Fashion Theory: Statistics and the ‘wrong size bra’

If you have read any newspaper or magazine article where the topic of bra size comes up, you will probably have seen the often quoted statistic that 70-85% of women are wearing the wrong size bra. Apparently. I did a small amount of digging into this at the end of last year and discovered very little readily available evidence to support this widely reported claim:

Image by lipstickloriThankfully, I did find one cited academic source that was available to me online. Wikipedia states that “80–85% of women wear the wrong bra size” linking to Breast size, bra fit and thoracic pain in young women: a correlational study by Katherine Wood (School of Health Science, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia). The study had a sample size of thirty young women (aged 18–26 years), all with self-reported back pain. It is also worth noting that the introduction to the abstract states that: “A single sample study was undertaken to determine the strength and direction of correlations between: a) breast size and thoracic spine or posterior chest wall pain; b) bra fit and thoracic spine or posterior chest wall pain and; c) breast size and bra fit.” So, as far as I could tell, the most often quoted statistic on women wearing the wrong size bra comes from study with a very small sample size that was not designed to discover how many women in the world are wearing the wrong size bra. It wasn’t even designed to work out how many women in Melbourne are wearing the wrong size bra!

It turns out that Catherine Clavering of Kiss Me Deadly has also done some poking around on this subject, resulting in a fascinating article for The Lingerie Addict entitled Bra Fit Science: Why Sampling Methods for Lingerie Research Matter. She discusses why using findings of a study by Portsmouth Breast Health Research – a study using 45 women from Portsmouth, UK – cannot be used to prove that 80% of women are wearing the wrong size bra. Clavering points out: “On the basis of sample size and geographic distribution alone, you can’t really use this study to demonstrate much about the UK as a whole in terms of bra fitting, and you certainly can’t use it to demonstrate anything about women all over the world.” If you are unsure of the many ways you should be questioning this type of statistic, that article is well worth a read! In fact, if I’d found it in the first place, I wouldn’t have needed to to waste an entire afternoon getting cross about the number of women who are apparently wearing the wrong size bra. [Note to self: Always check The Lingerie Addict first.]

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