We’ve all heard about the importance of proper bra fitting, and it makes perfect sense, but few of us actually take the time to be professionally fitted. In fact, last year Jockey reported that, “53 percent of women have never been professionally fit for a bra” and “75 percent of women have difficulty finding a bra that fits properly and a staggering 85 percent are wearing the wrong size.” When you stop to consider how much of a wardrobe mainstay your bra is, it’s pretty staggering. They’re called foundation garments for a reason!
Why does accurate bra fitting matter? Comfort, for one thing. Most bras aren’t uncomfortable because they aren’t well made, it’s because the straps are in the wrong place, the band is too loose or too tight or the cups are too small. If you hate wearing a bra because it feels too constricting, it’s definitely time to rethink your size. Aside from freeing you from chafing, wires digging into the wrong spots and making it easier to move, a properly fitted bra makes your clothes look better too. You’ll have a sleeker silhouette; a perkier bosom and you’ll instantly look five pounds thinner. Although 34B is still considered average, in the past 20 years the average woman’s bra size has actually grown to 34DD. And this isn’t entirely due to implants and weight gain—it’s most likely a combination of standard sizing changes and more women buying bras that do fit their shape.
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If you’ve never had one, or if you’ve gained or lost weight, a professional bra fitting is the best way to figure out what your true size is. Many of us have been buying the same band and cup-size since we started buying our own bras (guilty!). Experts agree that wearing a too large band and too small cup are the most common mistakes women make. We’re accustomed to thinking in terms of cup size without realizing that it changes depending on the band size. For instance, a 34B has a smaller cup than a 38B. Odds are, your band size is two inches smaller than you think and your cup size is a couple of letters bigger.
If you want go the DIY fitting route, don’t bother with the measuring tape, the best way to find your size is to try on several bras that are variations on the size you wear now. If you’re a 34B, try 32C, 32B or 36A or B, etc. until you find one that feels comfortable and keeps your girls in place and looking their best. As a rule, you should only be able to fit two fingers under the band and it shouldn’t ride up at all in the back. Another common mistake we make (guilty again!) is buying a bra that feels comfortable on the second or third set of hooks. Bras stretch a lot over time so if you want yours to last, the band should feel tight enough on the first set of hooks so you can tighten as it stretches. The shoulder straps should stay on your shoulders without leaving marks and your breasts should rest comfortably in the cups without bulging over the top or having wires dig in the bottom.
Once you’ve got how to fit a bra down, you’re halfway there. In addition to size, boobs come in many shapes and luckily, so do brassieres. If your breasts are very close together—meaning you’ve got natural cleavage (lucky!) or very far apart, pay extra attention to the width of the center panel, which can make a huge difference in how the wires will lay against your body. Wide-set breasts may need more side support to keep them front and center, so seamed cups are a good choice.
If you’re petite and don’t need much support, you can wear wireless and plunging styles without creating a scandal. When you want an extra boost, push-ups and lightly padded bras create the illusion of curves. Ladies with narrow shoulders are usually more comfortable with tapered straps or halter styles. If your cups runneth over, a wider band and three-part cups give you extra support and shaping.
No one’s boobs are perfectly symmetrical but if yours are especially uneven, molded cups may seem like a great way to fix the problem. In reality, you could end up with one not-so-full cup and that’s definitely not a good look. A lined, underwire, full-coverage bra is a much better option.
Finally, to keep your bras in tip top shape, never wear them two days in a row—elastic needs to rest—and wash them regularly—your body oils can break down the elastic. And if you absolutely loathe bra shopping, Tru & Co has an online fitting quiz, then you select a few styles and they arrive at your door for at-home try-on. Keep what you like, return what you don’t!