How To Find Yourself A Bra That Fits: A Bra Fitting Guide
(Please note this article was originally published as a blog post here. I have duplicated it as a page so it is easier for readers to find.)
The prospect of bra fitting can fill many a woman with fear – with so many fitting methods available on the internet it’s hard to know who is right and who is wrong.
The fact of the matter is that very few methods are completely wrong and it may take you a few attempts to find the system that works best for you. In this post, I will talk through my personally preferred way of fitting and will also reference some other sources of information that you may find useful.
First off, I would like to clarify that I am certainly no bra fitting expert. I do not intend this post to be read as the ultimate guide to bra fitting but instead as a good reference point to start you off. My method may not be the best one for you but I hope you will find this post interesting nonetheless. Over the past couple of years of writing my blog I have picked up a number of fitting tips and tricks along the way and have even been fortunate enough to be asked to fit some of my friends.
I hold my hands up: I am guilty of sometimes wearing bras that don’t fit perfectly. In my size range I have very limited choices as to brand, style and shape and on occasion I make a compromise in order to widen my bra choices. However, my everyday bras are ones that fit well and provide great support to my heavy breasts.
Read my review of the Ewa Michalak SM Margot 32KK/70KK here
I do not intend to come across as some kind of know-it-all in this post as I most certainly don’t know everything but my intention is to help point you in the direction of finding bras that support you better and make you feel more comfortable and confident. Wearing the right size bra can completely transform your relationship with your body, how you feel about yourself and how you see yourself.
So, without further ado, here’s my advice on how best to fit yourself into the right size bra.
Image courtesy of A Sophisticated Pair
The first thing you’ll need to do is measure yourself using a soft measuring tape. This is not to get a hard and fast bra size, but more to get an idea of what size might work for you. It’s best to do this whilst naked and standing in front of a mirror so you can be sure the tape is in the correct position.
- Measure around your rib cage, directly underneath your breasts. Be sure to keep the tape level; do not let it ride up or drop down at the back. Pull the two ends of the tape firmly, but not tightly, together, so that it feels snug but comfortable, and make a note of the measurement in inches.
- This measurement will help determine your band size. It doesn’t necessarily mean that if your underbust measurement is 32″ the band size you need is 32, but it is a good starting point. Your band size will depend a lot on how firm you like your bra band to be and also on the firmness of the band of each bra you try on. If your underbust measurement results in an odd number, you can round up or down as you choose. Essentially this number (plus a little extra) will represent the measurement you need the bra band to comfortably stretch to when worn.
- Measure around the fullest part of your breasts, again making sure that the tape runs straight across your back. The fullest part of your breasts will usually be across your nipples, but this will not always be the case. Women with softer breasts may find they get a more accurate measurement by leaning over and taking the measurement. The trick here is to ensure your back is parallel with the floor and to not include the point of the nipple in the measurement.
- The numerical difference between your underbust and overbust measurements will help ascertain your cup size. Again, it’s not an exact science but this table from the fabulous A Sophisticated Pair Lingerie will help you translate your measurement into a cup size.
|Measurement (in.)||US Size||UK Size|
Courtesy of A Sophisticated Pair
So, for instance, if your overbust measures 38″ and your underbust is 28″, you would do well to start off trying bras in 28GG (UK) or 28J (US).
This table should help you to convert cup sizes across different sizing systems:
Don’t forget that you can click on any of my images to get a larger version
- Your underbust measurement is a good place to start for your band size.
- Your overbust measurement minus your underbust measurement should be used to calculate your approximate cup size (using the tables above).
And there you have it. A starting point for your bra journey; and the point at which you should start trying bras on. Your new size might sound scary or ‘way too big’ (I recently had a friend who went from a 40B to a 38F and she was flabbergasted that she had ‘enough boob’ for an F cup!) but do bear in mind that these are just numbers and letters that grade the sizing and, just like with clothing, no-one will be able to see your bra label once you are wearing the bra so your size will remain a secret unless you choose to share it. The media and celebrities have helped confuse and mislead us over the years by incorrectly calling out their bra sizes; whether it’s Kelly Brook, Katie Price, Christina Hendricks or Kat Dennings, I reckon they could all do with a visit to a decent fitter!
Unfortunately, it’s not a simple process from here. Brands grade their bra sizes (both bands and cups) differently, so a GG cup in Freya might not fit you as well as your GG cup in Panache. It’s all about trial and error and sticking to your bra fitting mission until you find the size that works for you in that particular style.
