Finding a Bra That Fits

Masquerade Brasseire

I’ve recently lost a bit of weight, which is good for my health and I did it intentionally, but it also means my clothes have become a bit baggy. This only bothers me with one item of clothing: Brassieres. My over the shoulder boulder holders stopped performing properly, needing constant adjustment throughout the day, and there’s nothing worse than having to constantly readjust to stop your bazooms falling out the bottom of your underwire, not just because this is difficult to do while wearing clothing but also because of the concern you create in others that you may be a pervert who can’t keep your hands off your own funbags. Most normal people would take themselves off and buy some new bras that didn’t threaten to dump their knockers out whenever an arm was lifted overhead. But I stalled, because my history with bra shopping is a bit tortured.

Masquerade Brasseire The first time I bought a bra my prudery would not allow for anyone to measure me, or check the fit, so I tried a heap on and sort of guessed: 14B. I guessed wrong. The first time I actually asked for any help in bra fitting the lady saw me do up the hooks to the tightest and told me I was most likely a 12C. She didn’t actually measure me, but what she did do was tell me that the bra I liked was a bad fit for me and returned with ten of the ugliest bras in the store. To her credit I thought they fit, but they weren’t at all flattering. I bought one, but I didn’t wear it much, preferring instead the prettier ones I bought later. I’ve since avoided getting help lest I be talked into buying another hideous bra I will not wear. Sales people will not accept ‘but it’s ugly’ as a rejection of underwear. ‘No one will see it,’ they chime. Well, I will see it and it doesn’t matter if I put an evening dress over it I will feel like a frump all day when I wear a bra that looks like a sea creature crawled out of a horror movie to support my breasts.

Stubbornly I took myself off to a boutique that stocked the bra I wanted and tried it on there. But the sales person told me it was too small and continued to size up the cup, to my eyes this bra looked much too large (I wasn’t readjusting myself at all at this stage, just sticking the bra on my body and letting things stay where they stayed).

Since that experience I considered myself a tricky fit and bra shopping, (particularly for a skin coloured bra that is my skin colour and not tandoori tan) has mostly consisted of trying on five or so bras without alerting sales folks and buying the one that fit or none of them.

I was measured once more at an underwear party after I put on some weight and was sold a 14C, and was told to put the bra on while leaning forward. This bra fit well until I lost weight. I also stalled the process because I was trying on the 12Cs I already owned and they weren’t fitting either. I thought I was between sizes, and that meant that no bra would actually fit.

I was lamenting my situation to my sister when she mentioned that she found a blog post explaining how a bra should fit, how to measure yourself at home and how to put a bra on properly. I was sceptical, I had been measured, I had bras in the past that seemed to fit and I thought were comfortable, how could I possibly be wearing the wrong size?

I measured myself according to the instructions, one measurement just under the breasts for the band size, and then around the largest part while leaning forward for the cup. I entered the information into the calculator, 34DD. First I found a size converter to bring it back to an Australian size, 12DD. That couldn’t be right, double-D are supposed to be large, like noticeably large, like men staring, women wondering if you’re having back problems large. Mine aren’t that, they’re average, any largeness they have is due to the fact that I was a size 12 and not an 8. I could not believe that, I remeasured, I measured standing up (which put me into the D category which I also couldn’t believe). The calculator had to be wrong. I told my sister so, she responded (as only older sisters can), “Well if you’re just going to ignore the results it’s a pointless exercise.”

Chastised by this I went bra shopping, armed with the information as to how a bra should fit, but I made sure I grabbed a 12C and a 12D as well as the 12DD to compare fits to make sure I wasn’t having some kind of brain haemorrhage in thinking I could fill out a DD cup. I put on the bra as per instructions, leaning forward, scooping my boobs into the cups. When I stood up I expected the bra to be gaping rather seriously at the front, but like magic my breast were filling it out, and over spilling. This bra, was actually a little small. I tried on a few more bras but didn’t find one that fit and also was a good skin colour.

I was a bit restricted by the size selection in the more visually pleasing bras, but the ones I did fit were a 12DD. So we went to a boutique that carries a wider range of sizes. I asked the attendant for a skin colour bra in a 12DD mainly because I needed reassurance that this was the right size. To my surprise she did not look me up and down and say, “There’s no way that’s your size, let me measure you.” She went off and produced two very pretty skin colour bras in a 12DD, I tried them on, let her come in to check the fit, I sized up in one of them because the brand was a small make but she said the other one fit perfectly. This was the reassurance I needed to actually believe that this up-size was not some magical illusion that would fade as soon as I took the bra home.I was still in a small state of disbelief though, how could I have been measured as a C-cup in the past and suddenly now be two sizes larger?

How I thought a bra was supposed to sit on my chest

How I thought a bra was supposed to sit on my chest

I found out the answer.

