How to Choose the Right Bra Size and Style

Last updated on : January 29 2016

choosing a bra size

Choosing a bra is like shopping for a car at times - frustrating yet satisfying. The perfect bra has the ability to increase your cup size, craft abundant cleavage, and provide the perfect fit for your favorite sexy, sultry styles. Whether you want to find a bra that gives you the lift and shape needed to pull off a side boob dress or simply one for everyday wear to ensure your girls are nice and perky - choosing the right fit and style is daunting.

According to emerging lifestyle blogger Georgina Homes from Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, "Finding the perfect bra isn't about using tape measures and formulas, it's about trying a few styles and brands and making sure you keep the bra on the loosest hook, the band is parallel and the wires encase your bust."

The best solution for finding the right bra size and style is to build a complete bra collection. Expensive? Perhaps. Worth the investment? Absolutely. When you slowly begin to build a complete bra collection you begin to see your clothing differently and with more confidence.

The right bra has the ability to make or break any outfit. Sagging, unsupported, or unshaped breasts are unflattering and throw off the proportions of your feminine curves and profile. A well supported bustline is not just part of achieving celebrity like shape and style it is becoming a fashionista requirement.

Ever look at a picture on your Instagram feed and wonder why you didn’t hide your bra strap or why your boobs look tiny or “smashed”? With social media and random pictures being taken everywhere you go the perfect bra contributes directly to your image. Unsightly bra straps that show under your dress is now one of the top fashion faux pas. Just like a lack of support or cleavage with a V-neck neckline. To ensure you are picture ready and able to leave the house polished and well put together an extensive bra collection is required.

Which bras do you need and which ones are simply optional? In this complete bra size and style guide we touch on the topic in depth and even consult bra and lingerie experts to help us along. If you need all around insight into what to wear under your bandage dress recently purchased from us (or somewhere else) we’ve covered that here.

How to Measure for a Bra

The most important thing about finding a bra that works for you and your style is a proper fit. An ill fitting bra is very obvious and the most recognizable trait to a poor fitting bra is comfort. If you find that your bra is “too tight” or “digs in” then you likely need to consider how to measure for a bra prior to deciding on a particular style. Measuring yourself for a bra is a bit tricky but naturally achievable. The way we see it is that you have two steps: measure yourself with an actual tape measure and do the bra size and fit checklist.

Measuring with a body tape measure (the soft vinyl type) gives you a nice starting point on where you should be in size. There are a few ways to measure yourself for a bra. Most bra experts recommend that you get sized from a local bra specialist, however,  if one is not available here is how to do it yourself.

Essentially you need three measurements: two for your band and one for your cup. To measure the first band location wrap the tape around you and tuck it under your arms. Take the measure you see at the middle of your chest. The next band measurement you need is the bottom of your bust. Wrap the tape measure around your body and across the top of your ribcage. If you happen to land on an odd number for either measurement simply round up to the nearest even number.

Discovering your cup size is a bit more exciting. Measure loosely around your bust. Be sure to place the measuring tape around the fullest part of your breasts. Subtract your first band measurement (the under your arm measurement)  from your bust measurement. The difference between these measurements gives you your true cup size - each inch represents a cup size. So if I measured 34 inches in my band and 38 inches in my bust then I’m a D cup.

Once you have your measurements for your starting point the next steps involve actually trying on bras and various styles. Each bra style and type covers, cups, and lifts differently. According to the Bare Necessities Bra Fitting Guide, these are the points you should check: straps, coverage, fit, gaps, digging, and back.

When you try on your chosen bra style remember that your straps offer support but bands do the actual heavy lifting. If your coverage is adequate you are more likely to avoid “nipple peaks” and “popping out” faux pas. Keep an eye on the straps. If they are cutting into your shoulders, it means that your band size is too big.

According to Grace from The Petite Collegiate, "Straps slipping off the shoulders can actually also be a sign of a too large band, because a too-large band is made for someone with a larger frame than you. It can also just indicate a shape incompatibility, as many balconette styles have very wide set straps." Excess spillage from the cups is telling you to try on a bra that has a bigger cup size. Ideally, the center clasp or panel of the bra should lie flat against your chest between your breasts. If you find that the panel is on top of some breast tissue on either side, go up a size.

If you see a gap between your breasts and the bra it’s recommended that you look for a smaller cup size. Similarly, fabric that wrinkles, looks baggy, or folds is a sign that you need to size down. Make use of the mirrors in the changing room to check if the back of your bra is fitting as well as the front. The band at the back should be balanced at the same level all the way through. A band that rises at the back indicates that the size you are trying is too big. You should be able to slide in two fingers underneath the band at the back. If you are having trouble doing this, either loosen the band or choose a bigger size.