A particularly useful resource you might like to try is Bratabase. It’s a bra database where thousands of women have uploaded information about bras they’ve tried in order to help others. All you need to do is upload your own measurements and the site will provide ‘bra recommendations’ for you, which are bras that have worked for others with similar proportions to you. It’s an amazing resource and is completely free of charge to use! I always add the bras I’ve tried, whether they have worked or not, as even the measurements of the bras themselves can be useful for other users. You can see the links to my Bratabase entries at the top right hand corner of the page of each bra review I write.
I often get emails and messages from readers who don’t know where to buy their bras. My answer to this is simple: buy them from anywhere that stocks the size you need. For those of us requiring bigger cup sizes this can often be quite a stumbling block but it is worth the time and perhaps small financial investment to end up in the long run with bras that fit well and make you look and feel amazing.
Read my review of the Ewa Michalak PL Violet here
If you’re doing your bra shopping online, keep an eye out for retailers who offer free delivery and returns. You can use these shops to place a big order to try on bras for size and then send back those that don’t fit. Even if none of them fit, the only things you will have lost are a bit of time and the trouble of posting the bras back to the retailer. What you will have gained is the knowledge of how close you got to finding the right size for you in that particular bra. I’d call that success!
Some retailers do not offer free delivery, but instead charge a small price to post the bras to you. I think this is also a good option but before you order do take the time to read the returns policy. Some online shops allow free returns, whilst others do not. If the bras you’ve ordered do not fit it could end up being a very costly venture to send them all back so make sure you read up before you place your order. Additionally, some places (such as Bravissimo) only charge postage one time per order and offer free exchanges, so if you need to return your bras for different sizes you can do this without having to pay the postage fee again.
If you’re doing your bra shopping in store, lucky you! Somewhere like Debenhams is ideal for this as you’ll have a range of brands, styles and colours available to choose from. By far the best option is to have a shop full of bras for you to compare and try on there and then, and that’s something sadly not available to many women for a whole raft of reasons. Look at all the bras available and find one you like. Next, pick out your size based on the measuring system I described above, as well as a cup size below and a cup size above. I say this because you won’t want to go to the trouble of taking your clothes off to try on a bra, only to find the cup size is off, to then have to get fully dressed again so you can get another size.
If offered a fitting by a member of shop staff, I would suggest politely declining and making your way on your own to the fitting room as quickly as possible. I do not wish to tar all retailers with the same brush but the majority of stores use the +4 method, which is where they add 4″ to your underbust measurement as a standard fitting system, and this does not work for the majority of women. Due to the way bras are made nowadays and their high elastane/Lycra content, the best rule of thumb is to start with a band that measures about the same as your underbust measurement and go up or down in band and cup sizes from there.
When you are safely ensconced in the fitting room, try the bras on. Here are some tips to help you identify the best fit for you…
You should fasten the bra’s band on the loosest hooks; the extra hooks are there for when the bra inevitably stretches with age and wear. The band should feel snug and comfortable and you should be able to fit a flat hand underneath your band at the back. If you can fit more and/or you can pull the band away from your back quite a way, you need to size down in the band. If you cannot fit at least two fingers under the band and/or it feels painfully tight, you need to size up in the band.
Image courtesy of Brastop
Bear in mind that if you have been wearing a band several sizes too big then your new band size will feel quite a bit tighter than usual and this may come as a shock. This new, firmer fit may take a bit of getting used to so you may wish to use a bra extender for a few weeks to allow yourself time to come to terms with how your new bra feels and to help the band to stretch out a little. Hopefully you will soon reap the benefits from wearing the correct size bra band as your boobs will be better supported and you should notice a reduction in any back/shoulder pain that you may have previously felt. A bra’s band typically provides at least 80% of the bra’s support so it’s really important that yours fits properly and does not ride up at the back (a definite sign of a band being too big).
Once you have found the band that’s right for you, it will be time to look at the cups. The idea is that all of your breast tissue should be contained by the cups, including under your arms. I think a lot of women, and especially those who are plus size, can assume this is just underarm or back fat, but quite often it can be migrated breast tissue. Wearing the correct cup size will allow that tissue to move back to its original position – i.e. on your boobs – so you may find that you need to size up a cup or two in the future to accommodate this.
A properly fitted bra should not have any overspill or quadraboob along the edges of the cups. There should be a smooth line, without any gaps. The central gore should sit flush to your sternum and the wires should sit on your rib cage and not your breast tissue.
Your central gore should NOT look like this. Image courtesy of A Sophisticated Pair
The straps should be adjusted to fit. This can be a pain when trying on bras on your own, as this usually means taking the bra off to adjust the straps but again it’s worth taking the trouble to fiddle about with them as they are an important aspect of the fit. Ideally, you should be able to fit two or three fingers under the strap. Any more than this and you need to shorten them; any less and they should be loosened. Wearing your straps too long will make your breasts sag downwards and wearing them too short will cause shoulder pain.