First of all, I actually didn’t know how a bra was supposed to fit, I was under some kind of strange impression that the cups should fit as if the bra was laying on a flat table. Wrong. Breasts don’t start at the front they actually start slightly under your arm and that’s where the wire should end. Second of all, I thought that if I slouched my shoulders and the cups gaped even slightly this meant that the cup was too big, ridiculous really, seeing as I don’t walk around with my shoulders pushed forward, and when I pulled my shoulders back to their natural position the bra goes back to fitting perfectly. In fact only bras with stretchy, unmoulded cups will stay in place while I contort my chest into strange positions to prove the bra doesn’t fit me, and I don’t like that sort due to the danger of highbeam. Thirdly I had always been measured while wearing a bra, which meant that they were measuring the cup size of the bra I was wearing rather than my actual cup size.

In retrospect there were signs I was wearing the wrong size, the sales attendant who told me I needed a 12DD but had not told me to stick my hand in my cup and pull some of my breast into the cup to properly fill it. Also since being told to put my bra on leaning forward I would do so, and then proceed to tuck whatever spilled out the top back in, believing this step was necessary because of the way my breasts were shaped rather than admitting the bra might be too small. I had been assuming that because my breasts did not look large without a bra that I couldn’t be a large cup size. It’s funny really, I’ve always thought that I wasn’t one of those people caught up with label size, I size up when it’s too small and down when it’s too big without much angst. I laughed at the idiocy of a woman in a change room next to me who said that the size 8 jeans were too small and when asked if she would like the 10 responded incredulously, “No I’ll die before I’m fat enough to fit into the size ten!” And yet here I was, wearing the wrong size bra for years because of the value judgement of a letter that represents cup size.

There are a couple of things that have changed since my bra size epiphany. I’ve found that now I have worn a 12DD I can’t wear my old 12Cs that I thought fit a week earlier. The side of the underwire digs in a bit and the girls just don’t feel supported at all. Basically now that I know what a well fitting bra actually feels like, I can’t go back. I am, however, going to wait until I’m at my goal weight before I buy any more bras. The five I’ve got should see me till then. Then I will remeasure and retry, I suspect I may drop a band size, a cup size or both by the time I get there. Also I feel a lot less forthcoming about telling people my bra size (aside from declaring it on the internet here) due to the fear that they’ll assume (like I did) that a DD should mean juicier mangoes than I have. But I won’t let that stop me wearing a bra that fits.

I have seriously educated myself on breast shape and size, reading nearly every link that came from this site and then the links from those links. I can recommend this site for finding your shape, this one if you want to see some photos (NSFW) of how much of a difference the swoop and scoop method can make. This one for some images of how a bra should fit (NSFW). And this one if you measure a cup size a D or above and are having trouble believing it (also probably not safe for work). I had believed that I was in the right fit for so long and this time I would not stop until I was entirely sure what a good fit was.

Most of the sites I looked at were American so I was curious to see what Australian brasserie manufacturers had to say about my size. Both Berlei and Bendon size calculators put me in the same size 16A, huh, this sounded like pure nuttery to me, but hey, so did 12DD so I decided to go try one on. Or at least I would have if I could find one, neither companies actually manufacture a bra that size, so I tried on the next best thing, a 16B in the Berlei Barely There, (I couldn’t find a 16B in a Bendon bra). Which in no way, shape or form fit me, well the cups kind of did but the band was so big that I could pull it a good fifteen centimetres away from my body and easily fit both my fists inside. I probably would have gotten a third fist in there if I had one. I also tried the same bra in a 12DD and it fit quite well, and to Berlei’s credit was very comfortable. I didn’t buy it though, due to my preference of pretty bras.

The reason why so many women wear the wrong size bra seems much more explainable now, no one can agree on how to calculate size. Apparently there is a method where you add four inches to your underbust measurement to get your band size. Why I need an extra 10 centimetres in my bra where I don’t in my T-Shirt is a bit of a mystery to me. If I took 10 centimetres off my underbust size and put it into the Berlei calculator the results matched up to a 12DD. Coincidence? I think not.

Also a lot of sites tell you to measure with a ‘well fitting bra.’ Umm, isn’t the reason why you’re measuring is because you’re trying to find what one is? It makes the process an impossible puzzle if you need a well fitting bra to find a well fitting bra.

Some other sites recommended measuring your band by measuring above your breasts and under your arms, and taking the inch measurement as your size, ie. A 34inch would be a 34 size which is a 12. There was only a centimetre difference between this and my underbust measurement which surprised me but essentially put me at the same size.

