Why do bras never seem to fit?

My mom got back from her trip to Kenya last week, where she was busy sunup to sundown distributing donated items to abandoned children and teens, and the adult women who work with them. Each child is given a hand knit sweater, and there is a large program to ensure girls have the requisite equipment to deal with their periods.

But she also takes seconds donated from a bra factory near our home in Belleville, to ensure that each girl is given an undergarment. Because of the poverty in Kenya, there is no way these girls would have a bra if not for this program, and so we don’t feel she is disrupting the local economy. Instead, she is simply giving a luxury that we all take for granted. 

We’ve been doing this on trips for years, and here’s a picture from our 2008 trip to Kenya! I’m on the far left, and this is how we fitted the bras for the girls for privacy reasons–over clothes. And all of us “fitters” did it ourselves, too, so the girls weren’t so embarrassed. It was actually a lot of fun.

Our home is often preoccupied with different bra types, then, because there are always several hundred lying around as my mom sorts the donations into sizes and decides which will go and which weren’t. So it’s kind of interesting to try different things on.

And one thing I’ve realized is how many DIFFERENT types of bras there are!

On Wednesdays on the blog this month we’ve been talking about lingerie and choosing items that make you feel sexy and comfortable. Last week we turned to finding panties that fit your body type, and yesterday I gave you a challenge to throw things out of your lingerie drawer that aren’t working for you. Today I want to talk about finding a bra style that works for you, and then next week we’ll concentrate on fit. 

I’ve really enjoyed giving myself an education on the various types of bras that are available.

Most of us wear ¾ coverage underwire bras, and to be honest, they work for most people. But thinking outside of the nude demi bra so that you have a set of undergarments that make you feel beautiful, confident, and comfortable. Seriously, bras are modern marvels.

So here we go to help you pick something that works for you!

And there are affiliate links below, because to provide pictures we found the easiest place to get a selection was Amazon.

A quick note: This is a post about bras. As such, there will be photos of bras and women in bras. 

So if you are someone who shouldn’t be looking at those, whether it’s because you’re recovering from a porn addiction or any other reason, make the wise decision and maybe pass on this post. We have to show pictures in order to make it clear what we mean, and this post is pretty clearly labelled as a post about bras, so just click away if you’re not comfortable with that. No one is making you read this. 🙂 

OK, now onto the post! 

1. Finding a great bra if your breasts are different sizes

Many, many women have breasts of different sizes. At the very least, it seems from surveys that 12% of women have breasts that they feel are different sizes, and some studies report that it’s up to 40%!

So first of all, know that you’re not alone if your breasts are uneven. And since it’s a common problem, there are solutions!

Consider a bra that has removable inserts so that you can leave one in and remove the other. You can fit the bra with the padding removed to your larger breast and then just add padding until the bra fits your smaller breast. Boom–you’ve got a personalized bra that fits you perfectly and makes you look more symmetrical, too!

On the topic of padding, though, excessive padding such as the kind found in push-up bras can be counterproductive if you have different size breasts since it can just draw attention to the size difference. So look specifically for removable padding whenever possible, not built-in.

When it comes to the kinds of materials bras are made of, taking a bit of time to look for memory foam bras can make a huge difference. Memory foam is created to mold to the person it is on, and so it can help provide a more personalized bra fitting to prevent gaping while providing coverage to both sides. Here’s an example of a memory foam bra that would be quite easy to add removable inserts to: If you’re looking for a bra with both memory foam and removable pads, here’s another one to check out

2. Finding a great bra if your breasts are small 

If you’ve never heard of a balconette bra, go check them out now! I have always had trouble with gaping bras and, according to my research, balconette bras are amazing at preventing gaping. Most bras that are strapless are made in the balconette style and they are a great option for smaller chested women. They’re made to cover 1/2 or 3/4 of the breast, and often have underwire and light padding. Women with larger breasts may find that these don’t fit the best, though, and should likely go for fuller coverage (most of the negative reviews on these types of bras on Amazon are from women with larger cup sizes!)

Here’s an example of a beautiful balconette bra:

As well, although push up and padded bras are not for everyone, they can be a great part of your arsenal, especially if you have smaller breasts. Here’s Joanna, on an issue she was having with her wedding dress:

Joanna on Filling out a Wedding Dress:

I wore a beautiful silk organza dress from the 1950’s on my wedding day, just as I had always dreamed I would. My perfect, cream dress was my grandmother’s and my mom wore it, too. Grandma lived with us from just after my 6th birthday until she died when I was 10 and so wearing her dress was a really important way for me to have her there with me on my wedding day. The problem? Grandma’s dress was WAY too big on me through the chest. But I found a whale of a push-up bra that added several cup sizes and allowed me to wear the dress of my dreams without having to deconstruct the bodice of an antique gown.