Looking at your bra in the mirror, you may think it fits pretty well. However, there is something you should do every time you put a bra on. Reach into each cup (using your right hand for your left breast, and left hand for your right breast) and gently pull all the breast tissue from your back, side and underarm into the cup. Now do the same from the bottom of the cup. This is to ensure that all your breast tissue is encapsulated within the cup and there is not any hanging out underneath or at the sides. I tend to hold on to the bottom of each cup’s underwire whilst I do this, to keep the cup in place and to make sure it’s in the correct position.
Here are some pointers to look for when checking the fit of your bra:
- The band should be straight across your back and not ride up.
- The band should comfortably fasten on the loosest hooks.
- You should be able to fit a flat hand underneath your bra band but no more.
- The band should sit flat on your rib cage and not on the breast tissue.
- The cups should contain your breast tissue with no spillage at the centre, along the edges of the cups or at the sides. Equally, the cups should not gape and there should be no excess fabric flapping around.
- The underwires should be wide enough to contain your breasts, but not so wide that there is empty space at the sides.
- The underwires should be high enough under your arms to contain the breast tissue, but not so high that they poke you.
- The central gore should sit flush on your chest in between your boobs and not on the breast tissue.
- The straps should be shortened so that you can fit two to three fingers comfortably underneath.
- Your breasts should look uplifted and well supported.
- You should not feel like you desperately want to take your bra off; it should be comfortable enough to wear all day without it bothering you.
There are many different styles of bra available. Here’s a list of the main ones and how they work:
- Balcony/balconette: typically creates cleavage and is cut to work well under scoop-neck or low cut tops.
- Full cup: as its name suggests, this bra offers maximum coverage and is ideal under a blouse or jumper.
- Plunge: has a lower central gore and cups with less coverage towards the middle of the bra. Perfect for dresses and tops with daring necklines!
- Push-up: gives your boobs an extra boost by (usually) using pads underneath to lift them up.
- Padded: has a thin layer of foam padding to offer support, help hide nipples and provide the illusion of additional volume to the bust.
- Soft cup: can mean different things. It can mean a non-wired bra, or it can mean an unpadded underwired bra.
- T-shirt: typically a seamless bra (so no lumps and bumps to show up) that’s ideal for wearing under a smooth garment such as a t-shirt or blouse.
- Strapless: a bra that’s great for wearing with strapless tops and dresses or those with unusual straps. It is usually supplied with removable straps of some kind. The cups and wings (the bits at the sides) are usually reinforced to offer support in the absence of straps. Not usually suitable for those with particularly large breasts.
- Multi-way: has straps that are removable and interchangeable. Ideal for tops and dresses with halternecks or crossover straps as the bra’s straps can be changed and adjusted to suit.
- Sports: a bra that is specifically engineered to provide additional support for working out. Appearance is often compromised in order to give best support, particularly with sports bras for larger busts. Breasts are usually compressed against the chest to hold them in place during wear.
- Maternity: offers extra support. Often non-wired.
- Nursing: as with maternity, but with drop cups to facilitate breastfeeding.
As I mentioned earlier, once you have ascertained your size in a particular bra it is unlikely that you will be the same size in every bra you subsequently try. I appreciate that this can be quite a headache but it really is worth taking the time to get the right size every time. Even if you have very large breasts, you can find a bra to fit you! There is no need to consider a breast reduction if you haven’t got yourself fitted properly first.
Read my review of the Ewa Michalak PL Bratki here
I hope my instructions on how to fit yourself have been useful. There are heaps of other guides and sources of advice available on the internet, so here are some links you may find of interest:
Bravissimo – a lingerie retailer who offers superb fittings free of charge (and don’t use +4!)
Leia Lingerie – another great option for fittings in Wacoal Eveden brands
A Sophisticated Pair Lingerie – fantastic bra size calculator
Butterfly Collection Lingerie – another first class bra size calculator
And, once you are confident you have found the best bra size for you, here are some wonderful lingerie retailers you might like to try (and the country in which they are based):
Ewa Michalak (Poland)
Marks and Spencer (UK)
Leia Lingerie (UK)
A Sophisticated Pair Lingerie (US/Canada)
Butterfly Collection Lingerie (US/Canada)
Many of these retailers can ship overseas so do be sure to check the delivery policy and rates on each site.
I hope you are excited at the prospect of getting yourself properly fitted. It really can change your life for the better!