The other intensely irritating issue is that international size tables vary wildly. The one on wikipedia said a 12 band was equivalent to a 36, which I’m pretty sure is wrong seeing as all of those little labels on my bras that have the sizes in different countries say that a 12 is a 34 equivalent. Also there is a large variance on whether Australia conforms to the UK or US cup measurements. All I can really say definitively on the matter is that the bra size converter I used seemed to be accurate for my size.

bra2I started this bra size journey thinking that I was wearing the wrong bra size because I was too small minded to believe I could fit a D cup. Now I think the reason why nearly every woman is wearing the wrong size is because finding the right size is like swatting about for a fly in the dark.

So what can a girl do in this world of uncertain measurement and inconsistent size? Is finding the correct bra even possible? Well I think it just might be and will share some advice for any one who might be wearing the wrong sized bra, learn from Jessica’s Brassiere Odyssey.

If you wear a size larger in band size than your top size then there is a high chance you are wearing the wrong size bra. And I mean in average top sizes, if you tend to wear small make clothing then you might very well be a size smaller in the band than the top you usually wear. Try the next band size down and cup size up, or better yet, actually measure yourself first.

Familiarise yourself with the ‘swoop and scoop’ method, this makes sure all your breast tissue is in the cup and not mashed under your band. If you think you have a problem with the band creating a back fat line around your side this may be the actual culprit. A too small band size will actually be noticeably uncomfortable. I tried some 10’s on to test this theory and felt like I was being squeezed by a bra shaped boa constrictor. Be careful of too small cups leading you to believe the band is too small though.

If you’re not comfortable getting your tatas out in front of a lingerie salesperson, measure yourself at home and take the measurements into the store. If you can’t get the tape measure in the right place yourself, get a friend you feel comfortable being topless in front of and get them to help. You can even stand with your back to them the entire time. Some people say you absolutely need another person to measure you to get the tape in the right place/ measure you with your arms down, but I think it’s much better to get a measurement that might be one or two centimetres off than one that is essentially measuring the bra you are wearing rather than the one you might need.

Go to a department store or a boutique that carries a wide variety of sizes, I personally like boutiques better because you often get more assistance from the salesperson than you can at understaffed department stores.

Get a sales person to check the fit of your bra, but choose a wide variety of bras YOU like before you start trying on, there are some styles that suit different shapes, and don’t let them bully you into buying a bra that fits but you don’t want.

Also be wary of sales attendants who want to fit you into a size they have on hand, particularly if you measure a band below 32/10 or a cup size above a D. I’m not sure why bra manufacturers think women who are size 8 don’t need bras, but even the manufacturers who do make a 30/8 band size probably have trouble getting stores to stock them. There are some really difficult to find bra sizes out there and you have my eternal sympathy if you are one of those. Apparently carrying limited sizes is a good way to make money… But there is hope in this day and age, we have this wonderful thing called the internet where we have access to a lot of options. So if you measure a certain size, can’t find that size in store, and try a whole heap of sizes around it and none of them fit satisfactorily, do make the effort to find a speciality store online with a good returns policy before you relegate yourself to wearing an ill fitting bra for the rest of your life. Also remember, stores order stock based on what sells the most, so if less people are buying the wrong sized standard bra maybe eventually they’ll start stocking a wider variety of sizes. Vote with your wallet.

Never ever compare the way a bra fits on you to the models in lingerie commercials. First of all, most of them are clearly wearing a bra that is too small, second of all their breasts have been digitally altered to appear like they fit the bra and have been airbrushed within an inch of their lives. If you don’t look like the model you’re not weird, you’re just not digital.

Don’t keep buying the same bra size when your weight changes/ breasts change etc. Often I’ve found when I’ve put on weight my old bras still feel comfortable because they have stretched with me, but when I go to buy new ones the same size just doesn’t quite work. Remeasure and recheck with any fluctuation.

Don’t be afraid to stray from the measurements if the bra does not fit. Clearly measuring for size is a loose guideline, women differ in shape as well as size and if you’re happy with the fit of bra that isn’t supposed to fit your measurements then wear it. Just be wary of stubbornly wearing the wrong size because you can’t get your head around the letter and number.

Have you had trouble finding a bra that fits? Do you have any advice for finding a well fitting bra?

  • John James

    This is such a cool post! I learnt so much! :)

    (Not that I’ll need to use that knowledge personally.)

    I love how “scientific” this all is… kind of makes me wish I had some boobs of my own, because all this measuring and selecting and “swoop and scoop” sounds like awesome fun!!

    I guess the only male equivalent is whether to dress to the left or right… 😉

    • iamevilcupcake

      You could always do a post on the science of the mankini?

      • John James

        Cuppy, if you want to see me in a Mankini, you just have to ask! 😉

        • iamevilcupcake

          Purely for science JJ.

  • iamevilcupcake

    This worries me somewhat. I’m a DD now, and based on this post (which is freaking fabulous by the way) it’s quite possible my cup size is bigger.


    It’s hard enough finding nice bras for me now, but what if I’m really a FF or something? They don’t make nice bras that size do they?

