Like the tedious task of selecting the perfect bathing suit, finding the right bra can be a difficult, frustrating challenge. Not only can certain bras make your boobs look super awkward, but some fits can be so bad they’re just flat out unwearable.
So, to successfully end the struggle of picking out ill-fitting bras that are either too tight, too loose, or just too... not the right bra for you, I spoke with several underwear experts to get their tips and tricks for ending up with lingerie you love.
“Finding the right lingerie for you is a blend of finding the right size for your body, silhouette for your frame, and style for your needs,” Marissa Vosper, intimates expert and co-founder of Negative Underwear tells me via email. “There's certainly no set rule book — but it can definitely make a big difference once you find that right fit.”
Finding the best fitting bra will not only be more comfortable on your body, but it will also make your clothes fit and look better. To easily find your best intimates match, here’s some need-to-know tips and tricks to remember next time you go bra shopping.
1. Measure Your Underband
We often tend to think that comfortable straps are a good indicator of a great bra. Lauren Schwab, another co-founder of Negative Underwear, argues that it’s actually the underband of the bra that determines whether you'll get the best fit possible. Located beneath the cups, the underband is usually the part of the bra that's fastened in the back. Since this part provides the majority of the support, Schwab stresses the importance of making sure your underband fits correctly.
“Most women don’t realize that the underband on a bra — not the straps — should do the majority of the support work,” explains Schwab.
A properly-fitted underband should rest below your bust and around your rib cage. A band that digs in or rides up could signify that it’s too small. Additionally a loose band (Schwab tells me you should only be able to fit a few fingers between your body and the band) signals that your band is probably too large.
“Most of us wear our bras for way too long — resulting in bands that are overstretched and under-performing,” Schwab adds. “The main reason that straps tend to dig into shoulders is because the band is too loose, so all the work gets transferred to the straps.”
To measure your underband, Schwab recommends using measuring tape to get your size.
“Be sure to measure directly below the bust line — essentially in an even line around your rib-cage where the bottom of your bra band would lie,” says Schwab. “If you get an odd number, you round up to the nearest even to get your band size.”
2. Measure Your Cups
Like your underband, cups play a big part in finding a great bra. Your cups should usually sit comfortably against your body, and never dig into your skin or be too loose.
“The cup of your bra should fully hold all of your breast tissue,” says Colleen Leung, technical designer from lingerie company Adore Me via email. “Along the neckline of the cup, your bra should sit smoothly against your body, without cutting in, or leaving a space between you and the cup.”
To find your perfect cup size, you’re definitely going to want to get a precise measurement. Stephanie Alexis, a New York City-based stylist, recommends measuring your cup with measuring tape, and loosely measuring around the fullest part of your breasts, with the tape straight across your back, bringing it to the front.
3. Calculate Your Bra Size
Once you’ve found your band and cup measurements, your next best step is to calculate your bra size. Your bra size is usually found by subtracting your band size from your bust measurement. So, if your bust is 37 inches and your band is 34 inches, you would simply subtract 37 from 34 to get 3 inches. Each inch usually represents a cup size, explains Alexis.
“To get the best fitting bra measure both the band and the cup size,” Alexis says. “Once you have your measurement, subtract your band measurement from the bust measurement and the difference calculates your bra size. Each inch represents a cup size.” So one inch would be an A, two would be a B, three would be a C, and so forth.
4. Inspect Your Underwire
Especially if you have a bigger cup size, underwiring gives breasts the shape and support that they deserve. Orit Hashay, founder and CEO of bra discovery platform, Brayola, stresses that underwire also is crucial in finding that great bra fit, making it super important for you to inspect the wiring when shopping for intimates pieces.
“The wire needs to be adjacent to your armpit, and the cups should lay flat on your breasts,” says Hashay through email. “If there appears to be a slight gap, this may be an indication of the wrong size.”
Aside from gaps, other wiring red flags include ones that feel like they're digging into your chest. This can make both you and your bra feel very uncomfortable.
“If the wire is cutting into or squeezing your chest at any point, it likely means the cup size is wrong,” notes Vosper via email.
5. Don’t Forget Your Straps
Although the majority of the support comes from the band, it's just as crucial to make sure your straps are performing correctly. Straps that are too tight can make things quite painful for your back and shoulders.
“The straps serve to support the lift of the cup and should help to smooth and support the side of the breast,” explains Colleen Leung. “Straps should be worn comfortably, sitting easily over the shoulders while not falling off. If the straps are cutting in, they are too tight, and the band may be too loose.”
6. Check Fabrics
Fabrics aren’t as important as your band, straps or cups, but they can play a role in determining what bra is right for you. Some fabrics can be really be irritating against the skin, making it important for you to pay extra attention to what kind of materials you select. When possible, always go for breathable and non-irritable fabrics, as they are usually gentle enough for sensitive skin types.
“The materials of the bra, including the straps, the fabric and the elastic should be comfortable and soft against your body,” suggest Leung. “Nothing should feel scratchy or irritating as you move in your bra.”
7. Treat Your Sports Bras With The Same Caution
Sports bras' lack of cup sizes might seem more straightforward, but it's still pretty easy to pick one that doesn’t support your bust. Keeping your breasts supported during workouts is key, and it’s always smart to select a piece that offers double the support of your everyday wear bra.
“A sports bra must offer extra hold and support,” explains Leung. “Depending on your type of activity and your cup size, your needs in a sports bra will vary, but any piece you choose will need to feel more firm around your body. ”
To find a sports bra that offers support, Leung recommends finding one that has a wide band around the bottom edge. The band should sit under your breast tissue, and shouldn’t shift while you move. In addition, she notes that your straps should be firm and not too stretchy.
“The straps should be firm with minimal stretch,” says Leung. “However, they should also be soft to the touch, so the straps don’t cut into your skin.”
Also, you should do some tests in the dressing room to see how it reacts to movement. “Jump up and down, reach your arms above your head and bend forward and to the side," Leung suggests. "Once you stand up, the bra should still be comfortably held in place."
8. Do A Comfort Test
No matter what kind of bra you choose, finding a comfortable piece generally means you've also found one that fits. Trying on your bra before purchasing — even if it's the size you usually wear — is highly recommended.
“If your bra is really uncomfortable then there probably is something wrong,” says Hashay.
Trying on bras underneath a few of your go-to wardrobe pieces is also recommended, especially since it’s helpful to see how your bra looks in your favorite tee, sweater, or blouse. Vosper recommends inspecting your profile from front to back to make sure your bra doesn’t look awkward underneath your clothing.
“Assessing bra fit is often charged with our own (often skewed) body perceptions — sometimes seeing how your shape looks with your favorite clothes on can help lend a bit more objectivity,” adds Vosper.
9. Try Using Tech
Selecting your bra definitely causes some added frustration, especially since many women are surprisingly wearing the wrong bra size to begin with. So, if you are looking for a fresh approach to the awkward in-store measurements, new apps allow you to find that perfect bra fit, right from the comfort of your own home.
Using patented computer vision technology to analyze body size in relation to the iPhone’s dimensions, the ThirdLove iPhone app helps users find with their correct bra size (including our exclusive half-cup sizes). All you need to do is take two photos of yourself in a mirror wearing a supportive bra and fitted tank top, and the app will do the rest in under 10 minutes.
Your relationship with your bras is about to get a whole lot healthier.