Choosing a bra that fits well can seem like an impossible dream for many of you. But not anymore! A good fitting bra that looks good makes you feel active and lively too. If you think you’ve done your bit and failed miserably at choosing a bra, reading this handy guide might help.
More and young women are opting for customized bra sizes to reduce back pain and breast tenderness. A recent study also concluded that the right bra size and fit can have potential health benefits against chest pain, thoracic pain, and breast pain in young women. It is very likely that women with large breasts wear incorrectly fitted bras.
It demonstrated that 80% of women wear incorrectly sized bras, out of which 70% wear tighter and 10% wear bigger bras than their actual size. (1)
Another research suggested that wearing a tight bra for longer hours is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, in women. The type of fabric, underwire, and many other factors contribute to an uncomfortable bra. And based on multiple subjects, this study concludes why wearing a tight bra is not only uncomfortable, but also dangerous. (2)
The participants in this study were evaluated based on the following factors:
- The type of bras they wore
- Duration of wearing
- Bra fabric
- Underwire and pad material
- General wearing habits
Based on these factors, it was clearly determined that women who wore tight-fitting bras for longer hours were at a potential risk of developing breast cancer-related complications. Women who wore a bra for at least 16 hours per day had a greater risk of cancer than those who wore a bra for only 8 hours per day.
Based on all this data, it’s safe to say that choosing the right bra is more of a responsibility than desire. Depending on how often you wear it and how it’s washed, the average bra can last for a very long time before getting stretched out. You need to invest in different styles so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from based on your outfit.
Finding the right bra is like finding the missing puzzle piece for your whole outfit. It highlights your entire outfit, supports your chest the right way, and reduces discomfort. So without any further delay, let’s look at what you need to consider when choosing a bra.
1. Choosing A Bra Type
As you already know, there are plenty of bra sizes and shapes for you to fall back on. Even though you might find yourself modifying your bra preferences, it’s always good to know what all is out there for you.
After finding the right bra, you will finally fit in your own clothes and feel great in them. That said, certain bras work only with certain tops. Here is what you should know.
Push-up bras: They’re great for wearing outfits with a deep neck cut or a lower cut neck than usual. If you’d like to flaunt your cleavage a bit, wearing a push-up bra is the best way to do that. The padding and stitching of a push-up eliminates the “stuffed” feeling, while it enhances the shape of your breasts.
T-shirt bras: These are plain bras that are perfect for body fit t-shirts. Most bra types come with noticeable stitching that might protrude through the top or dress you’re wearing. With a t-shirt bra, that isn’t the case. No frills or padding is visible under the t-shirt.
Sports bras: These are great for supporting your breasts when you’re exercising. A sports bra comes with a racerback design so it prevents your breasts from excessively bouncing during intense cardio. (3)
Strapless bras: A strapless bra is as the name suggests. It is great for sleeveless tops and dresses. Even for outfits that don’t have standard straps. And wearing a strapless bra really complements the entire outfit.
Balconette bras: There is a possibility that you might have never heard of a balconette bra before, but you must have definitely seen one. It works like a push-up bra, but the only difference is that it offers a slight lift from the bra. You can wear lower neck cut tops and dresses with a balconette.
Bandeau bras: If you’re wearing a top without any straps and large armholes, a bandeau bra is your ideal pick. It comes with a fancier and striking design to go with the entire outfit. You should also know that bandeau bras offer very little support for long-term usability.
Contour bras: A contour bra comes with plainer padding, while the cups design is more streamlined and smooth. You can wear a contour bra with body-fitting t-shirts and tops. It doesn’t enhance or lift your breasts from the center, but they do offer support and comfort.
There is a possibility that you might not need every one of these bras. But if you have a versatile wardrobe, choosing the right type is certainly helpful.
With that out of the way, there are a few tips I’d like to share with you for choosing the right bra type.
- Always go for neutral colors, especially when you’re shopping for t-shirt and contour bras.
- Wearing heavily-padded bras might lead to humidness and heat buildup, depending on your working conditions. So try to wear padded bras that are less stuffy for longer hours.
- If you want a subtler, natural breast lift, without extra padding, you can always choose angled cups as an alternative. They’re much lighter and breathable than heavily-padded bras.
2. Measuring The Band Size
There are many ways to measure your band size. One is to wear a non-padded bra, use a measuring tape and wrap it around your back to front, keeping the tape at band level. You need to measure your band, right above the bust, so ensure the straps meet at that point.
- Wrap a tape around your back, all the way to the front. You must keep the measuring tape underneath your bust, or breasts, to be able to take the exact measurement (in inches).