Also remember that an underwire is designed to offer you just the right amount of support and lift. However, while trying on an underwired bra, ensure that the underwire is not digging into your breasts or poking you anywhere. Ideally, the underwire should lie flat against your body and be barely noticeable during wear.

Ali Cudby, CEO of Fab Foundations and founder of the largest global bra fit training and certification program in the nation explains how to find out how a bra should fit your body, "If you’re not comfortable or contained, then your bra doesn’t fit. And you deserve better. TRY THIS – reach behind you and pull your bra band away from your back. Does it come away more than one or, at most, two inches? Can you feel resistance against your hand? If not, your band is too big and your bra doesn’t fit. It will never give you the support you need as a large-busted woman. Period."

Some further tips for finding your bra size courtesy of Grace from The Petite Collegiate:

  • Measure yourself every 3 months or so to determine your size. Fitting yourself at home is easier, faster, and removes any chance of a fitter altering your size result to push you into a size they sell. This way you take control of your own sizing!
  • Don’t freak out if you measure yourself and find out that you’re well above a D cup. D cups are not static, and they’re not huge. There is no disembodied D-cups floating around the world. Take a look at the Bra Band Project if you’re having too much sticker shock! 
  • Try various styles of bras. Don’t keep yourself in a beige T-shirt bra box! Everyone’s breasts are different, and not everyone fits well into moulded cups. Try on balconette styles, unlined styles, plunge styles, full cups. You may be surprised what fits best. 
  • It’s easiest to use UK sizing for bras, because it is the only standardized method. US sizing differs by brand, so it’s easy to make a mistake when choosing your size. UK cup progression goes: A, B, C, D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, H, HH etc. 


bra size infographic


Types of Bras

Every one of us has faced the issue of not having the right bra when we need it the most. That is why building an arsenal of solid and reliable bras is the secret weapon to polished, trendy, and stylish wardrobes.

Remember that your bra collection must be updated at least every six months. To ensure you have all your wardrobe bases covered perhaps start by surveying everything you have in your closet. The Stylebook app is tedious but does a fine job helping you get a firm grasp on what you own. Next begin to take a hard look at your current bra collection.

Once you survey your closet you likely may find that you own the perfect backless or nude illusion dress for sexy nights out with your lover but have yet to wear it because you don’t have a collection of adhesive bras. Adding the right adhesive bra to your bra collection ensures this is never an issue in your style for nights choice again.

Not only is it important to find bras that fit but you also have to ensure that you have the perfect bra to fit you in ways that are flattering, sexy, and give you confidence. Here is a high level guide of the types of bra styles that are available, the dresses they go with, and everything else you need to know in order to build an impressive and all terrain bra collection.   

Everyday Bras

Let’s start with the bras we use most often – everyday basic bras. These are the bras you reach for when you get dressed for work, meet friends at the mall for calorie feast, or pick your son up from school. While it would be good to have a collection of bras that you use through the week, the truth is that most of us tend to wear the same bra at least for a couple of days in a row, hygiene permitting.

Instead of wearing the same bra every day, consider buying at least 2-3 well-fitting basic bras so you can alternate them. Why? When you wear a bra for the whole day, your body heat affects the fabric and it tends to relax and loosen around you. Your bra needs some time to return to its original shape and get aired out.

Pick bras that fit you well, choose between seamless or seamed bras, and bras that have padding and underwire. Keep a few lightweight cotton bras with no padding for those hot summer months. 

Push-up Bras

Perfect for wearing with low-cut dresses or tops, push-up bras help create the illusion of bigger breast sizes. Hooray! The cups have removable or fixed pads that push or lift your breasts up as if on a mini breast-size pedestal. Push-up bras are also known to create better cleavage.

These are good bras for women who have smaller breast sizes yet need to the appearance of mounds for strapless or low neckline styles. They are also the perfect bra for women who have breast fed, experience rapid changes in weight, or notice a bit of sagging as they create natural mounds of bountiful breast without having to undergo any sort of cosmetic surgery. 

Racerback and Sports Bras

Racerback and sports bras are also known as T-back bras. The x-shaped back of this bra is designed to allow maximum movement of the arms as well as the back area, without having to constantly worry about the straps slipping from their place. They are usually a go to if you find yourself moving rapidly as they also “strap in” the girls.

The wider straps, soft flexible fabric, and various colors and styles make sports bras comfy options for more than the gym or athletic field. However, beware, this style bra has the tendency to “squish” the girls and you may experience the “one boob” effect. 

