Bras Are Not From Outer Space and We Can Totally Figure Out This Crap

Good grief with the whinging about your bras, ladies! This one is furious at being told that her bra doesn't fit her (it doesn't). This one has just spent a small fortune on new bras, so taken was she with her own bosom once it was introduced to boulder holders that fit properly. And this one insists on putting her God damned bras in the dryer no matter how many times I tell her to stop doing that. (STOP DOING THAT.)

In fairness, right now there's an overwhelming amount of information and first-person essays and news coming out of Big Lingerie about bras and sizing and fit and everyone is hollering at you that YOU'RE ALL WEARING THE WRONG SIZE BRA. So actually? I don't at all blame you for the whinging. I would whinge too if everyone were yelling at me. (But seriously, you are totally wearing the wrong size bra I can tell right through your shirt.)

In the face of all this whinging, we want to help people feel less whingeful and so for the next few weeks we'll gather here, take off our bras, and let our girls hang free while we have a rap session about alllllll sorts of bra issues. It'll feel great. You look better already.

Since it's a very good place to start, we'll start at the very beginning. And the very beginning of our journey is knowing what bra size you should be wearing.

Getting Fitted For A Bra

The first thing you must do is to get fitted. This will be fun! No joke, it's a hoot the first time — you know how you hear those of us who have been fitted exclaiming over going from one size to another? That can be you! Seriously, that's the part you should look forward to. Oh also! You could take bets with friends as to what size you actually are, that's a fun game. My Bra Sensei — a very glamorous woman who pointed me in the direction of Intimacy and whispered, "Go." — guessed I would be either a 34C or a 34D and ding ding ding, 34D it was (I'd been wearing a 36B, gulp).

When it comes to the Fitting Experience, here you have some options:

1. You can go to a specialty or department store and have a person who performs these sorts of boob wranglings all the livelong day get you fitted up;

2. You can call a friend over and you can mutally size one another up;

3. You could size yourself on your own. Self-sizing may cause hair to grow on your palms, so be warned of that. Okay ha ha no, it won't cause hair to grow on your palms, but it's the least desirable method because it's the one in which there's the most room for error. With that said, it's also a perfectly acceptable way to go and is a great choice for those of you who have an abundance of modesty and/or a dearth of time and money.

This video is a handy thing for those of you who want to do at-home bra fitting, either with a friend or on your own. When you're done watching it and are ready to whip out your tape measure, here is a bra size calculator that will convert those two numbers into a bra size for you.

Once you know your size, about half the battle is over. But only half.

For a few reasons, including the maddening fact that sizes aren't standard from style to style and from brand to brand, the fit of the "same" size bra can vary wildly. (In the next installment of this series, Hard-To-Fit Sizes, we'll get into more detail on cup sizes and how they work.)(While I have you: Can I tell you how tremendously annoyed I am with this whole Jockey business? There are already 900 fucking bra sizes out there, Jockey. STOP MAKING IT MORE COMPLICATED, YOU ASSHOLES.)(My apologies, I rarely swear in my writing but the tyranny of the bra industry makes me LIVID.) I know this is not news you want to hear! It's not really news I want to deliver, but it's the truth and truth is the path to enlightenment or some such mumbo jumbo.

What that means, in practical terms, is that you have to try a bra on before you buy it. Which leads us nicely into …

Finding The Right Bra For You

Now then, if you've gone in for a professional fitting that fitter is going to bring you a bunch of bras to try on. You will very quickly learn what you like and what you don't like, style-wise. You'll also try some bras on in the "size" you are that don't fit you at all. Pay attention while all of this is happening! Ask questions! Take notes on your computer telephone!

Here are some of the things you might want to jot down:

  • What brands you're having good luck with, from a fit and style perspective.

  • What kinds of styles you don't care for, e.g. I do not care for the way that balconette cup bras fit my particular bosoms, so now I stay entirely away from them.

  • The brand and style numbers of the bras you buy.

