Ladies, eight out of 10 of you are wearing the wrong bra size. That’s right: it’s more likely than not that you’re wearing the wrong bra. And if you’re not wearing the right bra size, it doesn’t matter how expensive or well-made your bra is — it’s still not going to provide enough support for you. This could lead to back pain, bad posture and *gasp* saggy breasts.
Even if you’ve had a bra fitting before, you might still be wearing the wrong size.
We need to change this, and the first step is to learn to differentiate between a good fit and a bad fit. We’ve been letting fitters in stores do this for us for years and look where it has gotten us. Obviously, many of them can’t be trusted with this task!
On this page is all the bra fitting advice I have gathered from various different sources. I place it all here because we need to do a bra fitting at least once every six months, and it’s just so much trouble going through all the different, sometimes conflicting information out there twice a year. I filter out the bad advice (and there was a lot of it!) and refine the good advice.
Even with my semi-OCD researching, this guide will probably not tell you exactly what bra size you are because of the lack of sizing standards in the industry. But I hope this will help you move in the right direction and find your best bra.
- Why Do a Bra Fitting?
- The First Step of Bra Fitting (Supremely Important!)
- How to Measure for a Bra: Method One (the Best Method)
- How to Measure for a Bra (Supporting Method)
- Common Bra Misconceptions
- Next Steps
If I come across new information, I will update this guide so it hopefully will improve over time. I will also add more photos as we go. If you have corrections or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to let me know through the comments or the contact form.
Why Do a Bra Fitting?
I know what my bra size is.
I’ve always worn that bra size and it has always fit fine.
The bra store fitter told me this is my size.
These are some things women believe that keep them from finding the best, most comfortable bras.
Even if you’ve had a bra fitting before, you might still be wearing the wrong size. Many bra manufacturers produce extremely limited range of sizes. The salespeople will always try to convince you that you’re a certain size that they stock. They can’t tell you they just don’t produce your size; they’d be losing a sale!
Many women also continue to wear the same bra size for years, when it’s actually best to do a proper bra fitting every six months because breast size and shape change over time.
“In some cases, breasts can slap against the chest with enough force to break the clavicle.” — Discover Magazine
Here’s a short list of things an ill-fitting bra can cause:
- Back pain
- Breast pain
- Bad posture
- Fat lumps
- Unflattering shape
- Sweating around the breast area
- Breast rashes
- Yeast infection (which brings with it itchiness and odor)
Bad bras also keep women from getting healthy. A little more than half of all women involved in a study suffered breast pain when jogging. From Discover Magazine:
“Women will limit themselves from doing exercise because of their breasts,” says Deirdre McGhee, a sports physiotherapist and graduate student in biomechanics at the University of Wollongong in Australia. “They actually deprive themselves.”
And the less they exercise, the more obese and buxom they may become.
For most women, a good bra is still the best remedy.
Wearing the right bra will allow you to go through your day without breast-related pain, even during exercise. You won’t have to adjust your bra every time you jump, lift your arms, dance or even go on the roller coaster. It might instantly make you look slimmer and younger, without you having to go on a diet or exercise. Clothes fit you better and you might find that you can wear certain styles you couldn’t before.
Equally important is the confidence a good bra can give you. I used to wear really ill-fitting bras and I hated my breasts. Good bras make me feel better about my body. I now accept my boobs as a part of me and I love them.
I sometimes still wish they were smaller because I think smaller boobs are cute. I also wish I had Megan Fox’s features, but hey, we can’t all be the sex symbol of a generation.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Do your breasts jiggle when you walk normally?
Do you avoid exercise because of breast pain?
When you exercise, do you wear more than one bra to maximize support?
Lift up your arms and bring them back down again. Do you have to re-adjust your bra?
Do you go bra-less every chance you get?
If you answered “yes” to any one question, you’re likely wearing the wrong bra size. Take some time to go through this bra fitting guide and find a more comfortable bra.
Even if you didn’t answer “yes” to even one question, it might be time for your regular bra fitting, which should happen at least every six months.
First Step of Bra Fitting
Before we check whether your bra fits, you need to wear your bra the right way. This might sound silly because it’s one of those mundane things that you do everyday. But putting on a bra the wrong way can distort the results of this fitting, so this is really, really super-duper important; it might be the first step to save yourself from years of back pain and discomfort. It will only take a few seconds—promise. 🙂
Putting on a Bra Correctly
1. Get your best-fitting, non-padded bra. Choose a bra you’ve worn the least because it hasn’t stretched much and is closer to its original size.
