BRAS BRAS BRAS BRAS BRAS. It’s time to talk about bras! (Because you guys asked.) Here’s the deal. For the longest time, I hated my boobs. I was convinced I needed a breast reduction, that my boobs didn’t fit my body, and I even spent the majority of college pricing out the surgery for when I graduated. Then, while shopping for my wedding dress one day, I stopped into a tiny lingerie boutique in New York City to find a strapless bra, and walked out a changed woman. Thanks to the delightful saleslady there and a heavy-duty bra from the UK, I now love my boobs. (Love them. It’s actually kind of unhealthy.) Thus, the power of a good bra. So today, APW reader Michelle (who actually has a bra store, y’all), offers up some advice for finding a bra that fits. She’ll be back soon with more information about what kinds of bras work with formal wear (like, say, wedding dresses). But for now, let’s dig into the post that I wish was around in 2003 when I was under the impression that you could totally wear a center-seamed cotton bra from the Gap on a pair of DD’s.
I have no idea how bra shopping got to be such a complicated and generally dreadful ordeal, shrouded in mystery. I mean, the majority of women need to wear a bra every day. Yet, a properly fitting, supportive, comfortable bra is some kind of mystical item we think only exists in legend. So ladies. If possible, grab the friend you take with you when you want an honest opinion and head to your nearest specialty shop. The specialty shop part is important—most box stores or chains don’t carry a wide enough range of sizes—which, I suspect, is what helped get us here in the first place.
For those of you who have never been to a specialty bra shop before, word of mouth seems to be the best way to find places, but there is a delicate balance of helpful versus snobby in boutique stores. You’ll know you’ve found the right spot if you feel comfortable and the salespeople genuinely help you. In my opinion, aside from getting your general wishes around color of your new bras, your salesperson should do all the work. They should fit you, get you all the bras (and maybe take the ones you’ve picked up and put them away…) and check every. single. bra. you try on. I don’t have any suggestions for online shopping because I just can’t even imagine how people buy bras online. I would have a really hard time buying bras online, and I sell bras for a living. Unless you can return them, but then that seems weird.
Next, forget everything you think you know about bra fitting. Unless of course you read this and think, “Isn’t that what everyone does?” If you think that, go give whoever taught you how to buy a bra a big high five and then go start converting your girlfriends to your ways. They need your help and probably don’t even know it.
The most important thing is to buy a bra with a band that fits. This is where you need to start your sizing since bra bands and cups are proportional*. The band needs to be snug and low. Your band should be so snug that the saleslady and/or friend you brought can’t pull it more than two inches (three at the very most) off your back when it’s on the loosest hook. The band should also be parallel with the bottom of the cup. All those cute girls in movies who nonchalantly take off their tops? All wearing the wrong size bra. Even the Hollywood costume folks can’t get it right. Pull the band down. Farther. You’re smaller lower on your back, and if it’s properly snug it will stay low and in place all day. Your bra should never ride up your back. If it does, you’re not getting any support from it (because contrary to popular belief, straps aren’t meant to do all the work there).
Now this may be feeling slightly uncomfortable. It’s because wearing something snug and low is foreign after years and years of looseness. After a day, you won’t even notice, and next time you go shopping you’ll be the one saying, “Hmmmm, that feels a bit loose I think.” Unless, there is pain. Pain is bad. Pain means size up.
Now that you’re in the right size band, we can focus on a cup that fits. Many of you will now have the experience of letters you didn’t realize existed in regards to bras. Pop culture has done us another disservice here—a D cup is not large. A specialty store will carry to a J cup at least, and should have access to larger if needed. So, without changing your newfound awesome band size, you need to find a cup that fully contains your breast tissue without any spilling over the top or gaping/hollow spots when you move around. Test this out by moving around, jumping, waving your arms, etc. If your bra only fits when standing still with your arms down while you stare at yourself in the mirror don’t buy it. Unless you have a job where you never move, of course. If you haven’t been bra shopping in ages, take the time to try on all kinds of different cup styles, even if you think you won’t like them. Bodies are always changing shapes in subtle ways, and that style you hated eight years ago might now be the most flattering thing in the store on you. This is especially true after any kind of weight loss or gain. Breasts have this amazing ability to remain the exact same size yet be a completely different shape. So if everything “fits,” but you feel it looks a little funny, first try on a lightweight top. Staring at yourself in underwear for too long can make you feel like everything looks funny and seeing yourself in a top can confirm or disprove this. If, with the top, it looks not as you’d like, grab the same size in a different style.
Et voila! Buy your new awesome bra(s)! Use this size (mostly) as your benchmark for all future shopping (sadly, bras are just like jeans—you have to try them on before you buy them because sizes are just guidelines). Try not to get hung up on the numbers and letters associated to your bra size—you and the saleslady (or your trusted shopping friend) are the only people who know. What everyone else knows is you look fabulous and you’ve stopped pulling your bra band down/bra straps back up every fifteen minutes.
*Cups and bands are proportional. A 34D is roughly equivalent to a 32DD (or E depending on brand) and a 36C. Always (always!) wear the snuggest comfortable band size. Also, A DD is the same as an E, a DDD is an F, and so on. Some European companies run single letter sizing (C, D, E, F…), and some include doubles (DD, E, EE, F, FF…). Just because it wasn’t confusing enough.
Editor’s Note: We know that there are plenty of readers in our midst who have put time and energy into finding a great bra, and more importantly, a great bra shop. So in the comments, we’d love it if you could leave a link to your favorite bra store and/or your favorite bra. We’ll be setting up an underthings board on Pinterest later with your suggestions so that we can all have something to go back to later for reference and for shopping.