More Boob Talk


This is a text-heavy post, which I didn’t want to demean by finding a bunch of photos of breasts to embellish my points. This is a serious topic, and we all have weird hang-ups with our bodies, so I didn’t want to add any distractions. If you have any problems at all with your bras, please read on.

I embarked on my Bra Fitting Research Extravaganza in January, and I think I have learned everything I can. I started out just trying to find something to fit me, but I realized through conversations with friends, that many others have problems with bras: they hurt, they ride, they poke, they rub, they irritate, they leave us sagging, they don’t contain our breasts, they cause underarm spillage, on and on and on. I swear, if men had to wear an encased wire contraption to contain and enhance the look of their testicles, this shit would all be figured out by now.

Here is what I learned. Go try bras on.

You can read all you want and measure all you want and talk all you want and compare all you want, but ultimately, the only way you are going to find out what fits and what flatters is to go try something on. That’s it. If you want to read about how I distilled a lot of information, please keep reading.

Trying on is way easier said than done when the local department store doesn’t carry your size. It seems like American Big Box stores carry a pretty narrow range of sizes and just convince you to go up in band size when they don’t carry a big enough cup size. This causes all kinds of problems, not the least of which is leaving you completely unsupported. Please resist this and leave the store.

If this is you, you must go to a specialty shop which may or may not include the high-end department store in your town. I don’t believe anyone lives that far from one that they can’t go once a year for a fitting. I used to live in Anchorage, and even they had a Nordstrom’s. Last month I drove 2 hours to get to a specialty store, and it was well worth it. While not a perfect experience, now I know what size and styles fit (in certain brands, anyway) and I can order online.

If you are unhappy with your current bra, I recommend starting by doing the following:

  • Get over your preconceived notions about what size is “big” and what size is “small” and whether you are “flat” or “huge” or “normal”. I can’t believe how “big” my cup size is, as a slightly larger than average-sized woman. Stop resisting and just get over it.
  • Go to a reputable website and take a look at what good fit is supposed to look like. Bravissimo is one place, but only one.
  • Try on your current bra and really assess what about it is not working. Band crawling up? Boobs spilling over the sides?
  • Based on your assessment, try to think about what might be better. If the band is riding up, it is too loose. Drop a band size and add a cup size. If your boobs are coming out of your bra anywhere or if you are being poked at all, add at least one cup size.
  • In the fitting room, take a long time. Do not be rushed. Sit down. Put your shirt on. Bring a magazine if you must. Give it 10 minutes and see if the bra is cutting or riding or in any way annoying.
  • Don’t feel pressured to buy just because a nice sales associate spent time on you. Do buy if it fits and you feel great. Bras are expensive, so it better be right.
  • Be wary of charts and size calculators. They may give you a place to start, but you must still try on.

I really, really needed to take that last point to heart. I wanted to find a magic formula to tell me what to do. It doesn’t exist. There is way too much opposing advice out there. I have read all of the following (conflicting) advice to find the band size:

  • Use your exact ribcage measurement
  • Use the measurement above your bustline
  • Add 4 or even 5 inches to your ribcage
  • Add 2 inches to your ribcage if your ribcage is less than 33″, otherwise add 4 inches
  • Add 2 inches to your ribcage only if  you are large busted, otherwise add 4 inches

The advice for cup size is just as bad. Cup size is based on the difference between the band size and the full bust measurement (although I have also read it is the difference between the ribcage and the full bust).  For example, if you have 0 inches between the two, you wear an A cup, 1 inch = B, 2 inches = C, 3 = D and so on. I have seen other systems start at 1 inch for an A, some systems start at AA, and some systems start at 1/2 inch with 1 inch increments thereafter.

How the hell is a person supposed to figure out what size to buy? That’s why I went to a fitter. Sadly, even what she measured me to be did not fit! It is true, that you really just need to try things on.

The only thing I have learned that makes any sense is that the band size is determined a lot by the back size, so regardless of your actual ribcage measurement, you need to look at the back. An athletic person with a wide back may be 36″ around with 18″ of it in back and a flat chest. A person with a tiny ribcage and narrow back may have a voluptuous bust at 36″. It’s all relative.

You may get better luck by measuring your back and then measuring how deep each breast is (that’s right, put the tape measure on your sternum and then measure across one boob, all the way to your armpit), but then you might feel weird pulling out your tape measure at the store to size up the bras. Although if you are truly obsessed over this, check out Bratabase, where they document the precise measurements of all kinds of bras. Totally fascinating. They will even tell you what bras they think might fit you based on their data. Wowsers!

My final advice: Stop being shocked over the price. I paid $60 for my new Freya, but it fits very well and I mostly forget I’m wearing it. No fidgeting, no pain. It’s like good shoes. If your feet hurt, you quickly get over spending $100 on shoes. And dang, you wear that bra everyday! Even if you have 6, you are wearing each one 60 times a year. That’s a dollar a day to not have your bra killing you. If you take good care of it, it will probably last you more than a year, maybe even two. Fifty cents a day to not have a wire in your armpit is soooo worth it.

I will probably do another post on making a bra, which is totally descending into the crazy, but if you are still reading, maybe you are there (too). And for the totally insane, I am planning a final boob post in which I compare the actual dimensions of bras I own, Bratabase style. Maybe. If anyone is still following me by then.


One response »

  1. You have to do another post on making a bra! And I love this 0 you’re so right on all accounts. What I’ll add is that I used to pay upwards of 175.00 for a Freya set before I started buying online for a fraction of the cost. Once you know your size (if it isn’t in too much flux), buy the next bra in the same brand or style online. Of course, you’ve got to be ok with the idea of returning things if they don’t fit, as is sometimes the case when buying online.

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