Bra Sizing

Yesterday I was shopping with my 12yo daughter, and giving her bra instruction, which is what my mom did with me when we went bra shopping.  When we came out of the dressing rooms, a lady asked me if I was the one she’d heard talking, and was bummed that I didn’t work there.  So I helped her find a bra that fit while my daughter chose colors for herself.

I wasn’t going to write this post, because I thought it had been done – but when I posted this story on FB, another friend said she’d always been mis-sized, so I guess I’d better get to work!

There are a couple of different ways to size yourself and pick a bra.  They all involve using a measuring tape.   You measure (while wearing a bra) under your bra around your chest, as high up as you can get, and you measure over the fullest part of your bust.  Then, you get a division of opinion.  Do you simply subtract the smaller number from the larger number and select a cupsize and bandsize straight off (this is my preference), or do you add a certain amount to the rib measurement before selecting your band?  Two theories.  But start there.

Or you can ask questions about the bras you currently own:

  • Does the wire lie flat against your ribcage, at your sternum and on the outside of your breasts, not sitting on breast tissue *anywhere*?
  • Is all of your breast tissue contained in your cup, without extra room?  (Caveat:  As we age, our breasts lose volume up top, so if you can’t size down the cup without hitting breast tissue, look to changing styles, not sizes).  You don’t want quadra-boob.
  • Can you wear your band in comfort, or is it seriously too tight around the ribs?  (they say if you have bulge, you are in a band too tight, but I think it means your back is chubby under your arms.  You don’t want it to hurt, okay?  Other than that, a tight band is where you get your support).

When in doubt:  Cupsize up, bandsize down.   This could be quite a lot more than you think, so let me cover sister-sizing for a second.

It is a mystery exactly who doesn’t want to create or carry the full range of sizes that we need … but they don’t.  Instead, if you’re shopping at a department store or mass-market lingerie shop (naming no names), you’re going to be pushed into what is called a sister-size if they can’t get you into one of their bras.  It’s better than going braless, but only barely.   Go to a serious lingerie store if you’re out of the normal size range.  Or the internet, if you can’t get to a good lingerie store.   The first time I put a bra on that was my size, my shoulders screamed hallelujah and I visually lost 10lb.  Your bra matters.

Anyway.  Sister sizing is about overall volume and that over-bust measurement.  Band size + cupsize = total overbust measurement.  Sooooooo… if you wear a 38A, you can get into a 36B, 34C, 32D.  But only one of those is going to fit properly, especially in underwire.  (This is useful info when you’re changing styles – especially if you’ve been wearing wireless bras, underwire is a good bit more picky.  I think this is part of why people don’t like underwire, they had their wires on their breasts.  Ouch!)

So, you have a general idea of what size you wear.  Grab bras two sizes (at least) on either side of that size and several styles and brands.  Go into the dressing room and try, try, try.  I hate to break it to you, but word is that even DYE LOT can change size … you have to try them on.

This is, btw, where you adjust the straps.  Straps are there to get your nipple where it should be while not cutting off circulation over your shoulders.  Try for 3″ below armpit for D cup or less, 4″ to around a G cup, and 5″ or so over a G.  Reduce those measurements by an inch if you’re trying to carry off a truly vintage look.

Once you have a good fit, do the bounce test.  (Jump.  Did you bounce a lot?  Skip that bra).

Having done the bounce test, put your shirt over your bra.  Does it give you a good line?  Any weird bulges?  How does the back look?

Oh, a word about color:  Buy most of your bras in something approximating your skin color.  Not white, not black.   Buff, pink, brown, cocoa, beige… also, not turquoise.   A hot pink bra can only be worn under heavy clothing.  Do you need a bra you can only wear under certain clothing?  Not for your first purchase you don’t!  I know, so boring.  And if you’re a big fan of knit shirts, you need to skip the really lacy business.  Show-through isn’t a good thing.  T-shirt bras have foam cups to smooth out your nipple, which you need for the sheer knits they’re selling in stores these days.

Now, look at the price tag and try to keep breathing.  Good lingerie tends to be expensive.  I’m sorry.  It is what it is, and you get what you pay for.  Take good care of it (hand wash, drip dry) and it should last you six months to a year, depending on your wear habits.   If you’re very good and have enough bras to not make one or two do all the work, you can get it to a couple of years, max.  (Regrettably, bras are made out of elastic.  Elastic stretches.  Which is why your old bra is more comfy but you’re sagging.  Annoying).

There’s the 411… hope this helped!


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