Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bra Mistakes Most Women Make

During my college years, I helped fund my education and living costs by working as the assistant manager of a bra-shop. I quickly learned the tricks of the trade, and let me tell you, nearly every woman out there is wearing the wrong size bra. I know, I know, you're reading this thinking "not me!". I said that same thing before I found out I was wearing the wrong size.

Bras are uncomfortable as it is, and if your bra doesn’t fit correctly, it is probably causing you more discomfort than you need to be experiencing. Bras are the foundation of your wardrobe. For me, they are the most expensive clothing item I buy (and we all know I'm thrifty!). Bras should be comfortable and help you modestly carry yourself without pulling and pinching. So here is my guide to you on how your bra should fit and what exactly is currently wrong with it.

First, let’s start with bra basics. Bras have a center, a band, cups, hooks, an underwire, and straps. See the diagram below so we are both on the same page here. (this diagram does not show the hooks, which is the closure in the back, there should be at least 3 sets of hooks)
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Every bra you ever buy, unless it is a sleeping bra, post-surgery bra, or workout bra, should have an underwire. I know I know. I hear your griping already because you HATE underwires and have instead sworn to always wear wire-free bras.

First of all, let me tell you:
1) You will get no proper support unless you have an underwire. Your support needs to come from the band and underwire, not from the straps.

2) If you have experienced discomfort due to an underwire, you are probably either wearing the wrong size or wearing the wrong type of bra.

The other "no-no" I will tell you is that your bra needs to have hooks in the back. I know how nice it is to have them in the front, but unless you are nursing, they need to go in the back. The bra will continue to ride up in the back and sit incorrectly if the hooks are not back there. 
There, now that that is settled, let’s talk about the #1 problem with your bras. I have been in thousands of bra fittings and have seen it all, but the majority of the women I saw were wearing a bra whose band was too loose and whose cups were too small.

To illustrate what I mean, let me explain how bras are sized (sorry to my international friends, you may have to do some converting here). The band size of a bra is expressed by a number, in the US it is by the number of inches. The cup size of a bra is expressed by a letter. So a 34C bra has a 34 inch band and a C-sized cup.

Band sizes in the US increase in increments of 2 inches (with sets of hooks in the back to fit sizes between them). As the band size increases, the same cup size decreases, and vice versa. So, for example, a 36B actually has the same cup size as a 34C. Many people make the mistake when they gain a few pounds by going from a 34C to a 36C. If you increase the band, the cup size goes down, so a 34C who only wants a bigger band but not a bigger cup size would become a 36B. My bra size is a 32D, which is actually the same cup size as a 34C. So, band goes up, cup goes down. Band goes down, cup goes up.

This leads to the number one fitting problem with women. Your band should fit very snugly around your rib cage and not ride up at all in the back. When you breath in as deeply as you can, you should feel your bra around your ribs. By staying put and not riding up, your band (along with your underwire) is what is actually holding up your breasts. Your straps, in contrast, should be only tight enough only to keep your bra from slipping down your rib cage. Many women wear their bra straps very tight and their band too loose, so in fact their straps are what is holding their breasts up.

A good test of whether your band is too loose:
- turn sideways in the mirror. The bottom of your bra cup in the front (where your underwire is) should be level with the hooks of your bra in the back. If the hooks are up higher, then your straps are too tight and your band is too loose. If the band is over your shoulder blades in the back, I can almost guarantee it is too big.

So how do you fix this problem? I suggest you go into your local bra shop and get a bra fitting. If you are uncomfortable with that, measure yourself.

On top of your current, non-padded bra, take a tape measure and measure your ribcage snugly around below your breasts. This is your band size. So if you measured 36, your band width is 36. If you measure between sizes, 35 for example, try a size down. Bras stretch and I always recommend a bra that is a little tighter than a little looser. Then measure your ribcage around the most prominent part of your breasts (over your nipples). Then take the difference between the first and second measurement. If it is 1 inch, you are an A cup, 2 inches is a B cup and so on.

This measurement is not always accurate, but it will give you a good place to start.

If your current bra fits great, but the band is too big based on the test I had you take earlier, simply go try on the same bra with one band size down and one cup size up (remember as band size decreases, cup size increases). So if you are currently wearing a 36B and the band doesn’t pass the test I gave you, try on a 34C.

The center of your bra (the part between your cups in the front) should be touching your rib cage and lying flat. If it is not touching your rib cage, go up a cup size.

Your bra should fit well on the loosest set of hooks. If it only feels good in the store when it is on the tightest hooks, you need to go down a band size. Again, bras stretch, so you want to have a bra which will last you longer than a few months.

