I recently introduced my sister to my blog (yay! I’m slowly telling the people in my life about this blog), and it got me thinking about how newbies to bra fitting will probably have a difficult time getting much out of my posts. I use terms like “center gore” willy nilly, and generally write in such a way that assumes you know the basics of how bras should fit. My sister, for instance, does not know the basics of bra fitting (introducing my blog to her was kind of an excuse to get her fitted). So I’ve decided to put together a “basics to bra fitting” guide. Get ready for a lengthy post.
Little disclaimer: These rules should really be seen as guidelines. Fit is personal, I get that, and your most comfortable fit may not jive with all the rules I’ve listed. That’s cool, just do whatever is most comfortable.
Here we go!
1) The band of your bra should fit snuggly (and comfortably) around your ribcage, closed on the loosest hooks. The bra will stretch with wear, so you want to have options to close the bra on tighter settings as it stretches. The band should carry around 80% of the breast’s weight, which is why it needs to be snug. This is to avoid shoulder/neck pain.
2) The band should sit parallel to the floor, not angled upward. If the band slides around your back as you wear it or you feel yourself having to pull it down over the course of the day, it is too loose. An ill-fitted bra can cause all sorts of discomfort, so we don’t want that.
3) You should be able to fit two fingers under your band. If you can’t fit two fingers under your band (easily), it is too tight and you should go up a band size. If you can easily fit your whole fist under the band, it is probably too loose and you should go down a band size.
4) The cups of your bra should encase all of your breast tissue. This means side boob as well! When you put your bra on, make sure to scoop all the breast tissue that sits around the armpit area into the cup (if you’ve been wearing poorly fitted bras for a long time, you may have a lot of tissue around the armpit area. Some of this tissue should migrate back to its rightful place as you wear correctly fitted bras, and you may even go up a cup size as a result!).
5) The top of the cups should not cut into breast tissue or gape with empty space. If the cups cut in or your boobs escape out the sides of the cup, then you need to go up a cup size. If you have a lot of empty space or the wires come up all the way into your armpits, then you need to go down a cup size (or multiple cup sizes! But it’s good to take it one at a time).
6) Underwires should lay flat and tack to your body, they should not sit on your breast tissue. The wires are what are literally lifting up your breasts, so if they’re not sitting under them, fully encasing your breasts, they’re not doing their job.
7) The center piece of the bra should also tack to your body. The center of the bra helps separate your breasts and keeps them securely in place. If it’s not tacking to your body, you’re getting less lift, and your breasts may start moving toward each other as the day goes on. Generally if the center piece (called the “center gore”) does not tack, it means your cup is too small (I have also had wires not tack to me because of a large band, but the usual rule is that the cup is too small).
8) Your straps should be adjusted so that there is no slack or wrinkling in the cups, and so they do not slip off your shoulders. However, this can be a bit complicated, as you don’t want to make up for a too small cup by barely tightening your straps, or hide too large a cup by tightening your straps too much. Figuring out how to properly tighten your straps tends to come with practice (I still tighten mine too much sometimes).
9) Hand wash your damn bras in gentle detergent. Okay, I know many of you won’t do this (though it is actually very easy!), so if you must machine wash your bras, at least make sure you wash them in a garment bag, on a gentle cycle. Absolutely NEVER PUT THEM IN THE DRYER. The heat will break down the elastic, which is key to getting a great fit out of the band. It could also alter the fit/size of the bra, or delicate parts of the bra can get snagged on other clothing items. It’s just bad news, hang or lay those puppies flat to dry.
10) Sometimes a bra in the correct size will not fit you. Some bras will just be incompatible with your shape. It’s okay! There are many fish in the sea. You may have to try many styles before you find some that work well for you. It’s a process, but it’s worth it.
YOUR “STARTING POINT” SIZE
I say “starting point” size because technically you have more than one size. Sizes among brands are not regulated, so there are many differences that pop up between them. For instance, I have 28FF bras from some brands, and 26GG bras from others. Size can vary a lot based on how the shape of the bra fits your breast shape, and some bras can just plain run a bit “small” or “large.” But this stuff is complicated, so we’ll get back to it later. For now, here’s how to find your “starting point” size:
1) Get a tape measure, a flexible one. Wrap the tape measure around your ribcage, right under your breasts (where the band of your bra would sit). You should do this without clothes on to get the most accurate result. Make sure the tape measure is parallel the floor whole way around your body, just like the band should be. This measurement should be done relaxed, so exhale and take a snug measurement. Don’t hurt yourself! It shouldn’t be so tight that you can’t breathe. Whatever the tape measure says, use that as your starting band size. If it reads as an odd number, like 27 or 29, I would recommend going to the next band size up if you have very little fat around your ribcage. If you have some squish to you, you may do well in the next size down. Of course this is personal and everyone has their preferences, so you may want to try both sizes if you’re in between to see which you prefer. Remember that bras are made with sweet, sweet lycra; lycra is what allows bras to stretch with your movements and breaths. So don’t worry if you find that when you breathe in the tape measure feels too tight. The bra will stretch with you, a tape measure wont.
***Remember that the primary goal here is comfort. If you measure 32 inches around your ribcage and find 32 bands too tight, just wear a 36! You’re not breaking a rule, you’re not doing it wrong, etc. The same goes for if you measure 40 inches and find 40 bras too loose! Try a 38, just do whatever is comfortable.