2. Hook the bra on at your waist. (If this is a new bra, hook it on the loosest position. The bra will stretch over time, and this will allow you to adjust the bra band accordingly later.)
3. Pull up the bra by the cups until the cups fit over your breasts.
4. Lean forward and place your breasts in the bra cups.
5. Gently press your palms on any lumps on your back (just underneath the bra band) and under your armpits. These are not fat lumps! They are breast tissue that has migrated over time after being squashed by your bra. Slide your hands forward to scoop the flesh into your bra cups.
6. Still leaning forward, pull the center front of the bra away from your body. Jiggle from side to side to help your breasts settle in the bra cups.
7. Stand up straight. Slip the bra straps over your shoulders. Adjust the straps so it’s loose enough to fit two fingers underneath. The straps should not be so tight that they dig into your shoulders; they should also not be so loose that they slip off your shoulders.
Tip: Most women have asymmetrical breasts. You should find a bra that fits the larger one. If the difference between the two is obvious, slip in a bra insert to make the smaller breast appear larger.
How to Measure for a Bra: Method One
Bra sizing isn’t standardized, so just because you’re one size in one brand doesn’t mean you’re that size in all bra brands. Bra sizes can actually vary dramatically between different brands.
Most women wouldn’t assume they’re the same size shirt in Banana Republic and Forever21 without trying the shirts on. So why do so many assume they’re a certain size regardless of the brand? And different models from the same manufacturer can fit differently, too.
The best way to find your bra size is to check your best-fitting bra for any fitting problems and adjust your size accordingly until you find the one that fits perfectly.
We’ll start by checking the cup size, then the band size.
Step One: Bra Cup Fitting
90% of women have one breast larger than the other.
A good bra provides you with a smooth silhouette. You should fill the bra cups fully without bulging out of your bra. Since 90 percent of women have asymmetrical breasts, it’s unlikely that the cups will fit both breasts perfectly. Aim to find a bra that fits the bigger breast.
The cup size is represented by the letter of a bra size. For example, B is the cup size in a 34B bra.
FUN FACT: Of women whose breasts are highly different in sizes, the left breast is bigger 62 percent of the time.
1. The transition from the bra fabric to your skin should be smooth. Breast tissue spilling out of the bra means that the cup size is too small. Over time, the breast tissue can migrate to other areas of the body. Look for bulges in areas around the bra: the top of the cups, underneath your armpits and at the back just beneath the bra band. The top of your cups might dig into your breast tissue, giving you a quadra-boob effect. (Tip: you might find it easier to spot bulges if you wear a T-shirt over your bra.)
2. Check for wrinkles in the bra cup fabric. If the wrinkles are at the top of the cups, your bra cups are too big for your breasts to fill. It they’re at the center of the cups, your bra cups are too small for your nipples to fit into the center. (Tip: wrinkles are easier to see underneath a T-shirt, too.)
3. Look at the top of the cups — does it meet your flesh? If there’s a gap between your breasts and the bra cups, then the bra cups are probably too big.
4. Your nipples should sit at the fullest parts of the cups. If they’re higher, then your cup size may be too small. If they’re lower, your cup size may be too big.
5. If your bra has underwire, the wires must fully encase your breast tissue. They have to lie flat against your body. If they rest on your breast tissue, the bra cups are too small. The cups squash your boobs and push breast tissue to areas like near the armpit and even the back. People often think this breast tissue is just fat, but it’s not. Isn’t this a great news? You can get rid of “fat” just by getting the right bra!
Step Two: Bra Band Fitting
The band has to provide 80 percent of the support, so it needs to fit snugly around your body. You should never need to fasten the bra straps just to get enough support.
The band size is represented by the number of a bra size. For example, 34 is the band size in a 34B bra. Band sizes are always even numbers.
1. Slip two fingers underneath the bra band. You should be able to move your fingers from side to side along the bra band. Otherwise, your bra band is too small.
2. Pull the bra back away from your body. The band should be only loose enough to stretch a maximum of 2 inches (5cm) from your back.
3. Stand in front of a mirror and look at your side profile and your back. Check that the bra band runs horizontally all around your body. A common problem is the bra band riding up the back, which indicates that the bra band is too big. Remember: if the back rides up, that means the front droops down!
4. The fullest part of your bust must sit at the same level as the mid-point between your shoulders and your elbows. If they are lower, then your band size might be too big.
5. Look down at the front center part of the bra. It should sit flat against your rib cage. Try slipping two fingers underneath the center panel; if you manage to do this, then the bra band is too big.
