Bras are complicated little buggers -- buying them is anxiety-inducing, washing them is time-consuming and getting them to lay right under clothes sometimes seems aggravatingly impossible.
But we're here to tell you that it gets better. Women are making so many mistakes when it comes to their bras, from buying them to maintaining them, that it just takes knowing what you're doing wrong first to actually get it right. So we talked to bra fitting specialist Bobbie Smith of Freshpair to walk us through what we women are getting wrong -- and how we can make peace with these complex garments once and for all.
Here are the 10 bra mistakes you're most likely making:
1. Choosing a bra by cup size.
So we shouldn't be choosing bras based on cup size? Nope, says Smith -- instead, start with the numerical band size. "Cup sizes are directly related to a band size," she told us. "So for somebody to say, 'Oh, I'm a D cup' is irrelevant unless you know what band size it's correlated with." Cup sizes are not standard, meaning you may be a D with one band size but a E with another size band. A 32D bra is a cup size smaller than a 34D, for example. Letting go of whatever cup size you think you are will allow you to explore and find the best-fitting bra for you. Which leads us to...
2. Wearing a bra that's too small.
Many women's identities are tied up in their cup sizes, Bobbie says, making them resistant to go up a cup size in order to go down a band size. But you may be wearing a 36C when your ribcage measurement is a 32... which would require you to buy a bra that's a 32E. "A lot of women I fit, I bring them down to a smaller back band size and and suddenly their cup sounds huge," says Bobbie, "and they think that it's a character flaw." Own that larger cup size -- it means your bra will actually fit you better.
3. Fastening your bra on the tightest hooks.
When measuring your band size, you should go according to the outermost set of hooks, not the innermost. "A bra is going to stretch about three inches in its lifetime," says Bobbie, and when it does, "that's when you go to the next set of hooks." Buy a bra that fits snugly on the last set of hooks, and only later should you need to use the tighter ones.
4. Letting the band ride up on your back.
"The back band should never be higher than the underwire," says Bobbie. If it does, it doesn't fit you properly.
5. Insisting on a contour-style bra instead of a softer seamed, lined bra.
Contour bras are the molded ones, the kind that keep their shape even when they're in your drawer (and that you usually find at Victoria's Secret). Seamed bras are the soft ones with floppy fabric cups that mold to the shape of your breast. Which one is right for you, says Bobbie, depends on the texture of your boobs. "If your breasts are firm and they sit up high on their own," Bobbie recommends, "then you can get away with the push-up bras and the contour style." But if, like most women, your breasts are softer and not naturally perky, "they're going to settle at the bottom of the contour cup and you'll going to have space at the top of the strap."
Why does this happen? "A breast is naturally cone-shaped, not round," Bobbie explains, "so when you wear a contour with its own shape, you're trying to fit soft tissue into that shape." That's when you get spillage or "quadra-boob." The seams of a seamed bra, on the other hand, function like the support beams of a house, giving structure and shape to the breast. They work with your breasts to mold to them, instead of your breasts having to fit into a pre-determined shape.
6. Thinking you can wear one bra with every type of outfit.
Yeah, you just can't. Certain dresses are going to require a more perky shape, while some shirts might look better if your breasts sit lower and flatter. Try different bras for each item of clothing you have to ensure you're pairing your outfit with the best bra possible.
7. Wearing a bra two days in a row.
You may have that one bra you love, but bras shouldn't be worn two days in a row. "Letting a bra rest at least one day in between wear will help the elastic regain its strength," Bobbie tell us. "When you’re wearing it two days in a row, it's like pulling on a muscle -- it's going to strain it and it won't be able to snap back." One thing that helps keep that elastic fresh? "Washing it in cold water helps it, because the cold water shocks it." Oh, and while you're at it...
8. Washing your bras with Woolite.
Your mother might have given you that first bottle of Woolite for your delicates, but Bobbie revealed to us that Woolite is actually terrible for bras: "It was actually designed to soften wool, so you shouldn't use that on elastic, because you want the elastic to stay firm." That actually makes a lot of sense.
9. Keeping a bra for too long.
"When worn correctly and taken care of correctly, a bra is going to last you about eight months," Bobbie broke it to us. "After that, the band is stretched out, so it’s not going to support you anymore." That’s why you should have six to seven bras in your wardrobe so you can rotate them, making them last longer.
10. Settling for a bra that doesn't fit.
"Women just accept the fact that bras just aren't going to fit," lamented Bobbie. Guilty as charged -- we get aggravated and tired of bra shopping and simply settle for a bra that kinda, sorta fits instead of a bra that fits perfectly.
But now that we know exactly what we're doing wrong, we can get reacquainted with the measuring tape and get back out on the bra buying circuit. For a peek into what a custom bra fitting experience is like, read our own tale here.
Got a bra you love? Now treat it right: