Friday, April 5, 2013

your bra doesn't fit

NEW EDIT: Scroll to the Sister Sizes section for a new helpful picture!

ANOTHER EDIT!: I found another awesome sizing resource with lots of good pictures. Open this in a new tab and continue on!

Not to be harsh, but if you're reading this, it's more likely than not that your bra doesn't fit. It's not your fault. It really isn't. Most of you are probably wearing a bra that is too small for you in the cup and too large for you in the band. Let me tell you, once you're in a correctly sized bra, your life will be changed.


The way you were likely measured (whether it was yesterday or eons ago) was with a method that was developed over 60 years ago, back before lycra, when bras had exactly 0 stretch to them. This method takes your underbust measurement and adds 4" to come up with your bra band size. In fact, most clothing and bra websites, including Nordstrom who is the largest easily-accessible in-store seller of a wide variety of bra sizes in the U.S., post the completely wrong instructions on their website. And if your bra band isn't measured correctly, then your cup isn't either. A lot of companies offering a smaller range of sizes (*cough* Victoria's Secret *cough*) will have a 17 year old "fit" you and will offer you a size that they carry. They're not gonna be like "Oh you're a 28DD! We don't have that, sorry." They'll be like "You're TOTALLY a 32C, here!" I mean, why would they intentionally miss out on a sale?

The Basics

To begin your bra sizing adventure, get naked. Your measurements won't mean shit if you do them over any clothes. Are you going to wear your bra over your shirt? Your bra over another bra? No. Take your clothes off.

You need an accurate measurement of your underbust. This should be right underneath the root of your boobs (where they start on the bottom), taken straight back, parallel to the floor. Within the bra sizing community, we prefer to have you take two measurements at this place: the first will be your "snug" measurement, where you will pull the tape, well, snug, but by no means uncomfortable; the second will be your "break the tape" measurement. This time, pull the tape like you are literally trying to snap it around your body or cut yourself in half. The reason we want two measurements is to help better gauge what bra size you should be in. If you are very thin or athletic, you won't have much squishy-ness around your ribcage. If you are NOT thin or athletic, you will probably have more squishy-ness. It's common that thin/athletic types prefer a larger band for comfort. If you measure at a 28, you may want a 30 because there's not a lot of give there to cushion your ribs from the firm band. If you're squishy and measure at a 28, you're probably still going to want a 28 because the squishy-ness will give you added comfort. I know it's counter-intuitive, and this is not a set in stone situation - you won't fully know what works until you try it.

My "snug" measurement is 31" and my "break the tape" measurement is 29". I prefer 30 bands.

Onto the cup size!

Bra sizing is often a difficult concept to understand because cup sizes are not set in stone, definitive measurements. If you lay a 32C on top of a 36C you'll see that the cup in the 36C is a lot larger than the 32. This is because cup sizes are relative to band sizes. You determine your cup size by subtracting your bra band size from your overbust measurement. We take two different measures to figure out your overbust as well. The first measurement is standing: wrap the tape around the fullest part of your breasts, parallel to the floor, just barely snug enough for the tape to stay on. Then, bend over so that your chest is parallel to the floor and take the same measurement. My measurement standing is 38" and bending over is 39". For most people, averaging the two numbers gives them a best idea of where to start.

So, if you have a 32" underbust measurement (and therefore a 32 band) and a 36" average overbust measurement, you would probably need a 32D. You add a cup size for each inch your overbust is greater than your band size. So, 36-32 = 4. Let's look at this handy chart.

0" 1" 2" 3" 4" 5" 6" 7" 8" 9" 10" 11" 12" 13" 14" 15"



(courtesy of Busty Resources)

As you can see, a 4" difference corresponds to a D in both US and UK sizes. (NOTE: It is far more common to find bras in a wider array of consistent sizes if you use UK measurements, therefore I will continue to make reference to UK sizes only in the rest of this post.) 

