How to find your “perfect bra size”

Panache Black 'Eclipse' Bra

As anyone with boobs of any shape and size can tell you, finding the perfect bra is much harder than it should be. The sizing system is confusing and working out which of the many cup and band sizes might possibly fit you can feel like an impossible task. So when I saw a bit of social media buzz around a bra size calculator recently, I was not remotely surprised.

However, although I’m no stranger to the ‘I went down in band size and up in cup size – now I feel so much better!’ revelation, and really do understand how much better it feels when you finally find a bra that fits you well, I do have a slight problem with sites like this. Why? Because it says ‘Find Your Real Bra Size’, which perpetuates the myth that you are a bra size. A bit like Triumph’s insistence that you can ‘find the one’ in their stores, this is an exciting idea but somewhat misleading.

A bra with a well-fitting back band

It’s odd how women get used to wearing a size 14 in one shop, a size 12 in another, and an XL in a third, but they still believe in knowing their bra size (singular) like it’s an undisputed fact. I wouldn’t say that I am a 32F, I’d say that I usually wear a 32F – there’s a difference. Clothes sizing depends on the measurements a brand chooses to work to, the shape of the fit models they work with, and how they grade their patterns. This is even more important to remember with bras, because the sizing and construction is so much more complicated than it is for most clothing. As Catherine from Kiss Me Deadly put it: ‘Why do people think bras are somehow magically exempt from the issues literally every other garment bar slankets faces? Bras are not magic! You do not have ONE TRUE BRA SIZE TO RULE THEM ALL!’

Although these types of bra size calculators are very useful indeed to get an idea of which size(s) you should aim to try on when you go into the fitting room*, even if it works well for you please do not fall into the trap of thinking that this will definitely be your size in every lingerie brand. In a guest post for The Lingerie Addict about older women and lingerie, C.L. Bigelow highlighted that ‘size is just numbers and doesn’t really meany anything. What matters is the fit.’

So, once you’ve worked out which bra size to try on, how do you tell if it actually fits you? If you don’t like asking for help in store fitting rooms, or are ordering bras online to try at home, here are my top bra fit tips which can be used in conjunction any calculator or measuring system to work out whether the size you’re trying on really does work for you.

First, pay attention to the band
This should be horizontal across your back (parallel to the floor, see image above) and shouldn’t stretch away from your body too much. If you can pull it more than about 2 inches away from your skin, it’s probably too loose and will ride up during wear, offering very little support. However, there are many different types of fabric used in making bra bands, and some have more stretch than others, so compare a few in the fitting room to get an idea of what feels right for you. Many people recommend that you fasten a bra on the loosest hook when you first buy it because when the elastic loses its stretch with age you can then adjust the fit by fastening it on a tighter hook.

Checking the tension of bra strapsNext, adjust the shoulder straps
Make sure you have adjusted these so that they don’t stretch more than two finger widths away from your shoulders (see image on the right). If they are too loose they’ll fall down and aren’t doing their job. Not that the straps are supposed to take all the weight – far from it! The band takes 80% of the strain, so your bra straps really don’t need to dig in to your shoulders and cause you discomfort.

Then, pay attention to the underwires (if your chosen style has them) and cups
Underwires should sit flat against your rib cage (especially at the centre front, between your boobs) and should not press on breast tissue anywhere. If you feel like your underwires are pressing into you at the sides, you should look at trying a bigger cup size. It’s pretty easy to tell when the cups don’t fit properly, as you can see if there is bagginess in the fabric (as in the photo below) or any overspill of boob at the top or sides. If in doubt, pop your top back on and see how your silhouette looks. A close fitting t-shirt will highlight any bra fit issues straight away!

An example of a poorly fitting braBut most of all… know what makes you comfortable
Many brands, shops, websites and blogs will give you tips on finding a well fitting bra like they are rules or commandments which must be followed. However, this ignores the fact that we’re all different and, for each of us, comfort means something else. Some like their underwear to be soft, smooth and not press anywhere. Others like to feel like they’re being held in place all day, as if in a firm hug. My advice would be to try on lots of different brands and styles, with a trusted friend their to offer a second opinion if possible.

If this all still seems a bit complicated, I have selected two of my favourite videos – from Curvy Kate and Simply Be – explaining the same thing with visual examples. N.B. If you wear a bra that’s below a D cup, don’t be put off by the fact these videos are made by brands who offer larger cup and band sizes. The advice is relevant to all bra wearers and these are simply the two most straightforward videos that I have found.

*The bra size calculator I’ve linked to is the best I’ve found because it uses a variety of measurements, has clear instructions and offers some example ‘sister sizes’ in addition to your estimated bra size, so thanks very much to Zoe Margolis for the recommendation.