- Ensure the measuring tape is horizontal and comfortable. Choose a measurement that’s comfortable and snug.
- Keep your arms down while taking the measurement. If incorrectly done, you might need somebody else’s help to measure the band size.
- In case your band size is an odd number, that is 31 or 33, you can always round it off to 32 or 34 or even lower. Depending on your fit and comfort level, you band size could also be 30 or 32.
- And if your band size is an even number, that is 32 or 34, you can choose either a lower and higher number based on your breast size and body type.
- The last step is to add 5 more inches, if your band size is an odd number, and add 4 inches, if it is an even number. That’s the sum total of your band size measurement. For example, if you measured 32, your final band size is 32 plus 4 which is 36 inches.
That’s all you need to know about measuring the band size. This method is considered to be the quickest and easiest way to choosing the perfect bra type. And for women having difficulty with finding the right size, considering a comfortable band size will most definitely help.
While most women choose to wear a bra to determine if it’s the right fit, it’s important to make sure you know your bra measurements. This is because wearing a comfortable bra can lead to a more active and healthier lifestyle without the uncalled for discomfort and stuffiness.
You should also know that the band is the primary support-giver of any bra. It helps form a solid and supportive foundation for your breasts. It conforms, supports, and even enhances your breast shape for versatile outfits.
The best way to determine the right band size is to place two fingers between the band and your skin. If it fits, that’s a good sign. If it doesn’t, there are two close possibilities. It’s either too tight or too loose. Based on that can you add or subtract a few inches from your band size.
Wearing wider bands for a longer time yields more support and conformability than narrower bands. So you should keep these tips in mind before finalizing your purchase.
3. Measuring The Cup Size
The next thing you’d want to pursue is measuring your cup size. A bra’s cup size isn’t a major deciding factor for choosing a bra, but it’s important nonetheless. (6)
Here’s how you can measure your cup size for the perfect body fit.
- Keep your chest parallel to the ground. This is an unconventional method to measuring the cup size, but it’s very effective. The reason why you need to bend over to measure your cup size is because that way you’ll be measuring all your breast tissues, and not just the ones that protrude outward when you’re standing.
- Wrap a tape around your torso, front to back, pressing gently so that it’s comfortable. Anything too tight or too loose results in bad judgement, which will ultimately lead to a bad fit.
- Keep the measuring tape horizontal and snug. You need to make sure it is fairly level with the ground. You can do this by measuring yourself in front of a mirror or have someone else help you with it.
- To properly measure your cup size, you need the band measurement too. So the subtraction of your band size and cup size is your final cup size you need to rely on. For example, if your band size is 34 and your bust size is 35, so your cup size would be 1 inch.
There isn’t any fixed cup measurement, so whatever the difference, you will get your ideal cup fit.
That said, here’s what your cup size measurements would look like after.
If the difference is…
- Less than 1 inch - Your cup size is “AA”
- 1 inch - Your cup size is “A”
- 2 inches - “B”
- 3 inches - “C”
- 4 inches - “D”
- 5 inches - “DD”
- 6 inches - “DDDD”
and so on.
If your cup size difference is above 5 inches (i.e. you have fairly large breasts), you might need to talk to a professional fitter. This is because different bra companies come with different cup size labels, so knowing the right cup size of the bra you’re about to buy is important. That way you won’t have to settle for an uncomfortable and stuff bra.
Now, bras are categorized based on sizes ranging from 34C, 34B, etc. Here, the “34” stands for your band size and “C” stands for your cup size. Bind those two factors together and you can easily find your right fit in no time!
It’s easy to remember, don’t you think?
4. Does It Suit Your Shape?
Settling for a “close-call” bra is never a good thing. After measuring both your band and bust size, you still need some more time to fit into the perfect bra size. Even if you find something of your size, there is a possibility that it might still not fit you well.
So what can you do then? This might help. (7)
The biggest fabrication of a bra is relying just on its bust or cup size. If you have smaller breasts, it doesn’t mean you fit an ‘A’ cup as opposed to a ‘D’ if you have bigger breasts. A bra’s cup size is precisely proportionate to its band size. It cannot be measured without it.
For example, you walk in a store to find a ‘D’ cup bra. Now, you will be presented with a variety of sizes such as 32D, 34D, 36D, and so on. If you have a smaller band size, then a 36D is not the proper fit. Hence, taking both factors, that is the band and cup size, into consideration is extremely important when choosing a bra that suits your breast shape.
Here are some telling points you need to look for when trying out new bras.
