the 34Cs I had tried on and fit in earlier, before I had grown a bit. As far as I can tell, the difference is in the employee’s measurement process, or perhaps that my clothing was a bit thicker the first time.

La Vie en Rose

La Vie on Rose prefers more diffuse lighting. Its advertisements are subtler, and use models who are a little older than La Senza’s. It positions its non-underwear inventory, including bathing suits and pajamas, much more prominently than La Senza or Victoria’s Secret position theirs. There’s a sense that, where La Senza’s intended sexual feeling is energetic and even aggressive, La Vie en Rose instead tries to elicit confident, romantic serenity that, by comparison, isn’t even particularly sexual.

As in La Senza, I was greeted shortly after entering the store. When I indicated my desire to be sized, the greeter escorted me to a fitting room and measured me over my clothing. The measurement protocol was otherwise similar to La Senza’s, but the result was different. Here, I was read as 34, between B and C, again over my clothes and a La Senza 36B. This came with suggestions of which styles to take in the larger versus the smaller size. I wasn’t directly handed anything to try on, and La Vie en Rose is a bit more expensive than some other lingerie stores, so I didn’t waste their time by testing their inventory. Also, I needed to locate a restroom. While my own building need to void some fluids contributed to the rushed quality of the visit, this was still not a long or particularly involved process.

At the Rideau Centre location, the experience was similar. I was again sized in a fitting room, and this time was read as the “in-between size” of 35B, with the suggestion that I try on 36Bs and 34Cs to determine what would work best for me. I noted with satisfaction that the measurement took place in a fitting room rather than out on the sales floor, and the employee told me that store policy prohibits sales-floor customer measurements, despite these being standard in other lingerie stores. I like that.

Victoria’s Secret

Victoria’s Secret has a very particular decorative aesthetic at its Ottawa locations and probably elsewhere. Black walls and bright, warmly-colored displays create a surprisingly cozy, intimate atmosphere. Casinos and nightclubs use similar aesthetic traditions, which slow movements, increase customers’ sense of comfort, and encourage them to linger. This was and is a striking contrast to the white walls and shadowless fixtures in La Senza and La Vie en Rose, and makes Victoria’s Secret inviting and personal where the others are, for me, somewhat disorienting. VS was, more likely, hoping to evoke a boudoir atmosphere than the clamor of a nightclub, but the same principles apply.

The employees were warm and friendly to the point of being pushy. At the Bayshore location, I was measured over my clothes on the shop floor, and under those clothes was the 36B La Senza bra I mentioned earlier, but no plastic inserts. The employee used a tape measure that they all carry to measure around me just under my breasts, at the position of a bra band, and then across the top and front of my bust, with the rear part of the measuring tape in the same position as before. If I’d made a better note of that position at the time, I could have avoided a bunch of confusion about my actual size later on. Bayshore VS’s diagnosis: 34B, a very common size. I was herded into a fitting room with a card bearing my name and that size. The fitting rooms all have cute names on their doors as well as a doorbell system to alert the attendant, who offered me examples of a number of styles to try on and remained available for advice and suggestions throughout. I initially expressed interest in the balconette style, which others had suggested to me as friendlier to wider-shouldered women, and received a number of examples in that and their standard “demi” style. Balconette did indeed fit more closely, but both fit well. I also learned that padded / pushup bras are not a safe option until my growth stops, due to growth-related pressure sensitivity that made donning this particular item physically painful. The fit card I was assigned after the floor employee determined my size also had a checklist of styles, which the fitting-room attendant filled out for me based on my expressed opinions.

A thin model wearing a black bra and panties using a measuring tape to determine her band and cup sizes.
Victoria’s Secret used a minor variation, with the front of the measuring tape slightly higher and crossed at an angle. Measuring on top of clothing, as they all did, introduces an error term.

At the Rideau Centre location a few days ago, I wasn’t intending to stick around for long. The second round of visits was meant to see if these new stores, a month later, would say different things than their Bayshore counterparts in March. The Victoria’s Secret floor employee pointed me at the fitting room for sizing, and the attendant sized me within a fitting room rather than where others could watch, which was a welcome touch of privacy. VS’s policy is that measurements take place on the sales floor unless things are busy, at which point the customer is directed to the fitting rooms and dealt with by the attendant there so that the sales-floor staff can deal with the crowd.

The fitting-room attendant faced my measurements with puzzlement, and gave a tentative reading of 32D. I found this improbable and told her so, which led to me spending unexpected time trying on more bras. This corroborated my skepticism. While the standard demi-cup bra in 32D fit better than most of the bras I had ever tried on, all of the other styles had to be taken down to 32C to not be conspicuously oversized. 32C, however, worked very well, though my right breast still has a little catching up to do. For those who don’t know, 32C and 34B are often called “sister sizes” because the larger cup on the one can serve the same role as the wider band on the other, depending on style, and the same person can often wear both sizes equally well. This time, the padded option was bearable, if still tight and somewhat unpleasant.


Store 18 March 12 April
La Senza 34C 34B
La Vie en Rose 34B or 34C 36B or 34C
Victoria’s Secret 34B 32C or 32D


Switching between one bra size and another with a slightly larger cup and smaller band, or vice versa, comes down to measurement technique, personal comfort, and biases that particular stores or styles bring to the table. There’s a truism that most women are wearing bras with too-large bands and too-small cups, and how much that idea has altered a particular measurer’s technique probably influences which sister size gets quoted. With that in mind, the mess of ratings above is perhaps not as chaotic as it looks. While I managed to get no fewer than five different sizes quoted to me from six visits to three stores, they’re all close together, and become a total of two sizes when sister-size equivalencies are considered.

The real issue is, different styles favor different breast shapes, and considerations of comfort as well as appearance govern whether a given bra that “fits” does so to a particular wearer’s satisfaction. Still, I’m not convinced that these three brands are all using quite the same relationship between the physical structure of the bra and its tagged size. I think La Senza is using bigger letters than its bras would receive elsewhere.

From the looks of things, the growth I have seen and privately photographed between mid-March and mid-April was more a matter of shape than size, and I’ve been in the same ballpark throughout.  I’m a 32C / 34B, and have been for a long time. I’m not done growing yet, and I might yet outgrow the ridiculous oversizing of the 36B I mis-measured myself into so long ago, or at least reach a stable point where it’s clear I can buy a smaller size for the long-term.

I’ll probably do my shopping at Victoria’s Secret when that day comes.


Sizing or Bust

2 thoughts on “Sizing or Bust

Comments are closed.