What’s the most important clothing item we ALL own yet know very little about? Bras! Jockey claims 85% of women wear the wrong bra size. Whether that statistic is accurate or not is debatable, but it’s true that most women don’t know how to find their proper bra sizes. I’ll admit that until very recently I fell in that category. I went to a 30-second fitting at Victoria’s Secret ages ago. Someone told me I was a 34B and I rolled with that sizing for 10+ years. Turns out I’m actually a 36A! The lies, the lies!
It’s sad that an important foundation for every outfit is so neglected and misunderstood. Think about it. Bras can make or break an outfit. If you’re wearing a bra with lining that shows through your clothes or causes noticeable spillage, it won’t matter how beautiful your outfit is — your poorly fitting bra will become the focal point. I’ve learned the hard way that purchasing the *right* bras for your body will prevent you from wasting money on bras that are uncomfortable or don’t fit properly (and in some cases, proper bra fit and placement can improve your posture and make you look slimmer).
Before I rant any further, I feel it’s prudent to include a blunt disclaimer for men who might stumble upon this post: This post is intended for women ONLY. I took a very clinical approach whilst writing this, but I don’t want this post to be a temptation for you in any way. It’s best you go ahead and click the little X up there, buddy. Thanks!
OK, now that I got that out of the way, let’s tackle the very large and lengthy topic of bras and bra fit. Consider this your ultimate (but unofficial) guide to bras.
Here’s the game plan:
1) We’ll review different types of bra and bra terminology (this will come in handy for the next section)
2) We’ll discuss different chest types because knowing your chest type will help you find better fitting bras
3) We’ll end by discussing proper bra fit and some common fit mistakes to avoid.
Sound good? Let’s do this!
1) Get Familiar with the Different Types of Bras and Bra Terminology
In order to find our perfect bras, we need to have a proper foundation – starting with a review of common types of bra and bra terminology. Instead of hitting you with a list of words dictionary-style, I’ll link to this incredibly helpful bra glossary from Bare Necessities and I’ve prepared a handy infographic that shows the 10 most common types of bras (I’ll be referring to some of these later in the post).
- Balconette: A balconette is a type of demi bra with low-cut, straight across cups, only this bra has less coverage than the average demi bra. Most are designed to provide lift and support while creating a flattering view of your chest. This bra is ideal for women with small to average bust sizes and women who want a bra with a youthful look. Most balconette bras have short underwires, so this style is also ideal for women who struggle with poking underwires.
- Bandeau: A bandeau bra is designed in a strip format and typically made of stretchy fabric. Clearly this is ideal for women with a small chest size as there is no support. But they’re cute!
- Bralette: A bralette is a non-underwire bra with no padding or molded cups. Bralettes are comfortable, no-fuss alternatives to padded bras and ideal for women with smaller breasts. The only downside is that they lose their elasticity easily, so be sure to hand wash them.
- Convertible: A convertible bra is just as it sounds: a bra that converts into different styles. The main feature of this bra is the detachable strap with hooks that allow for multiple configurations. This bra is a staple and ideal for any woman who needs support while wearing halter tops, strapless dresses, and other tricky silhouettes.
- Demi: A demi bra has wide-set straps, half-shaped cups and a horizontal bust line. The cups of a demi are cut low and straight across to enhance the look of your chest, and the wide-set straps sit farther away from the collarbone to create an open neckline. Since it doesn’t include much coverage, this bra is ideal for women with a smaller chest size.
- Full cup: A full cup bra has “full” cups that completely cover the breasts and wide straps for comfort. This bra has more support and coverage than most bras. It’s ideal for women with a larger chest size who need maximum support and want to eliminate breast spillage (because having four boobs is a no-no).
- Minimizer: A minimizer bra is a full coverage bra designed to reduce the appearance of your bust size by one-two inches. This bra has special elasticated cups designed to redistribute the breast tissue to fit evenly all over the cup to create the illusion of a smaller bust. This bra is ideal for women with large busts who want to appear smaller.
- Plunge: A plunge bra has very low cut cups joined by a thin center panel. This bra is designed for wear with low cut tops and dresses.
- Push-up: A push-up bra has additional padding at the bottom of the cups to create a fuller, lifted bust. The additional padding is typically foam, gel, water, or air. Ideal for most women, particularly those who want to create the illusion of a larger bust. Tip: If you only want a modest lift, go one size up.
- Sports: A sports bra is designed to provide support and prevent discomfort to your breasts during physical activity. Most sports bras are made of mesh, cotton blends and other durable fabric that have moisture wicking properties. Bonus: It also prevents breast tissue damage.
- Strapless: As the name indicates, this bra is designed without shoulder straps. This bra typically has wide sides and sewn-in silicone stitching to keep the bra secure. It’s ideal for anyone wearing strapless pieces, but women with larger busts should consider a longline strapless bra that extends to the hips for extra support (and it makes you look slimmer).
- T-shirt: A T-shirt bra has thin and smoothly contoured cups designed to give optimal shape under t-shirts. This bra is ideal for any women who wants a smooth and flattering shape under shirts with thin fabric.
2) Identify Your Chest Type
Did you know that just like body shapes, there are different types of chests?! I mean, I suppose I assumed that because all bodies are different, but I didn’t know there were official chest types until I did research for this post. Turns out, it’s actually VERY helpful to identify your current chest type to find the best fitting bras for your shape.
