Here is the process I recommend if you are completely in the dark about what kind of bra fits you best, or you are changing sizes or just acquiring a well fitting bra for the first time.
1. Take 4-6 different styles of bra, in different brands into the fitting roomYou may have a preconceived notion of the kind of bra you 'like' or think one style is right for you. I challenge you to think outside the box and grab a variety of styles, from push-up bras to sports bras and anything in between. You might be surprised. Also, the fit of a bras varies dramatically from brand to brand. I find a couple of brands fit me really well (Elle McPherson Intimates, Bendon and Berlei) and other brands, as much as I love them, just aren't for my shape (Pleasure State, Lovable, Calvin Klein).
2. When you try on a bra, the VERY first thing you should do is loosen the shoulder strapsYou'll find when bras are on the rack, the shoulder straps are tightened to make them as tidy and 'short' on the rack as possible. You'll want to loosen those straps to halfway or 3/4 way depending on the bra. You'd be amazed at how many times I've had to help a lady out of a torture device with tightened straps.
3. Try on a bra on the loosest hook and eyelet settingWhen you hook it up at the back, make sure it's on the loosest setting. Because bras are elastic, they stretch over time. If it fits you only on the tightest hook when it's brand new, it won't last long at all. You need to buy a bra with the option for tightening it as it ages, so it fits well for a longer period of time.
*tip! If you are in between sizes, and the loosest hook is too tight in one size, but the next size up is too big, you can always buy an extender for the smaller size. Most underwear shops will sell the hook and eyelet on a roll, so you can extend the back of the bra slightly. This is not commonly needed, but sometimes it's helpful.
4. Try on the bra properlyI feel like a nanna saying this, but you can't just slap it on and hope for the best, especially if you have a generous bust. The best way to put your bra on is to position the band (under the bust) at the front, holding the ends of the band, bend from the waist slightly and let your bust fall into the cups. Hook it up, straighten up and adjust as necessary. Make sure everything is contained inside the cup and you're not being squished out the bottom, sides or top of the bra.
Now it's the time to assess if a bra fits you or not. Let's look at the band - it should sit firmly and horizontally across your back. If you can't breathe (!) it's too small. If it rides up at the back, it's too large.
How about the cups? If you are spilling out of them, the cup size is too small. If the cups are puckered or have room inside (padded bras) they are too large.
Remember, the band size and cup size work independently of each other (to an extent) If your band is correct but the cups are wrong, you only need to adjust the cup size and vice versa.
Additional tips:◆ If you are getting a small amount of 'double decker' cup spillage at the top, consider adjusting the shoulder straps slightly. Sometimes that's all it takes and you don't need a larger cup size (if it's minor)
◆ Some styles work better than others. If you are looking for comfort and support, look for a bra that has wider shoulder straps, a triple hook/eyelet and a sturdier fabric.
◆ If you do any kind of exercise, I cannot stress the necessity for a good sports bra enough. They have been scientifically developed to reduce bounce (by a lot) and they are the most supportive and comfortable bra for when you'd rather be concentrating on exercising and not being smacked in the face by your boobs ;) Also, when you're older, your breasts will have a better chance of being less saggy, if that kind of thing bothers you (not withstanding child bearing and breast feeding, which is a whole other kettle of fish).
◆ Flesh coloured bras show up less under a white shirt than white bras.
◆ Find a bra that works for your shape. Certain designs will not work for you. Some people can wear spaghetti strap bras, others: impossible. A bra with a half cup might work for one person, others need more coverage up top for proper support. Maybe you need a bra with more structure on the sides, or maybe a bra with a good solid panel in the middle works best for you. Look at the subtle differences when you try on your variety of bras (see step one) and notice the features that do and don't work for you.
After awhile, you'll begin to find a style that suits you, and probably a brand that you like as well. From my experience as a bra fitter, I can suggest that these two bras are a great starting point as they are versatile, comfortable and good quality for basic, everyday use. Plus, they are both available in a bunch of colours, so they don't get too boring.
◆ Bendon Damask ◆ Berlei Barely There
If you have any questions at all, or specific issues you've come across, let me know in the comments below. Everyone is different so I can't possibly cover every issue in one post, but hopefully this helps set a good foundation of knowledge so we can banish poorly fitting bras forever!