How to Buy a Bra

A brand-new bra is one of life's simple pleasures. At least it should be. According to the internet it's not for a lot of you because the internet says that more than half of all women are wearing the wrong bra size. Ouch! I consider myself a bit of a bra expert - I started wearing a training bra in the third grade so I've been wearing bras for a looong time. And during my college years I worked for Victoria's Secret and ended up helping hundreds of women over the years find a bra that ACTUALLY FIT. My favorite part of that job was hearing women say how much better they felt in a bra that fit!  True story: one time my great-aunt broke her leg and I bought her a push-up bra to cheer her up. It worked!

1. Find a great bra fitter.

Notice I did not say "go get measured by whichever random person is working in the lingerie department that day" and I did not say "measure yourself according to instructions you found on the internet". You might get lucky and find the right size this way, but if you are a D-cup or larger, you probably need an expert. How can you find a great fitter? You can a) ask your friends & family for recommendations or b) call the lingerie department (this could be Victoria's Secret, a specialty bra store, department store, etc.) and ask who their best bra fitter is and when they are working next, so you can come in then and ask for them by name. In my experience, the best bra fitters tend to work during the day and do take a break for lunch, so keep that in mind. A great bra fitter will have a lot of experience fitting a lot of different sizes and body shapes - and honey, she's seen it all, so don't feel embarrassed about your armpit fat. (I can't tell you how many women asked me about their armpit fat - YES almost everyone has it, and NO it doesn't look bad!)

2. Think about what you want in a bra - and don't be afraid to ask for it.

Don't know the difference between a demi and a balconet? That's okay if you don't know the lingo - a good bra fitter/salesperson will still be able to help. Just tell her what you like about your favorite bra, or what your ideal bra would do. At VS we used to use the phrase "what do you want your bra to do for you?" There's no wrong answer - it could be "look bigger than an A cup", "minimize these crazy girls", "no show through when the air conditioning kicks on", "hold these 42-longs up", "make me feel sexy", "be invisible under white tees" or any number of responses. Be sure to mention any problems you're having - like straps slipping off your shoulders, or if you're concerned about back fat (hey, it happens to the best of us!). Maybe you're looking for something that won't show under t-shirts, or maybe you're looking for something lacy. With so many bra options these days, giving specifics can help narrow down your search quickly.

3. Try on, Try on, Try on again.

From my own experience, I can tell you that bra measuring is NOT an exact science. Some people are easy to fit - you measure them and the size you come up with fits great. Others, you may have to try on a few different sizes to find the one that fits. True story: I once measured an older woman whose daughter brought her in. I measured her as a C-cup, gave her a bra in her size to try on. Too small. D cup: too small. Finally we got her in a DD cup, and as her daughter put it when we "rolled everything up where it should be" we finally found the right size!

Once you've figured out your size and a few potential styles to try, it's time to head to the fitting room. If it's been a while since I've been bra shopping, or I'm trying a new brand, I always grab two sizes per style, just in case. I usually grab my normal size and my "sister size". What is a sister size, you ask? Simply put, it's the size you will get the most similar fit in, if you go up or down a band size. For example, if you measure at a 34D, but that feels too tight, try on a 36C. Or, if you measure at a 34D and the band feels too loose, you should try a 32DD.

If you aren't sure if it's fitting right, please ask the bra fitter. This is why step #1 is so important. An experienced fitter will quickly be able to tell if it fits, and help adjust your bra to get the best fit. Getting a comfortable fit could be as simple as tightening the straps or loosening the band. It's really hard to adjust your own bra straps once it's on, and any bra fitter is happy to help.  It may feel awkward to have a complete stranger see you in your underwear, but think of it like the doctor's office: this person is just doing their job, has seen many different bodies and almost nothing will phase them.

I have found that sizes run slightly different depending on the brand, and can definitely run different depending on the style. For example: sometimes boob spillage (technical term) means you need to go up a cup size, but sometimes you just need to find a different style that covers the breast differently. Maybe you need a deeper cup, a cup that stretches a bit as opposed to a molded cup, or one that cups up higher on the sides. So don't despair if it takes a while to find what works - take note of what you like and don't like about each bra you try on, and soon you'll find what looks best on you. Sometimes it just takes patience and trying on a lot of bras, and a good fitter will guide you through the process.

Speaking of bra styles, that really needs its own post, so watch out for that soon!

Ordered bras online or can't find the bra fitter? See my post about common bra problems for tips to help you get the right fit on your own.

