Bras are a part of everyday life for about 50% of the world population, so picking the perfect one is an important skill. But, how do bra sizes work? What do all those numbers and letters mean? Can you wear any kind you like?
Keep reading and find out!
Types of Underwear for Women
Wearing a bra is a choice many of us make every day as we leave our houses for work. With the fashion industry growing faster than ever, the list of bra variations you can find is quite lengthy.
Coverage and support are at the top of the list of reasons we include bras in our everyday outfits. Yet, despite their constant presence in our lives, most women still have difficulty understanding the numbers and letters used to mark bra sizes.
Poorly-fitting bras can cause many problems, ranging from discomfort to bruising, back pain, and posture problems. Not to mention that wires and other metal or plastic bra parts can cut through your skin and even cause infections if unnoticed.
To avoid that, and help yourself to the right amount of support, you need to pick the right type and size of bra. Keep in mind that not all bodies are the same and that some types of underwear will do more damage than good to you, no matter how cute or sexy they look. Also, remember that there are plenty of benefits to going braless altogether.
Luckily, we can distinguish between several criteria helpful in fitting a bra to your needs. Once you master them, you’ll have an easy time picking the perfect undergarment.
Bra Types According to Neckline/Coverage
Bra coverage can be easily determined — it’s the extent to which the bra cup covers your breast. The amount of coverage provided by a bra is usually a good indicator of how supported you’ll feel while wearing it.
A full-coverage bra is what we typically think of when it comes to bras. These bras come with a cup that covers most of the breast surface and are primarily made for support as opposed to style, which is why many people consider them boring.
A full-coverage bra is the best choice for people with bigger breasts, as they are the ones who need the coverage to be perfect for achieving comfort and optimal support. Full-coverage cups can shape a person’s bust and support it towards achieving the desired look.
Of course, finding the right bra from this category doesn’t mean you’ll have to stick to wearing the same kind of underwear for the rest of your life. Several types of bras belong to this group:
- Seamed bra. While many people prefer a seamless look that leaves no trace on their clothes, seamed style bras frequently include softer materials, like lace for detailing and patterns.
- Minimizer bra. As the name indicates, these bras are made for people who want to draw attention away from their breasts. The cup covers the entire breast and presses it towards the body, as a sports bra would.
- T-shirt bra. These bras are the most versatile and can be worn with almost any outfit, except those that accentuate your cleavage. The fuller coverage gives people who wear it a seamless look, providing coverage at the same time.
- Sports bra. A sports bra is designed specifically to protect the gentle breast tissue from high-impact activities in sports. Without proper support, even running can be painful, so sports bras are recommended for any strenuous activity.
Fitting a bra wouldn’t be so hard if there were only one kind. Unfortunately, to balance full-coverage bras, we have demi-coverage bras. These have little to do with comfort or support, and are primarily appearance-oriented.
Unlike full-coverage bras, demi-coverage cups leave the upper part of your breast exposed. The cup usually ends right above the nipple. If you like wearing tops with a low neckline, these bras are a perfect choice.
However, they may not be the best choice for those with fuller breasts, as the upper part will have no support at all. Demi-cups are better for those whose breasts are fuller at the bottom, as they’ll have at least some support when wearing these bras.
The following is a list of the most common types of demi-coverage bras you’ll find on the market:
- Balcony bra (balconette). Balconettes are a popular everyday bra with low-cut cups that only support the bottom area of your breasts. The wires are in the shape of a half-circle, which is suitable for creating cleavage, as they’re usually worn with shirts that have a low neckline.
- Bralette. Without pads and wires, bralettes are the actual answer to “How should a bra fit?” Its cups follow the natural shape of your breast and are made of soft materials for comfort. However, although they’re made in all sizes, those with bigger breasts may not opt for them, as they don’t provide the standardized shaping full-coverage and demi-coverage bras do.
- Plunge bra. If you’re going for a sexy low-cut look, but you still need support, plunge bras are the ones you need in your collection. They come with a very deep cut between the cups, so the fabric isn’t visible, while the wires are placed to push the breasts closer and make a fuller cleavage.
- Push-up bra. Push-up bras are basically plunge bras for women who have smaller breasts. The wiring and the cut between cups are the same. The only difference is that added padding inside the cups will significantly lift the breast to form a fuller-looking cleavage.
Bra Types According to Construction
The construction of a bra is just as important as coverage for determining the right bra for our needs. Construction refers to the integral parts: The material, padding, and wires that (don’t) go into it.
Finding a bra that fits your body perfectly can be a nerve-wracking process and will probably involve a trial-and-error phase. Before you embark on the journey, here are some construction options:
- Padded/non-padded. Cup padding gives the wearer anything between a moderate to extreme lift, which is why it’s a favorite for many people. Padding can be made from fabric, gels, or even air, and provides an otherwise impossible lifted look. For example, many people reach for padded bras as they prepare for important events (such as first dates).
Non-padded cups just have an inner and outer layer of fabric. These tend to be more comfortable, especially for those with fuller breasts.
