I started off by getting fed up. I went online to research places to get bras with small band sizes and large cups. It turns out that they are available if you know where to look. Unfortunately, this means that you won't be able to just pick something up at Target. It also means that you will likely have to buy bras without trying them on. There are some physical stores out there that carry all sizes. The problem for many of us is generally price. Most of those specialty stores can get very expensive. Some stores offer free fittings, so you could go in, find out your size, and then order online. The only issue is that you may feel like you have wasted the employee's time when you had no intention of buying there. If you are uncomfortable with that, I would recommend measuring yourself. It isn't very hard, and can give you a good baseline for your next step.
Finding your bra size
First of all, some sites will tell you to put on your best fitting bra and measure over it. DON'T! These sites are assuming that your best fitting bra actually fits you. The only things you need to find your bra size are a tape measure and your breasts. If you feel uncomfortable about going completely topless to measure yourself, you can do so over a very loose top. Make sure that the top doesn't compress or reshape your breasts, and when you bend forward, you should be able to let them dangle without being stopped by fabric. Now... on to the measuring
- Begin by measuring your under-bust. Your under-bust is the part around your ribcage just underneath your breast tissue. So place the tape measure around your ribs, and then move it up to the place where you run into your breasts. Try to keep the tape measure as level as possible. Write down this number. We will call it measurement A. This is roughly your band size. If you got an odd number, round up to the nearest even number.
- Next, bend over from your hips so that your back is parallel to the floor. Your breasts should be dangling (if they dangle) toward the floor. Place the tape measure over your back and bring it around your breast tissue so that it is making a circle that goes across your back to across your nipples. It should be loose enough that your nipples aren't being pushed in, but tight enough that it touches them. Write down this measurement. We will call it measurement B.
- To come up with your bra size, subtract measurement A from measurement B. The number you are left with will correspond with your cup size. -1=AAA, 0=AA, 1=A, 2=B, 3=C, 4=D, 5=E or DD, 6=F or DDD, 7=G, 8=H and so on and so forth. Just keep going up the alphabet until you reach your number.
Now that you are armed with an approximation of your bra size, it is time to actually shop for the bras. If you have a store in your area that carries your size, go in and start trying on. I recommend trying on several different sizes to see what works best. The size you came up with may not be the perfect size, or may only work for some brands. Try grabbing bras that are similar. Take your approximate band size, and a couple with the next size up and down. Take your approximate cup size, and try them with the different band sizes. Also grab some with similar cup sizes. This may be a very lengthy process, so make sure to go when you are in a positive mood, and have plenty of time to spare.
When trying on bras, it is important to put a shirt on over it. You will want to see how the bras look under fabric since that is where most of us will be wearing them. Put a T-shirt on over each bra. Make sure that you don't have any spillage or gaping. Spillage is when you are falling over the cups. Gaping is when you don't quite fill the cups out. Try bending over and giving your breasts a shake to see if they stay in or fall out (they should stay in). When you have finally (hopefully) found 1 or 2 that fit, either purchase them then and there, or write down your sizes along with the brand name, and order online. Here are a few stores you can try ordering from online.
They have a decent selection and "hassle-free" returns and exchanges. That way, you can order, try on, send back any that don't fit and get a refund or a new bra to try. While this is fairly convenient, the exchange process can take a while, so be prepared to have your bra shopping stretch out over a few months if you have to make repeated exchanges. Hassle-free also does not mean cost free. If you use the label they send, the returns and exchanges actually wind up costing about $7. They have "bra fit experts" available for phone consultations, which may reduce the number of returns and exchanges. I have not used this service, so I cannot speak to its helpfulness. They also seem to have a fairly good selection of nursing bras, and a few mastectomy bras if you do a search.