For most of us, the issue with a garment’s fit isn’t so drastic as the problem Joanna ran into with a delicate antique, but adding a little padding can be of great use to ensure that a dart sits correctly!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you have smaller breasts you may also find that you are able to go braless or get away with simply a bralette or bandeau regularly. While pregnant, if experiencing a lot of breast tenderness, maternity tank tops with a little extra fabric in the bust or built-in support may give sufficient coverage to allow you to go bra free incognito. Additionally, consider tank tops with a small bra insert to keep your nipples from showing through your shirt or find some light, lace or cotton bralettes that offer the nipple coverage you want but don’t have the restrictiveness of a traditional bra. You could try out a more full-coverage bralette, like this one:

Or even a lighter, less structured one like this one:

3. Finding a great bra if you are large chested

If you are large chested, make sure that your breasts are well supported and consider an underwire or other heavily structured bra to keep everything in place. It’s especially important to ensure that the bra that you are wearing works well for you if you have a larger chest as larger breasts can cause back pain if they aren’t properly supported!

Next week, I’m taking on bra fitting, so check back in next Wednesday to find out how to find a bra that fits you and gives you the support you need.

If you feel that your breasts are trying to escape a demi-cup bra, consider switching to a full coverage style for piece of mind and more comfort. As well, while it may seem counter intuitive, you may find that a push-up bra helps offer even more support so your girls stay where they are supposed to, so definitely don’t rule them out immediately!

With many of your choices when it comes to bras it’s going to be more about fit and sizing than the specific trait. Push-up may work great for larger breasts when it’s in a more full-coverage style than in a smaller one where the girls are at risk of spilling out; thinner, less-padded bras and bralettes are made functional by looking for options with a thick band around the ribs and thicker, more supportive straps.

Don’t be afraid to try something outside the box, but just look to make sure it will fit you properly and provide adequate support. And as proof that “full-coverage” doesn’t at all mean “less sexy,” here’s an example of a great full-coverage bra that is simply gorgeous: As well, here’s an option that is quite similar but has a front close and great back support!

Breast support during activities is particularly important for more well-endowed women. For sports bras, you can use a well made compressor style sports bra, but you may also want to consider an encapsulation sports bra, to keep your breasts from rubbing against one another while you exercise.

To combat jiggling breasts during exercise and to prevent back pain, you may need to invest in a more expensive sports bra so that you get top notch construction and support. And hey–spending even an extra $50-60 to get a really nice sports bra that provides adequate support is still cheaper than going to see a chiropractor or masseuse to deal with the back pain a bad sports bra can lead to when you have larger breasts! Here’s a great option that has excellent reviews and is available in a variety of colours:

4. Finding a great bra if your breasts are sensitive

Are you one of those women yanking your bra off the minute you step in the door? You are definitely not alone. If underwire and padding just aren’t your thing, consider some of the new soft materials that are available and avoid bras with lace that would touch your skin. Here’s an example of a soft cup bra that would be more conducive to sensitive skin than your typical lacy bra:

As well, if you find bras are uncomfortable because they dig into your skin, figure out where exactly the problem is. Do you find that the underwire is poking at your underarms? Try to look for structured bras without an underwire or simply look for an underwire bra with a slightly different cut so it doesn’t hit you in the wrong place. Does the band feel like it’s digging into your back? Ensure that you’re wearing the right bra size first off, but then look for styles with a thicker back band to more evenly distribute the pressure (typically looking for front-clasp bras helps with this!).

Here’s one example of a front-clasp bra with a nice, thick back band to combat that “digging in” feeling:

For many of us, bras just aren’t going to feel as comfortable as going bra-less. But that doesn’t mean they need to be actively uncomfortable. If your bra is actively causing you discomfort, identify the key reason and talk to someone who really knows what they’re doing, whether it’s a lingerie shop attendant or even a friend you trust!

5. Finding a great bra if you are pregnant

During pregnancy, your breasts prepare themselves to do the amazing work of feeding your baby, which means they have a LOT of growing to do. In fact, one of the earliest pregnancy symptoms is extremely tender breasts, so you’ll likely want to invest in a wire free, soft material bra or two. Additionally, some nursing tanks may give you enough coverage to go bra-free.

Try to avoid investing in too many bras early in your pregnancy, as your cup size can dramatically change as you approach delivery. A maternity store I visited recently suggested 36 weeks as the perfect time to start looking for maternity bras, though many women start shopping earlier in the 3rd trimester and do just fine.

