Let's call it like it is: the perfect-fitting bra is sort of the unicorn of the shopping world. Unfortunately, it's probably also one of the most important things you shop for. After all, there's a lot at stake — your everyday bra most likely gets worn way more than your favorite tee shirt or pair of jeans, so the last thing you want it to be is uncomfortable. When you're deciding on a bra, there's more to it than just cup and band sizes, and knowing how to fix the most common bra fitting problems when you're shopping can save you a ton of grief down the line.
However, it's often hard to tell if a bra is going to be annoying until, well, it is. But even if you think you're stuck with a bra that's less than perfect, there are still some specific tweaks you can use on the bras you already own to make them way more comfortable — or, show you what you need to look for next time you're investing in a new bra.
Ra’el Cohen, head of design at online bra retailer ThirdLove, is here to help. "We believe the best bra is one you never think about, and in order to achieve that level of comfort, your bra has to fit really well," she tells Bustle. Here are eight tips she has for troubleshooting the bra problems you always run into, so a bra that fits like a dream can be a reality.
1. The Problem: Something's Always Poking You Or Feels Itchy
The fix: Watch out for potential irritants. There's quite possibly nothing more annoying on a bra than something itching or poking you in the back or side all day long. Before you buy, "look for details like tagless, scratch-free printed labels and hidden elastics. Details like these really make the difference in how comfortable your bra band is at the end of the day," says Cohen. ThirdLove also uses coated wires so they won't poke you, she adds.
2. The Problem: There's Extra Room In Your Cups
The fix: Tighten your straps. While extra room in your cups may mean you need a smaller cup size, it may also just be a sign that your straps are too loose, says Cohen. Try tightening them, and if that doesn't help, go ahead and try a smaller cup size.
3. The Problem: Your Cups Are Always Gaping At The Top
The fix: Try a different bra style. If you've tried tightening your straps and choosing a smaller cup size and you're still experiencing cup gaping, you may just need to experiment with a different style.
"Certain bra styles work better for different breast shapes," Cohen explains. (This handy breast shape dictionary is strangely fascinating, and something I personally had never considered before.) "This fit issue is most common in women with East West, Asymmetric, Bell Shape, and Slender breast shapes. Since the weight of your breast is resting at the bottom of the cup, it leaves room at the top of the cup that creates this gaping." Styles with angled cups tend to be better, she says — from ThirdLove, she recommends their Plunge or Push-up style.
4. The Problem: You're Spilling Out Of Your Cups
The fix: Get a bigger cup size. The fix for this problem is a little more intuitive than cups that feel too big: if you're spilling out of the sides or tops of your cups, just go for a bigger cup size. ThirdLove also carries half sizes for many styles and band sizes, if you only need a slight tweak.
5. The Problem: Your Straps Are Always Digging Into Your Shoulders
The fix: Try padded straps or a smaller band. "For women with larger cup sizes who tend to experience straps digging in more often than other women, look for bra styles with padded straps," suggests Cohen.
Or, you may just need a smaller band size. "Contrary to popular belief, your straps should not be doing the heavy lifting — your bra band should actually be doing most of the work. If your straps are seriously digging in, the odds are great that your band is too big — or too stretched out — to do its job anymore, and you’re not getting the support you deserve," says Cohen. It should be loose enough that you can slip two fingers under the back, but not much more than that. Quick note: If you do go down a band size, you may need to go up a cup size to adjust. This is called "sister sizing," says Cohen.
6. The Problem: Your Straps Slip Off Your Shoulders
The fix: Your straps need to be tightened, or you need a more narrow strap. "Be sure to tighten your straps every month or so. Elastics stretch out over time and need to be tightened to maintain the same level of support," says Cohen. If that doesn't work, you may need a style with a narrower strap. Oddly enough, wider straps are actually more prone to slippage, says Cohen.
7. The Problem: The Wire Slightly Sits On Your Breasts
The fix: Try a smaller band size. "If your wire is sitting on your breasts, your band is too big and it’s time to invest in a smaller band size," says Cohen. The concept of "sister sizing" applies here, too: "When you size down in band size to solve this issue, you need to go one size bigger in the cup to adjust."
8. The Problem: Your Bra Just Doesn't Feel Right In General
The fix: Make sure you're putting on your bra correctly, and make routine adjustments. This may sound like second nature, but there actually are "best practices" for putting on a bra. "It sounds silly, but many women actually skip over these key steps when putting on their bra, leading to various fit issues," says Cohen.
"Try the scoop-and-swoop — get your breasts to sit in the right place by gathering each breast into the cups as you pull back on the wire," says Cohen. Also, as your bra strap stretches out, fasten it on a tighter hook (you should start out fastening a new bra on its loosest hook so you can adjust as it stretches). "Lastly, keep your straps happy! You should tighten your bra straps every other month (or more frequently as needed) to ensure they’re snug and supportive," says Cohen.