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How to Choose a Bra That Fits

As a 60-something female, Kate Swanson is well aware of the challenges facing women throughout their life in health, beauty, and fashion.

A well-fitting bra can severely damage your self-doubt.

A well-fitting bra can severely damage your self-doubt.

Tips for Finding the Right Bra Size

We've all heard that most women are walking around in the wrong size bra. "That's hardly a surprise," I hear you say, "considering how hard it is to work out what does fit!"

Yes, finding the right bra can be frustrating, but if you learn a few simple rules, it can be done. If you know how to try on a bra properly and can spot the tell-tale signs of a bra that's never going to fit, you can find a comfortable bra that will feel good as well as look good. The problem is, bosoms come in all shapes and sizes. Short of custom making, bra makers can't possibly make a bra to fit every single variation.

Bra manufacturers have to decide how to average them all out, and they don't all make the same decisions. Some of them will choose models shaped like you—others won't.

That's why you'll find some brands fit better than others. For instance, I would love to wear Marks & Spencers bras to go with my M&S undies, but they don't fit. Ever. Actually, I'm a 34DD so there aren't many bras in the average store to fit me. Which brings me neatly to my next topic: discovering your size.

A bra that fits will be comfortable, supportive and easy to wear.

A bra that fits will be comfortable, supportive and easy to wear.

How to Get Fitted and Determine Your Size

The easiest way to determine your size is to get professionally fitted—but please, go to a specialist bra shop and not just the lingerie section of a department store. These days, those fitters are usually employed by the individual bra manufacturers, not the store, So naturally, they want to sell you their own make—and if it's a brand that's not your shape, you could walk out the door with a bra that fits just as poorly as your old ones!

Bra sizes are based on only two measurements: your rib cage and how far your boobs project over it. Get a few women together and you'll see there are many other variations in shape, position on the chest wall, depth of the back, etc., so those measurements are only a small part of the story. That's why the best fitters don't even use a tape measure. Instead, they assess your shape by eye, then try bras in a range of sizes to find what works. It's really the best way.

How to Take Your Own Measurements

However, if you're trying to work out your own size, you need to start somewhere, and a tape measure is as good a place as any. The letter (A, B, C, DD, etc.) represents your breast volume, and it's the most important measurement to have and also the most difficult to get.

Why is it important? Because the secret to a comfortable bra is to have cups that fit your shape exactly. You can always cut the bra or band to make them shorter, or add extensions—but you can't change the shape of the cup.

Why is it difficult to get? Because if you measure without a bra, your breasts may be drooping and the measurement you get will be too small. If you measure in a bra that's too small, your boobs will be squashed. If you measure in a well-fitting bra, you'll get an accurate measure, but it sounds like you don't need it because you already have a good fit!

The ideal is to get a friend to help, then you can cup your hands under your breasts to get them in the right position while she measures you (you can hold a bra in place but don't use the straps or fasten the band).

Measure around your rib cage under your bust again. Don't breathe in, we want your resting measurement. Now measure around the fullest part of your breast. What's the difference between the two? Every full inch is a cup size. So one inch difference means you're an A, two inches means you're a B, and so on.

The number in your bra size represents the size of your chest. There are two ways to measure it, either:

  • under your bust, and add 4 or 5 inches (whichever gets you up to an even number), or
  • round your chest, directly under your armpits (don't add any extra to this figure).

In both cases, keep the tape in a straight line (look in a mirror or get someone to help you) and breath all the way out, or the band will be too loose. Now, armed with this information, you can head to the store with at least some idea where to start!

How to Try on Bras

If you can find a store that lets you take more than two or three bras into the changeroom, go there! Otherwise, be prepared to make several trips: Choose a top you can throw on quickly without a bra, so you don't have to do a whole lot of dressing and undressing all the time.

Pick a selection of bras from different makers—not just in your theoretical size, but in sizes either side. Now, before you try anything on, take the bras off their hangers and loosen all the straps to their fullest extent.

