I think one of the most important aspects of ascertaining fit is to ensure you are doing the “swoop and scoop” each time you put on a bra. Some of us do this automatically. Others do what I did before hearing this term, and sort of mash the breast around in other ways to get it to fit in a way that looks right – don’t do this to yourself! It conceals the ability to tell if the cup is a true fit, and too small cups very commonly lead to breast tissue migration. This is when the breast can’t properly fit into the cups so it takes any other way out it can – often pushing the tissue under the arms or all the way onto the back! A lot of women think fluff on the sides of their cups is just armpit fat, but it’s actually breast tissue and belongs in the cups. A properly fitted bra and daily swooping and scooping can migrate the tissue back into the rest of the breast. Venusian Glow has two great posts on that topic here and here. The swoop and scoop is also the best way to tell if you are wearing the right cup size. If you don’t do it, you might have an entirely different impression of how the bra fits you! Erica from A Sophisticated Pair has a great video here demonstrating the swoop and scoop, starting around 1:20.
Here are some common signs of a bad fit, and can happen regardless of size:
- You can’t wait to take your bras off after work, because wearing them is uncomfortable
- Your bras don’t have enough lift or make you feel “perky”
- Your underwires or straps break, distort, or pop out/off within a few months of wear
- Wearing a bra for a long time causes back, shoulder, or neck pain
- Wearing a bra leaves red marks in your shoulders
- You feel shortness of breath when putting on your bra
- You have bad posture, especially while wearing a bra
- You have to either tighten the straps all the way or loosen them all the way
- The band isn’t completely level and parallel to the floor
- You are able to pull the band 2″ or more away from your body (if you can fit your fist under it with ease, it’s too big!)
- Anything on the bra moves or wiggles around if you lift your arms up, bend over, etc
- You don’t feel supported in your bra or willing to take on strenuous exercise
- The center gore (the part that joins the cups in the center) isn’t laying COMPLETELY FLAT against your chest
- You are able to pull the center gore so far away from your body your breasts can drop out
- The underwires cause you pain in the sternum or armpits
- You can immediately fasten the bra on the tightest hook or have had it on the tightest hook for a while
- When you look in a mirror in profile, the underwires are not completely touching your ribcage below the cups
- When you look in a mirror in profile, the underwires aren’t fully encasing your breast (typically you shouldn’t be able to see any of the breast near your sides/armpits)
- Careful examination of the sides and bottoms of the cups show wrinkles when worn
- You “swoop and scoop” and STILL have either gaping or spillage, anywhere
For visuals of some of these fit issues, see Breakout Bra’s Guide, Susannah’s Guest Post on FFFB, Boosaurus’ post with some fit solutions, and FFFB’s post that also shows you what the correct fit should look like.
Most of these are sizing issues, though some of these or other issues will still crop up in a bra that’s the right size, but the wrong shape. I’ll be covering shape issues in later posts.
If you suffer from any of these issues, measure yourself! Your size changes all the time so it’s a good idea to measure frequently, especially once your current array of bras start stretching out or wearing down. Here’s a link to one of the best fitting guides out there. I’ll reiterate a bit of that info here:
- Step one: Get naked. With measuring tape.
- Lean forward so your body is parallel to the ground, and measure around your back and over the fullest part of your breasts (usually the nipples). This measurement should be relatively loose – it shouldn’t be cutting into you at all, but it shouldn’t be gaping or hanging off on your sides either. This is your bust measurement.
- Now measure your ribcage, all the way around and just under the breasts. This measurement should be very snug. This is considered your ribcage or underbust measurement.
The ribcage/underbust measurement is generally going to be your starting band size. Band sizes only go in even measurements, and if you are very close to an even number (within .5), take that as your initial band size. If you get more of an odd number, you’re between sizes and should try both the band numbers below and above that size. Do NOT automatically add +4! That is a very antiquated system that just doesn’t work with our modern elasticized bras. Only add 4 is that’s what you absolutely require to be comfortable. The best starting point size is often the closest to your true ribcage measurement. So for example, say you measure 32.1. Try the 32 band first. On the other hand, if you measured 33, try both the 32 and 34 bands.
- Special considerations: If you feel that you have a bony ribcage, you may want to either go up a band size, or purchase a bra with a cushioned underwire like Victoria’s Secret’s bras, or just get one with a softer underwire like the Freya Deco. If you have more cushion there, you might need a significantly smaller band size in order to receive proper support. Additionally, those with larger busts may often find the tightest bands most supportive to them, while smaller busts can often get away with bands a bit looser. If you sport a softer ribcage with a larger bust, you may receive the most benefit from pulling the tape measure absolutely as tight as you can and using that measurement or a size down as your band size.
Now, take the number you took for your bust measurement, and subtract the number you choose for your band size from it….
1″ – A
2″ – B
3″ – C
4″ – D
5″ – DD
6″ – E
7″ – F
8″ – FF
9″ – G
10″ – GG
11″ – H
12″ – HH
13″ – J
14″ – JJ
15″ – K
16″ – KK
17″ – L
and so on.
I’ve posted the size ratios for UK cup sizing, because those are much more standardized than US sizes, which vary radically after D cup. In US sizes sometimes DDD means E, sometimes it means F, sometimes means neither. This means G cups in American brands can all mean very, very different things. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to find these sizes in a store. How confusing! US lingerie companies have a LOT to work on. Moving along now…
So let’s say you measured 31 under the bust, 41 on the bust, and want to start with a 30 band. This is an 11 inch difference, and in UK sizing the bra size would be 30H. Don’t freak out if you get a ‘scary’ size like this, D cup does not mean what you think it does. Cup sizes are very proportional to a person’s band size and a “G” cup on a 50″ ribcage will not look the same as on a 26″ ribcage. Cup size is much less about appearance and more about how the distance from the ribcage correlate with the size of the ribcage itself.
Boosaurus has compiled a great listing of some bra bloggers out there. You can see that there’s a lot of diversity in bra sizes! Check them out, maybe one of them also has your size 🙂
In general, I’d personally advise doing the measurements yourself. Sometimes local boutiques can be good, as well as Nordstrom, but it’s not always definite. Whatever you do, DON’T get fitted at Victoria’s Secret! If you need help, there are some amazing online resources to help you out!
- A Sophisticated pair has a bra calculator if you’re having trouble selecting a starting size
- Butterfly Collection will do an online fitting via Skype if you wish, and they can also be contacted by email.
- A Bra That Fits is a great online community about bra fit, and you are able to ask them any questions you have about size, shape, fit, etc that crosses your mind!
- Bratabase is also a fantastic resource and I strongly recommend looking up any bra here before purchasing it! You can also use it to request fit advice, post “bra adventures,” compare bra shapes and measurements to other bras, and even buy or sell bras.