So here’s one for today, and something that can be very confusing… Did you know that more than half of us are wearing the wrong size bra at this very moment? And also, did you know that the tension headache you keep getting could be the result of an ill-fitting bra? This is exactly what I (Lilly Laudanum) found out last week when I realised that, even though I’ve gone up a couple of dress-sizes, I had not reviewed my bra size… I’ve also been re-making a fellow belly dancer’s bra as the cup size was way too big and realised that she might be wearing the wrong cup size in general… So, here’s a few things about our everyday bra sizes (we’ll get on to show bras in a bit..)
As you will see, there are two measurements you need to take into account when dealing with bras and the cup size can be the most confusing one. But getting this right will instantly make us look slimmer if the cup size we are wearing is supportive enough and will make our clothes fit and look nicer.
We are really lucky these days, that bra manufacturers have recognised that bras come in cup sizes as well as band sizes. In the late 80s, C cup sizes were just beginning to filter into mainstream retail – before then, sizes only came in A, AA, B and BB. A few years later the D cup came in and now you can buy right up to a JJ or more. The cup size is the size of the breast. The cup should fit closely over the breast without wrinkling, and should give a slight lift or feel supporting. If you can look down into the cup and see gaps (particularly with the padded or stiffer cupped bras) or if the edge of the cup pushes in or cuts across the breast (giving a slight four-boobs appearance) then you have the wrong size (the cup is too big or too small). Also confusing is which part the breast tissue actually is. Some of the more cuddlier of us might be tempted to count the underarm area as part of the breast tissue but this is not part of the cup. An underwire bra and a sturdy band will correct this (the underwire will push forwards any real breast tissue).
The band size is the 34 / 36 / 38 and so on. This is the measurement around your ribcage, under your breasts, where the bottom of the (normal, not long line) bra falls. Make sure you aren’t breathing in and that the tape measure is level all the way around and round it up by the nearest even inch – eg: I measured 33.5, so I would probably need a 34… On the whole, the rule is if the measurement is odd either round up or round down to the nearest even inch, and to try on the bra to get the exact fit (eg 35″ measurement might be a 34 band or 36 band depending on manufacturer and style). Remember, it’s the band size that does most of the work supporting your boobs, not the shoulder straps, so getting the right size band is very important.
Six quick ways to tell if your bra doesn’t fit:
- The back band is riding up and doesn’t sit level with the front around your ribcage – you are wearing a band size that is too big for you. Try a smaller band size
- Too much cleavage / boobs being cut in two / underwire not sitting next to ribcage, but lifted so it sits on the breast tissue at the side – you have the wrong cup size, you need a bigger cup.
- The bra band (the gore – where the two cups meet on the band) is lifted up between the boobs or does not sit properly against the body – your band size is too big, you need a smaller size
- Saggy / wrinkly / gapping if a more solid cup / space in the cup – your cup size is too big, try a smaller cup size
- Baggy / hanging boobs / boobs hanging onto the body / straps falling down your arm – you need to adjust the straps as they are too loose. Bras should support and give a slight lift to the breast tissue, tighten your straps so the breast tissue is lifted off your body. Check your band size too – if you can easily fit more than two fingers under the band, it is too loose.
- You have a persistent headache when you wear a certain bra – your straps and back band are too tight and you may need to go up a band size (obviously if the headache still persists, you may need to visit the Dr as it could be something else!)
So how do you calculate the right bra size?
There is a method to this but it is not always reliable so use it as a guide and try on a few cup sizes around your given measurement… and know this: most women have one boob larger than the other, so if you also notice this, it’s entirely normal. So, you already have your band measurement (the measurement before rounding it up or down). Now, take the tape and measure around the back and over the fullest part of the breasts. This means putting the tape measure over the nipple area. Don’t be tempted to pull tight and make sure it’s not too loose so it doesn’t slip down as you want the natural measurement. Now, take the band measurement from this measurement and the difference should give you your approximate cup size –
less than an inch – AA
1 inch – A
2 inches – B
3 inches – C
4 inches – D
5 inches – DD
6 inches – E
(and so on). We also say ‘rough’ size as sometimes this method doesn’t work depending on the style of bra, so the best bet is to grab what you think is your cup size and a cup size either side and try on. You can’t beat a bit of trying on for the best fit.
To get the best fit possible, head for a shop that stocks all sizes and cup sizes and ask for a fitting. Shop assistants are fully trained in fitting bras and if you head for a large department store that doesn’t just stock own brand bras, but a variety of makes and sizes, you will probably get a more accurate measurement.
Show bras are a bit more tricky to get the right size. If you are handy with a needle, you can easily cover a well fitting bra and decorate (don’t forget to stretch out the elastic part as you cover and sew on any embellishment!), but if you want to buy a show bra, particularly a hard-based (when you rap on it, it sounds solid) belly dance bra, there’s not much leeway in size. but there are things you can do to help it fit better. Firstly, you can move the hooks on non-stretch bands quite easily. You can also convert non-stretch straps that are too tight into halters by unpicking them from the back of the band and adding hooks so they can be fastened behind the neck. Cup size can be a bit more of a problem. If the cups are too big, you can add padding on the inside of the cup at the bottom, outer quarter (if you are looking at a clock, this would be the 4pm – 7pm area of the R boob, and the 8pm – 5pm area of the L). you can add padding with specially bought chicken fillets or make your own custom padding out of anything from foam or sponge (for quite a bit of padding) to wadding for a more subtle padding. Converting a too-small bra to a bigger show bra which will cover more of your modesty can be more of a problem, but it is possible to add fabric around the top edge of the cup to make them bigger. Here I’ve just added some contrasting fabric and beads in a rouche across the top – I also added the fabric and beads elsewhere on the costume (on the matching skirt) so it looks like it wasn’t just an add on.
Looking after your boobs will look after you!
Apparently Tina turner always wears a bra – even in bed. She once said in an interview that that is the key to having perky breasts as you get older. It’s probably true! As when we get older everything drops naturally. The elasticity goes out of our skin and giving your boobs support will help keep everything in place for longer. Also, wearing the right band size and keeping your straps at the right tension will help to avoid stooping shoulders, which can sometimes happen over time when straps are too tight or too loose.
Some of us feel embarrassed of our breast size and some walk with a slight hunch to disguise this embarrassment. Learn to walk tall and hold yourself upright whatever your size. You’ll thank yourself later in life.