An Important Note About Hooks

All bras have several hooks on the band. However, extra hooks are NOT there so you can adjust your new bra to fit! They're there so you can adjust your bra as it stretches over its lifetime. If you want your bra to last, it should fit you on the first hook.

If anyone tries to sell you a bra and you can see she's using inner hooks, say no politely and find another fitter. That bra will lose its fit, long before it has started to wear out.

It's easy to get lost in the inventory.

It's easy to get lost in the inventory.

Now You're Ready to Do Some Tests!

Be patient, but be ruthless. The first two tests below are deal-breakers: If a bra fails one of these tests, take it off immediately. Move on to the next bra. Put the bra on, fasten it at the back on the loosest hook, then lean forward and lift each boob, and let it fall into the cup.

The Band Test

The band must fit perfectly. If it doesn't, NOTHING else will work! I know it's tempting to go for a looser band to avoid "back fat," but that won't work. A firm band is vital: it's what allows the bra cups to lift the breasts, rather than simply cover them.

Fasten the bra using the loosest hooks. Now try putting your fingers under the band. If you can get your fingers under the band easily, it's at least one size too big. Note I'm talking about the number, which relates to the band, not the letter, which relates to the cup. So if you're trying on a 36, you need a 34.

Once you're wearing a bra in the correct band size, look down between your boobs. If you can see daylight between you and the band where it crosses between your breasts, even a tiny chink, take it off. The cup is too small. Get a bra with the same band size but a bigger cup size and try again.

The Cup Test

Once you've found a bra that passes the band test, put your thumbs on the sides of the bra under your arms (pretend you're about to do the chicken dance). Feel where the edge of the cups touch your skin. Is that breast tissue you feel under the wire? If the answer is yes, the cup isn't big enough. The outer edge of the cup needs to be sitting off the breast on the flesh under your arms. Once again, if this test fails, take it off—there's no point doing the rest because that bra is never going to fit. To find a cup that fits, go up one letter at a time (e.g. if you tried on a 34B, try a 34C).

The Ski-Jump Test

You did loosen the straps all the way out before you started, didn't you? Now tighten the straps to fit before you do the third test. The taller you are, the less likely you'll need to adjust them because this adjustment depends on the distance between your shoulder and your boob. A lot of women make the mistake of tightening the straps to try to make too-big cups fit. It won't work, it will only make them pucker! If you have to tighten the straps more than halfway, you've probably picked the wrong cup size.

Stand sideways to the mirror and look at your profile. Your breasts should have a lovely smooth silhouette from neck to nipple—no gaps and no bumps. Imagine a ski jumper flying down that curve—would he shoot off the end of the run to a great jump, or would he come a cropper on the mogul just above the cup line (or alternatively, disappear down the gap between you and the bra cup)?

The Overflow Test

The last test is the back. The band must be sitting flat all the way around, parallel with the floor—not up between your shoulder blades! It shouldn't be cutting in and causing bulges above and below. However, bear in mind that if you're carrying extra weight, you'll get some overflow even in your correct size. If that applies to you, styles with a broader band will improve the look.

It may sound like a lot to remember, but think of it like this:

  • Loosen the Straps
  • Check the centre front
  • Do the chicken dance
  • Ski jump
  • Back riding up?

Not so hard, is it? Follow these rules and you will find your perfect fit—but you can see it's going tol take a while. Measuring myself with a tape told me I was a 36C, and it took a LOT of trial and error and, eventually, a trip to a very upmarket bra shop with a professional fitter to confirm that I was really a 34DD (and a 34E in some brands). It's been worth it though, not to have wires digging into me, straps cutting in or backs riding up. Ah the relief!

