Poorly-fitting bras are a widespread problem. Many of us are wearing the wrong type and size of bra without even realising it. This can lead to discomfort, a lack of breast support and even more worrying health problems such as back pain.
Some studies suggest that as many as 8 out of 10 women are wearing the wrong bra. But how can you tell if you’re choosing the right size and type of bra, and where do you go for help? Let’s start with how your current bra makes you feel.
Does your bra make you feel uncomfortable?
This situation may sound familiar - you arrive home after a long, busy day of work and immediately whip off your bra. You do this because you feel uncomfortable, but you may not know exactly what it is about your bra that causes this feeling. Most of us don’t take the time to check, in the rush to remove the source of the discomfort.
So, the next time you arrive home and are poised to remove your bra, stop to think about exactly what and where the problem is. Does your bra feel scratchy, can you feel the catch at the back or is the wire digging in? Perhaps your straps have been slipping down all day, the band riding up your back or the bra itself moving upwards when you raise your arms. These are all warning signs of a bad bra, and should be your motivation to get a better fitting one.
You can also identify bra fitting problems through another simple test. Slip on a close-fitting T-shirt. If the bra is clearly visible through the outline of the T-shirt, whether digging in or bulging out, you may have the wrong size.
What does a well-fitting bra feel like?
Ideally, a well-fitting bra should fully enclose your breasts in the cups without any bulging or gaps. The underband should be firm but comfortable, without riding up or digging in, and it should stay in a neat horizontal line. If it is a wired bra, the wires should lie flat against your chest without rubbing, digging in or poking out.
Bra sizing and fit
If your bra is causing discomfort or you suspect you’re wearing the wrong size, the next step is to go for a bra fitting. Every woman should go for a bra fitting even if they aren’t experiencing problems.
You can measure your bra size yourself at home, and there is plenty of help on this topic online, but being measured up by an expert is worthwhile. It can provide you with really useful information on cup sizes, bra types and much more. Crucially, you’ll also get an accurate size, which makes it so much easier to shop for bras in the future.
Bra cup sizes range from AA (the smallest) up to L, depending on the retailer. The second measurement is the band, which goes around the rib cage and ranges from about 26 (inches) to around 42 or higher depending on the retailer.
To measure yourself for your bra size, you’ll need to measure across the widest part of the bust to get the cup size. The second measurement should be just under the bust, around the ribcage, for the band size.
However, bra sizes can be more complicated than this, which is why it can be worth getting measured up by an expert. Everyone’s breasts are different, with shapes ranging from round and teardrop to east-west, asymmetric and bell-shaped. This can affect the bra size that fits you best, as well as the type of bra you should wear to give you maximum support.
What happens during a bra fitting?
Bra fittings are absolutely nothing to be nervous or embarrassed about. They are usually very quick, and bra fitters in lingerie shops are experienced, friendly and really do know what they’re talking about.
In the changing room, you’ll be asked to take off any layers above your bra or vest. The fitter will then use a tape measure to accurately measure both your bust and band size, and assess the fit of your current bra. You may also have a quick chat about your breast shape, with recommendations of bra types that will give you the best feel, look and support.
Once you’re happy, the fitter will bring you a few bras in the correct sizes to try on, helping you to adjust until you’re fully comfortable. You’ll walk away with the peace of mind that you now know your correct bra size, and perhaps with a few lovely new bras too.
Other factors that can affect bra fit
The way you wear and look after your bras can also make a difference to the fit. For example, if you wear the same bra every day, the elastic won’t have enough time to shrink back. This means it may stretch out gradually until it becomes shapeless. Similarly, if you machine-wash your bras at too high a heat or put them in the dryer, the spandex they contain can start to lose its shape.
Ideally, bras should be hand washed, but the next best thing is to put them in a lingerie laundry bag to avoid snagging and wash on a low to medium heat. Rotate the bras you wear during the week, so each has time to shrink back to its correct shape.
Why is it important to get a properly fitting bra?
So, why go to all this effort to ensure you have a properly fitting bra? It’s not only good for your comfort and confidence to have a bra that looks and feels good. It could also affect your health.
If you exercise regularly, you need a supportive bra or you could start to lose the natural elasticity of the breast area. Over time, this could lead to stretching of the skin and ligaments, rubbing, chafing and stretch marks.Wearing unsupportive bras can also affect posture and cause back, neck or shoulder pain, especially if you have a large cup size.