Ok, at this point if you've taken your measurements, you're probably freaking out. Something along the lines of "there is no way in HELL I'm an [x] cup! I've been a 36A my whole life! D+ cup boobs are only on porn stars! There's no way!" Believe it. Embrace it. The DD-is-freakishly-huge concept is a myth. Once upon a time I was wearing a 34C/D (depending on the bra). Today I'm in a 30FF/G (again, depending on the bra). And you guys have seen me. I don't have freakishly huge boobs. They look pretty darn normal. When you start wearing the correct band size (which is generally 4", or two sizes, smaller than the one you were wearing), you tend to go up at least two cup sizes. Combine that with the fact that most people aren't actually getting all of their breast tissue into the bra cups puts you usually gaining another cup or two on top of that. But that's another discussion we'll get to in a bit.

Sister Sizing

When you start trying on bras, you may find that your measurements don't exactly equal what works for you. This is where sister sizing comes in. Here's a handy chart:

Courtesy of A Bra That Fits

So, say you measure at a 30E, but you try that 30 band on and it feels WAY too tight for you and you want to move up to a 32 band. A 32E is going to be too big in the cup for you if the cup on the 30E fit, so you'll have to size down a cup to a 32DD. Likewise, if that 30 band felt too loose, you'll have to go up a cup in the 28, resulting in a 28F. This is how places try to size you into what they offer. If the smallest band size they offer is a 34 and you're really a 30, they're going to put you in a 34D. Bad news bears. However, it's pretty common to go back and forth, up or down one size depending on the manufacturer. For example, Curvy Kate bras tend to run loose in the band, whereas Ewa Michalak bras tend to be very snug in the band. It will be trial and error. Your cup size will also not be the same in every brand. Panache bras tend to run small in the cup (I generally need a G/GG for them) while Freya bras tend to run large (I usually take a FF). Again, trial and error.

Here's an example of how band size affects cup size:

 You can see here that the 28A cups are DEFINITELY smaller than the 32A cups.

Here are some bras that are all sister sizes, from The Butterfly Connection:

From top to bottom, these bras are 38E, 36F, 34FF, 32G, 30GG, and 28H. As you can see, the cup width and depth is the same in all of them (because, as sister sizes, the cup volume is the same) but the band length gets shorter as you go down. This illustrates how if you're wearing a 34FF and it fits in the cup but not the band, you would go down to a 32G, not a 32FF.

Let's See How Poorly Your Bra Fits

Take your shirt off. Grab the back of your bra and pull it away from your body. If it pulls away more than 2", your bra doesn't fit. If your boobs spill or bulge out of the cups, your bra doesn't fit. If that middle part of your bra (the gore) isn't laying flat against your sternum, your bra doesn't fit. If your bra band rides up in the back or you pull it down super low, your bra doesn't fit. If your straps either dig into your shoulders or slip constantly, your bra doesn't fit.

No matter how small or large you think your breasts are, they need support. This support comes (or SHOULD come) from the band, not the straps. When your band is too loose, your straps have to pick up the slack. Think of it this way: if your straps are supporting your breasts, it's like holding a beanbag by the top with just two fingers and lifting it off the floor; if your band is supporting your breasts, it's like holding the beanbag in your palm. Which way supports the beanbag better? I think you know.

That baby is not supporting that beanbag at all.

A lot of times your cups don't fit because you have way more breast tissue than you think you have. All of that backfat you get over your bra band? That armpit pooch by your brastrap? That's breast tissue. That should be in the cup. It squeezes out in the back and sides when the cup you are wearing is too small, and stays there after time. This is what we call breast tissue migration. It can be corrected over time by wearing the right size bra and doing the "swoop and scoop". 

Putting Your Bra On Correctly

When you put on a bra, you should put the cups against your chest and clip the band behind you. In a new bra, the loosest hook should be the tightest you can comfortably wear. Once you have it clipped (don't pull up the straps yet!), make sure that the underwire is lined up right at the root of your breast. Bend over and let your breasts fall into the cups. Then, hold the left cup in place with your left hand, take your right hand across your body and reach all the way back to your back (like you're trying to hug yourself or something) and pull all of that 'stuff' into the bra cup. Repeat on the right side. If this sounds confusing, check out this video for assistance.

