It’s time to figure out your real bra size
Breasts can be as fun and vital as they are. The right bra size can help solve many of the problems associated with a large bosom. However, the utterly confusing sizing system and a lack of education about the function of these garments keep large sections of people from getting the support they need.
Picking the right bra size for you is easier said than done, but knowing what to look for can help you avoid garments that look nice but do little, and go for the ones that will take a load off your shoulders–literally.
It’s more about health
What we often forget is that bras are functional garments. While stylish bras are great, they don’t do what they are supposed to. A 2014 study found 50 percent of its participants reported suffering from breast pain, while research published in 2018 identified neck, shoulder, and back pain as other effects stemming from a lack of support. These issues can eventually result in bad posture, permanently grooved skin under the bra straps, spinal problems, unnecessary breast reduction surgeries, and even neurological issues. And it makes sense: breasts can weigh up to 2 pounds each.
[Related: The best sports bra uses non-Newtonian fluid]
“You have nerves in your arms where the bra strap sits, and if there’s really high pressure, sometimes it can cause numbness, and pins and needles, down the arm and into the hand,” says Joanna Wakefield-Scurr, professor of biomechanics and head of the Research Group in Breast Health at the University of Portsmouth in the UK.
“We’ve seen cases of complete paralysis of the little finger due to the pressure of shoulder strap.”
Breast structure can also make them susceptible to stretch marks. The glandular tissue–one of the three types of breast tissue–is only attached to the body by delicate skin and ligaments. Wakefield-Scurr states that the skin can rupture with gravity if it doesn’t have proper support, causing permanent scarring.
The psychological consequences of wearing a sloppy bra can have serious health consequences.
“Women with large breasts tend not to exercise as much,” says Jenette Goldstein, founder of Jenette Bras, a specialized bra store with locations in Los Angeles and Atlanta. It starts when they are young girls. They can’t find the right sports bra for them, and they feel embarrassed. So they stop exercising. It’s difficult to run with large breasts.”
This is not just anecdotal evidence. A 2018 study, for example, found that larger breasts are associated with less frequent and less intense exercise. The 355 Australian women who participated in that research said their breast size was one of the reasons why they were not exercising as much or as intensely as other women.
How to find a bra that fits
Ideally, every person who needs a bra should go to their local bra shop and have it fitted by a professional at least once a year. Unfortunately, this is not an option for many people, and because there’s no standard level of competency for bra fitters at stores, the trip may end with the purchase of yet another ill-fitting bra. It’s important to be able to identify the right things to look for to determine if it’s a match.
Try on every bra
There is no way around it: trying on a bra is the best way to find out if it fits. This can be problematic if you limit your shopping to browsing websites. However, if you want to find a bra that fits well, it is a good idea to try the bra on in person.
Keep in mind that even if you find the perfect bra, it is possible to have a different fit from another brand. Manufacturers often change the materials and patterns of bras, so a size or model that fits well one day may feel too big the next. Goldstein states that the more elastic a fabric, the less support it provides. Wakefield-Scurr says that even dyeing can impact sizing. Darker colors make for more supportive fabrics and are therefore more dense. Bras should be tried on several times before you purchase them.
Get the band right
You might think that the straps provide the most support. But the band (or under-band) is the real hero of the bra. This is the piece that goes around your body and is actually responsible for providing 90 percent of the support when you wear a well-fitting bra, Wakefield-Scurr says.
Make sure the bra stays in place, she advises. First, make sure the bra is properly fitted. This will prolong the garment’s life. Next, lift your arms and move around. If the bra rides up your back it is too small.
If the bra passes this test pull the band away from your side. If it is more than 2 inches (5 cm) long, it is either too large or too stretchy.
A well-fitting band should feel snug, but comfortable, Goldstein states. But, it all depends on you. She explains that what feels like pinching to one person may feel right and snug for another.
Adjust the straps
Just like eyebrows, boobs can be considered sisters and not twins. Breast asymmetry is common and Wakefield-Scurr says 97 percent of all pairs are unequal in size, volume, position, or form. It doesn’t make sense to adjust your bra straps at a similar height and expect your breasts level.
Because every body is unique, you will need to adjust the straps to make them fit you.
“It’s a backpack. The more weight you have on your front, the more you will need to attach the waist strap,” Goldstein states. If [the bra straps] feels like it’s digging into your shoulders, your band should be tighter .”
After you’re done, check the length of each strap by pulling it up with your thumb. You don’t want to leave more than 2 inches (5 cm) between the ends.
Don’t let the cups spill
Finding the right size bra is the most difficult part of finding a bra that fits properly.
Start by making sure that all of your breast tissue has been placed in the cups. You can also use the old-fashioned scooping technique. Once your bra is on, place your hand in the cup and lift your breasts to the front. Or you can get a little help from the force–not the one you’re thinking about, Star Wars fans.
” You want to wear a bra while leaning over. “Gravity takes your breasts naturally, and makes them go to center,” Goldstein explains.
Once the bra is correctly on, stand straight and pay attention at the edges of the cups. If your breasts are leaking out, the cups may be too small. If there is a gap between the cups and your breasts, it could indicate that they are too large.
While you’re at this, make sure your separator is flat on your sternum if it separates the breasts. You may need to go up a size.
Goldstein suggests choosing cut-and-sewn bras over molded models made from pre-shaped foam. These bras, Goldstein explains, don’t adapt as well to the body’s movements and are therefore more difficult to find a perfect fit.
Underwires are your friends–no, really
Many people have given up on underwire bras after being poked or even stabbed by these nefarious pieces of metal. Bras made with cheap fabrics are often prone to catching the wire and digging into your skin.
But Goldstein and Wakefield Scurr both believe that underwires can be useful and provide the support you need, particularly if your breasts tend to be larger than average. Wakefield-Scurr recommends that you make sure the underwire does not touch any breast tissue to ensure the right size.
” The best place to check this is under your arm. Push in the underwire and if the wire hits bone, you’re in the right spot.” She explains. “If it hits any squishy, or other fleshy tissue, it’s likely that it’s sitting on breast tissue .”
Goldstein also suggests that the wire be placed flush against each breast’s root. This is where your boobs meet your abdomen.
You’re not a size–you wear a size
Breasts change constantly due to their unique structure and the cyclical nature our bodies. You should therefore be able to accept that the search for the perfect bra may not be a goal but an ongoing journey.
It is a good idea for you to have a few different sizes of bras to keep you comfortable during your menstrual cycle. This is especially important in the weeks before your period, when breasts tend increase in size and become tender. You can then go bra shopping after your period, knowing that your hormones won’t ruin the fun.
Despite what the fashion industry and advertising may tell you, sizes exist so that we can find garments that fit us.