6. Lift up your arms as high as you can. The front of the bra should lie flat against your rib cage the whole time; it shouldn’t ride up to your breasts. If it does, the bra band is too big.
7. Observe your shoulders, where the bra straps rest. Do the bra straps dig into your skin? It’s normal for the straps to sometimes leave red marks on your shoulders (just like socks sometimes leave marks on your ankles), but it’s a cause for concern if they create shoulder grooves or leave wounds. This indicates that your bra band size is too big and it can’t provide the support you need. The straps then have to bear too much of your bust weight.
8. Slide your bra straps off your shoulders. The band should stay in place. If it slips down your torso, it means the band is too big.
Step Three: Finding Solutions to Bra Fitting Problems
Now that you know what’s wrong with your bra, you need only to follow some simple guidelines to determine what bra sizes might fit you.
Bra band too big.
This is the most common bra fitting problem. You should go down a band size and go up a cup size. This is necessary because bra cup sizes vary depending on the band size. For example, the cup size of a 34B is equal to the cup size of a 36A, 32C, 30D and 28DD. So if you go down a band size while retaining your old bra cup size, you will end up with cups that are too small.
Bra band too small.
A bra should fit snugly, but it shouldn’t be so tight that it causes pain or discomfort. If your bra band is too small, go up one band size and go down one cup size. Again, you need to do this because cup sizes vary depending on the band size.
Bra cups too small.
Solution: Go up a cup size, keeping your band size the same as before.
Bra cups too big
Solution: Go down a cup size, keeping your band size the same as before.
The Most Common Fitting Problem
The most common fitting problem is wearing a band size that is too big and a cup size that is too small. You can tell that you have this problem if…
- the front of your bra rests on breast tissue, not your rib cage.
- the back of your bra rides up.
- the straps dig into your shoulders. They could leave red marks when you take off your bra and could be quite painful.
- the underwire pokes your skin. (I used to have a bra that fit so badly the underwire tore a hole in its fabric pocket and stuck out. I had to repeatedly push it back in throughout the day. It was stupid.)
- your breasts spill out of the cups, creating the quadra-boob effect. This is when the top of the cups dig into your breast tissue, visually dividing each breast into two (especially visible under a T-shirt).
If you have these problems, you need to decrease your band size and increase your cup size.
Bra Band-Cup Relationship
Did you know that bra cup sizes change with bra band sizes? C cups, for example, are not the same size across different band sizes. As the band size goes up, the cup size also becomes larger, even if it’s the same letter. Conversely, the cup size also becomes smaller as the band size decreases. This is why a 34C bra has bigger cups than a 32C bra.
To illustrate, the bra sizes below all have the same cup size:
28DD = 30D = 32C = 32B = 34A
These sizes are called sister sizes.
So if you go up a band size, you need to go down a cup size to retain your old actual cup size. For example, if you used to be a 34C and your rib cage has grown bigger, you should wear a 36B if you want to end up with the same cup size.
If you go down a band size, you should go up a cup size. For example, if you wore 38B and go down one band size, you’ll wear a 36C bra.
Sometimes, both your band and cup sizes are wrong.
First, check whether your cup size is correct in your current band size. If it’s not, go up or down a cup size accordingly. For example, if you are bulging out of a 36C, then go up to 36D.
Then, check your band size. If you need to change your band size, you have to change your cup size again, according to the rule discussed above. So in the example, if your band size turns out to be too big then you should wear a 34DD, which has the same cup size as a 36D.
When trying to figure out your correct size, stick with one bra brand if possible. Sizes often vary from brand to brand — you could be a 32D in one brand and 34C in another. Sticking to one brand removes any brand-related variations.
How to Measure for a Bra: Method Two
The trial-and-error method of bra fitting works best, but it can be confusing and frustrating.
You might also want to know how to measure your bra size with good old tape measure. This method will not find you a definite size, but it will help give you a rough estimate of what your size might be.
Step One: Measure Your Bra Band Size
Loop a tape measure around your rib cage, right below your breasts (lift your breasts if necessary). Make sure that the tape measure runs horizontally around your body and that it fits snugly. Take the measurement (in inches) as you breathe out. This is your under-bust measurement and your band size in the UK and US sizing systems. Find your equivalent bra band size in other sizing systems below.
Bra band sizes only come in even numbers, so if you get an odd number, round down. For example, if your under-bust measurement is 35 inches, then your band size is 34.
A common bra fitting problem is the band being too big, so you may end up with a band size that seems too small. I used to force myself into a 36B, when I actually have a much smaller under-bust measurement of 26″.
Note: Some sources say to measure above the breasts, but this is NOT correct. After all, the bra band fits not above the breasts, but below the breasts.
