Size Matters: A guide to bra shopping

There are different bras for different people – different brands, different styles, different materials. But does size really matter? When it comes to bra shopping, the answer is a definitive “yes.”

The first step in finding a new bra, particularly if you are large-chested, is getting measured. Otherwise, there is no guarantee the bra will fit. You probably won’t be surprised if you walk into the store thinking you’re a 34C and leave knowing you’re a 32D – it’s not unusual for women to be clueless about their breast size.

I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry. Letting a strange lady touch you doesn’t have to be a weird experience. You can size yourself at home by adhering to the tips below, but most specialty stores such as Victoria Secret, Gap Body and individual lingerie stores will offer to size your breasts before you even try on a bra. Some even offer special discounts on merchandise if the store sizes you.

The key is finding a saleswoman who makes you feel comfortable. Obviously, you want someone with a professional manner holding a tape measure around your breasts. But your comfort level also affects your trust level. If you are OK with this lady seeing you half naked in a cold dressing room, chances are you will be receptive to her advice about bras.

I personally prefer to do my bra shopping at a store called Jay Ann Intimates in my hometown, so I’ll tell you how a typical first-time experience at such a store unfolds.

Once you arrive, a saleswoman (the owner, in my case, so I was certain she knew her stuff) will direct you to a dressing room, where she will instruct you to take off your shirt and bra. If you want, test her knowledge by asking what she thinks of your current bra. If you picked it out yourself in a department store, she’ll probably advise you to throw it out.

Now the measuring – the saleswoman will fiddle around with a soft measuring tape to determine your band size (number) and your cup size (letter). To learn your band size, she will wrap the measuring tape tightly around your rib cage, just under your breasts. Add five inches to that measurement and you have your band size. Next, the saleswoman will determine your cup size by holding the tape loosely around the fullest part of your bust. Subtract your band size from this measurement. If the difference is one inch, you’re a size A; two inches, B; and so on. If your band size is an odd number, just round up or down to find your best fit because bras come in even numbers.

If you complain about how large your breasts are, a good salesperson will ease your worries with stories of size 54H brides who needed strapless bras for their wedding days. She may even show you a picture of that huge bra in all its glory and, trust me, you’ll be amazed, and relieved that you’re only (only!) a 34D or 38DD or whatever the size may be.

Once you and the saleswoman have figured out your bra size, the two of you will decide what type of bra is best for you. Minimizers can be worn by anyone size C and up, but you may need some time to get used to this idea. And I’m not going to lie, most minimizers are just not that attractive. As great as they make you look in a T-shirt, the creators of such bras are under the impression that only grandmas wear them, not teenagers and twenty-somethings. Fortunately, there are some fairly neutral-looking minimizers that any woman can wear, but good luck finding one that actually qualifies as pretty. Nevertheless, the effect they have on your profile makes even the uglier minimizers worth it. If you’re stuck on the pretty thing, though, your best bet is Victoria’s Secret, but be ready to sacrifice some support in the name of aesthetics.

Many specialty stores will keep a standard T-shirt in the dressing room for you to try on with your new bras. If the shirt you’re wearing isn’t adequate for this task, definitely go with the store’s to ensure your breasts look as good under clothes as they do bare. Pay careful attention to the saleswoman’s advice. If she’s working in a store like Jay Ann Intimates, she is most likely a bra expert and will give you an honest and on-target opinion. In fact, she’ll take one look at you and know if the bra fits well, needs to be adjusted or needs to be exchanged for a different size or style. Just like you need to adjust to the idea of a minimizer, the idea of different sizes for different brands may horrify you at first. But you need to get over your aversion to DDs or whatever it may be in order to find a bra that fits you well.

Once you’ve decided on the perfect bra, be sure to get a neutral-colored one and a black one. Stay away from white; nude colors are always better for undergarments. Good luck finding other colors – remember what I said about pretty minimizers?

If you’ve found a really suitable lingerie store, you’ll find yourself looking forward to your next trip. But to post pone that trip as long as possible, be sure to care for your bras properly – follow the instructions on the label. According to, if the label tells you to hand wash your undergarment, do so with a gentle cleanser meant for the task. If machine washing is OK, don’t forget to hook the bra, place it in a lingerie bag, use cool water and always let it air dry. And here’s another tip to prolong your bras’ lifespan: buy at least three and then rotate them. Because we wear bras for so many hours straight, they need time to return to their original shape. If we need our beauty sleep, so do our bras!

If you’re less than thrilled with your first bra shopping experience, keep looking. There’s no pressure to buy bras at every store, but hopefullyat every store, but hopefully each trip will help you progress in your search. Next time, check out a different independently-owned store (I find these are best because the salespeople are not pushy about selling the store’s products, they just genuinely want to help you), a department store (not my first choice because the service is far less personable) or a chain lingerie store – I hear GapBody has a great convertible five-bras-in-one.

Regardless of where you shop, be willing to empty your wallet. Yes, it is ridiculous that such little scraps of material cost so much, but unless you are ready to spend the big bucks, you can forget about decent comfort and support under your T-shirts and sweaters. Quality brands such as Wacoal will cost you around $50 to $60. Happy hunting!

Extra: Your bra doesn’t fit if …
* you are unable to fit two fingers under the band of your bra.

* your bra keeps riding up your back (it should fit comfortably below the shoulder blades), even with adjustment. Try a smaller band size.

* if there are wrinkles in the cup . Go for a smaller size.

* if you overflow at the top or under the arms. Try a bigger cup size.

* If the underwires do not lie flat against the body to offer the breasts full support. Go for a bigger cup size.


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