Dress Size V’s Bra Size- Which Sports Bra is on Top?

Intro by Ruth Kelly, Materials Editorruth@ssachs.co

As a woman nothing is more distracting in sport that worrying about the girls!

Throughout my career I’ve sat in many heated debates as the topic of dress v bra cup size in sports bras, has been vehemently discussed. Sure its challenging to manage all the unique size options with the cup option, but that gives you the best fit for a garment – correct?

Well maybe not!

As a follow up to her successful first Ssachs article Which Bra for Which Sport? Emmaline Vaughan Ronson shares with us her insights and take on the sizing debate.

As a bra specialist, creating supportive, well-fitting bras is my number one priority.  Controlling the fit across any number of sizes requires millimetre precision and working in cups sizes provides the opportunity to deliver this precision fit successfully.

Yet in sports bras and tops the boundaries between outwear and underwear is blurred.  We regularly see a mix of sizes from Extra Small to 36 H. So what is the best approach?

Do we really need cup sizes for sports tops?

It feels a little (well a lot) like dissent to my fellow intimate specialists but the answer is “no, not always.”

However to qualify this point of view, educating the consumer and the producer, is imperative.

All bras are not born equal

The variety in exercise routines are only matched by the myriad of personal requirements every wearer presents.  Physique, bust size, age and health are an assortment of factors that drive consumers towards their sports bra of choice.

Many women wear traditional cup sized bras most of their adult lives. So to be told it’s unnecessary when performing rigorous exercise will encourage many to scoop up their girls and run for the hills! We see regular bras being continued to be worn to the gym, often doubling (or tripling) up in a bid to increase support. 

Don’t think ‘bra’ think ‘Sports Bra’

We need to breakdown preconceptions. All bras are not born equal and sports bras have far more advantages over their traditional counterparts. 

We can easily build our sports bras with some fundamental shape differences.  Higher cut side panels, wider shoulder straps, deeper bottom bands, greater coverage at the front and more flexibility through the back.

In most cases this offers enough support and adaptability. Coupled with quality compression materials, it makes grading through the cup or bust line superfluous. 

Keeping with a dress size metric allows for more freedom for the producer.  A simpler construction method equates to a less labour intensive product (for development and manufacture).  This gives way to brands being able to use their budget on better quality materials and offer more variety in their collections.

There is also the perception from the consumer that purchasing a dress size sports bra is less of an ordeal. Far more convenient to purchase one top rather than sifting through several cup sized options to find the one that fit’s. 

This however is just one part of the dress size v’s bra sizing debate.

There is a tipping point.  Where exercise routines become more demanding and breasts simply get larger.  Suddenly we are back to the vision of the poor woman wearing three bras to gym! 

No matter what dress size a sports bra comes in, the cup capacity will only be small and generalized in shape.

Photo Credit : Emmaline Vaughan Ronson

Let’s take a brief overview of the grading process between dress sizes and bra sizes.  Most dress size garments make an assumption on the capacity needed through the bust line (usually this is equates to a B or C cup). 

So as a garment increases from XS through to XL the garment increases in width and length but not specifically through the capacity at the bust point.  This means even an XL is only catering for a B/C cup person. 

Therefore it should comes as no surprise that once we stray into the realms of D cups and above, the dress size sports top quickly looses its performance edge.

From this point, larger breasts require different layers of fabrication, shifting and stabilizing in multiple directions for the maximum support in movement. 

We begin to create a garment with significant cup capacity and support around the root of the breast so we can distribute the weight and control the breast tissue fully. 

From a consumer perspective they have the best chance to find the optimal performance bra.  A comfortable garment that can support the breasts natural position without inducing breast pain or Ptosis (sagging of the breast).

The skill for the brand or producer is to recognize the investment and value to achieving a well designed and engineered sports bra.  Contrary to the dress size bra, this area dictates the investment lands firmly in the fitting department. 

It seems to me there is good reason to have both options in the market.  However it should be pointed out that the success of delivering a good sports bra or top is knowing who your consumer is and drilling the design down to meet their needs completely. 

Consumer confidence is built on the wearers’ confidence in the product.  Everyone works out in different ways but ultimately they all want to maintain their physical and mental health. 

The right sports bra / top solution engenders this feel-good factor in women forever!

Emmaline is a designer and product developer in the field of intimate apparel for almost 25 years,  In particular her career has focused on garment construction, manufacture and development.   She feels strongly about passing on this experience to others, either within our industry or to newcomers embarking on their own journey.



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