Let's face it. For most of us, bra shopping is not fun. There are actually very few women who can walk into an average bra or department store, and find their perfect bra. For the lucky ones who have an "average" band size with a cup size that certain companies have deemed to be "correct", the options are endless. But for far too many of us, the sizes that we are told we should be don't correspond with the size we actually are.
Guess what? It is perfectly acceptable to have a band size that is above a 38, and a cup size that is above a D. It is fine if you are a 24 J, and equally acceptable to be a 56 B. I have recently been on my own quest to find a bra that fits properly. Like many before me, I walked into a certain popular bra store during one of their semiannual sales and let them measure me to tell me what bra size I needed. I was told that I was a 34DD. So I got a couple and they never fit right. So I went back and was told that I was, in fact, a 34 DDD. Those fit better, but were still not great. So I figured I would just have to make do, dealing with spillage and having to scoop myself back into my bra 15 times a day. The weight of trying to fit my breast tissue into these small cups was also weighing down the bra, so that it was resting on my belly. Each evening when I took it off, I would have underwire prints on top of my belly. I'm sure that this story is far too familiar for too many women. You are told that you have to make do in order to buy a bra in a store. If you can manage to find something in your size, it is rarely pretty or feminine. So what to do?
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
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.
Signs that your bra is the wrong size
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.
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.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.