What size breast am I, really?
October 15, 2010 7:23 PM   Subscribe

What exactly happens during a bra fitting? Is it awkward? Did getting a proper bra fitting change your life?

Feel free to also share how one goes about finding a good fitter and what your favorite bra brands are. Thanks!
posted by sickinthehead to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (74 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
At the weird specialty lingerie store I go to, I went into a fitting room with a salesgirl and took off my shirt. She looked me up and down, told me my size and scampered off the get bras, which fit perfectly on the first try. They are pretty genius at this particular store.

Usually it involves a tape measure and trying on various bras for the person helping you.

I wear a 36 F/G, and the only brand I buy anymore is Prima Donna. They fit my frame and boob tissue distribution. It took me 15 years of having boobs to find the perfect brand, but I'll never cheat on them with any other brand.

I got sent to the store by a few large-busted friends.
posted by mollymayhem at 7:36 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went to Nordstrom and their lady was awesome. I certainly didn't think that my bra size was that off, but I was wrong. She looked at me at and asked, "Do you wear size XX?" She was right, then told me to stay put as she gather some different sizes of bras from the floor and brought them back to me. Her first guess about my correct fit was right. I went down a band size and up a cup size. Your boobs definitely look better in a correctly-sized bra. They're perkier and you stand up straighter. The smaller band size takes a little bit of getting used to, but I found it okay. After I told my mom about my experience, she went to Nordstrom in her town, and had a similar experience.

The bra brand is less important, although after my fitting I bought a bunch of Calvin Kleins because they were on sale, and they're great.
posted by emkelley at 7:42 PM on October 15, 2010

Agree with going to a local shop. If the ones here in NYC are anything to go by, your fitter might not even measure you -- just eyeball you and nail it.

And yes, it does change your life. All of your clothes fit differently. (I know only one woman, out of countless others, who was told she was wearing the correct size. Everyone else's was wrong, including mine!)
posted by sdn at 7:45 PM on October 15, 2010

Not too weird (they look at boobs all day), and definitely worth it. I have done this at Nordstrom's, which I recommend.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:48 PM on October 15, 2010

Best answer: Nordstrom. Nordstrom. Nordstrom. If you have one in your area.

You can just ask for a fitting. The salesperson will go into the dressing room area with you, and measure you. She will ask you questions -- do you have a brand preference, color preference today, etc. Be sure to ask about anything in particular you're concerned with -- do you need a bra that doesn't show under a t-shirt? Or a bra that will fit under the neckline of a certain dress? Something that straps in the front? Whatever your concerns are.

And she'll go off and bring you several styles and maybe two different sizes to try. (Different brands fit differently, etc.) You can ask for privacy when trying one on, or you can try it on right in front of her. One girl asked if I wanted her to put it on me, but I declined that. She will then take a look and offer commentary -- this fits well, you might go up a size, etc. She will go back and forth finding different sizes.

I've found the sales staff at Nordstrom to be extraordinarily helpful, and I am usually a shy person who would never, ever get dressed in front of a salesperson.

I'm a larger-sized gal, and personally I love Wacoal bras.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:50 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I bet a lot of people will disparage Victoria's Secret, but I was a bra fitter there for a couple of years, about five years back.

I tried my best to make it not awkward, and honestly, that was easy. It's a bra shop. Most women were coming to us for bras. I did my fittings with clothes on (clothes on them; I was always clothed. Promise.) and was pretty quick about it. Every bra fitting I've had was very business-like. Trust me, we don't want to fuss around with you too much.

Most of the time, I would know a woman's size before measuring. It's just not that hard to see, after you look at enough breasts.

Tips for the actual fitting: wear a thin shirt and a natural-fitting bra. It's easier that way.

Here's what I did:
- I'd loop a tape measure around your rib cage right under your breasts.
- I'd loop the tape measure around the widest point of your breasts. This is usually right across the nips.
- I'd do the math.
- And then tell you your size.
- I'd usually tell you your sister sizes. For some women, they may be, on paper, a 36C. 36C has two sister sizes: 34D and 38B. For some women, those sizes can feel and wear better. It's worth it to try a couple bras in your sister sizes. I'm technically one size, but feel and look much better a band size down and a cup size up.

My body did a weird re-distribution thing a couple of years ago, and my bra size changed. Getting fitted correctly made me feel better - a well-fitted bra puts the weight on your rib cage, not your shoulders. Wearing the right size bra will make you feel better, I promise.

I've got no recommendations about where to go in your area. If VS is the only thing available, go for it, but I can only imagine that there are actual ladythings shops around there. Any one of them will probably do a better job than VS.
posted by punchtothehead at 7:51 PM on October 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Forgot to add: Yes, wearing the right bra makes a HUGE difference. I literally couldn't believe it when I looked in a mirror. Everything just looks better, head to toe.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:52 PM on October 15, 2010

I'm larger breasted than my mother, who is pretty much flat and therefore useless (for me) with bras. Bra fittings are essential for me as I've never properly learned to choose well on my own.

The fittings are not a big deal whatsoever. Another woman who has had instruction and experience in fitting will look you over, and possibly measure you. She will probably ask you about style preferences, but if she doesn't feel free to tell her. She will then return with at least 3 different bras for you to try. Feel free to be really specific about price, too.

She'll leave you in the dressing room where if you haven't already you'll take off your shirt and bra and try them on. She will want to see how each one fits you. You'll be asked from outside of the dressing room if you are ready. You can tell her you are or you can ask for more time to put it on. You can also tell her you need help with the closures or whatever you need.

She may give you instruction to help you place your breast in each cup. She will discuss with you how each fits and looks and if you like the style or color. She's trying to help you and find a bra that fits properly and works well for you (she wants a sale!) What you are trying on at this point will help you both better define what fits and what works for you. You and she may at this point discuss a bit more about what fits and/or what you are looking for. She may bring you more bras to try based on this refinement. Keep trying until YOU are happy with your selection.

I find it helpful to remember I'm not the most odd person they've ever seen, much less that day. It is odd the first time, but it gets much easier after that; they will keep your measurements and purchases in their database, so you have that to go on every time you come in.

