Many bra-wearing people have a love-hate relationship with them. Sure, we appreciate the support and coverage they provide, and even enjoy the benefits of a sexy bra when putting together a particular look. But finding the right bra and the right size can be an epic battle of wills. Especially for those with large busts, unusual sizes, or particular style needs, bra shopping and sizing can be something dreaded rather than celebrated. But we spoke to some fitting experts to get their best tips for properly sizing bras, even on your own.
How You Know You’ve Got the Right Fit
If your bra fits properly, “the center front should sit flush against the rib cage without digging in, and your breasts should fit securely in the underwire,” says Tori Shelton, fit expert at Figleaves. The cups should also be filled comfortably, with no spilling or gapping. The straps should rest comfortably, as most support should come from the under band. If your bras don’t fit these criteria, it’s time to reassess their size and look for something new!
Fitting from Home
If you can’t get to a store for a professional fitting (during a pandemic, for example!), it’s still manageable to find your correct fit from home and then shop online. To find your own size, you’ll need a flexible tape measure, like the one you’d find in any traditional sewing kit. You’ll then find and record two measurements: under your bust line and across the fullest part of your bust. Then round up both numbers by a couple of inches to adjust for common bra sizing and design flaws. Your cup size is determined by the number of inches difference between the band size and bust size, going up a letter per inch. To see exactly how to do this, watch this video by Jené Luciani Sena, bra expert and bestselling author of The Bra Book.
For Those with Larger Busts
It is still possible to find a good bra, even if you have a larger-than-average bust. As your size goes up, it can become harder to find good options, but the best place to buy larger bras has always been online. Says Jessica Pfister, vice president of Le Mystere, “A common mistake full-busted women make when bra shopping is not accepting their real size. Many women try to fit into products that are just too small and not supportive enough.” Accept your real size! She also mentions that technological advancements in modern clothing design have created soft materials that can still support larger breasts. To get started, here’s a list of brands that are great for those of us with sizable boobs!
In It for the Long Haul
Tori Shelton also recommends doing a “bra review” every six months or so, checking that your bras still fit, feel comfortable, and have remaining elasticity. If you gain or lose even five pounds, bras can easily stop fitting properly. Bras also do lose their elasticity over time naturally. After a while, the bra that used to fit you perfectly won’t be up to standard anymore and should be replaced. You should also consider switching up which bra you’re wearing each day to give other bras a “rest day”–this allows the fabric time to recover and can help your bras last longer.
The other way to help your bras last longer and stay in better shape? Hand wash (or wash in a garment bag) and always air dry them!
Tips and Tricks
When you are able to bra shop in a store again, go prepared. Jené Luciani suggests wearing a thin, sheer top so you can see how visible any bra will be in the most see-through of materials. Bring a list of exactly what you’re looking for as well. And thankfully she also says if there’s a bra you particularly like that isn’t in your size, it usually works to go up a band size AND down a cup size for a similar fit.
Annie Burdick is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon, but transplanted from the Midwest. She also works as a community inclusion specialist for adults with disabilities. Previously she's edited and written for magazines, websites, books, and small businesses, on an absurdly wide range of topics. She spends the rest of her time reading, eating good food, and finding new adventures in the Pacific Northwest.