How to Buy a Bra

Sizing for women’s clothing can be incredibly frustrating in general (meaningless numbers! vanity sizing! different sizing among brands!), but figuring out how to buy a bra that fits can be even worse. It’s pretty easy to tell if, say, a shirt fits you, but so many of us are wearing the wrong size of bra every day (which we’ve been told ad nauseum). Maybe you’ve lost or gained weight without buying a new one, maybe you feel like your bra fits well enough because you don’t realize you’ve never worn the appropriate size, or maybe you’ve simply given up on buying a size that feels just right.

We haven’t specifically talked about how to buy a bra before, although we recently had an open thread about readers’ favorite lingerie for office looks, we’ve discussed bra care (including washing, rotating, etc.), and a couple of years ago we specifically gave workwear style tips for busty women.

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Here are some tips on how to buy a bra that fits well, feels comfortable, and makes you look even better in your clothes:

Signs That You’re Wearing the Wrong Bra Size

If you’re planning on buying a new bra, don’t just run out and buy one in the same size you always wear. Many women are wearing too large of a band size and too small of a cup size, for example. You’ve probably heard some of these fit tips before (most likely in those perennial “9 out of 10 women are wearing the wrong bra size!” articles), but they’re worth reviewing. Here are signs that you’re wearing the wrong bra size:

  • The bra band rides up in the back or digs into into your skin. (The band is what supports your breasts, not the straps.)
  • The straps fall off your shoulders a lot or leave indentations.
  • Your breasts either spill over the top of the cups or don’t fill them out.
  • The center of the bra (the gore) doesn’t lay flat against your chest.
  • You either can fit more than one finger between your back and the band, or can’t fit any fingers between them.
  • When you lift your arms, your bra doesn’t stay in place.
  • All of your bras are the same size. (You’ll need different sizes for different brands and types.)

The wrong bra size can do more than just annoy you all day — it can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain (and of course, breast pain), as well as skin irritation.

How to Find Your Bra Size

It’s ideal to get resized for a bra every year (even better, every six months, but that probably seems unrealistic for most of us). Here are some tips:

At the store

If you need sweatpants that scream “PINK” (which you probably don’t), go to Victoria’s Secret. If you need a bra fitting, do not go to Victoria’s Secret. This isn’t to say that the staff at other stores are a sure bet for correct sizing — the always hilarious Kristin Chirico wrote for BuzzFeed about going to six stores and getting a different answer at each. Still, you’ll have better luck going elsewhere, such as a specialty store or independent boutique. In NYC, Kat recommends BratendersLa Petite Coquette, and Linda’s Bra Shop, while The Cut recently highlighted Town Shop, Bra Smyth, and Iris LingerieJournelle has stores in NYC, Chicago, and LA. If you don’t have a store in your city that specializes in bras/lingerie, try Nordstrom, which emerged as the winner in Chirico’s quest to find a well-fitting bra. Readers: Do you have suggestions for your part of the world?

Kat’s bonus tip for trying on bras: If you’re shopping for an everyday bra, wear (or bring) a thin, plain t-shirt. Fit issues can be much more apparent once you’re wearing the bra under a shirt, and you’ll also be able to see how noticeable any lace and seams are underneath clothing.

At home 

Self-measuring methods aren’t foolproof, as a Lifehacker writer found when she entered her measurements into several bra-size calculators and got . . . several different sizes. Nevertheless, if you’re going to figure out your size yourself, we strongly recommend visiting the subreddit A Bra That Fits (ABTF), which has been enthusiastically recommended by Corporette readers and has a huge amount of resources and advice. Their steps from their beginner’s guide are:

  1. Take 6 measurements (while you’re not wearing anything, even a bra) — the diagram helps, as do the more detailed instructions — and enter the measurements in the calculator. You can also create a Measurement Check post in the subreddit if you need help. (Read the rules before posting.)
  2. Determine your shape — since breasts, of course, come in various shapes and not just different sizes. ABTF has a really detailed shape guide.
  3. Get bra recommendations — ABTF has many.
  4. Buy a bra(s) — ABTF has individual guides for the U.S., worldwide, and brick and mortar stores (worldwide), along with shopping tips.
  5. Figure out if your new bras fit. ABTF has a thorough guide for proper bra fit and fixing fit problems.
  6. Take care of your bras. (See our post on bra care as well.)

Another helpful tool is Third Love’s Fit Finder, which asks questions about your current bras, breast shape, underwear size, and height to tell you whether or not you’re wearing the right size. (If you provide your email address, you’ll get a 15% off coupon for the site.)

How to Buy a Bra in Hard-to-Find Sizes

Try these stores and sites if you’ve had trouble finding bras in your size:

Do you feel like you’re wearing the correct bra size? How did you determine your bra size, and when was the last time you were sized for a bra? Were you wearing the wrong size for a long time until you figured it out? What are your best tips for how to buy a bra? If you have a less common size, where do you shop? Where do your favorite bras come from, and how many do you have?

Further reading:

  • Bra Fitting Tips & Tests [HerRoom] & International Size Charts [HerRoom]
  • Every Type of Bra You Should Own & Why [Refinery29]
  • The Best Bras for Small Busts [Good Housekeeping]
  • 11 Bra Brands Women With Tiny Boobs Are Obsessed With [Bustle]
  • 21 Amazing Lingerie Brands for Larger Busts [Cosmopolitan] — warning, tons of ads
  • Where to Buy Bras Bigger Than a D-Cup [Sweet Nothings]

Picture credit via Stencil. 

We rounded up all of our best tips on how to buy a bra, including finding your correct bra size, knowing whether you're wearing the wrong one, and shopping for less common sizes.

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