I find that the bras are more expensive this way, but also better constructed and longer lasting, and fit me really well, which makes me look better, so its worth it.
posted by cestmoi15 at 7:57 PM on October 15, 2010

The little old lady at the small shop where I went didn't even have me take off my shirt and my (old, very wrong-sized) bra. She guessed 32E. I was wearing a 36B. She was spot-on.

She changed my sartorial life -- my clothes fit a million times better. I look slimmer, stand up straighter and no longer have weird marks on my body after wearing a bra. I've been back to see her several times and have sent countless friends to her.
posted by OLechat at 8:00 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Intimacy is a store dedicated to the right fit in a bra. It's all they do. They're in major cities in the US, and they make bra fitting a really good experience. No tape measures. Just a good eye. They picked out a number of bras, and they all fit and looked great. So great, in fact, that even the fact that you're standing half-naked in a dressing room with a complete stranger wasn't even remotely weird. They'll also keep a file for you of the bras that you like, but don't buy, so you can come back at a later date, or have them shipped to you. Honestly, nothing makes a sweater look better than a well-fitting bra.
posted by Cheeto at 8:04 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Regarding brands - that depends on the shape and location (close together vs. far apart) of your breasts. Especially with the more expensive brands, different brands tend to sculpt cups differently - some fit more round/full breasts, some fit more pointy breasts, wider flatter breasts, that sort of thing.

I've seen more detailed discussion about this on Thirty-Two D (which is actually useful for anyone who cares about wearing well-fitting bras.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:04 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes it will change your life. When I went, the lady asked me to take off my shirt but keep my bra on. She looked at me and went off and grabbed two different sizes for me to try on. She was spot on. She only saw my boobs in a bra but I wouldn't have cared if she saw me naked. She was very professional and I couldn't believe it took me so long to get fitted. I stood up straighter and the better posture helps your waist appear thinner. I was a 32G but I recently got a breast reduction which has changed my life for the better.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:06 PM on October 15, 2010

Some bra manufacturers hold "fitting events" at department stores. My experience with one of those wasn't positive, as it turns out none of these manufacturer's bras fit me well, and the fitter from the company actually put me in bras in the wrong size because that was the best that could be managed with bras from that manufacturer.

Over the years I've learned what a well-fitting bra feels like, and I treat bra size as a ballpark figure, as even bras from the same brand might require a different band size / cup size combination depending on the style.

My default brand is Wacoal. They have a wide range of sizes, including large cup sizes even for the smaller band sizes.
posted by needled at 8:06 PM on October 15, 2010

Best answer: I'd usually tell you your sister sizes. For some women, they may be, on paper, a 36C. 36C has two sister sizes: 34D and 38B. For some women, those sizes can feel and wear better.

That's the kind of shit about VS that drives me crazy, and I didn't even know that they gave it a name and actively encouraged their salespeople to push it. Look, your body is one size- you're either properly a 34, 36, whatever. Cup size, same deal. The size you are, that's the size you should be wearing, because that is the size that will provide you with the most support. It might not be the most comfortable at first, but it's going to make you look and feel so great. If you're a 34D, you're not going to look good in a 38B bra, because it's gonna be 4 inches too big in the band and two sizes too small in the cup. Most absurd thing I've ever heard in my life. And guess what? If you're a size they don't carry, like a 32DD, Victoria's Secret is going to hand you a flimsy, strectchy 34D and say, ok, here's your size! That's not your size, that's just all they have. DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY AT VICTORIA'S SECRET.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:07 PM on October 15, 2010 [40 favorites]

I am the only person on the planet who really really hated having this done. I got a teenage girl at Nordstrom's who told me that I had what boiled down to a nearly impossible bra size to find. The pickins, even at Nordstrom's, were very slim. She got me bras that were really tight around the middle and said that the bras would "stretch." No, they never did and they never stopped being too tight and uncomfortable. I have no objection to the bra cup size, but the band just plain hurt. I don't wear those very expensive bras, can't find My Proper Size anywhere (and finding the next size up in bands is almost as impossible--I was originally wearing 2 band sizes bigger than My Proper Size), and I pretty much wear the same wrong sized bras or tank tops as I ever did, just in bigger cups.

So... yeah. I don't know if there's a moral to this story or not here. But it's another opinion. It's probably much more fun to have done if you don't have a bra size that's extremely weird compared to the rest of the population. Now I just start growling every time I go bra shopping.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:07 PM on October 15, 2010

Best answer: In Los Angeles, I go here: Jenette Bras.

Yes, I would say that it's life-changing. Like most women, I was wearing a wildly incorrect size bra. I went in wearing a DD and came out wearing an H.

A properly-fitted bra is sort of like wearing a corset. It's very SOLID. You don't feel the need to adjust throughout the day. You just put your bra on and get everything correctly situated, and then that's it. Also, your clothes look better.

Getting fitted is mildly awkward if you go to someone who just eyeballs it (they may look at you in the nude) but it's a ladies-only type of awkward. Also, it's only awkward for about 20 seconds. Also, at the end of the process, you own BRAS THAT FIT.

So - totally worth the 20 seconds of mild embarrassment.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 8:10 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I went for my first real fitting, I went to a small shop recommended in a previous ask.me thread (can't find it now) in my city. I filled out a questionnaire about my current size and issues with my bra fit and what I was hoping to address.

Then a lady that reminded me of Edna Mode from The Incredibles took me into a fitting room, had me take off my shirt, and went, "no, no, this will not do." She hustled out with me still standing there in awe, and came back with 50 bras loaded on her arms. "Your band is too small, too much fabric, the cup has to be bigger," she said emphatically, as she handed me a bra that was down two bands and up two cups from my usual size. And you know? It fit. I tried on another 20 or so and we determined there were certain brands that fit my boobs better than others, selected two to buy that day, and marked my size and brand in the shop's database so I can come back and they'll know what to give me.

