The poetry of the bra size was on display in the New York Times this morning. “On they go, the canonical brassiere sizes, up to at least a 50N,” wrote Stephanie Clifford. “They have been around since the 1930s, maddeningly unconventional standards, varying from brand to brand, from demi-cup to strapless—a kaleidoscopic vision, in lace and elastic, of fashion, culture and the enduring power of marketing.” It is a strangely beautiful and breathless way to talk about a system of bra measurements so imprecise as to hardly manage to fit anyone.
Each breast is a snowflake, says my editor (words to live by), but for years, our bras have failed to respect the individuality of the breast. Rather than pampering the girls with tailored fits, we’ve shoved and shimmied them into unforgiving, fabric-and-wire prisons. Here’s how the current system works: If the difference between your ribcage and your breast at its roundest point is 1 inch, you get an A cup. Two inches yields a B cup, and on up to N (who knew?) at 14 inches. That’s it: Differently shaped busts are treated identically. No wonder the Internet teems with tales of liberation, in which women decide to go full boob anarchy and abandon the undergarments altogether.
Now, though, according to the Times, we may no longer be forced to choose between awkward constraint and total lawlessness. After eight years of research, the underwear company Jockey International plans to introduce 55 new bra sizes—“a mass market answer to custom fittings that have become increasingly popular in boutiques and high-end department stores,” Clifford explains. These sizes take into account both contour and amplitude: They consist of 10 differently scaled cups in varying shapes. For $19.95, Jockey offers potential customers a sizing kit—replete with a measuring tape—with which they can experiment. The bras themselves come in black, white, and beige. They have numerical descriptions like 5-34 and 9-32 and cost $60.
I think I may have just lost some of you. Sixty dollars, no lie, is kind of pricey for a bra, and with all those numbers, who can keep track? But consider the totalitarian bent of the current taxonomic system, and consider how you feel about your current snowflake holders. As a longtime underwear discontent, I am ready to lift my cup(s) to a new world order.