Why The Full Bust Market Is Different From the Plus Size Market (And Why It Should Be)

I went to Curve NYC for the first time this year, and it was an amazing and eye opening experience. I also came back with the flu/cough of doom that overtook many of the trade show attendees, so I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the show in between sleeping and drinking copious amounts of herbal tea.

I touched on this issue briefly in my latest piece for The Lingerie Addict, but wanted to go into my experiences at Curve in more depth. Over the course of three days, I met lots of people who identified me both as a full bust blogger and a plus size blogger and had all kinds of opinions about what those two categories meant. Comments ranged from one store owner telling me, “Oh, they didn’t do plus size” when I mentioned that I was a full bust blogger and from people asking me what I thought of the trends in the plus size market.

I’m currently a size 14 on top and a size 12 on bottom, so I felt a little taken aback at this. There are lots of fabulous and gorgeous plus size bloggers out there, but I’ve never considered myself among their ranks. Put simply, clothes that work for a 12/14 are a very different market from clothes that work from size 16/18 and up, and I don’t know much beyond my own speciality area. When I put my columns together I do try to cover a range of sizes, but I also specialize in an audience that is probably in the size 6 to 14 area. What I do have is J cup breasts, which I think throws people. It’s easy to assume that if a woman wears a larger cup size that she’s part of the plus size market, but it’s much more complex than that in reality.

The full bust market covers everyone from the 28J woman to the 34KK/L woman. People might argue about the definition, but usually if you’re a 34 back or under and a DD cup or over you’re pretty solidly in the full bust market. A 36 band size and up puts you in the plus size market, generally. There are fantastic designers making great lingerie in both of these categories, but they don’t tend to cross over as much as you’d think. For instance, Elomi is an amazing plus size brand that makes larger cup sizes as well, but I don’t talk about them much because they make very few 34 band sizes, and I’m more like a 32 these days anyway.

Ultimately, sticking these two markets together is doing everyone a disservice. Everyone deserves clothes and lingerie that make them look beautiful, but the two markets have very different needs. Acknowledging that is the first step towards equalizing the fashion world and making it a place that serves everyone.

If you’re looking for some great plus size bloggers to follow, two of my favorites are Georgina Horne of Fuller Figure Fuller Bust and Ash of Ash in Fashion.


  • Reply Lottie March 5, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    So true! Very good article, thanks. I’m starting a bra-fitting service in Madrid and will offer a fairly full range of bra sizes. When I tell people, the most normal reponse is to start talkiing about the demand for full-figure garments, underwear or clothes. Nooooo! The smallest band size seen on the high-street in Spain is a 30″ and they are difficult to come by. So, as many girls are teeny-framed size 34-36 (UK 6-8) I am expecting that the most common fitting ‘bra epiphanies’ will be 28 backs (and even 26 if I can find the stock!). Sooooo not a full-figure issue in the least!


  • Reply Cecily March 6, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    Hey Holly,
    I was overjoyed to see this post. It’s something I’ve noticed for a while and haven’t been able to sort out in my head. I think that a lot of people, when talking about breasts, use descriptors that aren’t helpful. For instance, the word “big” really bothers me. As in, the “big sizes” or “her boobs are big!”. What does that mean? Plus sized or full busted?

    I’m hopeful that this dynamic/confusion/weird assumption will get sorted out with time. I was amazed that barenecessities now has two different, distinct categories with “DD+” and “bareplus”. That’s a step in the right direction!

    • Reply hollyj March 6, 2012 at 1:03 PM

      Thanks for commenting, Cecily!

      I love what Bare Necessities has done with their stores and filters for products. They’re really leading the way for other major online stores to do the same.

      I hate when people use the term big (not that I really have an alternative). It’s so hard to guess someone’s bra size by looking at them. I know some women who look tiny in terms of cup size to me who really aren’t, and vice versa. I especially hate when large cup women describe other large cup women as having huge boobs (This happens to me all the time, and ugh). I really wish we could all get to a point where this stuff is just a number/letter and nothing more, but that may be a little optimistic.

  • Reply Claire at Butterfly Collection March 6, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    Great post Holly. I always tell people that Plus Size has NOTHING TO DO WITH CUP SIZE. You can be plus size and an A, B or C cup but you can’t be full bust and an A, B or C cup.

