I wore the wrong bra size for years, and you probably are, too. In fact, almost 80 percent of women are still wearing ill-fitting bras.
After my youngest kids were born, I couldn’t wait to say goodbye to my maternity clothes — except my bras. When I finally gave up my comfortable nursing bras, I assumed my old bras would fit. But I was quickly taken aback by painful underwire and cups that seemed to dig into my sides.
Determined to find the right fit once and for all, I headed straight to my local department store’s lingerie department. It wasn’t my first time being fitted for a bra. I’d been fitted at my local Victoria’s Secret a few years prior, so I thought I knew what to expect. At most, I assumed I’d only go up or down one bra size. But I went as a size 38C and left as a size 36DDD!
How to find a bra that fits you
Before you give up on bras or resign yourself to discomfort, consider getting a professional bra fitting. My fitting led me away from uncomfortable bras and into a size that fit like a glove. Here are four tips for finding your perfect fit.
Tips for the perfect fit
- Choose a band size that fits comfortably on the largest size setting. There should only be enough space to fit two fingers between the band and your back. Bras stretch as they age, so you’ll use the second and third hooks eventually.
- If your bra straps dig into your shoulders, try going down one band size. The band and straps work together, so painful straps are a sign that the band isn’t doing its share of the lifting.
- Are you overflowing the sides or top of your bra? Try going up a cup size. And make sure that you put your bra on while bending over to ensure all of your breasts make it into the cups!
- What about back fat? Try going up a band size instead. Many women assume lumpy back fat means their bra is too small (guilty!), but the opposite is often the case. When the band is too loose, it can ride up in the back, creating a less-than-desirable look.
While science has started using 3-D scanners to help shape bras and underwire these days, it’s not accessible to everyone. If you’re not ready for a professional bra fitting but still want to make sure you’re wearing the right bra size, grab a tape measure (the fabric kind, trust me!). Then use this handy calculator to walk you through a bra fitting at home.
The difficulties of fit and flatter
I’m not the only one who’s spent years wearing the wrong sized bra. Many women have. A 2008 survey conducted by bra manufacturer Triumph and published in the journal Chiropractic & Osteopathy found that the majority of women (80 percent!) were wearing bras that were the wrong size. Of those women, 70 percent of them wore bras that were too small, while 10 percent wore bras that were too large.
This isn’t surprising, considering how difficult it can be to find attractive (or any!) options in larger bra sizes. While Victoria’s Secret carries bra sizes up to a 40DDD in a reasonable number of styles and colors, this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, it’s not even enough. Many women need bands larger than 40 inches under the breast. Some department stores still have even fewer options to choose from once you go above a 36D.
“A survey showed that 80 percent of women wear the wrong size bra. Of those women, 70 percent wore bras that were too small, while 10 percent wore bras that were too big.”
The last thing I wanted to discover during my fitting was that my bra size was larger than what the store carried. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but the saleswoman still led me over to a single, sad-looking rack of larger bras in shades of beige and black. So much for all of the adorable styles and patterns that filled the rest of the store.
There’s no holy grail to cup sizes
When it comes to bra sizes, most women still buy into the idea that bigger is better — at least where the cup size is concerned. Yet conversely, many women, myself sometimes included, shy away from larger band sizes. What we don't often realize is that cup sizes don't equal the size of your breasts. They refer to the difference between the size of your breasts and your rib cage.
This means that someone with a 34C still has smaller cups than a 36C. Going up a band size can provide just the right fit for the many women whose cups runneth over but find themselves swimming in the next cup size up.
What we don't often realize is that cup sizes don't equal the size of your breasts. They refer to the difference between the size of your breasts and your rib cage.
Some women know they're wearing the wrong bra size but continue wearing it anyway. A study in the journal Ergonomics has shown that women with larger breasts tend to have an even larger error when choosing bra size.
Wearing the wrong bra size can produce breast pain and bra irritation. In a study on women horse riders and the impact of their bras, 40 percent reported breast pain and 59 percent reported at least one bra issue. But don't worry: It's a myth that ill-fitting bras cause breast cancer.
Get a professional bra fitting or use a bra size calculator to find your perfect fit. Don't ignore the telltale signs that you're wearing the wrong bra size. Get educated about bra fit since having the right supportive bra is important, especially during exercise. I'll never go back to those painful bras — and neither will you.
Jody Allard is a writer and mother living in Seattle. She primarily writes about parenting, health, and women's issues. You can connect with Jody on her website or Twitter @sendvodka.
The original article appeared on Healthline.com.