4. Keep your receipt in your bra drawer.

And while you're at it, keep the tags on and wear the bra around the house for a couple of hours before cutting them off. Bras are kind of like shoes. Sometimes it seems like it fits well in the store, but then you get it home and after wearing it around for a few hours it becomes clear that it just doesn't fit. Maybe the band starts riding up because you really do need go to down in the band size -- or the opposite, you realize it's just too tight even on the loosest hook. Or maybe it rides up when you bend over. Or maybe it rips the first time you wash it. All of this is really frustrating when you just shelled out $50 or more for a new bra. Check the return policy of where you bought it, but most places will let you exchange a bra that you're not happy with if it is within a certain period of time, even if you've worn it. Just ask nicely and bring the receipt. True story: sometimes associates are hesitant to do a return for you because it counts against their sales for the day. I still remember the day our sales were approximately negative $300 due to several returns and no sales yet and my boss was coming in soon - I started to panic inside, obviously! If you start out by saying "exchange for a different one" rather than "return/refund" you'll put them at ease and probably find it easier to get what you want.

I hope you enjoyed today's class at Fashion School! Be sure to comment below or contact me with any bra questions - I might feature your question in an upcoming post!

And if you like it, be sure to pin it!

And click the image to see my other post about bras:


Common Bra Problems (and how to fix them)

Bras. If you wear 'em, you've had problems with 'em. Bad bras are frustrating, unflattering, uncomfortable and downright depressing. Good bras are uplifting, flattering, comfortable--but almost impossible to find. With so many different sizes and styles to choose from, it can be hard to find one that works. But don't fret-today I've got some basic fixes for some pretty common bra problems. And stay tuned in the coming weeks for more posts to help you find the right bra for you!

Bra problem #1: Straps slipping off your shoulder

Possible causes: Wrong size bra, wrong style for body type, sloping shoulders

First try: tightening the bra straps. Tighten them before you put on the bra, or have someone help you after you put it on. I usually start with a little tighter knowing it will slip during the day a bit.

If that doesn't work: Time to replace the bra. If the bra is older than 6 months, it's time for a new bra. Bras do stretch out, especially if you're bigger than a B cup.

Still not working: You need to find a different style. Try a racerback bra. A full coverage might work, but definitely avoid balconets and demis.

Bra problem #2: Bra rides up in back. 

Possible causes: Wrong size band, bra is stretched-out, straps are too tight.

First try: Try loosening the straps a bit and tightening your band hooks. If you're already on the smallest set of hooks, read on.

If that doesn't work: If simple adjustments don't work, it's likely time for a new bra. Since I know I'm in the right size, this usually tells me it's time for a new bra. Bras do stretch out over time, and it seems like the bigger your breasts are, the faster it happens.

Still not working: You need a different size and/or style. Most likely you need to go down in band size, and you may need a style that provides more support from the band and less from the straps.

Bra problem #3: Double bubble, spillage, whatever you call it - boobs comin' out the top.

Possible causes: Wrong size (durr), wrong cup style for body

First try: Make sure you are in the right size, spillage is often caused by a too-small cup size, but if your band size is wrong it can throw the whole thing off. Also, don't forget to adjust when putting your bra on in the morning - make sure the girls are situated into the bra. One trick: bend over after you put on the bra to help get them in all the way!

If that doesn't work: Try a different style. Some have more "coverage" than others, even if they are the same size. A full-coverage style is going to come up a bit higher and help prevent overflow. Online shopping tip: try searching for "full-figured styles" or "perfect coverage" to find a full-coverage bra.

Still not working: Molded bra cups are great for wearing with t-shirts, but for busty girls, it can be hard to get a proper fit. Try a style with seams on the front - they will help give a nice, natural shape and reduce the amount of "spillage".

Bra problem #4: Underwire is poking you -- or poking out of the bra!

Possible causes: wrong size, wrong style - probably both, cheap bra, or just time to replace.

First try: It *might* be a manufacturer's defect, in which case try to dig up the receipt and take it back where you got it - depending on the retailer's return policy, you might be able to exchange it for a new one. I recently did this when it happened about 2 months after I bought a bra, and since I had the receipt I was able to exchange it for a new one. If your bra is over six months old, it's just time to pony up for a new bra.

If that doesn't work: For the love of diamonds quit shopping in the tween/teen bra section. This includes the PINK bra collection from Victoria's Secret, the entire Aerie brand and the Xhiliration brand at Target. The prices are attractive, but the sizes and fits are designed specificially for still-in-puberty bodies - if you've had a kid or two, your breasts are going to need the structure and support that a bra from the juniors' section just can't provide.

Still not working: Have I mentioned that you need to get the right size? If you have too-small cups or too-small band, your breast is probably pushing on one side of the underwire, which makes it poke out the other end. Or you could be in the right size but another style or brand would work better with your exact dimensions.

Hope you enjoyed today's class here at Fashion School! If you have a bra dilemna, be sure to chime in below in the comments - I'll answer your question in our next class!

And if you like it, be sure to pin it!

Click image below for my follow-up post with tons of tips for bra shopping:

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{all images via victoriassecret.com)