It was a life-changing experience. No more back pain, shoulder dents, quadra-boob, falling out the bottom. Finally, comfort, support without flattening, no torpedos. I look slimmer, have better posture, and rave to everyone I know about the power of a real fitting. The fitting itself was not awkward at all. In fact, it was really empowering.
posted by juniperesque at 8:11 PM on October 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I went to Intimacy earlier this year and it was a good experience. They don't use tape measures (which is quite unusual) - they ask you a few questions, estimate your size based on sight and your current bra size, and bring out a bunch of bras. The one drawback was that all the bras they carried, though really pretty, were crazy expensive. If I get another fitting, I'll probably go to Nordstrom, just to get a different experience. I have never heard anything but praise about Nordstrom's bra-fitting ladies.

My old bra size seemed to fit, but I was always pulling at my straps. I went down a band size and up a cup size, and bras fit me a lot better. My life wasn't drastically changed, but it's definitely more comfortable.

I learned a couple things: first, the cup size is relative to the band size. The cup in a 32B is not the same as in a 36B. The cup of a 36B is the same size as a 34C, 32D, etc. Second, most of the support from your bra comes from the band, not the straps - if you rely on the straps to hold you up, your bra will pull and shift. That's why it's often said that most women wear a too-large band size and a too-small cup size. So if you're wearing a bra that you think is the right size but could be better, and/or you don't feel like going through a fitting, start with the one band size down/one cup size up trick.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:14 PM on October 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

When I did it, a lady measured around my chest right under my armpits (not under the breasts, which is how they measured me several years ago at Victoria's Secret and then told me to buy bras that didn't fit me correctly, but above them!), then measured around the fullest part. Perfect size was somehow quickly determined in the lady's head, and then she brought me back a big box of bras in my new size, and handed me one that she said was most accurately sized. I tried it on, it was magical, then she encouraged me to try on others from the big box, helping me find ones that were more for underneath t-shirts, more lacy/sexy ones, etc. etc. She also made some suggestions about how to correctly position myself into the bra, but she didn't touch me or anything like that.
posted by so_gracefully at 8:14 PM on October 15, 2010

i really didn't want to get fitted, but one of my roommates in university convinced me to do it with her. we went to La Senza (chain in Canada) and asked to be fitted. i was amazed to find out i had been wearing the wrong size (really, really wrong, for the record). once i tried on my new/proper size, i felt so much more comfortable. how i had worn the wrong size for so long, i have no idea, but i am so glad i got fitted.

my experience wasn't awkward at all, and only took 30 seconds. i'm one of those people who tells everyone to do it now! such a minor thing to do, but such a major change.
posted by gursky at 8:16 PM on October 15, 2010

TPS, a 34D is the same cup size as a 38B. Cup size means nothing without band size. A 32D and a 34D would be two different cup sizes.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:17 PM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

My experiences have been "total waste of time". (Victoria's Secret, Bare Necessities, small boutique shop highly recommended here on AskMefi)

I am not sure if it was just our Bare Necessities, but the saleswomen offered no sense of privacy or dignity. We used to joke about never going in there without a partner to "defend the curtain" while you tried anything on. Every saleswoman, every time. They'd walk right up, and rip the curtain open to just ask how you're doing. Bra fitting: saleswoman would bring you back to the dressing room where you would be asked to take your shirt off, then they'd open the curtain fully anyway and measure you with a measuring tape for < 5 seconds. The last two times I was there, the women suggested two different sizes I'd never worn before. Gamely (and desperate for a great-fitting bra), I'd try them on, but nothing would fit right. The saleswomen would blame it on differences in manufacturers, then bring a few more samples, which were also terrible fits. Another round of sizes and manufacturers and involuntary exhibitionism and I'd be wondering why I *ever* thought a bra fitting was a good idea. I'd leave in a huff, concluding I was unfittable.

Victoria's secret: will select the "closest size they sell" when fitting you, regardless of whether you can actually fit in it. At least it's in private. No awkwardness/trauma involved.

Small boutique shop: also in private, also no trauma. After being measured, I was directed to the two (!) bras they had in that size (again, different from what I was wearing, and what was previously recommended). Neither fit appropriately. The saleswoman suggested I could get them custom tailored, which I politely declined because they were hideous.

I went back to the drawing board and ordered a ton of bras from an online store in a range of sizes. Two of them were life-changingly comfortable, so I ordered them in a bunch of colors and stuck with that!
posted by Gable Oak at 8:17 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and here's a diagram of the relative-cup-size thing. Same cup volume, different letter based on the band size. The labeled sizes are UK measurements, but you get the idea.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:18 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm one of the few women who went into the fitting wearing the correct size; I thought I was a 34A, and it turns out... I'm a 34A. However, the fabulous Nordstrom lingerie lady also pointed out to me that I could also try a 32B, which was news to me and has been super-useful to have found out.
posted by scody at 8:21 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

TPS - the thing is, what if your ribcage measurement is actually a 35? And what if you're solidly between a B and a C? Band sizes go by 2s, and there's a lot of room for interpreting with cup size - especially since cup size varies from day to day!

Like I said: VS isn't the best place, and I wouldn't recommend it if there's anywhere better you can go. But: sister sizes exist simply because women's bodies aren't all made to manufacturers' measures.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:21 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've been fitted. It wasn't a life-changing experience at all. I was sort of hoping that it would be and that the lady would somehow magically transform my shapeless torso into a rockin' rack but no, it's still just me and my 36A's or sometimes 34Bs (puchtothehead is right). I keep reading about how awesome bra fitting is and I expected so much from it but nah, it ain't all that. Maybe I'm just better at fitting myself and didn't need the extra help? I dunno.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:40 PM on October 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

i'm super loyal to orchard corset here in new york—my experience my first time there was walking in, being told what size i was wearing and what size i probably should be wearing instead while i was still in all my street clothes, and then being handed a few bras until i found the particular ones that fit me best. their eyeball inspection skills are pretty amazing and having bras that fit me right seriously have changed my life. i bring friends there at every possible opportunity to get their bras fitted; none of them went in wearing the correct size and all of them thanked me profusely for months and months for bringing/wheedling/bullying them in.
posted by lia at 8:49 PM on October 15, 2010

If being fitted makes you uncomfortable, do it yourself! Band size is under your breasts (where you would want the band to go). Cup size (if I recall correctly) is measure on top of your breasts at the furthest out point (as if they were being supported) and there is a table to convert inches to A, B, etc. Now, it might not be perfect but it will be close enough that you can experiment more effectively. And, as someone above noted, band sizes smaller and cup sizes bigger than you expected are often the "fix" -- I was wearing the band size up, cup size down for way too long and it turns out the smaller band with bigger cup fits so much better and my breasts look much more supported and "right". Apparently this is a very common mistake.

