How to Choose a Bra That Fits
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.
Where to Get Help
Don't rely on "bra fitters" in department stores
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.
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!
- Rigby & Peller: The Fine Art of Luxury Lingerie
At Rigby & Peller you can be sure to receive service fit for a Queen - just as you would expect from a company which has held the Royal Warrant since 1960.