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.

Comments

  1. Yes on A Bra That Fits, found on Reddit. I was mis sized even at Nordstrom and my bras were driving me crazy. I did the six measurements, asked a lot of questions on the sub, and then ordered many, many bras from amazon with prime shipping and free returns.

    Now that I have my perfect fitting bra, I have to stop myself from bravangelizing.

    It makes such a difference to wear a bra that lifts my b00bs up and off my torso – I feel a size thinner – and not to worry about my bra poking me or compressing me or just generally bugging me. I no longer rip my bra off the minute I walk in the door.

    Definitely do this for yourself. You deserve it.

  2. I’m a big fan of ABraThatFits, which I first came across last summer. I was definitely wearing the wrong size for years. When I was fitted several years ago at a department store (no Nordstroms in my state), they told me I was a 36B. Based on the ABTF’s measurement calculator, I’m actually a 32D. I was skeptical at first, especially since most of the recommended bras for my size and shape were unlined. After trying several dozen styles, I found Panache’s style Clara, which feels like it was custom-made for me.

    This post is really helpful overall, but I take issue with the size descriptors used in so many of the linked articles. Bust size is relative, and there’s a lot of cultural baggage associated with bust size. 32D can look completely different on different women, depending on their height, weight and build.

  3. I also go to Nordstrom’s for my bras b/c they will take all the time I need to get the perfect fit. I do pay more for bras there, but I get them 12 at a time so that I have enough so that I can have the cleaneing lady wash them every week for me. The manageing partner makes a point of telling me that I look very profesional and I think he is thinkeing of my body above the waste, b/c my tuchus is still a littel big for me. FOOEY!

  4. Love both Linda’s and Townshop! Also really love bra-sized swimwear. Panache is my fav for swim. 30DD.

  5. I am a 34A and I was having a hard time finding a comfortable and cute bra. But I found Timpa! I really like the duet lace bra, the non padded one, available in lots of colors. I recommend you size up.

  6. Grumpy 38AA :

    Most frustrating part of figuring out what fits is to finally discover your correct size, only to learn that no one makes it.

  7. Lyra Silvertongue :

    When I was a teenager, Victoria’s Secret had me convinced that I was a 36DD and that my boobs were just weird and not meant to actually stay in the cups (I spilled out constantly), nor was the band supposed to stay in place or actually support them. I hated bras and I wasn’t super fond of my unwieldly chest either.

    Fast forward to studying abroad and then living in the UK. I walked into a Bravissimo one day bc I needed to buy new bras and truly, my life changed. I measured as a 32FF (or 30G in some brands) and although I initially reacted poorly, thinking that I was some kind of freak- how could I be bigger than a DD?- it made such a difference in my life. All of a sudden, bras were comfortable. I could walk, bend over, dance, run, do anything I wanted without falling out of my bras. And on top of that, my boobs looked great! Not simultaneously squished and yet overflowing. Just nice, balanced, round, and under control. It sounds stupid but it was such a turning point for me and I feel so much better about myself.

    Also, for all the people assuming that anything over a DD on a non-plus size woman looks “like a porn star” as one article noted…it doesn’t. My 32FFs appear the same size or smaller than a lot of other people’s 38D. I’m tall and an hourglass shape and they feel right to me. Let’s resist shaming other women or putting them in boxes just because of the natural size of their chest. Of course, from age 10-14 my grandmother tried to force minimizer bras on me because my bust was “shameful” so I may be speaking from past trauma…

    • Ditto
      My department store bras never fit and I was always hid8ng my chest as my actual b r e a s t pooped over the bra cup. Was mortifying and I wore sweaters everywhere

      One day in my 40,s I took myself to a bra shop that was independent, catered to women in special sizes, on a hunch. I am a 34 or 36 G, sometimes F (triple D cup), not the 40 d I had been forced to purchase at dept stores as their solution was to up the band size as that cup size is not possible in regular stores

      All this to say, get a proper real fit from someone with many manufacturers, and not a chain store
      They aren’t cheap but last much longer and I feel great, I teared up when I got the right size and saw how much better I looked (also an hourglass) …and I have a large chest at 14 yrs old weighing 115lbs or at 47 yrs old at 146lbx, I cant change that but can look and feel my best

      Ps I used my year e nd bonus to buy $800 worth of very beautiful ones ;)

      • Lyra Silvertongue :

        So glad you found out your actual size- what a difference it makes! Agreed that no matter if I gain or lose 10-15 lbs, my bust stays the same. Also glad I’m not the only one who teared up, ha!

