Goldilocks and the World of Bras

Image credit: Sian Hopkins

By Amy Leadbitter

So, what makes the perfect fit? What makes a bra just right?

Bras seem to be the bane of many people’s existence. Feeling uncomfortable, with digging straps and a sore back. What if it didn’t have to be this way?

Unfortunately, research suggests almost 80% of people are wearing the wrong size bra. It is something many wear every day for the majority of their lives and therefore you would assume we had that all figured out. Boobs are notorious for swelling or feeling different at different times of the month or might change rapidly with weight fluctuations or birth control, and therefore it makes sense why some might be in the wrong size. However, a lot of us also do not thoroughly understand bras and sizing.

Having a well fitted bra is fundamentally important to our health and wellbeing, if you are the bra-wearing type. If the size is too large, the bra will not give adequate support and may encourage people to tighten the straps to compensate. This leads to constant pressure on the shoulders and neck, leading to headaches and muscle pains. If you are particularly busty, you may compensate by rolling your shoulders forwards due to the weight of your chest, giving you poor posture. Then, if the size is too small, it can cause skin irritations from the band digging into the skin, or the underwire rubbing against the breast tissue.

Let us first bust some myths about bras and sizing. If I say, ‘A cup’, does a certain picture come to mind quite clearly? What about ‘DDs’? Unfortunately, these ideas of what breasts look like based purely on the cup size is disingenuous. I cannot stress enough that you cannot know anything about a person’s breasts from the cup size alone. ‘A’ does not mean small, ‘DD’ does not mean big, and frequently people have much larger cup sizes than DD and they do not look ridiculously huge. This is because cup sizes are a ratio used to measure, not objective measurements themselves. Let’s go into some detail…

Band size is the circumference measurement under your breasts, in inches for UK sizing. For example, a 32 band means your underbust is about 32 inches. The cup is measured by circumference around the fullest part of your breasts (in inches again) and then looking at the difference between that measurement and the band measurement. Cup sizes go up 1 inch at a time. ‘A’ cup would be a 1-inch difference between your underbust and overbust measurement. ‘B’ cup would be a 2-inch difference- and so on. If someone had a 32-inch band size, and measured 38 inches over the fullest part, they would roughly be a 32E, due to the 6-inch difference. This is not always perfect, as some brands may have different materials or styles that make your size change slightly, but that’s when ‘sister sizes’ come in. A person who is a 32E may also be a 34DD at some stores- remember, if you get a band size up, get a cup size down. You do not usually want to go more than 1 sister size up or down, as this means it will not give the exact support you need.

Why is understanding this so important? Some bra companies prefer to sell a bra to any unsuspecting person who they can squeeze into one, rather than assessing properly, as often they do not carry an inclusive range of sizes. If you do not fit any bra at their store, they do not make money off you. Many stores also do not properly train their bra fitting staff, who then pass on misinformation to the customers. Victoria Secret, for example, is notorious for this, and many walk away feeling that something is wrong with their body for not fitting comfortably in these bras, even though they only offer ridiculously exclusionary range of sizes. Ones that are recommended are M&S and Bravissimo, which not only have glowing reviews about their staff but also carry a wide variety of sizes and styles. If you do not feel comfortable being fitted in a store, there are accurate ways to do it at home. A great calculator to use is the ‘A Bra That Fits’ calculator – all you need is a tape measure, and it uses 6 measurements to give a more solid idea of your size.

Another key point is to research how a bra is supposed to sit on you. The straps should not dig in hard – the support work is done through the band, so you should not have to pull them tight. The band should also lay flat across your back, not riding up, and when you pull on it, should not stretch much more than an inch or so away from your body. A good trick to see if the cup size is correct is the ‘swoop and scoop’ method. Bend forward and pull your breast away from your armpit and further up into the cup – then stand. Is there gapping? Is the bra cutting your breast in half and spilling out? All these are signs that you need a different size.

We have such deep-rooted ideas of what sizes mean and feeling like we don’t understand something quite intimate about our body can be overwhelming.

It is insanely important to make sure you are in the right size, not only for the health issues it can cause but also for your confidence! Feeling comfortable and happy with how you look in something is key to good self-esteem, especially with something you might wear often, such as a bra. Could you imagine wearing badly fitting jeans or shoes almost every day? Would you feel as happy with how you look? It can be scary to shop for bras and to accept your new size. We have such deep-rooted ideas of what sizes mean and feeling like we don’t understand something quite intimate about our body can be overwhelming. When I learned my true size, I was in utter shock, because I believed my chest to be rather small and was stuck on the idea of anything over ‘DD’ being massive. Figuring out that what I knew was wrong, and my small underbust means my cup size does not look as large as on a person with a bigger under bust, really blew my mind.

Now that I wear a bra that fits, it has changed the way I hold myself and the way I look at my own body. I still enjoy the feeling of taking a bra off after a long day, but now in the same way as unbuttoning jeans – not like escaping from a torture device. Do yourself a favour and find your true size; you won’t regret it.

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