2) Now you want to determine your cup size. Take the tape measure again and wrap it around your body, this time over the fullest part of your breasts (I find it helps to bend over to find the fullest part). Once again, the tape measure should be parallel to the floor, no angles upward or downward! This measurement should not be tight. Don’t squish your boobs! The difference between ribcage and overbust measurements is what determines your cup size. Once inch = once cup size. So if you measured 30 inches around your rib cage and 36 inches over your bust, that would put you at approximately a 30E.
Just incase some of you aren’t familiar with how cup sizes progress, here’s a list:
Of course they go higher or lower than this, but this tends to be the “standard” size range among many brands.
Note: If you measure half an inch difference between your ribcage and overbust, that puts you at an AA cup, and less than half an inch is an AAA cup!
This is a bit more complicated. Determining your breast shape will help you to know what brands and styles suit you. For instance, I have narrow breasts and even fullness. ”Narrow breasts” mean that my breasts sit primarily on the front of my body, they don’t extend onto my sides very much. “Even fullness” means that I don’t have especially top heavy or bottom heavy breasts. In my experience this means I cannot wear bras with very tight upper sections, because the cups will cut into my upper fullness, and I cannot wear very dramatic half cup styles, because I will always get some empty space in the cups. However, I will do well with most styles of bra in between. I do well with narrow wires, meaning that the wires form a narrow “U” shape. If the wires are wide, forming a much border “U” shape, they will extend onto my sides, leaving empty space in the sides of the cups.
DETERMINING YOUR OWN BREAST SHAPE
Bras I Hate and Love made a great post about this recently, so I’m just going to link that here. Just read it. Honestly, trying to recap it will only do a worse job conveying the information. She illustrated her points very well (seriously, there are illustrations. It’s great).
A great source for determining if your breasts are shallow or deep is Venusian Glow’s post. The illustrations, like in Bras I Hate and Love’s post, are extremely helpful.
Once you’ve determined your breast shape (as best you can. I know it can be tricky), now it’s time to figure out what brands will suit your shape! Unfortunately, this is where it gets very, very tricky, at least to me. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, and a lot of conflicting information out there about each brand. Some people feel Freya have narrow underwires (I would agree), while others find them wide. I’ve heard some refer to Panache as being narrow, but I’ve only ever found them to be wide. It is complicated. I will do my best to describe them, but I’m sure some will disagree.
Freya (narrow wires, deep cups in their unlined bras)
Fantasie (medium wires)
Panache Superbra (wide wires)
Cleo (wide wires, frequently shallow cups)
Miss Mandalay (medium wires)
Ewa Michalak (narrow wires, deep cups)
Curvy Kate (wide in larger cup sizes, narrow in smaller, according to Eternal Voyageur at Venusian Glow)
Elomi (wide wires, plus size bras)
Goddess (wide wires, plus size bras)
Unfortunately I don’t know anything about the wire width of companies for small busted women. But I will provide a list of brands so that you may procure information if so you desire:
The Little Bra Company
Lula lu Petite
Ohhh Lulu Etsy store (wireless bras!)
And finally, here are a few brands that make lingerie for the full and small busted:
According to the wire width information above, I should do well with Freya, but of course bra sizing is so much more complicated than wire width. I cannot for the life of me fill out a Freya cup properly in my current size. I’m right in between a 28F and FF with them in the cups, and could use a 26 band (but they do not make those). However, I wear Cleo bras in 28FF and get a fantastic fit, even though their wires are actually a bit wide for me. This is why it is so important to try bras on. I know we don’t all live near boutiques, so we don’t all have access to bras in our vicinity to try. But what you can do is fit yourself at home, then order a few bras online to try. I’d suggest ordering a BUNCH at once (depending on how much money you’re financially able to “freeze”), preferably from one location, so that you can try a variety of sizes and styles at once and compare them to each other. I suggest buying from one location so that you can save money on returns by fitting multiple bras into one return package (believe me, you will probably have many returns to make).
The Butterfly Collection, a Canadian lingerie store in British Columbia, offers online fittings via Skype for free. I highly suggest you take advantage of this is you want the help of a professional.
Now what do you do if bra manufacturers don’t make your size? This can mean you need a small band size (24-26), a combination of a large band size and small cup size (40B), or perhaps you need a cup size larger than the standard full bust stopping point of a K cup. Ewa Michalak, a polish bra manufacturer, will custom make a bra in your size. Not all of her styles can be custom made to any size, but I believe one or two can (I know for sure that her plunge bras can be made to cover a vast size range).
You can also go the route of altering your bras. This means finding a bra that fits in the cup and altering the band accordingly. If you don’t feel confident making alterations yourself, you can always take the bra to a seamstress and have the alterations done for you. You want to be sure the cups fit perfectly, as shortening the band will make the slightest trace of an ill-fitting cup very noticeable.
So there you have it! I’m sure I’ve left out some fitting information as there is so much to cover, so if you have any further questions just leave a comment and ask. All the blogs in my blog roll have a vast amount of fitting information if you want some other opinions, and I highly recommend Bratabase if you want to see how bras look on real people. Whenever I am interested in purchasing a bra, I check Bratabase to see what the shape is like, or if anyone has posted its measurements. It is a fantastic source of information for both the new and experienced with lingerie. Plus, in the “listings” section there are many inexpensive bras, some brand new, some worn very few times, some FREE. It’s a great place to look if you’re in need of bras.