- The band needs to do most of the supporting, and not just the straps. If you are able to place 2 fingers under the band, it means it’s a good fit.
- If there is some flesh protruding from the sides, that’s not a good sign. The sides of the bra cup, underneath the armpits need to be well-adjusted under the bra, and not next to it.
- The place where the two cups meet, in the center, is called a gore. A flat gore means it’s a good fit. It shouldn’t dig into the skin between your breasts.
- The last thing to look for is a clean-cut and smooth bra curve. Some bras leave a mark on the top breast tissue, especially after you wear it for a longer time. You need a bra that sits comfortably on top of your breasts, offering comfort without any strain.
To dig in deeper, let’s look at the different breast shapes to better classify the ideal bra style.
Archetype: Archetype breast shape suits most bra styles. It’s the common rounded and fleshy shape.
Uneven: Uneven breast shapes is when one breast is bigger or smaller than the other breast. In other words, to two breasts are not of the same shape or size. There’s not a big difference between the size, but it’s worth noting when taking bust and band measurements.
Softly-padded, push-up, contour cup, and plunge bras are ideal for uneven breasts.
Conical: A conical breast shape is, as the name says, cone-like than round in shape. Women with smaller breasts often have conical breasts.
Contour, t-shirt, push-up, sports, and bandeau bras are ideal for conical breasts.
Thin: Thin breast shapes come with a much smaller circumference than archetype or conical breasts. Hence, the breasts appear to look thinner and longer, especially on women with smaller breasts.
Plunge, bandeau, contour, light-padded, and push-ups bras are ideal for thin shaped breasts.
5. Is It The Right Bra For Your Clothing?
Shopping for bras can be one of your favorite past times, only if you do it correctly. How can you find the right bra size and shape that goes with whatever you wear? This might help.
Pick the right neckline: There are many types of necklines based on the type of bra you like. And while you wear different outfits every day, having a few basic neckline styles isn’t a bad idea. For example, wearing a bra with a broad neckline for casual tops and dresses is perfect. And if you plan on wearing something even dressier, a padded or push-up would do the trick.
Some bras offer full neckline coverage for loose-fitting dresses and shirts. You can wear the right neckline under your clothes only when you have a few basic styles in your closet.
Choosing the bra color: Looking for neon bras to wear under plain t-shirts, preferably white, is never a good idea. You can need something with a hint of transparency for lighter outerwear and clothing. Most people go with nude since it’s the most basic and safe bra color.
Regardless of what you wear, a nude bra will never show. Other basic colors that are a must-have are white, black, and beige.
Moving forward, it’s also important to match your bra to the clothing. Do you want to reveal your back? In which case a backless bra would be helpful.
For example, sticking with a standard padded or non-padded bra for t-shirts is essential. It offers the correct amount of comfort and support for long-term use. Also, wearing a seamless bra for a clingier and sticky material will give you the smoothest and most comfortable fit. A plunging, push-up bra for deep v-neck tops and dresses will be good for you. And a strapless bra for string tops and fancy dresses is more comfortable.
If you need to breastfeed frequently, a nursing bra will come in handy.
There’s lots to look forward to when picking the right bra for your clothing.
You can even opt for a convertible bra with adjustable and removable straps for better versatility. Some call this type of bra a multi-way bra. You can remove the straps when you want to, change the strap design according to your outfit, and get the smoothest comfort and support you could ever imagine!
6. Consider A Professional Fitter
Seeking professional advice to make sure the bra fits is also important. It’s likely that you’ve been wearing the wrong bra size for years without noticing anything. And the only one that can bring you out of such misery is a professional fitter.
If you’ve been wearing a 36B for years, imagine your surprise when a fitter tells you you’re actually a 34C. Now the bra you chose to wear after consulting a professional fitter is comfortable and supportive. If you’re shopping for a bra at a store, there is always a professional fitter in sight to help you out.
Even if you have your measurements with you, trying on the bras before picking on is extremely important. That’s because no two bras of the same size will fit you the same. There will always be something either too tight or loose about it.
Shopping in a department store has its perks and consulting a professional fitter is one of them. (8)
7. Looking Out For Common Issues
Do you know the common bra-fitting problems most women face after choosing the wrong bra? You might want to keep your eyes open for these common bra issues and their solutions. (9)
Bra straps are digging in: This happens when the bra straps are adjusted too tight or when the bra band is extremely loose. It can also happen when the straps are painfully thin to wear for a long time.