And contrary to a couple comments, sizes (and comfort) do vary between brands, especially when you get up into the larger cup sizes. The way the straps work / sit is huge -- we have different shoulders after all! Plus, most women actually have different sized breasts -- with some bras the "right" cup size for one breast feels weird on the other and vice versa. Last time I went on a big bra shopping trip (Nordstrom's), I tried on at least fifteen different bras made by at least seven different manufacturers, most of them in the exact same size and some did fit (and feel) better than others. Plus, there are factors like material (your everyday bra might be a soft, slippery, not itchy, maybe a bit more stretchy material while your night on the town might be one of those foam shaped ones with lace at the top!)
posted by R343L at 9:02 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The problem with VS is when you are not smack dab in the middle of the size range. If you are small busted (especially if you have a large ribcage), or large busted (especially with a small ribcage), they do not carry your size.

I used to wear a 38C or D. It was so frustrating to shop for a bra, because a 38C would be very hard to fasten and I would have "quadraboob" but 38 D was way huge and rode up. 36D didn't even come close to fastening, and I'd never tried any larger cup sizes, because in my mind those were for people with HUUUGGE boobs, and most department stores don't even carry them (EXCEPT in sizes like 42 and 44 - it's crazy!).

I went to VS with a friend and a lady there excitedly sized me and told me, "You're a 36DD!" I was like, "OK, weird." but the bra fit better in the cups than my other bras so I bought it. About a week later the band was totally stretched out and riding up my back, which made my boobs sag halfway down to my navel.

A year later I went to Nordstrom and got sized. Depending on the bra brand, I actually wear a 32F or G. I CANNOT wear "sister sizes" in the same bra brand. The sister sizes trick for me works only with varying brands and I think it's more a manufacturing inconsistency issue.

The main problem here is that VS doesn't even carry E or F cups, let alone G cups. Even in DD, the selection is very limited and as far as I remember, the band options are 34 and 36. In this awesome comment, ukdanae links to a picture of a woman wearing a 32DD bra. It's very illustrative of the fact that a large cup size and a small band size = a very average looking woman.

OK, to wrap this up: yes, getting sized changed my life. I look about 20 pounds thinner when I'm wearing a proper bra (I prefer the Fantasie 4510). I stand up straighter, my shoulders don't hurt, and you can actually see that I have a ribcage and waist. My clothes fit better, they fall and drape correctly, and I generally look and feel more polished. DO EET.
posted by peep at 9:24 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went with my friend to the Intimacy store in Houston before they opened the Dallas store. In my case, the woman asked what size I wore, came back with lots of choices, helped me try them on and asked which one I liked best. She didn't offer an opinion. It was just as if I had gone to Target and tried them on myself, but they cost about $60 more.

I have a problem with the strap falling down on my right shoulder. Even though Intimacy advertises that they will find a bra to fix that for you, my gal offered that I should buy those $8 plastic things to put on the back straps to make them more like racer back. I did end up buying 2 bras ($185 total) which seemed to fit pretty good, but sure enough the strap was falling down on the right side. Went back the very next day and asked to have them altered. The manager explained that they take the strap off the back band and turn it sideways. That helps it stay up. They could have it done in a week and mail them to me in Dallas. Ok.

By the time I got them and tried wearing them, the band was so tight I couldn't breathe. Is it because I slouch too much, so trying them on in the store standing all straight and perky changes me? I quit and went to Target.

My friend? She said she had the best fitter and she loves her bras, and she took it back to the Dallas store a year later to get the worn-out fasteners replaced, for free. Will not buy bras anywhere else, ever.
posted by CathyG at 9:52 PM on October 15, 2010

Prior to getting a fitting, bra shopping was completely frustrating for me. I thought I was a size 36F; Frederick's of Hollywood's 36F fit just "fine"... But nothing in physical stores would fit (most physical stores don't carry 36F in stock). Also, the bras I did have were just... they were okay, but sometimes I hated them: the band would roll, the straps would gouge, the cups would spill over... ugh.

As background: my mother was very particular about how bras fit me. She was adamant that a woman (well, that *I*) should *never* have over-the-top spillage (quadra-boob) and that boobs shouldn't ever jiggle. Those two requirements are tough to fulfill as one requires a big-enough cup, the other a small-enough cup. I thought I had it right and that I was very bra-savvy.

But, still, bra shopping was something I dreaded. Then I had a fitting and discovered that bra shopping can be incredibly easy. The woman who fitted me was super-professional (The Bra Lady in NYC); she both eyeballed me (naked) and measured my ribs with a tape measure then went off and brought back some bras that ...were astoundingly comfortable.

I walked out wearing one of the bras and had two more in the bag with me - a total purchase of about $225. It was more money than I'd ever spent on bras! But since then, I've discovered that Lane Bryant carries rather nice, comfortable bras in large band and cup sizes (I think they start at 32 or 34) and often has sales. I'm now able to walk in, buy one of their bras (a specific style, but I can never remember the name, just what it looks like) and not try it on.

Also, I immediately looked like I had lost weight. Exercising was easier, too, b'c the girls are well-supported and my back doesn't hurt. Definitely get a fitting!
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 10:36 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Didn't help me at all. I have none of the "problems" with wearing a wrong-size bra, but when I went into Nordstrom once, the lady decided I needed one of the "sister sizes." Yeah, no. It was wickedly uncomfortable, did not look better, and was one of those hard sizes to find, so I went back to my normal size, which is easy to find and the absolutely worst problem I ever have is a little strap-slippage. Bras are the only item of clothing where I am smack-dab in the middle of a normal size, though, so YMMV. My best friend really loved having it done.
posted by wending my way at 10:42 PM on October 15, 2010

Mrs bigbigdog says:

"My fitting at victorias secret was not at all awkward but as a large cup, small band size woman, they don't carry my size. They still however try to sell me the closest they can find (not close enough) and for far to many years I put up with painful, poor fitting bras.