Has a similar selection to Bare Necessities. They don't have people to talk to about fitting bras, but they have some online guides that are worth a look. They also have a decent nursing bra section and a few mastectomy bras if you do a search. They also have the free returns and exchanges policy, so you can order and send back any that don't fit. If your cup size is higher than a D, we already know that your size will vary depending on brand, and they have tried to make this easier by creating their Universal Cup Sizing System. If you are going to use this system, you MUST go somewhere to try on first. In order to figure out your universal size, you have to input the size and brand of a bra that fits you well, and they will tell you what size to look for in other brands. They also have a short quiz you can take where they will make suggestions, but in order for it to work, they ask for the size and brand of your best-fitting bra. Again, if your "best-fitting" bra doesn't actually fit you, this service will not work for you. I would recommend using their sizing only after you have tried on somewhere else, of find a bra that actually fits you well.
They have a great selection, and most of their bras come in a lot of band/cup combinations. Their band sizes only go up to 40, but their cup sizes go from D to L, making them a wonderful place to find the small band, large cup size bras. Unfortunately, their nursing section consists of only 3 bras, and they do not carry mastectomy bras. They also have bra fit experts available over the phone to talk you through appropriate bra selection. They also have some helpful videos and guides for fitting and converting sizes. This is a UK based company, so if you live in the US, you will have to do some conversions with the prices, but you can find some easy to use conversion calculators with a quick google search. Remember to factor in international shipping time for any returns or exchanges.
Has a decent size selection with a variety of styles in many sizes. They have a fitting guide and access to professional advice. It also has a clearly marked mastectomy bra section with some pretty selections. Their nursing and maternity section is also pretty well stocked and easy to find.
Whether you are trying to figure out if you need a new bra or whether the ones you are trying fit properly, there are a few guidelines to look for to see if it works. Remember, not all bras are made for the same type of breasts. Some breasts are fuller at the bottom, others are fuller at the top. Some point forward, some point down, and others point out to the sides. Each type of breast will require a slightly different fit. This may mean that a bra that you like may not come in a size that fits you. I recommend doing a lot of trying on, or speaking to a bra fitting expert who is familiar with fitting different sizes and types of breasts. It is also important to note that very few of us have breasts that are the same size. Most of us are close, but some people have very different size breasts. This is perfectly normal. When you are shopping for bras, buy to fit the larger breast, and fill in the other cup as necessary. You can add a little extra padding to one side, or if the difference is large enough, get a small prosthetic to slip inside the cup to even them out and prevent the gaping or puckering on the smaller side.
- Does the band ride up in the back? This is a sign that the band size is too big. Because it is too loose, it is not providing the support you need, which could be causing it to ride up in back and droop down in the front.
- Is there spillage? Do you begin to spill over the top of the cups? This is a sign that the cups are too small. A bra should fit smoothly across your breast tissue, and you should not have to repeatedly scoop yourself back into your bra.
- Do you peek out of the bottom? Are you noticing your breasts start falling out underneath the band? This is a sign that your band is too big and your cups are likely too small. The band should be tight enough that it supports just under your breast, and the cups should have room for all of your breast tissue to fit inside.
- Is there gaping, wrinkling, or puckering? This is a sign that the cups are too big. If there is a gap between your breast tissue and the cup with a padded bra, try going down a cup size. If there is wrinkling or puckering with a soft or unlined cup, that means that you aren't filling it out, and it is too big.
- Do your straps dig into your shoulders? Try going down a band size. The band should be supportive enough that it takes a lot of the weight of the breast tissue. A tighter band should help to hold some of the weight of the breast tissue and relieve some of that painful digging in of the straps.
- Do your underwires dig into your breast tissue, lift off of your ribcage, or poke under your arms? This is a sign that your cup size is too small. The cups should be large enough that the underwire goes around and under your breast tissue and doesn't wing out under your arms.
- Does the center of the bra (gore) lift off of your sternum? This is also an indication that your cups are too small. The center piece that connects the two cups should rest against your sternum.
I hope that you have found this guide to be helpful. Once you are in a bra that fits well, you may be amazed at the difference it can make. You may find that you are able to have better posture because you are now fully supported with no danger of spilling, puckering, etc. Your clothes will also look much nicer and fit better. If you have any suggestions about where to find good bras, feel free to leave them in the comments.