  8. Back when I was measured for a bra in high school, I was told that I was a 34B. For twenty years, I bought bras in band size 34… and found out last year that I am a 32. I definitely look more put together, somehow, in the 32 band sizes; the 34s make me look schlubby.

  9. nerfmobile :

    Even if you find the right size, you may need to experiment to get the right STYLE. After figuring out that I needed a LARGE cup size, I still often had problems with the underwires in the center of my chest poking up or out. I confused this with “not laying flat” for a while, but in fact it turns out that not every style fits everyone in the same way, because actual breast shapes vary. I discovered in happy accident of finding a plunge bra on sale that I need styles with very short center underwires and that don’t try to be “full cup”. I look for “plunge” styles exclusively now and enjoy a much better fit.

  10. I understand the importance of wearing a bra that fits well, but I get really annoyed with the statements that “9 out of 10 women are wearing the wrong bra size.” According to whom? If we are all getting fitted into different sizes in different stores, who’s to say which one is the “correct” one? And let’s stop perpetuating the idea that women can’t figure out what size bra they should be wearing. Get qualified assistance, of course, and decide for yourself what you’re comfortable wearing.

  11. I HIGHLY recommend Reddit’s A Bra That Fits website. Put your measurements into the calculator and it will tell you what size to buy. Long story short, you’ll probably want to go down a band size or two and go up a few cup sizes from what you currently wear. It’s not uncommon for someone wearing 36B to switch to 32DD, for instance. The calculator and the community on that site are great.

  12. Braevengelist :

    OMG, I am practically levitating with excitement about this thread because finding out my correct bras size has been a huge positive change in my life. I thought I was a 36D. I thought that advice that a bra should lie flat against your chest was an urban myth because ain’t no way that was happening for me. Then I got a proper fitting by A Revelation in Fit in Oakland and discovered I am a 32H. And no, I’m not a circus freak. I have to buy European bras now because American manufacturers simply don’t offer a wide range of sizes. The reason most American women aren’t wearing the right size bra is because American bra stores don’t carry their size. No one ever tells you that. A Revelation in Fit website has a great history of how this came about historically and why companies don’t expand their sizes. So of you have a large chest and small band size, or vice versa, or a band and small cup size, American brands simply will not fit you. I also second the Reddit A Bra That Fits. And there is another site that shows photos of real women wearing a properly fitting bra that lists their size, so you can see what a 32G or 38A or 34D actually looks like. Can’t remember the name of this site but you could probably find it through the Reddit site.

  13. Always start with your true band size – no adding inches! And keep in mind that bras are made by different companies – just like pants or top patterns vary by brand and material, so will bras. Find your size in a style from a brand that you like and use it as your starting point for any other purchases. Double check your measurements on the brand’s site before buying – if you’ve done the ABTF method and are sure your size is right, but the brand sizes you way differently, purchase with caution (ex: shock absorber really does add 4-5″ to your band measurements, I bought my correct band size and could not close it because it was ridiculously small. Ex #2: I’ve found curvy Kate to be super stretchy in the band and have to size down to get it to fit).

    • I should add: I was a 32H (UK, 32K US) and am now a 30HH after some weight loss. Do not be freaked out by the letter. My go-to brand is Ewa Michalak which I order from Levana Bratique in Pittsburgh, PA. In Raleigh, NC there’s a store called The Bra Patch that also carries a good range of sizes.

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