I had a fitting at Zovo in Seattle and it was life changing. Beautiful, georgeous bras that fit and feel great. The difference is beyond amazing! They are more expensive (~$60-$100) but completely worth every penny. The young women that have helped me there have always been very professional. They will want to see you in the bras as you try them on so they can see how the fitting is going. Brands fit differently for different people so it really depends on your body type and preferences."
posted by bigbigdog at 10:42 PM on October 15, 2010

Another fan of a Nordstrom's fitting: after losing ~50 pounds, I had no freaking idea what bra size to go with, so I splurged on a bra fitting on a trip to Seattle. The woman was pleasant and efficient, measured me with the tape, then came back with loads of bras to try on.

With the right size, I had a chance to figure out what other features (padding, style, etc) I liked and didn't like. I could only afford to get one (Wacoal, btw), but with the size info, I've gotten a couple of other pretty decent bras at Target. :) Target, curiously enough, is the only discount place that ever seems to have nice-looking bras in my size. I wouldn't call it "life-changing", but just having someone else measure can make it easier to find the right size.

And actually, when I was still heavy I had a fitting once at JC Penney's, of all places, and that was helpful too. The bra I bought then was plain (and the only one they had in that size) but at least it was comfortable. Again, it also meant that I had a pretty good idea of what size to go looking for when shopping later.
posted by epersonae at 11:02 PM on October 15, 2010

No awkwardness whatsoever. Go to Nordstrom. You'll find a bra, or several, that you love. I'd recommend against Wacoal. While they're pretty fantastic at first, they don't last very long - the seamless ones tend to get waaay too big after a couple of months. Chantelle bras, on the other hand, have been absolutely fantastic for me (and my sister), including the super lacy ones. After a while, I just started washing them weekly with all my other laundry (including jeans and what not), and they look as if they haven't aged a day. What a good investment.

Also, Elle McPherson makes some hard to find sizes (like 32DD) that are wonderfully pretty and super durable - I've been able to buy them for as little as 35USD during Nordstrom's semiannual sale.
posted by halogen at 11:16 PM on October 15, 2010

The "sister size" thing is because European brands are usually smaller in the band. I wear a 30 in Us brands and a 32 in most French brands sold in the US.
posted by fshgrl at 11:19 PM on October 15, 2010

Nthing the positive stories about Nordstrom fittings. For the first time in my big-boobed life, I have GORGEOUS bras. I'm a 32FF or G (depends on whether US or European brand), and I walked in wearing 36 DD. I like Fantasie, Freya, and Wacoal, but what fits you great depends on your particular shape. I like the look (on the hanger) and material of Chantelle bras, but they look dumpy under my clothes.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:51 PM on October 15, 2010

Totally life changing. I'm cheap though and finding my weird, big cup/small band size is almost impossible except at Nordstrom's or specialty boutiques and they aren't cheap online. However, I have found them every once in a while really cheap (as in a $90 bra for $20) at Nordstrock Rack. Go to a nice place to get fitted and if you have sticker shock buy one bra and then hunt around for your size elsewhere.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:51 PM on October 15, 2010

Getting a properly-fit bra can change your life if you're wearing the wrong size. I got measured at Victoria's Secret when I was 19 or 20 and was told I was a 40DD (the largest they carried), but for years I struggled with VS bras that didn't support me--my breasts looked huge and saggy under clothes, and I was always struggling to adjust my bras so they didn't ride up and I didn't spill out of them. And I was bewildered by having to return bras I ordered from other manufacturers because they simply didn't fit, even when I tried a range of sizes. Then I went to Lady Grace in the Boston/Cambridge area to get a proper fitting. The nice older lady there eyeballed me, measured me with a tape measure, and declared me a 44DDD, then picked out half a dozen bras for me to try on. Once I found a couple that fit and were in a style I liked, they then showed me how to adjust them properly (and also told me how to put on a bra properly, though I still don't do it the "right" way).

For me, it was seriously life-changing. My breasts felt supported and looked 100% better under clothes, I no longer spent all day trying to discreetly adjust my bra, and I was able to order sports bras and other bras from any manufacturer that carried them without worrying that they weren't going to fit. Also, I would never have considered a non-underwire bra before because I'd always assumed that large-breasted women required the support of an underwire, but one of the ones they suggested was non-underwire and I was amazed at how supportive and comfortable it was!
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:03 AM on October 16, 2010

I've been fitted at Nordstrom and at a fancy boutique lingerie store. Both places confirmed that I was wearing the right size, but the boutique store was able to help me find brands that fit my frame better. The Nordstrom saleswoman didn't realize why I was difficult to fit and just brought me all the bras in my size that they sold.

If you're normal weight to slender and not very large breasted, you're probably wearing the right size because it's really hard to get wrong until you get into larger cup sizes. Going to a fancy store might be worthwhile because it gives you more choices.
posted by asphericalcow at 12:46 AM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Continuing ThePinkSuperhero's rant (and others) a bit: go somewhere that has a really wide range of sizes so you do not get "here's the closest we have."

I went to a department store for a fitting. Bra on, measuring tape, not awkward. Told size. Well...okay, it sort of looks like it works, but it's not comfortable? "That's your size." Translation: that is the closest we sell

I went to a lauded, well-established local lingerie shop, the kind that advertises endless sizes, brands you've never heard of, specialty whatnot. I was eyeballed in a bra, a likely size was announced; I stated stylistic preferences, bras were brought in. I left with a bra I cannot feel, and it made a tremendous difference, appearance-wise.