    And I completely get the whole wanting to wear a nice bra for yourself. There is something awesome about knowing that under your dress or top there is a really sexy bra.

    • Kris

      I just this week got fitted for a bra cause I don’t have a decent one to wear under shirts etc. I thought I was 16DD/E. Turns out for the brand and style I got, 16FF. But in a different brand/style/cut I would be something different. Don’t rely on one size – as with all clothes, they vary. Try them on.

  • Melissa Savage

    Yes to this! Once you start wearing the correct size bra, you can NEVER go back. I just wish I got my sizing sorted before the age of 27.

    I do almost all my bra shopping online, and I’m such a fan of the US/UK system. A 32 is a 32 everywhere. The cup size, however, is a different matter. I’ve usually got by just fine with taking the difference in inches between my ribcage measurement and the measurement around the fullest part of the bust and going up the alphabet. However some American brands have a DDD and most brands have a GG and some have FFs too. Because Bravissimo it THE place for the busty gal, and I seem to be consistent in their sizes, I will talk in terms of those. So I was a 32G for years until my recent weight gain, where I went up to a 32/10 H, which is two sizes up because of the GG thing. I only have two bras in my ‘new’ size, one sports bra from Bravissimo and one regular bra from Australian store Lin & Barrett, because I’ve been short on money and a new bra costs me $50 minimum, and also because I hope I get back to my normal size soon (leave me alone in my delusions; I’m happy here!)

    When I went to Lin & Barrett, weirdly, they only had one 10H available because it is ‘their most popular size’. Good grief!!

    • Jessica Chapman

      I really wish I had actually asked for some help the first time I got a bra, then I may have had a better chance of getting the size right much earlier than now.

      Cup size is so confusing once you get past a D, one of my favourite brands didn’t have a DD, they just used an E as the equivalent. It would be really good if there was some semblance of standardisation.

  • SonjaLouise

    So I’m a 14/16 G/GG/H depending on the brand.
    Like Melissa, I do most of my bra shopping online too – mainly because it’s either a) impossible to find my size in Australia or b) I have to take out a small mortgage to buy one. Seriously. I basic t-shirt bra will usually set me back $90 if I buy it in Australia, but about $50 including shipping if I buy it from the UK. I honestly don’t understand why Australian retailers don’t stock or charge HEAPS more for larger sizes! (Don’t even get me started on places that claim to have the perfect fit for everyone…when their sizing stops at an E cup).

    So yes, for me it’s mostly trial and error. I have problems with measuring my bust, because it doesn’t, you know, sit where it’s supposed to (so I wouldn’t get an accurate measurement). I know what size I am in what overseas brands, and I usually put in an order with mum to save on the postage.

    Now, if only I could find some *inexpensive* tops that can deal with my boobs, but also with the fact that I have tiny shoulders….

    • Kris

      Try Casa Mia at Fairy Meadow next time you’re down this way. The way I figure it, I paid for the fitting help and advice as well as the bra itself. They’re great.

    • Jessica Chapman

      And then Australian retailers complain that they’re having trouble selling stuff… Well maybe they should look at the sizes they stock.

      I feel really lucky that I’m still in the more standard sizes and that most brands go up to a DD, I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to wear some of my favourite brands any more. It really annoys me that some brands/ stores advertise that most women are wearing the wrong size and then would fit them into a size that was wrong because they had it on hand in order to sell more. I suppose it makes sense that some of the retailers aren’t doing very well because more people are going to the internet.

  • Monique Fischle

    I am a 10E and let me tell you, shopping for this size is so annoying. I can only find in Bras N Things, Myer and DJs (if I’m lucky) and it’s usually about $50-60 on average per bra. I can buy from Victoria’s Secret but only a 12/34DD so it’s not as supportive.

    Despite having this annoying size (seriously, my body shape is annoying to buy for as I have a smaller upper back and waist but big boobs and then decent sized hips) wearing a bra that fits properly is the best thing ever. One of my most comfortable bras is an Intimo bra but at $90, I won’t be buying them often.

    My measure for a good bra is one that I feel supported in but that doesn’t feel like it’s too tight.

    • Jessica Chapman

      One of my favourites was an Intimo one, but it was a 14 and but soon as I lost a bit of weight the band became too big.

      I often have a bit of trouble with dresses being too big in the waist or too small in the chest (more so when I am a healthy weight). My least favourite thing is in some brands the cuts for the larger size are disproportionally bigger in the waist than the hips or chest and it just ends up looking like you are wearing a sack. I have more trouble with skirts than tops though.

      I think my biggest problem with bra shopping previously was that I didn’t actually know what properly supported felt like, now that I do I will never go back.

  • Saloma James

    Thanks for sharing informative post. I am plus size women and it is really difficult to find plus size bras in retail stores. Recently i come to know about DD to k cup collection at Isabella passion and i liked it

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