  • The brand and style numbers of bras you try on and like but aren't planning to buy that day.

If you've gone the self-fitting route, you'll have a bit more work when it comes to finding the right bras because you won't be as familiar with the inventory as is the woman who works at the store. That is okay! You should just be aware of it and plan to try on a lot of different styles, even and especially the ones you see on the rack that you would "never" consider. Try that bra on! The worst that happens is that you spend 30 seconds of your life in a bra you don't care for. But you might be very, very surprised by what you like best when it's actually on you hoisting your gals up.

The other thing you'll need to know if you're going to choose and fit your own bras, is what constitutes a bra that fits. Nordstrom, which is a FANTASTIC place to get a fitting if you've got one near you, offers this incredibly helpful information on their website:

Does the band ride up your back?

If yes, your bra is either too large or needs to be tightened. If it's still too loose after you've adjusted the band, it's time to go down a band size (and possibly up a cup).

Does your breast tissue spill over or bulge under the cup?

If yes, your cups are too small and you need to go up a cup size.

Do the cups pucker or gap?

If your breasts don't fill out the cups, your bra is too large.

Do your straps slip and slide?

If you've adjusted your straps and they still fall off, either the band is too big or your bra has lost its elasticity. If you have sloped shoulders, opt for a racerback bra or a style with convertible straps.

Do your straps dig into your shoulders?

If so, try loosening the straps. If that doesn't solve the problem, it's likely the cups are too small and you need to go up a cup size.

Does the wire poke and prod?

If so, you're wearing a cup size that's too small.

You should also take a gander at the Bras Fitting Guide from Breakout Bras, which offers a bunch of photos that illustrate good fit versus bad fit. One important note is that your band should feel uncomfortably tight when you try it on. Not, like, painfully tight. Just uncomfortably tight. It will loosen up over time, which is why at the start you want it to be quite snug. If you've got a fitter with you she'll tell you that, but if you're on your own that's a key thing to know about.

The last tip before you head into the dressing room is to come ready with two or three different shirt styles so you can see how the bras look under your actual shirts. A t-shirt is a must, but also think about what shirt styles you commonly wear and bring those with you. Do you wear a lot of silk? You'll want smoother bras. Are you a v-neck girl? You'll want to make sure the center gore is low enough that it doesn't peek out of your shirt. And so on.

Not Going Bankrupt

Holy hell, are bras ever expensive!

That's pretty much how everyone sounds, post-fitting. In between exclaiming over how they'd been wearing a 36B but were really a 34D, can you believe it??

There are, however, some things you can and should do to help keep the cost of buying bras down. This is especially true for those of you trotting around in hard-to-find sizes.

The first thing to do is to brace yourself and pay up for your first two bras that you've chosen with the help of a bra saleswoman. Two is a good start, because it allows you to buy one in black and one in a lighter, neutral color and also for the purchasing of two different styles, say a t-shirt bra and maybe a plunge bra. Or a demi bra and a convertible bra. You should also considering buying bras from different brands. This is a helpful guide to understanding all manner of different bra styles to get you started. Here's another one that's not as overwhelming, information-wise.

Once you've got those two bras, you'll know these things:

1. What sizes in what brands fit you
2. The style numbers of two bras you like

With that knowledge, you can seek out those same or similar bras online at discounted prices. You can also troll sales for those or similar bras. And do not forget about discount stores! Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, Filene's Basement — all great places to pop into from time to time to see if you get lucky. Also eBay! Many sellers on eBay buy overstock from fancy department and lingerie stores that you can purchase for a song. Over time, and with a bit of patience, you'll be able to build up a nice bra wardrobe in a way that doesn't send you into a Guidice-style bankruptcy.

What I wouldn't suggest you do is go into a store, get fitted, try on bras you like, leave without them and just buy them online. The reason for that is that it's a little use-y and also that I want you to actually wear those bras for a bit so you're really sure you love them.

No But Really, Is This Fitting Thing A Scam?

