Bras should be supportive and comfortable, not irritating
Not only can wearing the wrong size bra be uncomfortable, but it can also be bad for your breasts. Finding the right size bra that’s flattering and fits doesn’t have to be complex. (If you’re working out, be sure to choose one of the best sports bras.)
Check out the signs you’re wearing the wrong size bra and how to use our bra size guide to find one that fits, according to lingerie experts.
How should a bra fit?
After wearing the wrong size bra for a while, you might not recognise or know exactly how one should fit. A well-fitting bra is one you don’t feel or think about during the day as it keeps the breasts in place and does not need readjusting, according to Josie-Anne Le Diouron, French lingerie brand Empreinte’s bra fitting expert.
Helena Kaylin, founder of MINDD Bra Co, adds that we all feel and interpret support differently.
“It’s about comfort, and comfort is also about a feeling,” she says. “Your bra should feel good, and it shouldn’t be something you’re thinking about.” It should be flexible and adapt or conform to your shape.”
Does my bra fit?
You can evaluate if a bra fits well. Try it on with a close-fitting garment on top like a simple white stretch T-shirt, Le Diouron suggests. “It makes it easier to self-evaluate if the actual shape that the bra gives to your breast meets your expectation.”
Le Diouron and Genelle Beyer, an image consultant, personal stylist, and bra fit specialist, both say there are four main things to check if your bra fits well – the band, the straps, the cups, and the centre of the bra between the cups (called the gore). Here’s what to look out for and how to fix these common bra fit woes.
Signs your bra doesn’t fit
Yes, you’re probably wearing the wrong bra size – and you’re not alone. Wearing the wrong bra size is a health issue since it can lead to or exacerbate neck, back, or breast pain. A 2018 study in Orthopaedic Proceedings found that women with larger breasts who experience back pain saw an improvement after wearing correctly fitting bras.
So it makes sense that you want a bra that fits. But first it’s key to recognise the following signs that your bra does not fit properly.
The band is too tight or too loose
One of the signs your bra doesn’t fit is if the band rides up into an arch or a rainbow-like figure on your back, according to Beyer. The band should not ride up in the back nor the front. Instead, it should create a parallel line to the floor straight across your back. “It should run parallel along the rib cage under the ‘root’ of the breast,” she says.
The band should be snug, but not tight, according to Kaylin. You need to be able to breathe, but it shouldn’t be so loose that it’s unsupportive. Sometimes snug will look like it’s digging in, and it may not be.
One tip from Kaylin to keep your bra band from outstretching is to always start on the loosest hook and eye closure, not the tightest. “The purpose of having multiple hooks and eyes is that over time, your bra will naturally become looser, so you have that flexibility to come to the middle and tightest hook over time.”
The straps are falling down
The straps of a well-fitting bra should stay on the shoulders all day long and not need readjusting, Le Diouron says. Of course, they might become loose after a couple of wears and washings, at which point you should adjust them as necessary. Or you may, in fact, be wearing a bra that is too big for you, Kaylin says.
People may think the simple answer for loose straps is always to adjust and tighten them accordingly. But one mistake Beyer sees with her clients is tightening bra straps to the point of pulling the entire brassiere up on the body.
“Straps should rest securely on your shoulders, not digging in or falling off the shoulders,” Beyer says. “They should run perpendicular to the band, and ideally, should not have to be constantly adjusted by pulling closer to your neck.”
Of course, they may also be dependent on your shoulders’ natural shape, and there are specific bras that will function best for your body type. If you have sloping shoulders, you may want to consider a racerback. You could also invest in bra straps clips which allow you to pull the straps together on your back to convert to racerback, Beyer recommends. Some bras even come with these little attachments or “J hooks” to convert to a racerback.
If straps refuse to stay on your shoulders no matter how much you tighten them, you’re wearing the wrong size. Remember: Your straps may be keeping the “girls” up, but it is the band that truly supports your breasts’ placement.
When tightening straps, place fingers to the exact point of comfort, then pull and adjust straps to suit. If no amount of strap tightening or loosening works, chances are you are wearing the wrong band size, according to Beyer.
Take a look at the quality of the straps, too. It’s possible after normal wear that they have lost all the power of the elastic.
The straps dig into your skin
If your straps dig in, it means that they do all the heaving lifting. Straps that do most of the work cause back, shoulder and neck pain, according to Kaylin. Remember that your straps should provide support, but not the only support for your bust. If you’ve done all the adjusting you can, it’s not you, it’s the bra.
The cups gape
A gap between the breast and the cup means you’re wearing the wrong size and should go down a cup size, Le Diouron recommends. The edges of the cup should fall flush against your skin with no excess breast tissue hanging out.
You may automatically adjust to a lower cup size, but still carefully assess how the band feels. There is a likelihood you may have to change your band size as well. However, it may also be possible that that style does not work for your breast and body type. “Be open to trying different bra styles, such as moulded cup versus unlined or wired versus wire-free,” Beyer says.
If you only feel comfortable in a foam-lined cup, find a lightly lined bra or one called a spacer, according to Kaylin. “Spacer is this wonderful technology that is more flexible and less rigid than some foam cups,” she says.
Gaping cups may also be a result of how you store your moulded cup bras. Beyer recommends laying bras flat with the natural molded shape intact. “Do not fold cups in half into each other for storage,” she warns. “This will misshape the bra cups, which can, in fact, lead to a less than desirable fit.”
The cups have “spillage”
On the other end of the spectrum, if your breasts always spill out of the top of the cup, you should go up a cup size. Many women Kaylin meets don’t actually know their proper cup size. “I have met hundreds of women who would tell me they are a C cup, and they are really a D or DD cup,” she says. “I would tell them they are in D-enial.”
As a start, Kaylin recommends going up a cup size, especially if your band feels good. Contact the bra company because each company is different depending on the materials they use to make the bras.
Wires or the gore irritate your skin
The gore is the centre of the bra between the two cups where the underwire seems to meet. It should rest comfortably against your sternum, allowing for reasonable separation between the breasts. If the gore floats above the breast tissue, you’re wearing the wrong size.
Kaylin adds that the shape of the wire helps protect your breasts. “You should really never feel the wire casing,” Kaylin says. “If you do, it will cause irritation in the long run.”