Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Getting a bra that fits… in Italy

Italian bra sizes are made for matrioskas! (Photo: flickr @D-504)

There are some countries in which the bra fitting is a rite of passage and a moment to be repeated every decade or so, or after massive changes to one’s body. There are countries in which bras are more lacy, or more practical, or more flexible in sizing and types. Italy is not one of the latter. I confess, in the more than one decade that I have lived in this country, my greatest struggle (ok, that is a hyperbole) has been to get a bra that fits.

The English language is marvelous for its ability to use the same word to mean so many different things. The word ‘fit‘ is highly flexible, and is the topic of this month’s Italy blogging roundtable, in which we female knights will be jamming a word that, thanks to compounds, can bring on thoughts of things fitting, fitting in, getting fit, being mentally fit, and much more… including, in this case, bras.

Bra sizes in Italy are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. The first size corresponds to a 32 back, and it is assumed that you are a skinny boobless chick if you wear a size one. Now, picture a matrioska – you know, those dolls that get bigger exponentially? As the Italian bra size number increases, so does the cup size. I must conclude that Italian women fill out back and cup at the same time, within perfect ratio. Honestly, I do not know how they wear these bound-to-be ill-fitting bras. I, for one, have never bought one.

Some of the cheaper Italian chain stores (like Intimissimi) boast that they sell a “coppa differenziata”, ie cups with letters, which are combined with those numbers, but there is not a large range of combinations (you might find 2B and 2C, but not 2F). So, if you’re not a matrioska, you need to go to a multi-brand store that carries internationally-made lingerie.

Cheap, standard bras

Cheap, standard bras

Recently I had an amusing experience attempting to replace an important under-piece for the first time in this country: for over a decade I have managed to only buy these things in Canada, but I haven’t been there in about a year now. On a side street near my office there is what I call an old lady bra store. Overpriced, large-sized items in the window look like they are good and sturdy quality, two ladies at the counter, narry a customer in sight. But with the sales on, I figured why not give the little local store some business.

I shan’t go into more personal details, but after trying various models and brands with the same colour and size characteristics, with a very helpful sales lady who didn’t crack a smile at any of my jokes, I ended up with a German bra. When I told her that I have yet to buy an Italian bra because the standard sizes just don’t work for me, she was not surprised. She said “yes, Italian bras seldom fit foreign women.” Which makes me really wonder how on earth they fit Italian women – who will enlighten me in the comments?

Now, I have a German car (Volkswagen*), German taps (Grohe), and a new German bra. While Italians do many things better, I have been forced to conclude the following: when you want something that is well built and stands up to time (and gravity), buy German.

*The Fiat Panda we had before this broke down irreparably in 5 years.

Italy blogging roundtable

How else has the word “fit” been interpreted by my fellow knights?

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • Jenna Francisco

    The perfect light reading today over a quick lunch at my desk. The exact same problem exists in Brazil. The sizes are p, m, g, and gg. I’m sure you can understand why those sizes do not work on me. When I saw how my mother-in-law’s bra fit, I pleaded with her to go bra shopping here in the U.S., but she wasn’t interested. She doesn’t know what she’s missing!

  • Stephanie

    This is so funny. I don’t live in Italy but I am a Canadian woman with a boyfriend who lives in Florence (so I visit often and have spent many months living there). I have a narrow back and wear a size 32 but have a larger cup size. I quickly noticed that there was no way I could wear the lingerie there. Even in Canada I find it difficult to buy a bra that fits – usually the 32s, if they exist, only go up to a B or C cup. So…enter figleaves in the UK. I order all of my bras from them – they have great size ranges and nice styles. Give it a try! Mail order is of course tricky, but once you know your correct size and a brand that fits well, it’s not a problem!

  • Jenny Elizabeth Keul

    I definitely agree with this! I’ve been here for 12 years and still stock up on bras in the U.S. when I go to visit family. Living in Milan is a bit easier. We have some nice (expensive) French lingerie shops that tend to be much better, and then we have a huge La Rinascente that carries several international brands, including Calvin Klein with the U.S. sizing. They’ve become my new basics.

  • Amanda Ruggeri

    Love this post! When I first moved here, I was flabbergasted to see that most stores didn’t differentiate between the band and cup size. (Not that stores in the States are much better; it’s impossible to find a band size smaller than a 34 or 32, never mind with a cup other than A to C, except in high-end department stores). In any case, I too have yet to find an Italian store with a size that fits me.

    My tip: Find a brand and size you like in a UK store and order it online. I love; Bravissimo’s good, too. I don’t generally trust the Italian post, but so far what I’ve ordered from those sites have arrived promptly and without a problem.

    And I have the same question about what size Italian women are… especially since I inherited my shape from my Italian side! Anyone? Anyone?

  • arttrav

    Thanks for commenting, Amanda. Yet another woman to add to the feeling: “we are not alone”. Bra sizes in Italy are a mystery. It’s a wonder that Italian ladies don’t notice it.

  • gargi

    That is perfect comment…i am here in Italy and already suffering from this problem of cup size and back size…i am pissed off by finding the right bra for myself but still could not find one :(

  • arttrav

    Gargi, I feel your pain!! If you know a brand and model you like you might order online, as one commenter suggested. Otherwise, there are a few specialty shops. On via del corso there is a place that specializes in large cup sizes. Then there is a little place called Segreti e Malizia in santa maria novella area on a cross street across from the big Oviesse in via Panzani which is where i got my good german bra. Best of luck! Alexandra