Who doesn’t remember that awkward moment when your mom took you to the local department store to buy your first bra? You walked into a vast sea of nude and blush-colored brassieres and passed by shockingly large cup sizes that could hold watermelons—a far cry from your humble set.
And the person to help you find the right bra for your newly perky breasts? An elderly lady, peering down at you over the reading glasses perched on her nose, measuring tape in hand. Even though her attitude was one of “I’ve seen it all before, honey” you felt mortified, anxious and overwhelmed. And if you step into a department store today to pick up a new bra, chances are, not much has changed since then.
Sure, now that training bras are in your distant past, you probably pop into Victoria’s Secret instead and pick up a sexy bra or two, but the person helping you this time around is most likely about 20 years old and has no clue about how a good bra should fit. Without a bra fit specialist to guide you or knowing what to look for in a good bra when you’re flying solo, it’s no surprise that most women are wearing the wrong size bra, according to “the bra whisperer” Susan Nethero, owner of Intimacy intimate apparel stores.
Considering how many hours you log in a bra each day, that's a lot of time to spend feeling downright uncomfortable. According to a survey of 60,000 women conducted by Intimacy, “we found that nearly two-thirds of women struggle with fit issues relative to comfort,” says Nethero. The survey also revealed that nearly 50 percent of women would like more support from their bras and that one in three women are concerned about bra straps and underwire digging into their skin, as well as straps that won’t stay put.
But wearing an unsupportive bra isn’t merely annoying. It can make you look heavier than you are and more importantly, can cause your breasts to sag, especially if you have a large chest. “No question that the larger the breasts are—whether from your genes, pregnancy or obesity—the faster they will sag,” says Arthur Perry, M.D., YouBeauty Cosmetic Surgery Expert. “The benefit of wearing a good bra is that the sagging and stretching of the tissues is lessened. When breasts are allowed to droop, you get a pulling on the skin. This stimulates the fibroblasts, which are pressure-sensitive cells that make collagen, to make more skin and contributes to drooping of the breast. The advantage of wearing a bra is that you get less stretch and less droopy breasts over time.”
Rather than walking around with deflated balloons on your chest (although, as Bobby Brown once said, that’s your prerogative), why not kiss bad bras goodbye and start your own “bravolution”? Follow Nethero’s uplifting tips for finding the perfect fit—and maintaining your investment...
Look for the telltale signs of a proper fit. The best way to find the perfect bra is to have a one-on-one fitting with a bra specialist in a store that offers a wide range of bra sizes beyond DD (stores can only sell you what they have, even if it means recommending that you squeeze into a too-small bra). Your cup shouldn’t runneth over because it’s too small—or wrinkle or gap at the top because it’s too big. Instead, the right bra will cup most of your breast and keep your set firmly in place. It should also separate your breasts by about an inch. If you wear underwire bras, the wire should rest against your rib cage and not pull away from the body, according to Nethero.
Think your bra support comes from the straps? Think again. “A good bra provides breast support from the band [across your ribs]—only 10 percent of the support should come from the bra straps,” she Nethero. In other words, if you slip off the bra straps, you shouldn’t notice a significant slump in your breasts; the bra should still be supportive even without the straps. Also, if you’re looking at yourself in a mirror from the side, the bra’s bottom band should form a straight line or the back can be an inch lower than the front of your bra. “When the bra angles up your back that will cause the cups to fall down,” she says.
Don’t sweat the sizing. If a bra fit specialist tells you that you’re actually a 32 E (yes, E), despite the fact that you’ve been wearing a 34 D for a decade, don’t sweat the sizing. It may come as a shock that you’re bigger (or in some cases, smaller) than you were led to believe, but it makes sense that there would be a range of cup sizes that go beyond the typical A, B, C, D. After all, clothing doesn’t just run in sizes 0 to 6, so why should your bra? As with clothing, don't get hung up on numbers, just focus on the best fit.
Start out firm. Although you want your bras to feel good on, you don’t want a brand-new bra to be too comfortable from the get-go. “You want it firm around the body and on the first hook so you have two to three hooks to go as the bra stretches,” says Nethero. “You want a bra that hugs and holds you because you wear them 14 to 16 hours a day.” In other words, like your best friend, you want your bra to deliver continuous support and be able to grow with you over time.
Have a variety of bras. Nearly 70 percent of women wear four bras or fewer, according to the Intimacy survey, and 40 percent wear only two bras or fewer. But bras are like shoes (and we’re betting you have more than four pairs of those)—you need to rotate them every day to prevent your bras from wearing out too quickly and to let them breathe. So how many boulder-holders should you own? “Ideally, seven to ten, but that’s a large number,” says Nethero. “Women have too few bras that they actually wear—and a lot sitting in their drawers that are a waste of money because they are uncomfortable. If you have five working bras in your wardrobe that you actually wear, that’s good.”
Nethero recommends stocking your bra arsenal with two nude bras (one of which should be strapless), one black or dark t-shirt bra and two to three fashion bras—a plunging bra (to wear with cleavage-revealing clothes like deep v-necks and wrap dresses), a sexy date bra (such as a sheer or pretty lace bra for when you’re getting a little somethin’-somethin’) and if you need it, a push-up bra. It’s also important to have a supportive activewear bra for working out. Go for one that is sized by cup size and ditch the traditional compression-based sports bra that gives you a uniboob. “When you compress the tissue, it causes the breasts to move together as a solid block of tissue and is not supporting the breast,” says Nethero. “It damages the tissue at the base of the breast.”
Know when to say buh-bye to your bras. Be honest, do you have bras in your drawer that are older than your 10-year-old dog? If so, it’s probably time to toss them. Bras that are stretched out, torn, have broken elastic or feel loose or unsupportive on the tightest hook should be thrown out and replaced. It may be hard to part with a bra that’s become as comfy as slipping on a soft cotton t-shirt, but by nixing bras that don’t provide support, you’re doing yourself—and your breasts—a huge favor.
Keep ‘em clean. Tossing your bras in the washer and dryer can cause them to fall apart over time. Using a standard laundry detergent to wash them will degrade the material and cut the bra’s lifespan in half, according to Nethero. What’s more, the intense heat of the dryer will cause the elastic to break and lose resilience. Instead, take care of your investment by washing your bras by hand and using a mild fabric care wash such as Ivory Snow or Nethero’s favorite, Forever New. Dry bras on the dryer’s delicate cycle or let them hang dry. “You’ll double the life of a bra,” she says.
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