I put off the specialty shop visit out of fear of $90 bras, but I got out for under $40, and of course it's simple to stock up once you know what you're looking for. The shop is a bit out of the way but I'll return because, good grief, what a relief to be out of the sort of dept/chain store where the variety is so poor.
posted by kmennie at 6:30 AM on October 16, 2010

I'm pretty far off the norm for body size (30G in Fantasie fits me very nicely and doesn't make my body look freakish with or without clothes). Bra fittings and purchases in boutique stores (Bra Bar in Toronto and a local shop that specializes in hard to fit and post-mastectomy bras) were a huge improvement in my fit, posture, and overall health. One bra I purchased from the local shop was perfect except the straps were too long for my high-chested body: the seamstress on staff shortened the straps at no charge while I browsed through the store.

While there are now some stores in shopping malls near me that claim to carry unusual sizes, I don't shop in them. Knowing my size, I'm quite happy with figleaves for price, quality, customer service, and reliable customer reviews of the bras they carry. I don't have to deal with sales girls who clearly don't believe I could possibly know and be the size I am. I don't have to shop for intimate clothing in a store with a glass front wall in a busy mall. And when I want the personal, welcoming experience of getting fitted for a bra, I go back to the specialty shop I trust and spend $200 on two bras.
posted by thatdawnperson at 6:53 AM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Data point here that VS fittings can be useless. I was fitted at VS and they suggested I was a 34A which is blatantly wrong,. The 34As they brought me did not fit at all, but the 32B or Cs I normally wear (depending on the brand) fit me very well and make me look much better.

This thread is making think I should try a 30C though since so many people wear a band size too big.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:55 AM on October 16, 2010

I don't need a bra myself, but I know two women who swear that their lives were changed for the better by their visits to the local Lady Grace.
posted by alms at 7:09 AM on October 16, 2010

You'll note that most of the women who found it life changing seem to have large cup sizes. If you currently wear anything D or larger? Go get fitted! The difference in support, comfort, and the way your clothes fit is incredible when you're wearing the proper bra size.

If you're in an A or a B? Eh. Might be good for a laugh. Now that I'm a 36B I can play around with sister sizes a bit. If I'm going with something padded I'll go up to a C cup. But mostly my new tiny boobs don't need much in the way of support, so the bra is just there for show.

(Do not get fitted at Victoria's Secret!)

When I was a 38F I liked Wacoal, Freya, Fantasie, and Just Peachy by figleaves.com. I think Wonderbra is going up to G cup now. Once you're sized just mail order from Fig Leaves. They have some beautiful bras in large sizes.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:34 AM on October 16, 2010

Seconding (or thirding) Intimacy. Although there isn't one near you, go there and stock up on bras if you ever travel to a city where they do have stores. I'd been contemplating breast-reduction surgery until a hospital-acquired infection from a different surgery almost killed me. I swore off the idea of any elective surgery ever and decided to put the money I'd save from the breast reduction into getting the best fitting bras I could find, regardless of cost. Yes, it's hard to pay $100+ for a bra, but looking good in clothes and not wanting to rip off my bra as soon as I get home from work is well worth it. I'm one of the few who didn't go down a band size when I was fitted, but I did go from the 34DD I was wearing to a 34G. Now, you won't find 34G at Penney's, or even Macy's, so if you're big-busted you need a specialty bra store with a good selection of large sizes. However, once you find a bra you like, there's nothing to keep you from buying the same brand and style on, say, eBay for about half the price.

In addition to band size and cup size, pay attention to how wide apart the straps are set. Although the straps shouldn't be holding up your boobs, it can still be uncomfortable if the strap spacing makes them cut into the tissue by your armpits or slip off your shoulders.

Also, no one above has mentioned bra hooks. I always thought I should buy a bra that was comfortable on the middle hooks, in case I grew or shrank. Not true. You buy a bra that feels pretty tight on the loosest hook. The bra elastic is going to stretch as you wear and wash it. You can move to the next tighter set of hooks until the bra feels loose on the tightest ones. Then (at least if you bought your bra from Intimacy) you take or send it back to them and they alter it to fit like new again, for free.
posted by Joleta at 7:49 AM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I got fitted at the Intimacy in Houston a few years ago. Went in with a (painfully uncomfortable) 36DD (fitted by Victoria's Secret) and came out with 32G. It was life changing (and expensive)!

As others have stated, this is primarily a life-changing experience for women with larger breasts. I can't go to Target and buy a bra that fits, so having a good fitting was crucial to being able to buy online (nthing figleaves).

The other great thing that happened to me after getting fitted was that I was able to buy a swimsuit that fit for the first time in many years, also from figleaves. The top is bra-sized, so it fits well and is very supportive (non-negotiable for me). That was almost as life-changing as the bras!
posted by jeoc at 8:04 AM on October 16, 2010

Chiming in with the "avoid Victoria's Secret" thing. I walked in there once with a friend and asked if they had any bras in my size (it's a one of those hard-to-find small band/large cup size). The lady actually *sneered* at me, said they didn't have that size, and that she could tell by looking at me that I was wearing the wrong bra size anyway. I blinked at her and told her I wasn't wearing a bra at all, I was wearing a shelf tank top. And then I left, and I've never gone back again.

I didn't find Nordstrom to be all that, either, though not for lack of trying. They arrived at the right size, but their selection in my size was pretty awful. Two bras, both incredibly expensive, and both looking like overarchitected granny bras with the five hooks. All business, you know?

I've been able to find gorgeous, cute, supportive, and comfortable bras through FigLeaves. Free returns, so you can order a bunch, see which ones fit you the right way, and send the rest back. Especially super-awesome when you're a new mom, your boobs aren't the size they used to be, and you can't exactly free up an afternoon to go shopping.
posted by Andrhia at 10:06 AM on October 16, 2010

Wizard of Bras, monrovia, ca or online.

+1 on "vs & nordstrom are great if they work for you but they aren't the end-all." mass-market, despite all the bells and whistles and pretty shiny stuff really gives the consumer surprisingly few choices, especially when it comes to the fit of your clothing.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 12:29 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, it will change your life, you could be amazed at the difference wearing a bar that fits can make.

Nordstrom. Get measured, have them write down the sizes and brands, size may differ depending on the brand you a trying.

I love Wacoal, but have recently tried Fantasie, a nice fit and easier on the wallet.
posted by jennstra at 1:30 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm late to this thread and it looks like you've got a lot of good advice, but I just wanted to chime in since I'm passionate about good bra-fitting.