How to Wash Your Bras

After all that effort, you want your bras to last as long as possible! The best way to wash a bra may surprise you. All washing machines cause stretching (even if it's a front loader on delicate); a soft washbag isn't enough protection. Unless you can get your hands on a plastic washing case to use in your machine, the safest way to handwash your bra is to take it into the shower when you wash yourself. Yes, really!



lolita on November 20, 2011:

informative & useful

Caroline on March 19, 2011:

excellent info regarding bra fit... if you've looked and looked, and still can't find a bra that fits you proporly, feel free to come over to my webpage and check out my services.. I am a custom bra designer and work with clients all over the world...

mysisters on January 20, 2011:

Nice Hub. Very helpful information. Having a bra that fits right really does make a difference.

Jodi on October 17, 2010:

Excellent advice! The sizes are really only an approximation. And, each manufacturer interprets those sizes differently, both shape and volume. For instance, Elle Mcpherson runs very small, while Goddess runs very big. You have to get familiar with the brands (and the styles in that brand) that work best for you.

jessica on August 19, 2010: is a relief to finally know what to do t get my correct bra size. You hav been such a help thankyou you soo much!!!

sam on March 10, 2010:

tell me diff types of bras

katie123 on March 03, 2010:

I think selecting bra style is vital but testing the bra cups and bra support are equally important. Most importantly one should try the bra prior to purchase to test the comfort level for sure.

Helen Cater from UK on August 24, 2009:

I have been measured many times for bras and I must say your advice on how to do it yourself is the best way. I take loads of sizes in now as each shop has different sizing. Thanks for the tips.

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on June 23, 2009:

Thank you Sparkling, you're very welcome.

And for those who are wondering about that Hub, here it is!

Sparkling_ from Europe on June 21, 2009:

I put a link to your hub from my hub 80% of Women[...]. I hope that's okay.

Conflictuniverse on December 22, 2008:

anyone need some fitting help, I am available 24 hours a day

Must be 18-35

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on April 20, 2008:

That's an excellent tip, Patricias. Sometimes if you really like the bra, you can be tempted to overlook the "double boob" effect. Put a clingy top on and you can't ignore it!

2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on April 19, 2008:

I think the other step of trying on is to go shopping wearing a top that clings. Then, when you think you have a bra that fits, put the top back on and check that you really have got a smooth shape, with no bulges in the wrong places. I know it prolongs the whole process, but it helps to guarantee that you make a good purchase.

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on April 18, 2008:

Excellent! Fit makes all the difference! Bad bra = bad shape. Why buy expensive clothes if you don't look good in them?

tjmum from Isle of Wight on April 18, 2008:

I'd love to be able to have the time to stay in a shop for longer than five minutes without either my husband moaning or my boys crying! And where have all the cotton bra's gone?! Nylon and lycra may be cheap and stretchy but they do nothing for comfort (especially if you've had kids and your boobs are heading south!).

Great Hub. Have taken my measurements but still think I've got the wrong bra as they say I'm between a B and C.

Whitney from Georgia on April 18, 2008:

You make it sound so easy.... Yet, who know that fitting a bra was so complicated? Ha

Shelly McRae from Phoenix, Arizona on April 18, 2008:

I had no idea I was supposed to do all that stuff. I'm looking forward to having bras that actually fit!

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on April 18, 2008:

Well done Marissa. All us women have the same problem it fits when you try it on wash it and .....well that's it. As usualyou have done another Great informative hub that should help a lot of women.

About time you did another hub by the way.

Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on April 18, 2008:

Marisa! The right fit is most important for clothes to fit just right. I can't tell you how often I had to remind a customer to have the right bra on when coming for a fitting. When I made wedding and bridesmaids dresses I demanded that they not use the new bra till after the wedding. After a few washings the the elasticity of a bra alteres and the formfitting bodices of the dresses being made wouldn't fit the same.

Super great hub regards Zsuzsy

Pat Merewether from Michigan on April 18, 2008:

Helpful hub!

amy jane from Connecticut on April 18, 2008:

Very helpful info! I think too many women underestimate the importance thatr a proper fit (and sometimes lift) will make in your over all look. Great topic!

Lifebydesign from Australia on April 18, 2008:

Great informative hub! Shape and size are definitely important.