Congratulations! You just did the swoop and scoop. Pull up straps and adjust them accordingly.

WOW! Your boobs just got bigger! And perkier! And better!

Once you've done all that, you can evaluate how your bra fits.

How to Tell if it Fits

First, make sure you have put the bra on as we stated above. Now move around for a bit like you would throughout the day to let the breasts settle into the cups. You're always going to be fuller immediately after you swoop and scoop, and settling into the bra is normal.

There a few main things that you're looking for here. I like to start with the evaluation of the band, assuming you're trying on a brand new bra. First, if you find you have to adjust your brastraps  in such a way that they're cutting into your shoulders for support your band is likely too loose. This indicates that the straps are doing all the work  the You should be able to fit 2-3 fingers under the band while it's fastened on the loosest hook. The band should not move when you raise your arms, shrug, jump up and down, bend over, or dance at a rave. If it moves, go down a size. If you're not used to wearing a proper band, this is going to feel super crazy tight. I promise you'll get used to it. When you take off your bra at the end of the day you should have red marks from the band. Just like when you wear socks and you get the indents from them, or when your jeans are super tight and then you end up seeing the seams and the button indents when you take them off. This is completely normal for the bra. If your bra is digging, stabbing, or bruising you, however, then it's TOO tight. 

If you try on two different band sizes and find yourself falling in between them, buy the smaller size and a bra extender.
For purchase at and like a billion other places. Your local Target might even have them.

This will lengthen the life of the bra. Because bras today are made of materials with elastic in them, the elastic wears out over time, therefore stretching out the bra. If you buy a bra and you're already on the tightest hook, you have nowhere to go when it stretches, then you're left with a worthless bra, or one you have to alter. So if you're between sizes, you're better off going smaller with the extender until it stretches out and you can go back to the regular hooks. My first (sort-of) well fitting bras went from oh-my-god-I'm-dying tight on the loosest hook to comfortable on the tightest hook within 6 months. This may even happen faster if you have fewer bras in your wardrobe to rotate between. 

Now to evaluate the cup fit. Lets start with symptoms of a too-small cup:

Too small
  • The middle part (gore) of your bra does not lay flush  against your sternum
  • You experience quad-boobing, spillage, or "the shelf" 
  • The top of the bra cuts into the breast tissue 
  • Your breast tissue isn't all contained in the cup, causing bulging out the sizes or back
  • The underwire lays on your breast tissue/pulls away from your body 
  If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, go up a cup size.
 Too large
  • There is gaping at the top of the cup
  • There is wrinkling in the cup
  • You generally don't fill out the cup
 If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, go down a cup size.
This site has a few good picture examples showing lingerie models whose bras clearly don't fit. That might help you get an idea of what you're looking for.
 Wrong Shape 
Sometimes you may find yourself suffering from symptoms in both categories and/or feel like the bra is giving your boobs a weird shape. This happens, don't worry. Different bras are made for different shaped breasts - not everyone is the same. Here is where I suggest Bratabase for assistance on how to determine your breast shape. If you click on any of those shapes/links, you will find bra suggestions for those shapes. You may also fall into multiple categories, and may therefore want to try an array of those shapes to figure out what works for you. Trying things on is key.
Asymmetrical Breasts
Rule of thumb: fit your larger breast. You can usually tighten the strap on the smaller breast to pick up any slack in the cup, or if the difference in size is drastic, you can get a "chicken cutlet", if you will (you know, those gel bra inserts) to fill out that side.  

  These things.

General Bra Types
There are three main types of bras out there: moulded cup, seamed cup, and sports bras. Yes, they make sports bras with underwires that actually fit and support you and don't smoosh you in like normal sports bras.
And they're pretty! This is the Panache Sport. You can get it here, as well as many other places. Personal testimony, I love it.

