How to (Finally!) Find the Right Bra

Use these tips to buy a bra that fits

What is your bra size?

The question is seemingly simple, but the answer is more complicated than you'd think. The reality is that many of us are walking around in bras that are the wrong size. Too big and our breasts look saggy; too small and our bodies look lumpy. Our bodies are fabulous—we’re just wearing the wrong bras! Mette Iacovou, Bare Necessities AmBRAssador, showed us the right way to measure yourself for a bra:

First, determine your band size. Wearing your best-fitting bra, use measuring tape and measure all the way around the narrowest part of your chest, just below your breasts. Hold the tape firmly (not too loose, but not too tight.) This measurement is your band size. If you measure an odd number, round up one inch. Let’s just say that number is 34 inches.

Next, figure out your bust size. Measure loosely around the fullest part of your breasts, which is often, but not necessarily, the nipple. Let’s say that number is 40 inches.

To arrive at your cup size, subtract band size from bust size. So here, 40-34=6 inches. For every inch difference, go up a cup: 1 inch = A; 2 inches = B; 3 = C; 4 = D, 5 = DD/E; 6 = F. Your cup size, according to these measurements, is an F. So your bra size is a 34F. (Note: Don’t worry if your breasts aren’t exactly the same size; “The smaller one will be fine in a slightly bigger cup,” says Iacovou, who recommends stretchy fabrics that conform to your shape.)

Now here’s where things get tricky: If your size is between a 32A and 36DD, you should have no trouble finding the right fit pretty much anywhere you shop. But if you’re outside that range (and so many of us are), you may be persuaded to try a widely available bra size. And while that size may accommodate your breasts—a 34F can fit into a 36D— it won’t give you the lift and support that your true size will. Your best bet will be a bra specialty store or an online bra retailer.

Also, remember that your bra size can change. “If you gain or lose around 10 pounds, that can affect your bra size and you should re-measure,” says Iacovou. And even if you’re maintaining your weight, you should still measure once per year, just in case your body weight has shifted. (Hey, thanks, gravity!)

 

Does this bra fit? Here’s how to know

Now that you know your actual size, we’re going to throw you a little curveball: “This isn’t an exact science,” says Iacovou. “Knowing your size is a great place to start, but fit matters more.” So try on bras that are your size and ones that are close, asking yourself these questions as you go:

 

1. Is the center gore (where the wires or cups meet in front) lying flat up against my sternum?


If there’s any gap between you and the gore, the cup size is probably too small and you should size up. The other possibility is that your breasts are set close together—they meet or nearly meet on top. If that’s you, you need a shorter gore, like you’d find with a plunge bra, so that all the fabric will lie flat against you.

 

2. Is the band at the same level in the front and the back?


If the band is riding higher in back than in front, that means that the band is too big and you’ll need to size down. Think of the physics: If your band is high in the back and low in front, your breasts are going to pitch forward and downward. Eek!

Also, if you’re seeing “back fat,” it is very unlikely that the band is too small; it’s probably too big. (What? Yes, stay with us here.) As a too-big band rides up, it takes flesh with it, creating lumps. You should try a smaller band size that will sit at the narrowest part of your chest, or possibly, a larger cup size—a too small cup will make the overall circumference of the bra is too small, squishing you all the way around.

 

3. Does the band fit snugly?


For any new bra, try it on with the band on the loosest hook, so “as the bra stretches, you’ll get more life out of it,” says Iacovou. If you can you slip more than two fingers under the band, it’s too big and you’ll want to size down.

“When the band is level and snug and the center gore lies flat, those two parts act as the anchors that keep your breasts lifted,” explains Iacovou. Which brings us to…

 

4. Are your straps digging in or falling down?


Straps that dig mean that your band size is too large so your straps are doing too much work. And if they’re constantly slipping off, then your band is too small. “When you take the straps down, your breasts should stay right where they are,” says Iacovou. “That’s how you know that the straps are not working harder than they should.”

 

5. Do my cups runneth over or under?


“All of the breast tissue should be encompassed within the bra,” says Iacovou. So if seeming armpit fat (“It’s breast tissue!” reassures Iacovou) is hanging over at the side, or you’re experiencing a quad boob moment, the cup is too small. If there’s bunching or wrinkling in the cup, then the cup is too big.

 

6. Do I feel comfortable and confident?


That’s the surest sign you’re wearing a bra that fits!