Other sources even say to add four or five inches to the under-bust measurement. Again, this is NOT correct—you’ll end up with a large band that can’t support your breasts sufficiently. This measuring method came about a long time ago, when bras were made of non-flexible materials. Today’s bras stretch as much as 7 or 8 inches (about 20 cm), making the old measuring method obsolete.
If anything, you’d be better off with a bra that’s too small in the band rather than one that’s too big (assuming the cup size is correct). At least you can enlarge a small band simply by attaching a bra extender.
Step Two: Measure Your Bra Cup Size
Lean forward and measure around your body at the fullest part of your bust. Deduct the under-bust measurement from this figure. For example, if your under-bust measurement is 34 inches and your full bust measurement is 38 inches, then the difference is 4 inches. Referring to the bra cup size chart below, you would have a cup size of D. So your size would be 34D.
Keep in mind that these measurements should serve only as a guide, as bra manufacturers often have widely varying sizing systems, especially for sizes beyond D cups. For example, a cup size one brand calls DD could be another brand’s E cup.
Alternative Step Two: Calculate Your Bra Cup Size
Note the bra size you are currently wearing.
Count the number of sizes by which your bra band size goes up or down. Your cup size should change by the same number of sizes, but in the opposite direction.
So if you go down two band sizes, you need to go up two cup sizes. For example, if you were previously a 38B and you just found out that your real band size is 34, that means that you are going down two band sizes. Following our rule, you need to go up two cup sizes from B to D. Therefore, your new bra size is 34D.
Common Bra Misconceptions
For years, bra manufacturers have been producing only band sizes 32 to 40, and cup sizes A to D. They have been forcing girls to fit into whatever sizes they have, regardless of the fit.
This promotes the mindset that any other bra size is weird or freakish.
You may feel like your new bra size cannot be right. But think about it; think of all the girls you know: is it possible for all of them to only have a maximum difference of eight inches in under-bust measurement?
If that sounds crazy, well, that’s what many bra manufacturers want you to believe. Girls come in all shapes and sizes; so do boobs.
There is absolutely nothing strange about your bra size.
Don’t get yourself worked up over stupid, unfounded assumptions. Here’s some common myths about bra sizes:
1. “All bra sizes above DD are monstrously big.”
This kind of sweeping statement makes no sense because not all E cups, for example, are the same size. Contrary to what many people think think, bra cup sizes vary depending on the band size. A 30DD bra has a cup that is much smaller than a 38DD bra. The cup of a 30DD bra is actually similar in size to a 32D, 34C, 36B or 38A.
Don’t worry about what number and letter your bra size is. The most important thing is how well the bra serves its purpose in making you feel supported and look good.
Besides, since most women are wearing the wrong size bra, their cup sizes are probably bigger than they think.
2. “A loose bra is comfortable”
Some things are comfortable when they fit loosely, like that old T-shirt you wear to bed. But a bra is not just there to cover your breasts; it’s there to provide support. And to provide enough support, a bra has to fit snugly. A loose bra actually strains your back and your shoulders because it can’t handle the weight of your breasts properly.
3. “If I just tighten the straps, this bra fits okay.”
The straps of a bra should only bear 20 percent of the weight of your breasts. Any more than that and they start to dig into your shoulders, leaving painful marks. Ideally, the bra band should support 80 percent of the weight (this is why even those of us with larger bust can wear strapless bras), so you need to make sure your bra band fits well.
4. “Wearing a smaller bra will worsen my back fat problem.”
The bulge underneath the bra back is often not fat. It’s actually breast tissue that has migrated after years of being squashed by wrong size bras. Yes, it sounds horrible and gross that your boobs can move to your back. But this also means that you can get rid of that bulge simply by wearing the correct bra size. Your breast tissue will move back to where it’s supposed to be and you’ll look slimmer!
5. “I must wear an underwire bra with molded cups because a flimsy bra can’t possibly give me enough support.”
As long as the bra is well-made and the size is correct, you can wear any model. The support comes mostly from the band, so the fabric or the presence of underwire is irrelevant. Even a sheer bra can provide plenty of support.
Your Next Three Steps
You have three things left to do:
- Find a good bra in your correct size. Bra band sizes now range from 26 to 56; bra cup sizes from AAA to N. Some manufacturers even do custom sizes!
- When you get your new bra, check the fit against the bra fitting guidelines on this page.
- Let me know how it goes!
It would make my day if you’d take a minute of your time to write a sentence or two about your fitting experience in the comments. Or let me know what you think about this guide so I can make it better.