When the straps dig in, it might lead to redness and cuts on your shoulders. You may realize this problem at first, but with time, the straps do feel uncomfortable and cause soreness.
For most cases, the band size is too loose to support the breasts. So the straps do most of the band’s job, which isn’t right. If you have bigger breasts, it is more likely that you will experience this issue. That’s because the weight of your breast pulls the bra down, pulling the straps too. This is what causes painful digging, especially if you live an active lifestyle.
Side boob: When your breasts stick or poke out from the side, it’s called a “side boob”. That’s where extra breast skin is exposed underneath your armpits. To be honest, wearing a bra that enhances your side boob is embarrassing and uncomfortable.
You only solution to fighting the side boob is wearing the right bra size. You need something that cups your breasts offering support. It needs to properly encircle all the breast tissues so nothing sticks out from the sides.
Women with bigger breasts often face this problem. It leads to redness and increases sweating as the excess breast tissue rubs against the skin more than it should.
Center wires aren’t flat: This is a very common and often overlooked problem with bras. You can spot this issue by checking the underwires that meet between your breasts. It’s also known as the gore. It can be that the bra you’re wearing is too large or is unable to support fully round breasts.
Ignoring this can potentially damage your bra, either bending or breaking the gore.
Taking Care Of Your Bra
Now that you’ve read some interesting facts about bras, I want to talk a bit about maintaining them for proper hygiene. Washing lingerie is not as simple and straightforward as washing other clothing. There’s a lot that goes into washing a bra, in terms of frequency and water conditions. So let’s begin.
- Unlike other pieces of clothing, you need to wash your bra only after 2 wears. Maybe 3 if the bra material doesn’t look dirty. Wearing the same bra for days on end will result in a stretched out and saggy bra material. And that isn’t something you’d want, considering how expensive lingerie is.
- If you live in tropical climates, there’s plenty of humidity to battle. In such a case, washing your bra after every use is a good idea. In hot climates, humidity causes sweating and excess oil deposits which enter the layers of the bra. This can cause bacteria and/or microorganism buildup after a point.
- For fitness enthusiasts, washing a sports bra after every use is important. You don’t want your sports bra to stink and feel sweaty while you’re putting it on for an intense workout. It’s unhygienic and gross. Consider washing your sports bra immediately after use and drying it overnight if you have to wear it the next day.
- Consider soaking your bra in cold water and air drying it if you do not want to use any sort of detergent. This is a quick and easy way to wash your bra, if you have very limited to start with.
- Another way of washing any bra is hand-washing it with a soft to mild detergent. You can use a mild drying cycle to remove excess water, but it’s always advisable to air dry the bra after washing.
- Based on how well you wash your lingerie, a bra can last for 6 to 12 months. This also depends on how often you wear it and the use of detergents or bleach (not recommended) for washing.
Contrary to popular beliefs, there’s no harm in wearing a bra. In fact, it does a lot to support and cushioning your breasts, especially during any sort of physical activity. So why wouldn’t you wear them?
Certain types of bras can do wonders for your breasts, based on your lifestyle and body shape. For example, one review suggests that wearing a compression bra for small breasts reduces breast pain, which has a direct effect on hormonal imbalance. Meanwhile, for women with big breasts, wearing a encapsulated bra is a good option. (10)
To avoid any sort of discomfort, I jotted down all that you needed to know about bras. It’s impressive how much goes into buying the right bra, but the end result is always worth it. You need something that offers amazing advice on how to find a bra based on different sizes and shapes.
And, God forbid, you don’t want to make these mistakes when choosing the right bra for yourself. It’s important to know that what works for someone your age will not work for you too. Giving your body enough time to make its own decision is something most women forget. But it’s true that this guide will get you closer where you need to be.
Based on the kind of styles and sizes of bras available on the market, it’s unsurprising that you’re confused about what to buy. But that can also mean that now is a perfect time to buy bras than ever!
You might have to try and settle for smaller or bigger sizes at first. But that’s a part of the process. You need to understand what your body is most comfortable in. You can try different outfits with the same bra, and if it’s still not working for you, you can always try another.
Factors like underwire fitting, material, band size, and cup size play a major role in contributing to the perfect fit. So it’s only natural that you won’t find your ideal fit the first time.
One last thing you should know is that buying a single bra for all your outfits is a huge mistake! The cutting and stitching of t-shirts, dresses, and shirts suit specific bras only. You need something that shapes and supports your breast, even when you’re lazing around in your apartment.
All things considered, choosing a bra isn’t all the difficult if you have your mind in the right place! It’s all about working with your best instincts and loving your body for what it is.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.