Once you are buying a bra in the correct size, you simply need to figure out the proper cup shape for you. There are many different shapes, from full-coverage to demi. In my experience, full coverage is best for very large breasted women and demi is better for medium to smaller sized chests. But the only way you know if a bra is going to fit you is to try it on.

Also, remember that not all brands are sized the same. You may be a 34C in one brand and a 34D in others. That is simply the way it works sometimes. 

Other basic bra tips:
1) If you can only afford to buy 1 nice bra, make sure it is a supportive, plain (not lacy or it will show through your thinner tops), nude colored bra. Nude is the color you need to wear under white. The most useless bra color is..... WHITE! It will show through under your light colored tops just like you were wearing a colored bra. It will also stain easier and look old faster. I haven't ever owned a white bra and still don't understand why they make them.
2) ALWAYS hand-wash your bras. Even on the delicate cycle your machine will ruin your bra over time. I simply put mine to soak in the sink while I shower at night, then rinse and hang them on the door (with both straps on the door knob so the cups are next to each other and keep their shape).

3) If your bra is more than a year old and is regularly worn, get rid of it. Bras stretch so quickly and the elastic is not meant to last very long. If a bra is more than a year old, it is probably not fitting properly anymore.

4) Re-evaluate your bras often. Your size and shape changes often, and your bras should too.

5) If you have breasts of a special size (30 or below or above 40 band size, below A or above DD cup size), go to a specialty bra shop. 32s have just started being carried in stores, but they can still be difficult to find. My mom was wearing a 38DD for years, only to be shocked when she visited a specialty bra shop and found out she is actually a 34H! But she looks great now and feels better now that she is wearing the proper size

6) On that note, don’t have sticker shock. Just because you’ve though you were a C for years and suddenly find our you are actually a DD with a smaller band size, don’t freak out. You always WERE a DD, you were just wearing the wrong bra!

Hope this helps! If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll try to help.


  1. I hate wearing bras. especially when I am nursing. Because I only produce milk on one side. ONE side! which means I am an A or B (if I am lucky) on one side and DD on the other. I look SOOOOOOOOO dumb. And there really is no bra that I have found that can disquise it. And I really don't want to wear a prosthetic boob because where i live it is super hot and they are all plastic. ugh. so I just look stupid. so VERY stupid. :(

    1. Ivy, thank you for sharing! I wanted to come back to you with something meaningful you could use, and I found what I was looking for! At this website: fruit of the loom sells bras where you can buy each cup a different size. Hopefully that could help you because I definitely know how difficult (and common) of an issue this is for women.

  2. I never wore underwires before I had babies (no boobs- seriously NONE). Now I don't wear them due to nursing bras not having them. Hope I get to keep nursing for a long time so I don't have to think of this.
    Good post though. I was professionally fitted when I was pregnant with Cass and was told I was a 12D. I have been wearing size 12 bands ever since. The last fitting I had, the lady said I was a 10. I questioned her and she said: 'Are you kidding? If you wore a 12, it would crawl up your back all the time.' and I thought to myself: 'My bra DOES crawl up my back all the time.' So hard when you can only trust the word of the person fitting you at the time! This post will help me in the future.

  3. I'm sorry, Ivy, breastfeeding and post-partum body is the WORST. And then to hear about an obnoxious celeb that 'lost all that weight' in four months--what a joke! The point is, we're all here rooting for you--you're nourishing your child and that's the important thing. (Have you tried to find any cloth pads for the A breast?)
    Thank you for the post, Amy Joy! And your wedding dress was gorgeous!

  4. Underwires are most certainly NOT necessary for every single breast size -- almost all A cups, most B cups, and some C cups can go without underwires, and opt instead for healthier wireless versions. Wired bras being "necessary for support" is largely a myth; in fact, some studies have even shown wired bras to exacerbate sagging due to increased atrophy of the upper breast muscles.
    For me personally, I have never found a wired bra that was comfortable -- the problem wasn't that it was a "wrong size" or what have you; the problem was the wires themselves. Alas, my overbearing mother forced me to wear wired bras all throughout my adolescence despite my complaints; I had trouble breathing all those horrid years, and the result now is that my ribcage is deformed and indented inward right under my breasts where the wires were. Really, can you imagine going the entire day with a tight metal wire squeezing into your ribcage every second? Of course women with bigger cup sizes may prefer wired bras for practical reasons, but this article erroneously claims that they are "required" for all cup sizes and for all women, which is most certainly not the case. Stop perpetuating this myth please.

  5. During my college years, I helped fund my education and living costs by working as the assistant manager of a bra-shop. I quickly learned the ...

  6. During my college years, I helped fund my education and living costs by working as the assistant manager of a bra-shop. I quickly learned the ...


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