You're Wearing the Wrong Bra
August 21, 2015
Adjusting your bra constantly. Straps digging painfully into your shoulders. Breasts moving around when you use the stairs. Feeling relieved when you take your bra off at night. If any of this resonates with you, you're wearing the wrong bra. Don't feel at fault. Hardly anyone is wearing the correct bra. But why?
Many stores offer free fittings, but the methods they use are often wrong. Measuring your overbust or adding four inches to your underbust are both common but incorrect ways of sizing. Your underbust measurement (rounded to the nearest even inch) is your correct band size. If you think about it, no one adds inches to their hip or waist measurements. You wouldn't wear underwear with extra inches added to the waist. So why do we add slack to our bands? Back in the days of bullet bras made with stiff fabrics, women had to take into account the way breathing expanded the ribcage. They needed slightly bigger bands so that they could get enough oxygen. In our modern age of wonderful synthetics with lots of stretch, that extra room is just preventing us from getting the support we need.
An improperly fitted bra can cause a multitude of problems. Overly tight bands and straps can cause skin rashes and chafing. The uneven distribution of breast weight can lead to back, neck, and shoulder pain. Lack of support causes sore breasts. Too small cups make the breast tissue migrate away, leading to armpit and back rolls. The overall breast shape changes and looks more saggy. In fact, after a few months of wearing the correct-sized bra, some women report an increase in breast size as the migrated tissue returns home.
You may have heard that bras cause breast cancer. They don't. They also don't cause sagging. You might be thinking, Why bother with a bra at all then? A well-fitted bra offers comfort, support, and can resolve back, neck, and shoulder pain.
Fortunately, it's actually very easy to measure yourself correctly. While your ribcage at resting neutral, take a tape measure and pull it tight on your underbust, making sure it's parallel to the ground all the way around your ribcage. Thats your underbust measurement. No adding imaginary, useless inches. Next, measure over the widest part of your bust while standing up. The tape measure should be snug but not too tight, and again, it should be parallel to the ground all the way around. Repeat the bust measurement lying on your back, and then bent over so your back makes a ninety degree angle with your legs. Average these three numbers. Round to the nearest whole inch. That is your overbust measurement. Every inch of difference from your underbust to overbust is a cup size. So one inch is A, two is B, three is C, etc. Some key information on cup sizes before you think, There's no way I'm an F cup, my boobs can't be that big! Cup sizes aren't standard, but relative to the band. That means that a 32C has less volume in the cup than a 34C. Still feeling doubtful? Look at this chart of sister sizes. The cup sizes can be the same in volume, but the band and letter can vary immensely. (This handy blog post can also help make that clear.)
Now that you know your starting size, the next step is to determine your breast shape, which has a surprisingly large impact on how well a bra fits. Are your breasts wide set or close together? How big is your root? Are you full on bottom or full on top? Are your breasts shallow or projected? This link can help you determine breast shape, as well as which kind of bra will fit your shape best.
I'm sure at this point you're wondering where to find these unusual sizes. Most of us don't fit into the mainstream bra sizes (32-38 A-D is such limited range). So what do we do when "They don't even make my size"? The first important thing to keep in mind: Google is your friend. Many online retailers sell cute bras in a variety of sizes. You might even be able to find your size on Amazon. Internet bra shopping is almost always cheaper. Some brands do vary slightly in sizing, so you may need to go up or down a size (remembering to adjust for the sister size). Just make sure to take a look at the return policy. However, if you're like me, and you've got a super tiny band size—I'm a 26E—things can get a little more challenging. Custom sizes are a possibility, albeit a rather pricey one. If you know how to sew, alterations are a great way to get your bra to fit. I shorten the band of a bigger banded bra with a sister-sized cup. (Usually a 32C, since it's a mainstream bra size.) These are some bra alteration tutorials on how to fix a variety of issues.
Now that you've got a bra in your true size, how can you check that it really fits? First make sure you put it on correctly, and do remember that it takes a couple of wearings to break in a new bra. Always wear your bra on the loosest hook to start. That way, when it starts to stretch from use, you can tighten it and extend its life. Make sure the gore (the little piece of fabric at the front that connects the cups) is sitting flat on your chest. Many of the women I know have floating gores. This means the cup is too small, and that you aren't getting actual support.
Your band should be parallel to the ground all the way around. If it's riding up or sloping down, it's too big. Your straps should be snug enough not to fall down, but not so tight that they dig in and leave painful red marks. Your breast tissue should not spill out of the top of the cup. The edge of the cup should be flush with the tissue with no gap. If it isn't flush, the cup is the wrong size, but it isn't necessarily too big. It could be that since the breast is wider than the cup, it can't fill it in all the way, leaving empty space in the front of the cup, and creating the illusion of a cup that is too big when it's actually too small. A good way to test your bra's fit is to raise your arms and jump around. If the underwire moves or lets breasts pop out of the bottom, the bra does not fit.
An often-neglected part of bra wearing is proper care. With proper care the life of the bra can be extended significantly. Never put your bra in the dryer. It wears out the elastic, making the band loose. The heat can also warp the underwire, ruining the bra. It is best to let your bra air dry, though you can speed up the process by pressing it with a towel to get excess water out. Idealy, bras should be hand washed, but most women (myself included) don't have time for that with our busy schedules. If you machine wash, do so on delicate and with cold water. Use a lingerie bag or a pillow case tied in a loose knot. This will not only protect your bras, but also your washing machine in case an underwire makes a run for freedom, as it can cause serious damage. The main thing is to be gentle. Your bras will thank you.
Good luck on your properly fitted bra journey! It's a bit of work, but once you find a bra that fits you'll be amazed at the difference. When I was wearing size 32B, my bra was the first thing to come off when I got home. My bras were both annoying and uncomfortable. The shoulder aches were constant. And the worst part? I thought there had to be something wrong with my breasts. I was convinced the fault was mine, and thinking that I just had weird boobs did nothing but damage my self esteem. Now, I feel comfortable and confident. I've even forgotten I was wearing a bra, to the point that I almost stepped into the shower still wearing one. I hope this discovery changes your life as much as it changed mine. For further reading and useful information, check out these links below:
@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit