Many of us have been wearing bras for the majority of our life, yet they’re still a bit mysterious. According to ThirdLove cofounder and bra expert Ra’el Cohen, “almost 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size due to common fit issues.” LIVELY Experience store manager and fit expert Hannale Klubnick knows that finding the right bra can be intimidating and confusing. Common questions she hears include “’What is a sister size? What do I do if my band feels tight, but my cups are gaping? What if it’s been four years and two kids since my last bra fitting?’ It can be a lot! And mistakes can happen along the way.” Luckily, we had some experts share the biggest bra mistakes you’re making and how to fix them.
Not knowing how a bra should fit
More people are wearing ill-fitting bras than you might think. “The biggest mistakes we see are mostly related to not knowing how a bra should fit,” says Klubnick. According to the director of technical design and fit at Adore Me, Colleen Leung, when people say “bras and underwires are uncomfortable” it’s generally code for “they’re not the right size.”
“If your bra rides up in the back or has gaps at the top, it doesn’t fit. If your bra doesn’t lay flat at the center or creates a double boob over the top of the cups or at the side of the cups, it doesn’t fit,” says brand experience manager at Cosabella Caroline Peaslee. “If your bra wires poke you in the sides or the front, it doesn’t fit. If your bra doesn’t hold your breasts at the midpoint between your elbow and shoulder, it doesn’t fit.”
Straps that are too loose or too tight
Bra straps matter more than you might think. “Straps that are too loose and falling off your shoulders could mean your bra is worn out from use and the straps have lost their elasticity. It could also mean the bra is too big for you,” says Cohen. Klubnick notes that straps that are falling off can be due to sloping shoulders or the need for a different bra style for a more petite frame. On the other hand, if the straps are digging into your shoulders, “chances are the band is too loose and not providing enough support,” says Cohen.
Wearing a wire that doesn’t sit right
This one hurts just reading it. “If your bra has a wire, it should be laying against your body, not your breast tissue, from the center of your cups to the outside of your breasts,” says Klubnick.
Forgetting to tighten straps and adjust breasts into the cups EVERY time you put a bra on.
“A bra does not situate itself into place. You actually have to do the adjusting,” says Peaslee. This is the case even if you wore the same bra the day before. “Lift your breast tissue up and place it in each cup after you put it on and adjust the cups to make sure they are centered, lying flat, etc.,” says Peaslee. “Also, tighten your bra straps each time you put on your bra, as they have most likely slipped some during washing and wearing.”
Not having enough bras
Although I own about 10 bras, I tend to get stuck in a cycle of my favorite few, which according to Peaslee, is not good. She says the minimum requirement is three bras, which gives you one to wear, one to air out after wearing (consider it a “rest day” for the bra) and one in the wash.
Wearing a bra way past its prime
“Nothing is sadder than a dingy, dilapidated bra, with worn, fraying straps, or holes and stains, with stretched-out elastic and wires poking out,” says Peaslee, which feels like perhaps a personal attack but nonetheless inspires us to invest in some new bras. “Your foundations are a reflection of you. They should be worthy,” she adds.
Your cups should be comfortably full, says Cohen. If there’s too much extra space in the cups, they can look empty under clothes. This could also be a sign your bra is too big. While cup gaping can mean you need a larger cup size, it can also be a result of the band being too loose and riding up the back, notes Klubnick. If there is just a bit of gaping, you might want to look into half cup sizes. Cohen notes that half sizes are a best seller at ThirdLove, like this 24/7 Classic T-Shirt Bra.
Not replacing your bras frequently enough
One of the most shocking findings we’ve learned is that you’re supposed to replace your bras every six to nine months, according to Peaslee. “And even sooner if you only have one or two total bras in your rotation.”
Drying bras in the dryer
I feel like one of the first things I learned about bras was that you weren’t supposed to put them in the dryer. This actually isn’t something your mom told you just to be annoying. The fact is that elastics break down in the dryer heat, says Peaslee. “Your bras should be considered delicate lingerie and should be washed by hand or in a bra bag, on a delicate cycle, in cold water and hung to dry. Period, end of story.”
Not knowing your breast shape
“A lesser-known but important factor to consider when shopping for the best-fitting bra is breast shape,” says Cohen. Our Breast Shape Dictionary explains the most common breast shapes and the best bra styles for each.” Take a moment to identify your shape and the most complimentary bra for it—you’ll be glad you did.
If you have asymmetric breasts, which Cohen notes that about 40 percent of us do, the secret is to get a bra that can give you an instant lift and the option to incorporate an insert on one side, like the 24/7 Classic Uplift Plunge Bra ($72).
Assuming all bra brand sizes are the same
If you’re a 32D at one store, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the same size at another, and if you’re like me, this is a lesson you learned the hard way. “Bra sizes do not necessarily equate across brands. Some brands run large, some brands run small, and some stores may fit you in your ‘sister size’ because they do not actually have your true size in stock,” says Peaslee.
Not re-measuring yourself periodically
“Newsflash: Our bra size is most likely not going to remain the same throughout our life,” says Peaslee, noting that our breasts are often the first place weight shifts. “Whenever you gain or lose weight, change exercise programs, change diet, change medication, get pregnant, have a baby, go through menopause or some other changes” your breast size can shift.
Wearing a band size that’s too big and a cup size that’s too small
Leung says this is one of the biggest mistakes she sees people making. “If the band is too big, the bra will not offer proper support. There will be too much bounce, and the underwire will end up sitting on the breast tissue instead of supporting around the tissue,” says Leung. She notes that the wire should sit on the ribcage in order to offer full support and comfort.
To combat this, oftentimes people tighten “their straps too much, trying to compensate for the lack of support. This causes the band to slide up the back and causes back squish and discomfort,” says Peaslee. On the other hand, if the cup is too small, “the wire can dig into the tissue and cause slippage at the top and sides.”
Buying cheap bras
Although it may be tempting to skimp out on bras, the difference a few dollars can make in quality is significant. “Having a well-fitting, comfortable bra that supports and flatters your shape makes a huge difference in how you look” and feel, says Peaslee. “Spend the time to get fitted by a professional bra fitter and then spend the money to purchase a bra that is well-made from quality materials and will hold up.” She points out that many of us wear our bras for over 15 hours a day, seven days a week, making the cost per wear minimal.
An overflowing cup
Overflow is never a good sign when it comes to bras. If your breasts are spilling over the sides, you may want to try a larger cup size and smaller band size, says Cohen, noting that side overflow “can often be because the band is too loose and is not pulling the wire into the right place.” If breasts are spilling over the top of the cup, this is likely an indication you need to go up a cup size, says Cohen.
Not getting the right band fit
Some people believe that bras should be tight and uncomfortable, but this is, of course, not true. Klubnick says bands should feel firm yet comfortable with one to three inches of stretch.
Not knowing how to measure yourself
It’s easiest to go to a store and have a professional measure you, but in case you want to do it at home, you should ensure you’re doing it correctly. “Finding your true size is as simple as measuring at the bust and band in exact inches,” says Peaslee. “Don’t measure in a padded or push-up bra or a compression sports bra. Stand up straight, hold the measuring tape parallel to the floor, breathe in and breathe out, and pull the tape snugly (not loosely or smashingly tight).”
Guessing your size
Peaslee is very serious about this. “Pick a lane. One lane. You are one certain size currently, not the size you wish you were, not the size you used to be, not a 34B or C, not the size you are going to be in two months. You are one bra size currently.” She acknowledges that breast size can fluctuate throughout the month depending on weight loss or gain, hormones and water retention, but when shopping, grab the size you’re currently measuring at.