Moulded cup bras are your typical t-shirt bras. They don't have seams up the cup, they're generally really smooth, and they have a slight padding.

This is the Freya Deco Plunge. It seems to be a very popular t-shirt bra and it comes in a ton of colors. The shape doesn't really work for me, but it seems to for a lot of people. It's definitely worth a try. And you can find it pretty much anywhere good bras are sold.

Seamed cup bras usually don't have any lining or padding (also known as soft cup bras), and they have anywhere from 2 to 4 seams across the cups. Generally, seamed cup bras offer more support, and since the cups, when soft, don't stand up on their own (in that, they're just floppy fabric) the shapes are often more natural. You will find seamed cup bras that are lined, but they usually don't have as much of a moulded look as t-shirt bras.

This is the Freya Lacey. I own this bra and love it to death. I'm actually wearing it right now. This is the only color it comes in, but it kind of acts as a nude. It can also be found just about anywhere good bras are sold.

Where to Buy Bras
It's hard to find places in the states where you can try on things in-store unless you're in a major city. If you're lucky enough to be in or near a major city, you may want to try Intimacy or Nordstrom. (Sidenote: if you happen to have a Nordstrom Rack, check it out. I got a bra there for $15 that retailed for $60 once!) You should also google around for local lingerie boutiques where you can try things on. Those boutiques can get mighty expensive, so I generally recommend going and writing down the models and sizes of the bras you want, buy one from them (since a lot of people work on commission and they're probably going to spend a lot of time with you, and not buying something [unless nothing fits, of course] is kind of a dick move), and then look for the rest online. Here's an incomplete list of retailers of bras in a wide range of sizes.
As you'll notice, a lot of these places are based in the UK. As I discussed above, Europe generally has it's shit together compared to the US and most of the brands which carry wide sizes are from the UK or France. So it kind of makes sense that they'd carry things. I know Bare Necessities is US and Figleaves has US returns so it's cheaper to send things back if you need to. You will quickly notice that bras can get expensive, quick, depending on the brand. Just because a brand is super expensive or relatively cheap doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of the bra. You can get pretty solid bras in the Figleaves house brands (which are usually knock-offs of popular name brand bras) for much cheaper than their name brand counterparts. Also, all of these sites have deals and sales all the time, so sign up for mailing lists to get offers! ALSO ALSO: Pay attention to the currency on these sites! Some are in USD and some will be in GBP. If you are purchasing from a UK company, you may have to pay duties on purchases over $200, so it's good to try and keep them under that limit. Also, your credit card company may charge you a fee for the overseas transaction. I try to use PayPal when available and direct draft from my checking account to avoid these fees.

You can also check Amazon and Ebay for some good finds. Buyer beware - only purchase bras on Ebay that are new with tags to ensure that you're getting something that's new. You can chance it if you want, but you're not going to REALLY know how the bra fits if it's been worn and stretched.

Taking Care of Your Bras

Hand wash your bras in a delicate lingerie detergent, like this one, but there are many others out there. When I hand wash, I use a 1-gallon bucket. I put a wee bit of the soap in there and fill it with lukewarm water, then submerge the bras in the bucket and leave them to soak for a couple of minutes. Then I take them out and scrub around the extra dirty parts, like under the armpits and along the bottom of the band. I then rinse them under cold water and GENTLY squeeze the water out of the cups (for moulded cups - soft cups don't really need it). Never wring them, just kind of press into the cup to get as much of the water out as you can, and hang them to dry. I also have a friend that uses a salad spinner to accelerate dry time without smooshing up and wringing out the bra.

If you have a really nice washing machine (like one that's front loading and has a super extra delicate silks cycle), you can throw your bras in a lingerie bag (make sure they can move, though - they have them all kinds of cramped on that pic) and wash them on that setting with the special soap. Make sure you clip all the bras before washing them to avoid the hooks putting pulls in the fabrics. Your bras should never ever under any circumstances be dried in a machine. Hang dry them or lay them flat to dry always.