To answer your question, a well-fitting bra can make a huge impact on a woman's confidence and appearance. It certainly did for me -- I was wearing a 40D when I got fitted about five years ago, and was initially appalled to learn that I was a 36G. I didn't even know that bras went up to G, and in my mind, a G was short for Grotesque, it sounded so plastic-surgery-huge. Then I tried on the new bra, and couldn't believe the difference - I was supported! I had a waist! I felt so comfortable! It was absolutely wonderful, and inspired me to start looking into bra-fitting and lingerie in general, and now I write about lingerie.

It's hard to get a good bra-fitting in the States, especially if you don't live in a big city. Victoria's Secret and other big chain stores are going to be useless for you, as everyone has already explained, mainly because their limited size ranges are crap, so they try to shove you into one of their B-C-D-range sizes and make you feel bad by calling anything higher stupid names like "6D" (that's a DDDDDD, or an G in the Real World).

In my experience, anyone who uses a tape measure isn't going to get the right size, either. That's because they are all focusing on bra-sizing, when they should be focusing on bra-fitting. Sizes vary in lingerie just like they do in ready-to-wear - a pair of size 16 jeans in H&M will never fit me, but Gap is just fine, and it's the same for lingerie. Even bras from the same brand can sometimes vary in size, especially if they are a different shape (balconette versus plunge, for example). So relying on a tape measure and subtracting a few numbers is never going to give you an accurate size - the only way to get a great-fitting bra is to try bras on until you find an excellent fit.

You don't really need anyone to do this for you, although it will probably help to have an expert on hand if you can find one. But you can happily do it yourself -- i've written a whole huge guide on this at my blog (check my profile), but here's an abbreviated version of how to bra-fit yourself:

Most women are wearing a cup size that's too small and a band size that's too large. It's easy to tell if you are, too -- here are the signs:

Band Size:

If the back of your bra rides up in an upside down U shape, your band is probably too big. If you can pull it out and give yourself a bra snap, that's another sign it's too big. Your bra band should be giving almost all of your support, not your straps. The band needs to sit tightly but comfortably in a relatively straight line all around your body, and you should be able to pull off your straps and still feel comfortable support from the bra.

If you think that your band is too big based on the above, try dropping two sizes - e.g., from a 38 to a 34.

Cup Size:

There are a few ways to tell if your cup size is too small. The first way is to check the underwire of your bra - does it dig in on the side of your boobs? Where does the underwire stop on your body - is it directly below the armpit, or does the cup finish a few inches forward? Your underwire should encircle all of your breast tissue, and for most women, that means it should finish underneath your armpit. If you're finding your underwire halfway up your breast, that's a big sign that it's too small.

Another way to tell if the cup is too small is to check the bridge, or the piece of fabric between the two cups in the front. Does the bridge lie flat against your sternum, or can you poke your finger between it and your body? Does it look pulled and stretched across your chest? If so, that's usually a good sign that your cups are too small.

If either of those things sound familiar, add two sizes to your cup size, e.g. from a C to a DD.

Then, order lots of bras online. If you were originally a 36C (a size I am always suspicious of), your new theoretical size is a 32DD. So order some 32DD's online (i like Freya and Fantasie for reliable fit and good value for money). Try ordering in a full cup instead of balconette or plunge, as these will be easier for you to size. Throw in some sizes around that target size as well - a 34DD, a 32D, etc., just so you can get a good variety. Then try those bras on, and repeat the same steps as above. Keep going until you get excellent support from your band, a nice flat bridge in the center, and cups that fit your breasts all the way around. You should notice that shirts fit better, you no longer get underwires digging into the sides of your boobs, and your wires shouldn't poke out after a few months either. A good quality Fantasie bra should last you around 6-8 months, even a year if you have a good rotation.

Once you've got a size in a particular brand, you can reasonably confidently keep buying that same size in that brand from then on. You might get a little variety, especially between styles, but it's a hell of a lot easier than going through the whole process again!
posted by ukdanae at 2:53 PM on October 16, 2010 [185 favorites]

Ukdanae's comment is excellent and IMO should be sidebarred!
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:31 PM on October 16, 2010

Mrs. mmascolino swears by the French lady at our local Nordstrom's. She was very happy with her fitting and the properly sized bras that resulted from it.
posted by mmascolino at 4:56 PM on October 16, 2010

I've had really good luck with Nordstrom - both getting fitted there and buying bras (I like Chantelle and Elle MacPherson). I wore a 34C for the longest time, then got fitted at Nordstrom a couple years ago and was told that I was a 32D - it made a HUGE difference (but it was a bummer to discover that I had an unusual size that I would have a hard time finding at VS and such). Unfortunately I have gained weight since then and things aren't fitting the way they used to - it may be time to go back for another fitting. It's not that bad, I promise.
posted by naoko at 5:08 PM on October 16, 2010

Response by poster: Just to update:

You ladies convinced me I should get a bra fitting. Today I went to Nordstrom and got fitted! I used to wear a 34B, but it turns out that I am a 32C and in some cases even a 32D! I know my boobs are the exact same size as before, but that was a +10 for my self esteem. :D

I spent a whole lot of money on bras today, but well worth it!!! These bras actually *fit* me - my shoulders and neck haven't hurt all day.

My brands of choice are Natori and Wacoal. I am so, so, so HAPPY. This kind of was life changing.

By the way, in a well-fitted bra I look BIGGER in a plain mesh bra than I do in a highly padded one from Victoria's Secret. I will never shop there again.
posted by sickinthehead at 6:01 PM on October 16, 2010 [17 favorites]

Nordstrom! great....that is where I went too--and I found out like you did I was a cup size off. It has made a big difference to have the right size. Congratulations to you for "braving" it. I, too, found out it was a good experience.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:29 PM on October 16, 2010

Glad you chose Nordstrom! I'm late to this party but that would have been my suggestion.

In terms of what size you "are" - it's kinda hard to say because different brands fit differently. Also at Nordstrom they tend to go down a band size and up a cup size.