For the sake of discretion, I will not post images or graphics illustrating the chest types mentioned below. However, if you need visual aids, refer to this VERY helpful guide from HerRoom.
If your breasts are very close together or “touching” without the support of a bra, you likely have a touching chest. While you have most women’s ideal chest type, you likely have issues finding bras with center panels that lay completely flat on your sternum (that’s a requirement for a well-fitting bra…more on that in the next section). Your ideal bra: Underwire bras and bras with very narrow center panels. Underwire bras will help lift and separate your breasts.
If your breasts are different sizes and not symmetrical, you’ve got an uneven chest type. Don’t worry, sis. This type of chest is actually very common and there’s a quick fix: buy a bra with removable padding so you can give the small breast extra love and remove the padding from the fuller breast. Your ideal bras: Push-up bras that have removable pads and molded cups.
Here’s a quick test to determine if you have separated breasts: place your index and middle finger in between them. If you can comfortably fit one or both fingers, you likely have this chest type – and lucky you! This is the most common chest type so it’s easy to shop for bras that will fit well. Your ideal bra: T-shirt bra (see above for options in this category).
If you can comfortably fit three or more fingers in between your breasts, you likely have this chest type. Since the distance between your breasts is wide, you should look for bras with wide center panels so your breasts comfortably fit in the bra cups. You likely also experience issues with underwires poking your underarm breast tissue, so you need bras with supportive side wings. Your ideal bras: front-closure bras, demi bras with wide-set cups, and wireless bras (if your bust isn’t too large).
Wide Set and Splayed
If your breasts are 3+ finger width apart AND they fall outwards forming a triangular shape, this is your chest type. Virtual hug for you, my friend – we’re chest type buddies, so I KNOW the struggle to find comfortable and flattering bras. You need to find bras with wide center panels that comfortably fit in between your breasts and supportive side wings to push the girls in. Since your chest forms a triangular shape, it’s also best to find bras with center panels that have a similar shape. Your ideal bras: Front-closure bras and bras with wide, triangle-shaped center panels.
I recently received the Vanity Fair Flattering Lift front-closure bra, and I LOVE it. The supportive wings comfortably bring the girls in, the padding provides a subtle and flattering lift, the underwires don’t poke, and it has cute lace details. Oh, and it only costs $29. It’s like they made this bra just for me!
The above are the five most common chest types, but this list is not exhaustive. There are also special bra fit requirements for women with augmented or reduced breasts, women who’ve received mastectomies, women with very large busts, and women who are nursing. If you fall in any of those categories, I highly recommend seeing a bra fit specialist to get more bra recommendations.
3) Find Your Bra Size + General Bra Fitting Tips
Alright, now that we have a better understanding of bra and chest types, we can move on to calculating our bra sizes and learning some general bra fitting best practices to find bras that fit well.
Step 1: Measure your band size.
Want to know the number one mistake bra mistake most women make? Buying bras based on cup size instead of band size. Cup sizes vary based on band size, so it’s so crucial to get an accurate measurement for your band size. To do that simply put on an unpadded bra, firmly measure the area directly beneath your breasts around your ribcage. Be sure to keep the measuring tape flat against your skin and parallel to the ground. Write down that measurement. That’s your band size.
(Image: Vanity Fair)
Step 2: Measure your cup size.
With your unpadded bra on, firmly wrap the measuring tape around the fullest part of your chest. Make sure the tape measure is taut and straight. Write down that measurement. That’s your cup size.
(Image: Vanity Fair)
Step 3: Enter your measurements into a bra size calculator.
Turns out calculating your real bra size is a complicated endeavor requiring maths and stuff. Ain’t nobody got time for that (except the specialists who are paid to make those calculations). So I’m taking the easy way out here and advising you to enter your digits into this handy bra size calculator from Linda’s Online. It’s the most accurate online calculator I’ve found thus far.
(Optional) Step 4: See a bra specialist.
I say this step is optional only because I know some of you may not be able to see a bra specialist. But really, every woman should see a good bra-fitting specialist at least once in their lives. You may just learn you’ve been wearing the wrong bra size your whole life…
Just as with clothing, sizing and fit can vary by brand. You may be a 36A in one brand and a 34B in another. So it’s important to keep in mind these general tips for determining proper bra fit:
- Two-Finger Strap Test: The straps should fit snugly on your shoulders with enough room for two fingers to slide underneath. Additional tip: the straps shouldn’t dig into your shoulders.
- Fill/Spill Check: You should smoothly fill out your cups so that there is no gaping or wrinkling. If there’s wrinkling or gaping, go up a cup size. If you’re spilling out the top of your bra, go down a cup size.
- Comfort Check: Every part of your bra should feel comfortable on you, particularly while you’re seated (that’s when your rib cage tends to expand).
- Maximum Lift Test: Turn to the side. Your breasts should sit halfway between your shoulders and elbows.
- Center Challenge: The center panel of your bra should lay flat against your sternum without buckling.
- Stretch Test: Raise your arms, bend over, and twist. The band should stay firmly in place and not hike up your back.
- Underwire Check: The underwire shouldn’t poke, protrude, pinch or ride up. If it bends away from your chest in the center, that likely means your cup size is too small.
If you don’t feel like reading the above points, no worries. Here’s a handy graphic from my friends at Vanity Fair:
Phew! I know there’s A LOT of information in this post, so bookmark it so you can refer back to it later and share it with your female friends who can use some bra fit help.
And don’t forget to grab your copy of my free Style 101 guide in the pretty box below!
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