Photo: Piotr Marcinski/iStock Images
Shopping for bras can be a real pain, but it’s nothing compared to the discomfort of wearing one that is ill-fitting. “Bras are meant to support the bust and can only do so when they fit well,” says Kim Caldwell, a bra fitting expert in New York City and founder of Hurray Kimmay. “Wearing a supportive bra allows you to feel confident and stand tall.” Experts recommend getting a professional fitting every six months, as our bodies are constantly changing (think hormones, weight loss or gain, pregnancy, and natural aging). But, we get it, not everyone has the time or resources to do so. If this is the case, measuring yourself at home is a great start. Caldwell suggests getting to know your “bra size starting points” and using them to compare different options until you find what you are most comfortable in. Need support? Below, top experts in the industry share their tips for finding the perfect fit.
Determine your band size
The first step to finding the right size is being aware of the common mistake women make when shopping for bras: “Usually women go for a band that is too big and a cup that is too small,” says Josie-Anne Le Diouron, a bra fitting expert and the North American marketing coordinator of Empreinte. “The band needs to really hug the body.” To find your fit, wrap a measuring tape tautly around your torso, directly under your bust. The measuring tape should be level and snug, she emphasizes. If you get an odd number of inches, round up to the nearest even number for US band sizes (note that European sizes run a little differently).
Measure and calculate your cup size
To measure your bust, wrap the measuring tape around the fullest part of your breasts, keeping it in line with your nipples. To determine the depths of the cup that you need, Le Diouron recommends measuring your bust with a bra on. “Depending on how your breasts sit, if yours are saggy for example, you won’t get the full volume of the breast without a bra,” she says. Round your measurement to the nearest inch, then subtract your band size from your bust size. Use this number to find your cup size: less than 1 (AA), 1 (A), 2 (B), 3 ( C ), 4 (D), and so on.
For example: 35” bust - 32” band = 3 ( C )
Look at specific features
“The bra’s features do the ‘heavy lifting’ to keep your bust upright,” says Caldwell. So, you’ll want to consider the width of the straps when shopping for bras. It should be in accordance with the cup size—meaning the larger the cup, the wider the band. “There’s no way an H-cup will be supported by teeny-tiny straps,” says Le Diouron. The same goes for the height of the hooks on the band; a smaller cup can get away with one or two hooks, Le Diouron explains, while a D-cup will need three or four. As for underwire? Our experts agree that’s a personal preference based on comfort, but it does provide extra support.
Try on different styles
This is where you can explore. Try on various styles—full cup, demi cup, high neck, shelf, plunge, etc.—until you find what you feel most comfortable and confident in. “When done properly, the look of the bra will be preserved regardless of size,” says Le Diouron. So, just because you have a bigger bust, doesn’t mean you need to avoid that sexy lace style you’ve had your eye on. Quality is key.
Confirm it’s a good fit
Once you found the bra you are comfortable with, make sure it’s a good fit. Slip on the straps first, then lean over slightly so that your breast tissue is completely in the cups, suggests Caldwell. Secure the bra on the outermost hook. As it becomes worn over time, the band will loosen, and you can move to an inner hook. Finally, adjust the straps so that the band in the back is parallel with the front. You should be able to slide only one or two fingers underneath the band. If your breasts spill over or the cups wrinkle and pucker, you are wearing the wrong size.
Get to know your sister size
Sister sizing is the term used to describe similar fits from different sizes. Knowing yours is helpful when shopping for bras, as it’s very common to wear different sizes across brands and styles. “Basically, the volume of the cup is relative to the band size,” says Caldwell. “That means that the cup size is not the same volume across band sizes.” So, to find your sister sizes, go up a band size and down a cup size, and vice versa. For example, if you wear a 34C, your sister sizes are 36B and 32D.