Why is it that bras—one of the most necessary components of a female wardrobe—feel impossible to get right? Despite their ubiquity in underwear drawers across the globe, over half of women are in the wrong size. Not only does it look and feel better when you have the proper fit, it also has practical implications (ie. no back pain and, according to Oprah, age-reversing abilities). We talked to experts to get to the bottom of the issue, and how to make sure that next time you purchase lingerie, you're getting the perfect fit.
Photo: Courtesy of Journelle
The Cause Of Size Confusion
If you're of average build, you've probably been told at some point in your life you're a 34B. Allison Beale, the Marketing & Brand Director at Journelle, notes that the near-universal belief that every woman fits this size is a major contributor to the fit disparities across retailers.
"You'd think it's just a math equation of measurements but it's not."
Marissa Vosper and Lauren Schwab, co-founders of Negative Underwear, concur—although 34B might be fit-model measurement of record in lingerie (similar to what a 27 is in denim), there is no industry standard for bra fit, leading to small but impactful disparities.
"You'd think it's just a math equation of measurements but it's not—every brand has their own version of a 34B," Vosper and Schwab note. This rubric then of course affects the measurements of other sizes in the same line. "Sizing is proprietary to the brand, but also depends on fabrication—stretch lace versus rigid lace, cotton, etc.," Beale also notes.
Where To Start With Sizing
With so many factors affecting the fit of bras, where's a girl to start? Though it might be an imperfect process, the natural starting point is, of course, taking your measurements. That, in addition to actually trying on a variety of styles—whether you purchase in-store or order online—is the way to find your true match.
"Fitting is much more of an art than a science."
According to Vosper and Schwab, "Fitting is much more of an art than a science, so sometimes trial and error, with the eye and help of an expert, can ensure you walk away with a bra that fits and feels great." Aka be patient—working in tandem with a pro and taking the time to try different things will eventually result in an informed purchase.
If you prefer to fit yourself in the privacy of your own home, you can still get an accurate read—Beale explains:
"Start below your arms and pull a measuring tape snugly across your chest for your band size [the numerical part of the size]. Do not squeeze! Take your second measurement around your back and the apex of your breast. This will be a larger number. Then subtract your first (smaller) measurement from the second to get your cup size. If your first measurement was 32 (your band size) and your second measurement was 36, subtracting 32 from 36 equals four or a D cup—as each inch equals a cup size, starting at A."
All In The Details
While the these two measurements are the key components of a size, Vosper and Schwab advise to consider other elements of fit as well:
"In a well-fitting bra, the gore—the small center piece connecting the bra cups—should lay flat at your sternum, and shouldn't pull or buckle. The bra band should fit snug around your ribs without riding up your back or digging into your flesh. You shouldn't be able to pull it far from your chest either—the band provides the majority of support in a bra, so it should be comfortably snug. If your band is fitting well and supporting you properly, your straps shouldn't dig. Often times if a band is too loose, the back will ride up and the straps will dig in as a result—essentially the support that should have been achieved in the band is being transferred to the straps, which is pretty uncomfortable. Ideally your underwire or cup should cover the full breadth of your breast tissue, from center chest/sternum to right under your underarm. If you have too small of a cup/wire for your frame, you'll get wires digging into flesh. Finally, you should like the shape your bra gives you with a t-shirt on (from the front and the side)."
Landing The Perfect Fit
If it's been a while since you made a new purchase, it's definitely time, as innovations in technical design have evolved the way bras fit the body.
"Historically, many women chose to wear bras that were larger than needed around the rib cage in their quest for comfort and ease. Today’s bras are made with superior fabrics and trims that offer more fit flexibility," says Debby Gedney, President of On Gossamer. As in—you now have a little more leeway in between sizes, so sizing up is no longer your only option.
Vosper and Schwab agree: "What we've found is that most women are wearing a band size that's too big for them (or bras that are old and stretched out). That said, when you adjust your size down from a band perspective, you often need to size up in the cups to account for shifting proportions (e.g., from a 34B to a 32C, or a 36C to a 34D)."
Finally, embrace the journey; as with many things, it's unlikely you'll get it right the very first time.
"During your fitting, don't get too hung up on your measured size. At best, this is your absolute size; at worst a starting point for you to begin your bra trying-on journey," says Beale.
Do all of the above and maybe, just maybe, the notion of ill-fitting lingerie will one day be unknown to us women (and ahem, our "girls").
Marquee image: Courtesy of On Gossamer
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