I was out to dinner with friends the other night and one of the women made a point to confirm with the server that her beer would be served in a certain type of glass (the correct type for that style of beer). Then she commented to me that, having spent years working in hospitality, she’s really particular about things like that. I replied, “Oh my God! After spending a few years working at a lingerie store, I’m the same way about bras. I can’t help noticing ill-fitting bras and fixing them in my head.” A few moments later, another friend tugged her bra strap back up on her shoulder while complaining about how her straps never stay up. The first friend cracked up as I grumbled, “I can fix that!” From the ensuing conversation comes this post about fitting your bra properly. Enjoy!
Get fitted. First things first. You need to make sure you’re wearing the right size bra. The majority of women are wearing an incorrect bra size; estimates range from 64% to 80% to 85% of women! I strongly recommend getting fitted by a professional. You can head to your local department store, although I’ll admit I’m partial to specialty stores or even boutiques. Oh, and in case you feel awkward when you think about a professional fitting, don’t. I’ve never heard a bra fitter badmouth or make fun of a customer’s figure—ever. If it’s not possible to get a professional fitting, you can measure yourself at home. There are multiple methods, which can make it even more difficult to find the right size, but this method has worked well for me 17 years.
- You should be wearing a non-padded bra when you take your measurements.
- Using a soft measuring tape, measure your rib cage along the bottom of your bra band. Don’t hold your breath, and make sure the tape is snug but not tight. If you measure an odd number (or if you’re not measuring a whole number), round down to the nearest even number. This is your band size.
- Next, measure the fullest part of your bust. Again, remember to continue taking deep breaths and to keep the tape snug, but not tight. Subtract your first measurement (the band size) from this second measurement. Each inch difference is a cup size (starting with A). For example, if you measured 36” in step 2 and 39” here, your cup size would be a C. If the difference is less than an inch, you’re AA. If the difference is 5”, you’re a DD and 6” would be a DDD or an E, depending on the brand.
You should get a fitting if you gain or lose a lot of weight, or if you experience a change in the size or shape of your breasts/body—like starting Cross Fit, getting pregnant, or the beginning or end of breastfeeding.
Try on lots of bras. Okay, simply having a size doesn’t mean you’re all set. You know how you’re a 10 in one store, an 8 in another, and a 12 in a third? Yeah. Same thing with bras. The size is a starting point and you may need a slightly different size to find the correct fit in your bra. Here’s what you’re looking for in a good-fitting bra.
- Once you have the bra on, lean over and “shake yourself” to settle into the bra.
- It shouldn’t be uncomfortable. If it is, it’s the wrong size, the wrong bra, or both. This includes straps that dig in and underwires that poke. (And if you’ve been experiencing a sore back or chest, or sore breasts with the bra you usually wear, that’s a sign that your bra isn’t fitting properly.)
- Your bra’s band should be snug, but not too tight. There’s a difference between the band making a slight dimple in your skin because it’s snug and your skin is soft, and the band cutting in or creating large bulges. This is just like the waistband on pants—if you’re getting a muffin top, they don’t fit. When you buy your bra, you should be using the middle set of hooks. This allow you space to loosen or tighten the band if your weight fluctuates and to tighten the band as the elastic ages and stretches.
- Your breast should be completely enclosed by the underwire and/or cup. Your breast should not be spilling out of the cup or bulging under your arms. If the wire isn’t lying flat against your skin on the outside of your breasts and in the middle, try a different size or style bra.
- Slip the straps off your shoulders. You should not notice a large change in the support your bra offers or the shape of your breasts. This is because the bulk of the bra’s support should be provided by the cups and band, not the straps.
- Jump up and down or run in place. Are you comfortable with the level of the support the bra offers? Do the straps stay in place? Did your breasts bounce out of the cups? Did the bra (and your body!) stay pretty much in place? If not, try a different bra.
Even if you haven’t experienced a major change in weight or body shape since you bought your last bra, you should do a thorough fit check each time you shop. I just went up cup size and down a band size in my go-to style, which I’ve been wearing for at least 15 years. It’s important to check each time you buy!
Choose the right style. Part of getting a good fit is choosing the right style bra. Some of this is subjective, based on how it feels to you, particularly in terms of the level of support you want. Some of it depends on what you want your bra to do. Here are some common bra styles.
- Full coverage. Um…as the name implies, this style offers the most coverage (the cups cover more of the breast). Cups can be unlined or lightly lined. The lining helps to provide additional support and shaping, and camouflages the nipple.
- Demi. Provides less coverage than a full coverage bra. May be unlined or have a light lining.
- Balconet. Coverage is a little less than full and a bit more than a demi bra, and this style may be lightly lined or unlined. This style is unique because instead of the somewhat scooped neckline offered by most bras, the straps are wider-set and create more of a square neckline.
- Push up. Cups are usually padded, or lightly lined with removable padding. The push-up effect comes not only from the padding, but also underwires that are J-shaped instead of the more traditional U-shape.
- Strapless. More often than not, strapless bras are more properly called “multi-way” bras, as they typically come with removable straps. The bra can be worn without straps, or the straps can be positioned in multiple ways, including criss-crossed, one-shoulder, or halter. (Some “standard” bras also have convertible straps which can be crossed in the back.) Coverage varies, as does the level of padding.
- Wireless. There are a variety of wireless bras. Some have seaming that can provide moderate support and some offer very minimal support. Coverage varies, as well. (A hugely popular style right now is the bralette.)
- Racerback: A racerback bra typically offers a front closure. The straps do not cross, but connect to the back of the bra in or towards the middle of the back, rather than meeting the strap directly over the shoulder. Padding/lining and coverage vary.
When choosing a bra, consider a bra wardrobe. Like your regular wardrobe, you don’t want a ton of stuff you don’t wear—and definitely consider items that multitask!—but it’s not a bad idea to have your everyday look, plus a bra with less coverage like a balconet or demi for clothes with a wider or slightly lower neckline, or a strapless bra for this season’s cut-out shoulder and off-the-shoulder looks. And just like those days even your very favorite pants aren’t fitting quite right, having more than one style means you’ll have different options on hand when you’re having one of those days with your bra.
*Keep an eye out Baby Gizmo ladies, because there will be a follow up to this post where I’ll talk about solving common fit problems!