I didn't come up with all this knowledge myself, but I wanted to compile it into this blog post primarily for my friends so that you all can know the joy of better bras. Here is a short list of the resources that I have used in my journey that will likely be helpful as well.

  • A Bra That Fits - a Reddit community (see the sidebar in particular for a TON of great resources). The ladies here are INCREDIBLY helpful and will assist you with any questions, including fit checks.
  • Busty Resources Wiki - This is good for a lot of basics and additional resources.
  • Bratabase - This site allows you to input your measurements, assess your shape, and input the bras you currently own, allowing you to review them and tell them how they fit. As you continue to complete your profile, they will be able to suggest bras that will fit you based on your current bras, and each bra listing will include links to other bras with similar cuts and fits.
  • Bra Swap - another Reddit community that offers bra trades and sales between other Redditors. A good resource for if you want to try bras cheaply, and you can sometimes snag deals on your favorites. It's also a good place to re-sell things that don't fit in the event that you can't return them.

I think that's it for now. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions for topics I should cover in more detail. PLEASE let me know in the comments. And share this with everyone!! I want to be helpful!! I can also help you directly if you want to be pointed in the right direction on some of these things. Finding the right bra will be frustrating at first, but through trial and error you will get there!



  1. I loved the post!!! And you're right, I did learn a lot!

    ...but I bristled at this sentence:

    "No matter how small or large you think your breasts are, they need support."

    Well, no. I just don't see how that's true. Support might be more COMFORTABLE, but wearing a bra isn't going to do anything to protect you against breast cancer or add to your overall health.

    And it's nice to have perky breasts, but there's nothing that makes perkier breasts "better" than other ones, like you suggested. Perky breasts being idealized are absolutely a product of our youth-obsessed culture, but a lot of people forget that some girls NEVER have perky breasts. They develop droopy and stay droopy. It's hard to challenge our ideas about beauty standards when they're so ingrained, but as women we have to work especially hard to question why we're doing anything.

    It might be worthwhile for each woman to question... am I putting on this bra today because it makes me feel more comfortable, or because it makes other people UNcomfortable when I don't wear one?

    1. Hi there, thanks for reading!

      I probably should have worded that better. I know a loooot of women suffer from back pain, neck pain, and breast pain and don't realize that it's from lack of support. I also believe that women with small breasts don't think that bras can help them feel better, when they really might be able to. It's true that support doesn't affect your overall health and I did not ever intend to make that claim.

      I made sure to mention and link to different breast shapes so that everyone can see that there are a wide variety of them and that there is no single 'perfect shape'. Moulded cup bras tend to force breasts into that rounded shape (what might be considered the typical 'perky youthful' shape) and as I said, soft cup bras generally result in a more natural shape because they let your boobs do what they do. Here's a picture example of a before and after fitting:

      In my opinion, that fitting doesn't necessarily give her 'perkier' boobs, but it does lift them better than the previous bra and gives a distinction between her bustline and her wasitline that wasn't as clear before. Yes, modern culture is youth and beauty obsessed and I don't consider myself a person to embrace that kind of thinking, but at the same time I like to feel good about my body and how it looks because it inspires confidence in myself. I also think that this is a common train of thought for a majority of women today. I think of it the same way as I think of makeup. I don't wear makeup because I think I'm ugly or unattractive without it - I wear it because I like it, I find it fun, and it makes me feel better about myself. Yeah, if I'm bare faced I know I'm the ONLY person that will notice that pimple, but if I cover it, I'm going to feel better about going into that interview or whatever and making a good impression.

      Sorry that was long-winded. I appreciate where you're coming from and thank you for your input! I'm hoping that these tips will help people feel better (both emotionally and physically)!

  2. wooooooo boobie love! awesome article :)

  3. I love this post Ashley! I learned so much!



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