FIRST there was economic inflation. Then there was grade inflation. Now comes cup inflation.
While clothes designers have whittled down dress sizes so that even a musclebound woman can wiggle into a size 2, brassiere makers are defying fashion convention by selling bras with bigger cup sizes. These days, many women — to their shock or glee — are finding that DD is becoming the new C.
At Wacoal America, one of the largest bra makers in the country, 36DD is on track to replace 36D as its most popular size in 2009. (Three years ago it was 36C.) Bare Necessities, an online lingerie retailer, said 34DD was its No. 10 best-selling size last year, up from No. 17 in 2002. And this fall Elle Macpherson Intimates will introduce its first collection for fuller-busted women, offering cup sizes from D to G.
“It’s the ascendancy of the DDs,” said Noah Wrubel, the chief executive of Bare Necessities. “The bras that women are wearing these days are not their mothers’ bras.”
Theories abound as to why women’s cups seem to be (forgive the pun) spilling over. Some ascribe the difference to a confluence of health and beauty trends that have accelerated over time. A 2007 study of adult women by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the prevalence of obesity — someone having a body mass index of 30 or more — has increased 2.1 percent since 2004, to 35.3 percent. Breast augmentation, too, is still a popular procedure, despite the recession. And age and hormones play havoc with baby boomers’ bust sizes, as well. But most manufacturers and lingerie shop owners say the phenomenon is due to the fact that more women are being fitted correctly. They call it the Oprah effect. Since 2005, when Oprah Winfrey devoted a show to how to buy the right size bra, the number of women seeking bra fittings has soared.
“It was a turning point,” said Liz Smith, director of retail service at Wacoal America, which is considering adding an H cup to its line. “You just need her to say it once.”
About 8 in 10 women wear the wrong size, experts say. Most often the problem is that the stretchy fabric band around the rib cage is worn too loosely for smaller frames. A more snug band size — going from, say, a 34 to a 32 — increases the width and depth of the cup. Simply put, a woman who wears a 36A is also likely to fit into a 34B or a 32C.
But while some women find pride in their newly discovered abundance, others have mixed feelings. “Most women are in bra denial,” said Rebecca Apsan, the owner of La Petite Coquette in Manhattan whose biggest sellers last year were 32D and 32DD. “They think there is some mistake. That’s why I never tell them what size I am putting them in. They don’t want to believe it.”
Susie Essman, the actress who plays Susie Greene on the HBO comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” can relate. In 2005 HBO showed an episode in which Larry David goes shopping for a bra for his housekeeper and is shocked at the size of Ms. Greene’s bra. In a case of art imitating life, Ms. Essman was surprised last year when she was fitted for a 32DD bra after wearing a 34D for decades. She liked the fit, she said, but was forced to grapple with stereotypes she associated with women who filled a DD cup. Among them? Anna Nicole Smith was reported to have worn that size.
“I haven’t had surgery,” Ms. Essman said. “I don’t walk around with a lot of cleavage. I’m in a DD, and I’m a regular-sized person.”
Unlike with dress sizes, there is no standard among foreign or domestic brands, adding to the confusion. British brands can range from A to K. Most Americans can find bras with cup sizes ranging from A to G, although some brands go as high as L.
“It is extremely subjective,” said Steven Teitelbaum, a cosmetic surgeon based in Santa Monica, Calif., who specializes in breast augmentation. “I wish they would get their act together and get their sizes straight.”
Recently, Danny Koch, an owner of the Town Shop, a lingerie store in Manhattan, was examining bras by the bra maker Fayreform at its Midtown Manhattan showroom. Fayreform, which specializes in bras with cup sizes from D to G, is manufactured by Bendon, which also makes bras for Elle Macpherson Intimates. Mr. Koch was there to see their new full-busted offerings, some of which he hoped to sell in his store.
“See this?” he said, stretching the strap of one. “This is not going to hold someone up.” Of the more than 14 new bras he was shown, he was impressed with only one. He does not believe that the changes are due to vanity sizing — “You, too, can be bigger without surgery!” he joked — which is supposed to make a woman feel better. “There is a reason women are wearing these things,” he said. “It is an attempt to defy gravity as long as possible.”
Still, a larger cup can come with bragging rights particularly in figure-conscious Los Angeles. “Many girls say, ‘Wait until my husband finds out I’m not a 34B, I’m a 32X!’ ” said Lisa Frank, the owner of Footsie in Santa Monica.
Consider Lee Michel. She bought her 36A bras at a department store. She never cared about size. But recently she went for her first fitting at Footsie and walked out with a couple of La Perla 34C-size bras. She was more than pleased.“I think it’s a little psychological,” she said, of the smaller band size. “It makes me feel a little thinner.” And did she tell her husband about her new bust size? “No,” she said, laughing. “He really doesn’t care what size my breasts are. He just likes them. He liked them before I got pregnant. He liked them after. What can I say? He just likes them.”