Also wanted to chime in that Chantelle is my fave bra brand and I won't buy anything else.
posted by radioamy at 9:44 PM on October 16, 2010

That is brilliant to hear, sickinthehead! Congratulations!
posted by ukdanae at 3:19 AM on October 17, 2010

You'll note that most of the women who found it life changing seem to have large cup sizes. If you currently wear anything D or larger? Go get fitted! The difference in support, comfort, and the way your clothes fit is incredible when you're wearing the proper bra size.

If you're in an A or a B? Eh. Might be good for a laugh.

I disagree. I thought I was a 36C and found out at "Intimacy" that I was a 32DD. (Life changing.)

Now I get my bras on Ebay for a lot less because mine is supposedly an unusual size and fewer people bid on the ones I want.

I suspect so many women wear the wrong size because the whole story of how to determine your size using a tape measure is just plain wrong. I wonder where that even came from.
posted by Dragonness at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Late to the party but want to Nth for future Googlers that my personal experience also supports that Nordstrom is so very much more competent at this than Victoria's Secret.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2010

I agree with Dragonness -- get fitted even if you think you're a small size. I wore a 32-B all my adult life. Got fitted a few months ago -- guess what, I'm a 30-E, and for the first time I'm actually as comfortable with a bra as without.
posted by tavegyl at 12:18 PM on October 18, 2010

My lovely wife had the exact same experience as ukdanae, and that comment is righteously sidebarred -- women seem to consistently underestimate their bra size. My wife likes the online provider Big Girl Bras, she's been very happy with their stuff.
posted by Shotgun Shakespeare at 2:08 PM on October 18, 2010

I just got fitted today! I was wearing an old 40C, had measured myself at home at a 38D, and found in the shop that a 38DD provided the best "full-coverage" cup and support. The woman was professional and helpful, and did the measuring over my clothes. She gave me several to try on and adjusted the fit and straps to see which one worked best. It was a nice experience.
posted by lychee at 5:36 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Never went to be fitted - there's no place to do that around here - but I'd known for a while that my bras didn't fit properly. After reading a couple of other threads on the subject and then running into it again here, I ordered a bra that was up a cup size and down a band size, and oh my god that is so much better.
posted by dilettante at 8:23 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yep, after our own essexjan convinced me of the value of this I went to Bravissimo here in the UK, a chain that does both lingerie and clothing for the woman with fuller busts (rather than bigger). I went from a 36 or even 38 D & DD to a 34 E.

Part of the problem is that we have an idea in our heads that if it is slightly tight it's going to rub and hurt over time, when with a proper fitting bra once you're over the initial new tight feeling it starts to fit like a glove!
posted by Wilder at 11:03 PM on October 18, 2010

If I go up two cup sizes from a D, would that be DDD, or E? At what point do you move from multiple D's and go on down the alphabet?
posted by Lucinda at 5:32 AM on October 19, 2010

If I go up two cup sizes from a D, would that be DDD, or E? At what point do you move from multiple D's and go on down the alphabet?

You stop at DD. Most sizes (from decent designers, anyway) go like this:


I have seen the odd GG or EE, but usually the only doubles are in the D's and F's.

If you see a DDDDDD or anything similar, beware - that's basically a big red neon sign that blinks "We don't know crap about bra sizing, really".
posted by ukdanae at 5:42 AM on October 19, 2010

p.s. it is a little weird, but yes AA is the other way around and smaller than A, and indeed there is also an AAA, which sites like Lula Lu cater to
posted by ukdanae at 5:47 AM on October 19, 2010

In the US we generally use a DDD, and skip the E completely. And I've never seen an FF.

AA A B C D DD DDD F G H, etc.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:04 AM on October 19, 2010

Just chiming in about the life changing effects of proper bra sizing! (I have a friend who is a "Boobologist", no joke it used to be her JOB, and could size most women by just looking at them/photo of them in a tight-fitting t-shirt.) I went from a 34C to a 30F....ALL my clothes fit me differently, it was like getting a whole new wardrobe! The girls were happy, I was happy, and my husband was quite impressed with my jump from a "C" to an "F", no surgery required.
posted by jeanmari at 8:36 AM on October 19, 2010

There is a little boutique in Northampton, MA called Gazebo and I cannot recommend them enough. I fell into the Victoria's Secret trap too and ended up with bras that simply didn't fit: they made me look ill-shaped and droopy and jiggly and it was because my band size was one too big and my cup size was one too small.

When I was fitted (which involved a good looking over and a squeeze[!]) the owner brought me a whole bunch of bras to try on and it was a makeover like none other. I feel SO much more confident now. Even though my cup size went up two and the band size down one, I appear smaller than I did with a smaller cup size and a larger band size. Things look "right", whereas before they looked flabby and out of shape.

This shop also does custom alternations and a free re-fitting 30 days post purchase to account for the stretching of the fabric. They will alter bras you have that you've bought from them to account for 'life' (such as babies, weight gain/loss, or mastectomies.) Properly fitted bras are worth every penny.
posted by absquatulate at 2:20 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bra sizes do vary by country, so a Bra made in Italy, the UK, or the USA may be labelled a different size than you expect. this size converter is not associated with any manufacturer or vendor and goes up to an I/J cup (covering most women).
posted by thatdawnperson at 3:05 PM on October 19, 2010

Just adding one more endorsement for Intimacy. I'm lucky enough to live near one of them, and I brought my wife there tonight for a fitting. The results mirror what everyone else has reported: very nice and helpful salesgirl, larger cup, smaller band, amazed and very happy wife, side effect of significantly lighter wallet.

One look at the end result, though, and it was a no-brainer; it was an obviously drastic improvement in fit.
posted by delfin at 6:58 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Small anecdote, with broader suggestions: my wife got a fitting in Nordstroms in Santa Barbara, and it seems the women were not as well trained there as in other stores. Luckily, there's a great shop for bustier women: Purrmission lingerie. Definitely costlier than chain stores, but the service is great, and they do have sales.

If you're not in the Central Coast area, look for a classy lingerie shop that carries items for larger or curvier women. If they're well staffed, they can do wonders.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:52 AM on October 27, 2010

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