    Plus Size – A to N cups 38+ (I still think 36 falls into regular sizes)
    Full Bust – D to N cups 26-36

    I look forward to the day that this distinction is clear for manufacturers, sellers and customers alike xx

    • Reply hollyj March 6, 2012 at 6:59 PM

      Thanks for clarifying the technical details! It’s amazing that companies don’t understand this, and that there is so much debate around it.

    • Reply Liberty May 24, 2013 at 6:38 AM

      Thanks for saying that, Claire. You are right. At least for some women size 36 is not plus size. Women who are this size can differ considerably in height and body fat percentage. Women 5’7″ and over and size 36 probably aren’t plus sized.

  • Reply Bra Nightmares March 6, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    I seem to be the only one who thinks this doesn’t work.

    First of all, I get your point. It must be a bit exhausting when people think that being big breasted means somehow being fat. I get that.

    But. I think full busted and plus size work are terms that work on totally different levels. The first one describes big breasts, in my opinion meaning cup size. The second describes body size and the amount of fat a person is carrying with them. See, different things?

    Just as well as there can be slim big breasted women, there can also be plus sized small breasted women. So, let’s try to be descriptive about all bodies with these terms, please? I think I’m a plus sized full busted woman, someone else can be just full busted. I don’t really understand why there even should be this need to divide women in different sections as the whole problem could be faded away with spreading info about bra sizes.

    And don’t get me wrong, I do understand that the slim full-busted women are often being neglected in the bra market and media and I hate that! But I think it’s just a bit offensive to think that us plus-sized full bust women are somehow different than other full busted women.

    All in all, I think this is a great topic to write about and I did enjoy your post! There were just these few things I needed to point out. 🙂

    • Reply hollyj March 6, 2012 at 4:14 PM

      Thanks for commenting!

      I think we’re actually on the same page. 🙂 I think there can be all kinds of full busted women, and I think there’s definitely overlap between the two markets. I know lots of 40A’s and 40J’s, and they have different clothing needs. Ideally, we’d see designers acknowledging all parts of this issue so everyone had clothes that fit. I assume it’s equally annoying to try and find a dress when you’re a plus size J cup as a size six J cup.

      Anyway, does that help? Please let me know if I haven’t been clear!

      • Reply Bra Nightmares March 7, 2012 at 2:37 AM

        Thanks for your reply! We’re definately on the same page. From your post I got the impression that a plus sized woman could not be a full busted woman in your opinion, but your comment cleared your point very well. 🙂

        • Reply Bra Nightmares March 7, 2012 at 2:43 AM

          And one more thing I forgot to mention: It’s a bit annoying that clothes meant for full busted women (for example Bravissimo and BiuBiu) don’t go up to my size as I have the same problem as slimmer full busted women when it comes to finding fitting tops. The plus size market doesn’t address this issua at all: the tops are always too small at my breasts and my hips and too big at my waist.

  • Reply Sarah March 6, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    Holly, thank you for this thoughtful post.

    I don’t know if you heard anything like this, too, but at Curve I heard from a brand who makes 28s and 30s that this was “a junior size.” So, at least the sales reps of one of the major full-busted manufacturers with 28 and 30 bands thinks they are for adolescent girls only (I’m guessing this means smaller-than-normal ribcages because they are still developing???). Given that Elomi starts plus-size bras at 36, that would mean that all non-plus sized women with bigger chests would have to either wear a 32 or 34 band. I don’t get it. That’s such a small range for a group of women that would span sizes 2-12 in clothing. How do we get rid of these strange ideas around and resistance toward 28, 30, and even 26 bands? There are women who are full-busted, plus-size, and plus-size AND full-busted, and it’s a disservice to all when it’s conflated into one category.

    • Reply hollyj March 6, 2012 at 7:04 PM

      Seriously, someone told you that? That’s ridiculous. I’m sure there are lots of fully formed 26-30 band women out there who would beg to differ. I feel the the brands that actually get this are also hard to source in the US (many are Polish), so that doesn’t help either. Ewa Michalak and Kris Line both make sub-30 band sizes, but you won’t ever run across a store that carries them to discover them here.