Yes and no. When done right, it's legit, but it's important to remember that virtually every place that does bra fittings also sells bras and therefore has a vested interest in getting you into new products.

There are a few things you can do to keep the experience firmly in your control. Here they are:

  • Visit the store's website to size up their price range to be sure you're shopping in a place that's comfortable for your budget

  • Set a budget before you go for your fitting

  • Tell the saleslady about your budget

  • Tell the saleslady what your bra buying goal is. A good starting point is to plan to buy two bras, one black and one neutral, in different styles

  • Try on bras that you're not planning to buy that day; you're already shirtless so go ahead and try on some bras that fall outside what you know you want to buy and make note of what you like for future purchasing

  • Bring cash and leave the credit card at home

  • Bring a friend to talk some sense into you if you're a person who tends to make impulse buys

  • Be honest with yourself about the difference between your current bra wardrobe and the new bras you're trying on: if you don't feel like there's a difference, or if you find that you don't care about the difference, walk on out empty handed

  • Don't get pushed into expensive bra detergent unless you went into the store planning to purchase expensive bra detergent. Here's what I tell people to do when a saleslady asks how you're caring for your bras, i.e. is trying to upsell you on items you don't need:

Saleslady: And how are you caring for your bras?

You: I hand wash them using Forever New*. I actually just got a new bottle, so I'm all set!

Saleslady: [crumpleface]

In other words, lie. Or better yet, tell the truth because that's of course how you wash your bras right??? (Go ahead and lie to me too, it's okay, I'm used to it.)

*Or whatever brand of lingerie wash you happen to notice they're pushing

Most importantly: If you feel like you're getting scammed, you probably are. Hightail it right on out.

Final Words Of Encouragement And Resources

The most daunting part of getting fitted for a bra is the fretting you're doing now, before you've gone in for a fitting. So rip that Band-Aid off quickly, get fitted and then you won't feel as overwhelmed and annoyed by this entire conversation as you likely do right now.

Perhaps you are fretting over being manhandled by a stranger? Try not to fret so much over it, that stranger has truly seen it all. If it really is an upsetting a notion to you, call in a friend to help you measure yourself, or size yourself on your own. Options! We have options here, is what I want to impress upon you. Or don't do this at all! It's your body, they're your breasts and I'm serious when I say this: If you don't care how your bra looks and feels, that is an okay choice to make in life.

There are for sure some things a salesperson is going to try to convince you of: buying expensive lingerie detergent is a must, that bras only last for 6 months, that the bra you're currently wearing is an abomination and that you are a failure of a woman for even owning it.

These things are malarky, and when you begin hearing them you will smile and nod and demur all while thinking to yourself how you know better than to fall for all of this because that nice gal from Jezebel told you that the bra saleslady is full up on horseshit.

And finally, some resources for you!

Reddit has probably the greatest collection of bra fit-related information you could hope to find on this wide web. I know! Reddit: Not entirely terrible.

Nordstrom offers a wonderful Lingerie Guide 101 that includes a ton of information about bra buying.

HerRoom is a treasure trove, with guides on topics ranging from the anatomy of a bra to a breast classification guide. Mine are splayed, in case you wanted to know that about me!

Bare Necessities has a crazy comprehensive Bra Glossary.

Breakout Bras' sizing guide has tons of photos of real people to help illustrate how a bra should fit, and also the proper way to hoist your girls into a bra.

Okay, so! Wow that was a ton of information but hopefully organized in such a way that you feel less like collapsing in a heap on the floor at the mention of the words "bra fitting." You will still have questions! In the upcoming weeks, we'll take on the following topics: hard-to-fit sizes; nursing bras; sports bras; decorative lingerie.

Oh oh wait! Before I send you out there this is the most important part: Once you have your fancy new wardrobe of underpinnings, you'll want to take great care of them and be sure you launder them regularly. AND DON'T DRY YOUR BRAS.

Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, 25 February 2014); her cleaning column, Squalor, appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.