Studies say that as many as 80% of women may be wearing the wrong bra size – yikes! I’m of the opinion that a proper bra fitting is one of the best things any woman can do for herself. A quality bra that fits has a huge impact on not only the way clothes fit but also on your physical comfort. Unfortunately, much like a good man, a good bra is hard to find.
Luckily, plenty of brave ladies have taken up the measuring tape of justice and dedicated themselves to the art of the perfect bra. One of them is Karen of The Blackberry Belle. When I asked Karen for her boob credentials, she said:
I was fitted at a local store back in 2010 and fell in love with the difference a properly fitted bra could make – not just for how I felt, but looked in clothes! For over three years, I worked at a local fitting salon in Louisiana. I’ve helped hundreds (if not thousands) women. I’ve helped women (including trans women) of all sizes, shapes, and ages feel better not just about their breasts, but about their bodies. I’m no longer a fitter, but I am no less passionate about bras and bra fitting!
That’s more than good enough for me! Karen was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about bras, bra fitting, and retro lingerie. Learn where to find a good bra, what everyone should know about bras, and what the one piece every pinup should have in her lingerie drawer is after the jump!
Why is a properly fitted bra important?
Did you know that the band that goes around your body provides 90% of the support for your bra? Yep. Your BAND is what holds the girls up, not your STRAPS. Your straps only provide about 10% of the support in a bra. So, if your band is too big, you are trying to hike the girls up by making your straps shorter and shorter, which means that they start diggin in your shoulders and your band moves up between your shoulderblades. If you are very large-busted, that can be a LOT of weight on those two spots, which causes pain and tense muscles in the neck and shoulders.
A well-fitted bra can help prevent this back, neck, and shoulder pain, and can also help prevent damage to breast tissue. In my experience as a fitter, most women are wearing bras that are too big in the band and too small in the cup. This means most ladies are tugging, pulling, shifting, and moving all day – and ripping their bras off in pain when they get home in the evening!
How can you tell if a bra fits?
- The band should be snug around the body. Yes, I said SNUG, not pinching or biting. All too often, I would hear people say “but I can feel my bra on!” You’re supposed to be able to feel your bra. This ensures that your bust is supported and lifted. If you’re feeling pain, though, that’s different. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to tuck a finger underneath the band when it is on. You should also be able to get just two fingers underneath the straps – any more than that and your straps are too loose.
- The wires/cups should be back behind the breast tissue. Most women don’t realize that their breast tissue can go back under their arms. The best way to do that is to put your bra on, lean forward a little, reach in your cup, and scoop our boobs forward with your hands. If you are spilling out of the cup, this means you need to go up in the cup. [The “swoop & scoop,” as my fitter called it, makes such a huge difference! – Penny]
Now, on the topic of bra size: DO NOT PANIC. IT IS JUST A NUMBER AND LETTER. Your size in that first bra might not be your size across the board! Depending on the bra’s brand, style, cut, etc., you may change in brand and cup size when you are trying things on! I can’t tell you how many women would freak out when I would tell them that they were anything above a DD.
Newsflash: DD really isn’t that big. Here’s a good size range that a fitting salon should carry to accomodate most women:
US bra sizing can be a little tricky, since after DD they just keep adding Ds to the size. Here’s a good conversion chart from US to UK sizing:
UK – US
A – A
B – B
C – C
D – D
DD – DD
E – DDD
F – DDDD/G
FF – DDDDD/H
G – DDDDDD/I
GG – J
H – K
HH – L
J – M
JJ – N
K – ??
Notice that there really isn’t a converted size for a K cup bra. That’s because most US manufacturers don’t make them. 🙁
Where should you go to get measured for a bra?
The best place, hands-down, would be a fitting salon. Typically, these are small, locally-owned businesses that carry a wider size range to cover most women. If you Google your city and “bra fitting salon” or “fitting specialist”, that’ll give you some good idea of where to go. When it comes to chain stores, I’d trust Nordstrom (although you might not find a lot of sizes in-store), or Rigby and Peller (which has the awesome distinction of holding the Royal Warrant to be the personal corsetiere to HRH Queen Elizabeth). [There is a tragic dearth of lingerie stores in my area, and I had a great experience at my local Nordstrom! – Penny]
What kind of bras look best under vintage-style clothes?
It all depends on the look you are going for. If you are going for a truly vintage/pinup look, the pointier the better! There are companies, such as What Katie Did and Secrets In Lace, that still make tradtional bullet bra shapes. However, if you are looking for a more modern shape, I personally love cut-and-sewn bras. These are more traditional bras that are shaped by cutting the pieces of the cup and sewing them together, hence the name.
I personally wear cut-and-sewn bra every day for the following reasons:
1) They are more supportive. Each seam is placed specifically to structure and shape the breast.
2) They are lighter. Living in the South, it gets HOT. Molded cups are traditionally heavier and thicker – especially if you add padding into the mix. A lightweight bra means breathability!
3) They are PRETTY. I can wake up in the morning feeling like poo, but a lacy bra or a fun, printed bra can be an instant mood lifter!
What kind of underpinnings should every pinup have in her lingerie drawer?
I LOVE bustiers for dressier occasions. They are beautiful, make you feel fancy, hold up the girls like whoa, and can help hold in the tummy. It gives you a really wonderful pinup shape, and most of them come with garter straps for that uber-sexy look with stockings. For fuller busted ladies, my favorites are the bustiers from Goddess. They can require extra help to get off and on, but the boning both in the body and cup holds UP. Not only that, but this style in particular can really accomodate more boob than you’d expect! It was my go-to when I was fitting a fuller busted woman for a formal event or for a wedding gown, but they give this stunning shape under retro and vintage dresses. The sizing can be odd, though, so I strongly recommend going to your favorite fitting shop to try it on.
One big tip: If you’re wearing shapewear with this, put the shapewear on OVER the bustier. Trust me, you will thank me when you go to the bathroom. [As someone who once went to the Renaissance Faire with bike shorts on UNDER her corset, I second this. – Penny]
Where are your favorite places to shop for bras?
What’s your favorite piece in your collection?
Currently, I am obsessed with these styles:
Any other bra advice?
Tip #1: Bras do not last forever.
A lot of people believe that a good bra will last for years upon years. Sadly, this is not true.
A good bra will last you about a year – under certain circumstances. If you only have two-three bras that you repeately wear over the week, then you’ll probably get about a year out of them. Bras stretch as you wear them, which is why it is important to start your bra on the correct hook. A bra band is adjustable for a reason. Start on the hook closest to the end of the band, then as you wear it and it stretches, move the hooks in. The more bras you have to wear, the longer your bras will last!
Tip #2: Build your wardrobe.
Beige and black are great basics. Start with those colors since they work under pretty much anything. As you build your wardrobe, add in prints and colors. I have two beige bras in my drawer. One of them is a strapless, and the other one I save for my under any light-colored shirts. If you’re like me, and wear a lot of black and dark colors, you don’t have to worry about fun prints showing through your clothes.
Tip #3: YOU KNOW YOUR BODY BEST.
If you go into a fitting, and you are not comfortable with a bra, SPEAK UP. Are the wires pinching? Does the band feel like it’s strangling you? Are you iffy about the style? Tell us! We can’t find your perfect styles if you don’t tell us. Most fitters want to see you leave with bras you are going to wear and love. You’ve got enough ouchy styles that sit in your drawer…don’t add more to that stack! Most of the time, your fitter will be able to make tweaks and adjustments, from adding an extender to give you a little more breathing room, or adjusting the cup and band size, or even just finding you a different style to work with your body type!