Overall, during pregnancy you’re going to want to look for bras that have a lot of give. If you’re someone who found that her breasts started growing early and by the end of the first trimester you couldn’t wear your old bras anymore, you simply don’t have the luxury of waiting until 36 weeks to get fitted. But it’s also not a great idea to spend a ton of money on bras that may only fit you for 12 more weeks.

Instead, one idea is to look for bras that are based in S, M, and L sizes rather than solely band size/cup size. The reason for this is that these bras tend to be much more forgiving–many medium bras fit sizes between a 34B and a 38C, for instance. So when shopping for a bra, find one that you are currently on the smallest end of possible sizes to give yourself lots of room to grow into that will still work for you at a variety of sizes.

Here’s an example of some maternity bras that may work for you if you find yourself in this awkward situation! Plus, they come with extenders and padding so you can truly customize this throughout your pregnancy as your bra size changes.

I know these don’t look as cute as the other bras in this post, but sometimes it is about practicality. And if you don’t know what size you are going to be a month from now and you don’t have a lot of disposable income but you really need a bra that fits, these are a fantastic option. And you can always look around for the colours or patterns that you prefer!

Then, when you’re settled into your post-baby body or have started nursing, you can splurge and buy some really really cute options that you’ll wear for a while! But we’re not trying to tell you that you have to break the bank to get the cutest possible bras at every stage of life. Sometimes, it’s best to just be practical!

6. Finding a great bra if you are nursing

Maternity bras have come a long way since I had my kids. As in, there are actually options now!

Look for soft materials and avoid underwire, especially as your breasts adjust to being used to feed a baby. Also, make sure that you have breast pads and nipple cream available to keep everything happy. You may be the lucky rare woman who doesn’t leak, but in case you aren’t, make sure you’re prepared!

Finally, recognize that when you’re nursing, you are still allowed to want to feel like a sexy wife! And nursing bras don’t need to make you feel dowdy! Investing in a few flattering nursing bras that make you feel beautiful and help you still feel like a grown up when you’re dealing with spit up and diapers all day. 😉 Here are some really cute and retro-looking options we found:

7. Choosing a great bra if you are going to a formal event

If you are wearing a formal dress to a major event like a wedding, consider your comfort and what type of bra you will require before choosing your dress. It’s always frustrating to dump a ton of cash on a gorgeous dress and then only wear it once because the bra you need for it is just so dang uncomfortable! So take the extra minute and make sure it’s something that won’t be painful or uncomfortable to wear.

If you need to go strapless, ensure that you have great fit so that you don’t spend the entire event hiking yourself up (I promise, that is never a good look). Also consider the effect of gravity on your chest over the course of an evening.

Another option is to find a strapless bra that is more of a bustier or corset style than simply a bra. This can help because it sits on your hip bones and provides a firmer foundation where everything can rest. Normally with a bra with straps, the pressure is on your back and your shoulders and that’s what gives your breasts that lift you want. With a strapless, you’re missing half the picture. So if you are looking for a lot of lift with a strapless bra, look for a bustier or corset-style bra like this, as an example:

Rebecca swears by these. Here’s what she says:

Rebecca on Bra Options for Formal Wear:

My wedding dress had a corset-bra sewn into it. When I first saw that, I thought “Yeah right–I don’t want something that constricting and I’ll just wear a normal strapless.”

But then I put the corset-bra on.

I loved it. It changed my life. (Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite that drastic).

I was able to walk, sit, dance, and twirl all day without having to worry about my bra falling down. It sat nicely on my hips and held everything in place (including my incredibly heavy strapless wedding gown), and even helped smooth out everything so as a bonus I didn’t ever need to worry about what my tummy was doing during wedding photos! 🙂

Now remember: we aren’t in the 1700s–a bustier or a corset isn’t meant to squeeze your waist smaller, and if it constricts breathing it is far too tight! This is meant to add structure and to provide support so that your breasts stay where they are supposed to all day without your bra riding down.

If you’re looking for a bit less coverage, many companies today manufacture stick on bras for use with lowerbacked formalwear, which are a great option for women who do not require a lot of support from their bra. Plus, even though they look a bit daunting, they can actually be incredibly comfortable! Often after a few minutes you don’t even feel them anymore. Although fair warning: peeling them off is a really, really strange experience. Here’s one example of a sticky bra: 

Stick on bras really do work wonders for women with smaller breasts, but if you are looking for a solution that also gives your breasts lift, these may not be for you. These do a great job of keeping your breasts together and covering your nipples but not much else. So if you’re looking for more, definitely go to a lingerie store and get properly fitted with a great strapless bra!

There you have it! My best principles for choosing a bra that works for you and will have you feeling comfortable, confident, and ready to take on the world. Do you have any other advice about choosing a bra? Let me know in the comments!

Check out other posts in our lingerie series: 

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