- Wired/non-wired. Wires are an infamous part of bras — you’ve either seen a meme or had the bad luck of having one pierce the fabric of your bra and go into your skin. Unfortunately, wires are necessary to create lift and support of breasts to create an elegant silhouette under clothes.
For those unwilling to sacrifice their comfort for a bra that fits and lifts, non-wired bras are a perfect choice. They’re more elastic and thus better for wearing over long periods.
Bra Sizes Explained
It’s estimated that around 80% of people wear an ill-fitting bra: Wires that dig into the skin, an underband that moves up, or straps that fall from their shoulders are all par for the course. Besides visually ruining your outfit, the wrong bra can cause severe back and neck pain, and affect posture.
To avoid that, as well as feeling that you’re wearing a bra at all, you need to know your bust and band sizes. If you feel uncomfortable going to a professional fitter, you can also learn how to determine your bra size by yourself.
Understanding Bra Sizes
Size tags on bras combine a number and a letter, each indicating a specific segment. However, bra sizing isn’t universal and can vary between manufacturers, so it’s best not to rely on sizes, but write down your measurements and keep them in mind when shopping.
Furthermore, you need to be careful when considering trying a new brand or shopping for lingerie abroad. For example, there are US sizes and European sizes, but the UK has a separate size chart. You can expect the same from France and Italy.
To avoid confusion and buy a fitting bra, it’s best to consult the internet briefly if you’re trying out a new brand. For example, a 34 US band size is a European 75, or number 2 in Italian charts.
Although there would be many benefits to universal sizing, the chances of that happening any time soon are almost non-existent. These independent sizing methods developed long before international and online sales, and the brands consider it more trouble than it’s worth to adjust their charts.
What Is the Band Size on a Bra?
The band size of a bra is the number that comes first on the size tag. So, for example, if you’re considering a 38B, 38 is the band size. A bra’s band is crucial to providing good support and keeping your bra in place.
Your band size is determined by measuring your torso under the breasts. A good fit is crucial: Ill-fitting bands cause bras to move, provide uneven support, and can even increase the pressure on your shoulders.
Most people think the band is only too big if there’s a lot of space left when you clip it. However, if your under band moves up towards your shoulder when you put on your bra and adjust the straps to feel supported, this is also a sign of an oversized bra.
Many women go for tight under bands, thinking the tightness equals support. However, the band shouldn’t feel tight; that means it’s too small and you’ll experience chafing, irritation, and pain once you start wearing the bra.
What Does Bust Size Mean?
Bust size is the measurement around your chest at its widest part, usually across your nipples. It’s used to determine the cup size you need by combining it with the band size.
The bust size of a bra is the letter indicated right after the number. Using the same example: If you’re considering a 38B, B is the cup size. The right-size cup is just as important as the appropriate band, as the cup provides shaping and structure to breasts in everyday activities.
If there’s excess fabric on your cup, e.g., if it looks wrinkly, it is a sure sign that you need to go a size down. Any space left in the cup means the same, as the emptiness will show through your clothes and likely cause the straps to fall from your shoulders.
Small cups are fairly easy to notice — if your breast tissue is over the verges of the cup in any direction, the bra is too small for you. Besides looking unflattering, wearing bras with a small cup can lead to breast tenderness and slight rashes.
Buying a bra isn’t always easy, as different breast types need different shapes, but once we learn how to do it properly, it could become a part of shopping we enjoy. We hope that our guide gave you the initial push to keep researching to find your perfect piece.
If you found this helpful, or wish to share some tips and tricks with us, let us know in the comments below!
How is a bra supposed to fit?
A bra that fits looks and feels good. Cups follow the shape of your breast perfectly, without gaps or tissue showing on the sides, while the straps are not loose enough to slip, but not so tight as to leave marks and dig into your skin.
As far as the band goes, it should fit you (without digging into the skin and leaving marks) on the loosest hook. It shouldn’t feel restricting or too tight. If the bra has one, you also need to pay attention to the underwire: if you feel it in on your breast or ribs, it’s best to skip on the bra.
How to buy a bra that fits right?
Buying a bra that fits right comes down to knowing your real size and trial and error at times. The best way to buy a fitting bra is to measure yourself and have the measurements close to you when you go shopping. You can also do some online research on the brand and customer experiences before deciding.
How to clean bras:
If you want your bras to stay perfect as long as possible, it’s best to hand-wash them with any other delicates. Washing machines, and especially dryers, often ruin the elastic or the fabric, and you end up with a stretched-out, raggedy bra.
To clean your bra effectively, fill your sink or a bucket (or whatever comes in handy) with warm water and soak them for some 10 to 15 minutes. Then, add some mild detergent into the water and let it soak some more. After the process is done, rinse the bras carefully and ensure no detergent is left in the fabric or padding.
How do bras work?
A bra works by encasing your breasts and holding them in the same position throughout your daily activities. Most of them have a band, cups, and straps that all need to match our bodies to fulfill their role.
To find a fitting bra, it’s important to know the answer to the question “How do bra sizes work?” and gain experience when shopping for bras and lingerie in general.