What Type of Bra is Right for Me?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Many women wear bras which are not sized correctly, or are inappropriate for the activities they are engaging in. Choosing a bra can be difficult, especially in a store with a wide assortment of available bras. There are several issues to take into account when choosing a bra which will make the process easier.

A woman trying on a bra.
A woman trying on a bra.

The first thing to think about while choosing a bra is how you will be using the bra. For exercise, a sports bra should be purchased. For wear under t-shirts and other form fitting garments, a seamless bra made from a smooth material is an excellent idea. Strapless bras are designed to go with strapless garments and gowns. If you are pregnant, a maternity bra to accommodate your enlarged and often more tender chest is a good acquisition, and nursing mothers should think about nursing bras, which make breastfeeding much easier.

A sports bra.
A sports bra.

Another consideration is the type of support offered. Larger breasted women should seek out underwire bras with large wings, while smaller breasted women can get away with smaller underwires or an underwire free bra. Bras with straps which cross in the back offer much more support than conventional straight strap bras, and the straps will be less likely to slide. Choosing a bra with the right level of support is very important, and do not be afraid to ask for help.

A strapless bra.
A strapless bra.

Style is another issue when choosing a bra. Bras run the gamut from lacy dress-up bras which are intended for ornamental use to practical, very plain bras. Most women like to have a few dressy bras available along with matching underwear for special occasions. Workhorse bras which are designed for long, comfortable wear and practical looks are also an important part of the wardrobe. In addition, most women could benefit from choosing a selection of nude bras for wear under sheer or light colored garments.

A demi-bra is useful for low cut shirts.
A demi-bra is useful for low cut shirts.

The materials used can also have an impact on choosing a bra. Most bras need to be hand washed. Women who want to be able to throw their bras in the washer should seek out washer-safe bras, which are often made from cotton. Synthetic materials are much more common, although women may want to watch out for lace, which can get scratchy. While investigating the material for care and comfort, women may also want to check on where the seams of the bra are, as seams can get uncomfortable after a long day.

Comfort is probably the most important thing when choosing a bra. A bra should never be uncomfortable to wear, and time should be taken while choosing a bra to make sure that a bra fits properly. To fit a bra correctly, find someone to help you take measurements so that you can ensure that they are accurate. Start by measuring the ribcage directly under the breasts. If the measurement is less than 33 inches (84 centimeters), add five inches (13 centimeters) to it. For measurements over this amount, you need to add three inches (eight centimeters). This numerical measurement is the chest measurement, and you can doublecheck it by measuring around your chest above your breasts. Your chest measurement should match the adjusted ribcage measurement.

Next, measure all the way around your chest at the widest point to determine your cup size. The difference between this measurement and the chest measurement will reflect your cup size. In the United States, each inch (two and a half centimeters) of difference represents a letter. Most people fall in the range of AA, A, B, C, D, or DD. Larger sizes are also available. Cup sizes may vary in other nations, although the lower sizes are fairly standardized.

When you are trying on a bra, check to see that all of the straps lie flat and even. There should be no buckling anywhere, and the straps should not dig into your flesh. Stick a finger under the bra in the front to check for breathing room, and make sure that the cups are fully filled. The bra should feel comfortable as you bend and twist in it. If the bra does not fit, ask for another size or style. Do not be ashamed of trying on an assortment of bras to choose the right one, since comfort is crucial!

By taking simple measurements using a tailor's measuring tape, you can figure out what size bra to purchase.
By taking simple measurements using a tailor's measuring tape, you can figure out what size bra to purchase.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Rather than relying on size alone, I start with my "standard" size, and go from there. A 42C in the pink cotton bras I love is too small in another style. I can't even get it fastened.

The best way to buy a bra is to try on styles you like, find the size that fits *you* the best, put on a top over it and check the look. When you like what you see, buy the bra. That's my rule of thumb, and it seems to work for me.


It's too loose and it's looking bad because of the bra I wear? Can I wear a push up bra?


My size 34d. Which bra should I wear so that my bustline will look good?


which brand should i buy and with cups or without cups? Please suggest.


i am 44 years old and wearing 36 size bra, but after 1 wash it becomes tight. i just don't know which type of bra to wear. Please suggest. thank you.


What exactly is a goddess bra? I know that a goddess dress is usually one designed for women with larger frames, but are goddess bras the same way?

I wear a 34DD bra, and wanted to know if a goddess bra would be a good fit for me.


You want to talk bra-buying difficulties, try finding a 36AA bra. So many bras in the 36 size only come in larger cup sizes, and finding a AA size for a women is hard anyway. So many of them only come in little girl prints, or training bra sizes, and it's nearly impossible to find one that is more "grown-up". Most of the time I have to rely on catalogs and online shopping.


Choosing a bra is one of those things that can be really fun, but also a total pain, depending on the luck you have on that particular day.

I'm pretty lucky because I wear a 32C bra, which is fairly common, so I usually have a lot of choices.

But I know that many women have a lot of problems, especially those who need petite bras or plus size bras.


Trouble is, most lingerie stores are not particularly helpful at fitting. Occasionally the more "discount" stores will offer fitting clinics, which may be of assistance. This is quite a change from the past where lingerie departments were fully staffed. Now even in stores where you would pay a lot, like Macy's, getting someone to help you is somewhat like attempting an archaeological dig in your back yard for dinosaurs-- nice idea, unlikely you'll get results.

It's also important to point out that measurements do not guarantee fit. If you look at the major brands of bras, you'll find huge differentiation between the same "sizes." If you can find a good brand or two that you like, all to the better. Salespeople also used to be able to comment on the bras which seemed to provide the truest fit; this is again not as common.

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