February 12th 2010 A Titillating Post

I don’t mean to speak out of turn, but last week I found a tag from a bra in my trash can. This isn’t that unusual if you’re a chick, but it’s not something a single guy expects to find in his bachelor pad. But it does happen on occasion. My girlfriend had been visiting for a week and, lacking any support for her bust, had purchased a couple bras. What piqued my interest was the size of the bra, written in large bold letters: Women’s 34A. I kid you not—I wish I had taken a photo of the tag, because the phrasing made me chuckle aloud. Why did the Joe Boxer corporation feel a need to point out that this was a woman’s size? I have no doubts that some men are more ample than some women in the chest region, but do fat guys actually buy bras to support the extra girth on their chests?

If you take a moment to think, though, the reasoning becomes even more murky, since in theory, bra sizes for men and women would be the same. Consider clothing sizes for a second. In the US, shoe sizes have no units attached. Their only measurement is their size in relation to each other. A size 6 shoe is bigger than a size 5 and smaller than a size 7, but that tells you nothing about the physical dimensions. Women’s jean sizes are similar: a size 4 is bigger than a size 2 and smaller than a size 6, but the sizes give you no insight on the exact circumference of the waist (and I think most girls would tell you that jean sizes can vary from brand to brand).

Bra sizes, on the other hand, effectively have units attached. The number corresponds to the circumference of the wearer’s ribcage, in inches; the cup size is the difference between the circumference of the ribcage and the distance around the breasts, and thus is essentially a volume (cup sizes basically refer to “ounces” of breast). Hypothetically speaking, if a man and a woman both had similarly-sized chests, they’d wear the same size bra. Units are the ultimate feminist equalizer: they pay no attention to gender.

More interestingly, bras seem to be one of the few articles of women’s clothing that is measured in actual dimensions. Guys’ clothing is completely different: aside from shoes and t-shirts, most of our clothing is measured in inches. Pants sizes are labeled according to waist and inseam; dress shirts are measured in neck circumference; suits are measured in chest circumference. Perhaps this says something about the sexes: guys like to feel powerful by attaching raw physical measurements to their clothing dimensions, whereas women prefer not to think about their “actual” size—unless they’re describing their boobs, that is.