Adhesive Bras

Perfect for backless dresses or for dresses with a prominently displayed back, adhesive bras have cups covered with re-usable surgical-quality adhesive on the insides. This bra style works well for those who need some breast coverage but want to leave their backs open.

However, if you need breast support, adhesive bras are not ideal. Instead opt for exercises that lift the girls naturally and help them fight gravity. While adhesive bras are not known for providing support they are ideal for shaping as well as hiding erect nipples under sheer clothing. Some adhesive bras even have enough silicone padding to ensure that your breasts go up a size (just thought we’d mention that fabulous tip)! 

Convertible Bras

A convertible bra is perhaps the one bra to rule them all. The straps on these bras are easy to remove completely or detached so as to crisscross them on the back which accommodates halter and one shoulder necklines. These are also ideal for asymmetrical necklines, racerback dresses, and strapless dresses.

If you are traveling and only want to carry a couple of bras with you, make sure at least one of them is a versatile convertible. Most quality convertible bras come with a silicone lining around the cups and back area so you are able to comfortably wear them as a strapless bra. The silicon ensures the band stays in places and prevents slipping (remember the band is the part of the bra that does the heavy lifting). 

Corsets and Bustiers

When you take a strapless bra and add long-lines to it such that the bra band is be pulled tight with lace or hooks, you have a corset or a bustier-style bra. Most of the corsets and bustier bras have half or demi cups so you can show off adequate mounding and cleavage in your dress.

We love them but they are hard to pull off in some bandage dress styles. For women with larger than average breasts, a strapless bra may not offer enough support yet a mini corset or bustier style bra is sure to do the job. Corsets and bustier bras tend to be very form-fitting and structured with boning so they are not the most comfortable and often become irritating beyond six hours of wear. 

Plunge Bras

As the name of the bra suggests, plunge bras have a low center panel that make it the perfect piece of lingerie to wear under tops and dresses that have a plunging neckline. Deep V-neck dresses, look stunning but the last thing you need is for your bra panel to show from under the dress. A plunge bra ensures that you get adequate breast coverage and cleavage without padding. These kind of bras work best for women who have cup sizes of C or larger as larger breast do not require padding to create cleavage. 

Demi-cup Bras

Demi-cups or demi bras generally have a shorter underwire and wide-set straps. These bras offer less upper-breast coverage as compared to full cup bras. The balconette design is perfect to be worn under dresses that have a wider than average neckline or a wide and low neckline. However, bear in mind that if you have sloping shoulders or poor posture when it’s being worn you might have to struggle with straps that keep slipping out of place. 

Shelf Bras

For women who want the braless au natural look but with a little bit of support to prevent sagging, shelf bras are the solution. These bras have an underwire for support with a bare minimum lower cup that is not designed to cover the nipple area. Think of these bras as “half bras”. 

Multi-part Cup Bras

Women who have cup sizes of D or bigger often find themselves at a loss when looking for a bra that looks sensual but also offers the support they need. This is where a multi-part cup bra comes in. These bras generally have two to four pieces of fabric sewn together to make up the cup design. A seamed multi-part cup bra is easily the most supportive bra style on the market today.

Not only does this bra offer maximum support, it also looks attractive, flatters your figure by shaping your breasts, but also centering the breast tissue. This is the perfect bra to wear under a no-nonsense full coverage dress that shows off your silhouette.

types of bra infographic

Bras Sizes and Styles Summed Up

We’ve covered all the most important details you need to know about bras in this guide. Remember that your body is perpetually changing and it is a good idea to get your size checked every six months or simply do it yourself by visiting a local lingerie boutique.

Building the perfect bra collection that works with your wardrobe is the first step in gaining more confidence in your clothes and body. Take the time you need to explore your closet and identify those pieces you avoid because you do not have the “right bra” and use those pieces as your starting point. While trying on bras, think of the dress you want to pair it with, and try different bra styles to find the perfect bra style and fit for you.

Remember that bras need to be discarded when they have stretched too much, lost their shape, have padding that has gone lumpy, or any other structural issues affecting your feminine profile and the display of your girls. To maintain your bras for the long haul hand or machine wash them but avoid putting them in the dry - rather simply line dry them or lay them flat on a drying rack.  

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About the Author

Sasithon Bella is the kewl in The Kewl Shop. Co-founder, chief buyer, bandage dress guru and a lot more. If you like what you see at The Kewl Shop it is because of Sasithon Bella. You might know her better as Sasi.



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