Finding the right size is no easy task. Here’s advice on getting it right
By Mario Diana, MD, FACS
Wearing a poorly sized brassiere can cause serious cosmetic problems, yet an estimated 8 out of 10 women regularly wear bras that don’t fit.
Choosing the right bra is not as easy as it seems. Wide variations in manufacturing standards, unreliable bra size charts, fluctuations in breast size, and bad advice or pressure from salespeople complicate bra shopping.
As many as 80% of the women I treat come in wearing undersized or oversized bras. Here is practical advice on getting a well-fitted bra.
Cosmetic effects of poorly fitting bras
Wearing a bra that’s too tight can reduce blood flow to the breasts. Over time, this can cause premature sagging.
Repeatedly wearing a bra that is too wide can pull the breasts apart and flatten them. Also, because the breasts are being pulled away from each other, the cleavage will become abnormally wide.
Wearing a wrongly sized bra for 2 hours isn’t harmful, but when this is done over the long term, however, it can cause problems.
Women with breast implants are particularly vulnerable to breast malformation from a poorly fitting bra, because a natural breast is more flexible. Women with sagging breasts also need specially fitted bras.
Why women choose the wrong bra
Women get stuck with poorly fitting bras because:
• There’s no uniform standard for making bras. Manufacturers cut their bras differently, so two 32D-size bras from two makers won’t fit the same.
• Manufacturers’ bra sizes often do not account for variations in breast shape, size, symmetry, and spacing. Various styles of bras effect breast shape and position differently. A particular bra style may look good for a short time, but could alter breast shape if worn routinely.
• Many salespeople don’t know how to properly fit a bra, or they’ll sell their customers the next largest or smallest size because the correct size is not in stock.
Finding the right bra size is especially difficult for women with larger breasts (size 42D or greater). Many stores don’t sell large-sized bras because the demand for them is much lower than for conventional sizes. Consequently, many women who need a large bra may be forced to settle for a smaller size, as shopping for the right fit may be difficult.
Fluctuations, changes, or unique variations in breast size caused by the following factors also can complicate bra shopping:
• physical conditions, such as menstruation, pregnancy, weight loss, or fibrocystic breasts
• differences in breast shape. Some women have wide or tubular breasts; others have large breasts at a young age
• breast lift, reduction, or augmentation
• breast biopsy.
How to find your proper bra size
Bra sizes in the United States are expressed an even number that refers to band width in inches (32, 34, 36, etc.), and a single or double letter referring to cup size (A, B, C, D, DD … ).
To get your correct size, wrap a tape measure around your chest at two places:
• atop the nipples at the widest point. This is your bust measurement
• directly beneath the breasts, at the fold. This is your under-bust measurement
Under-bust measurement plus 2 equals the proper band size for most regularly sized elastic-band brands. Under-bust plus 4 equals the band size for bras with non-elastic bands, also called “vanity size.”
If your band-size measurement in inches is an odd number, your band size is the next highest even number.
If your breasts swell significantly during menstruation, measure your breasts at the peak of your swelling cycle (1 to 2 days before menstruation), and again after menstruation, when the breasts are smallest. If the difference in under-bust measurement exceeds 1½ inches, consider two bra sizes for different times of the month.
In my practice, I offer a chart to help patients find their correct bra size based on traditional sizing. Look on the chart for your under-bust measurement, and the difference between your under-bust and bust measurements. This will tell you the proper bra size.
Where to get the right bra
Don’t go bargain hunting when shopping for bras. You’ll only shortchange yourself by getting a poor fit.
Instead, order bras directly from a trusted manufacturer. Victoria’s Secret, for example, offers reliably cut mainstream-sized bras.