    • Reply Zoggi March 10, 2012 at 7:36 PM

      The idea that 28-30 back sizes are “junior” sizes just makes me laugh. At the age of 1`2 I wore a 32A. I’m now 27 and I wear a 30E. My ribcage is *smaller* now than it was at the age of 12.

  • Reply astrid March 12, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    While I agree that “plus size” and “full-busted” are two different things, I think that there is cleary some overlap. So, I disagree that “full-busted” stops at a 34KK/L because that would leave out all 36+ women who happen to wear a larger cup. In this idea, Elomi targets plus-size women who are also full-busted, since they don’t sell A-C cups.
    I may be biaised because I’m at the upper end of regular sizes (wearing a 34 sometimes 32), so I feel my needs are closer to those of a woman at the lower end of plus size wearing a 36J for instance than to a woman wearing a 26G.

  • Reply Some Final Thoughts on Curve Expo: 28 and 30 bands, GG+ Cups | StackDD+ March 14, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    […] first-timer, I did come away with some unexpected impressions (as did Holly at Full Figured Chest: read this excellent post on the difference between the full bust and plus size market; and Claire at Butterfly Collection, who tackles US cup sizing). At this expo are the full-busted […]

  • Reply Maria @ Feisty Tapas March 29, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    That’s really interesting, I’ve struggled all my life with this subject. Ever since I was a teenager. Before pregnancy I was a 30G most of the time, sometimes going down to a FF and at one point when I lost a bit of extra weight I was a 28G. My back is really small but I can promise you I am 38 years of age. I was then right in between a UK size 10 and 12. After pregnancy and not managing to lose the extra weight I am a 32H.

    I remember when I was a teen in Spain I used to have bras taken apart basically, they would have to cut the straps that go round the back. Spain is very square for bra sizes, they don’t really understand that there are such things as back or cup measurements, this may have changed though, I’ve been buying my bras in the UK since the 90s!)

    Over here in the UK it’s much better and for the last decade or more I have used Bravissimo, which is brilliant as it specialises in curves (recognising that you can have big boobage but not necessarily be a larger size everywhere else), the other day I bought clothes from them too as they now do a clothes range, I was happy that they fit rather well not only on my boobs but underneath them too, so I can show off that really my waist and tummy aren’t that big (bit of a muffin top though!). I’ve been blogging a bit about this subject after paying Bravissimo a visit the other day and being offered to do a review of an online personal shopper and stylist. The whole thing has driven me nuts for about 25 years now.

    Fantastic to have found you 🙂

  • Reply Liberty May 24, 2013 at 6:28 AM

    You think a 36 band is plus size? Wow! My 5’9″ fitness model friend is a CORRECTLY fitted 36″ band size. Anything smaller ans she feels like she can’t breath. She is 128 – 132 pounds. Pure muscle. Lean, fit, and thin! She wears a size 4 – 6 pants. No offense but from the photos you are considerably less thin and fit and yet, you do not consider yourself plus sized. I think this will only add to the confusion that already exists. Opinions be darned, my 36″ band sized friend is no where in the ballpark of plus sized, but you are.

    • Reply hollyj May 24, 2013 at 11:47 AM

      Thanks for commenting! I definitely agree that height does play into and that not all rules work for everyone. Most full bust women use a size that doesn’t add inches, and I suspect your friend is using the plus four inches measuring system. If your friend likes that it’s totally okay, but lots of women find that adding no extra inches or only two is a better fit for them in terms of support.

      I’m definitely overweight, but I’m also right below most plus size clothing company sizes. I think this whole category is tough to define, honestly. I’m definitely not offended by people pointing out my weight – it’s something I’m totally aware of and honestly not bothered by. I work out six days a week and eat clean, so I’m happy with myself. I think it might behove you to examine your attitudes to what “plus size” means. It doesn’t necessarily equal fat and unfit.

      • Reply Liberty June 17, 2013 at 1:32 PM

        I already addressed your suspicions when I said ‘anything smaller and she feels like she can’t breathe’. She also competes wearing custom made bikinis and outfits that simply must stay in place. She’s a 36″ band size. Just because a lot of women wear an ill fitting bra doesn’t mean all of them do. Nor does it mean no one but bloggers understands how to choose the correct size. Several years ago I modeled large cup sized bras. I know what fits. I agree with the point you made in your article, just not that 36 band size is truly plus size.

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