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10 Bra-Shopping Rules to Follow

Learn about fit, material, seams and other important brassiere basics to consider

It's practically a rite of passage for an adolescent girl to stand in a dressing room, red-faced, while Mom and the saleslady search for her first bra. However, even as we grow older—and more comfortable with our curves—finding the perfect undergarments can still feel a bit like an unsolved mystery. According to Susan Nethero, the "Bra Whisperer" and founder of {Intimacy} bra shops, and Karen Bromley, spokeswoman for the Intimate Apparel Council, the right bra doesn't have to be so elusive. Follow the 10 rules of bra shopping to end your hunt for the perfect fit once and for all.

Rule #1: Know your measurements.

According to both Bromley and Nethero, the first thing a woman should do before buying a bra is get fitted, which entails getting measured directly under the bust and across the fullest part of the bust. Nethero says 85 percent of women are actually wearing the wrong size. "The biggest mistake is that most women don't get fitted," Bromley adds. "You buy a pair of shoes, you want them to fit comfortably—your bra fit is just as important." And getting fitted once isn't going to cut it—as your body weight changes, your bra size will too. Nethero recommends a “bra checkup” whenever a woman's weight fluctuates by 10 percent, which often happens as a result of pregnancy, nursing, exercise, dietary changes, hormones, menopause, puberty and weight gain.

Rule #2: Your cups should be front and center.

Once you find out your real bra size (which can be shocking for some women) it's important to find an undergarment that not only provides enough support, but also correctly positions your breasts. Nethero says, “When you are looking in the mirror, your bra should lift and center your bust midway between your shoulders and elbows, and your breasts should stay within your body's frame. You don't want to carry low and wide.” She says there should also be one inch of definition between your breasts.

Rule #3: The bra should fit firmly around your frame.

Women often associate looseness with comfort, but bras should always have a snug fit. A brassiere gets 90 percent of its stability from the band being firm and level around the body. If your bra is too loose, it will shift up the back and cause every component that's supposed to provide support to be unstable. Nethero's advice: "The bra should be tight enough that you can fit only two fingers under the band. The back of the bra should be level with or lower than the front. You want it to be stable as you move throughout the day." ...Read More

Rule #4: Account for stretching.

Most bras are made of flexible materials, like Lycra and spandex. Over time, with normal wear, they will eventually stretch out. Nethero recommends buying a bra that fits best when it's latched at the widest possible position, to account for the inevitable give in the fabric. "It should be on the last hook, so as the bra stretches, you can tighten it," she says.

Rule #5: Pay attention to the seam.

While it doesn't provide the primary support, a structured cup with a seam gives a nice lift, as well as the best shape. "The breast tissue will rest on the seam, so a great way to figure out the shape of a bra is to look at the seam," says Nethero. "A seam that runs across the bra will make the breast look fuller, while a seam that runs up and down will make the breast look more centered." She also notes that many women opt for seamless, often called T-shirt, bras because they are afraid the seam will show through their shirt. But if you are planning on wearing the bra with dark-colored clothing, the seam won't show through the fabric, so it's better to opt for more support.

Rule #6: Wear the right shirt when shopping.

Even though you're shopping for something that goes under your garments, make sure you have the correct top on when you hit the store. Nethero says a loose or high-collared shirt won't accurately show you how a bra will look—especially under more body-conscious clothing. She recommends wearing “a fitted shirt when trying on bras so you can see the different shape effects bras can provide.” Also, if you have a dress or shirt with a tricky neckline, clingy material or any other exasperating feature that makes it difficult to find the right bra to wear with it, bring the item with you so the experts at the store can help you find a solution.

Rule #7: Strapless bras are a little trickier to fit.

A strapless bra also needs to fit firmly around the body, but because you don't have the support of the straps, you may need to go up a cup size so it doesn't pinch the breasts and create a ridge across the top, Nethero says. "A good thing to look for is a strapless bra that has latex or a grip strip across the body to hold it in place better, since you don't have the additional support of the straps."

Rule #8: Just because you wear a bigger cup size, doesn't mean you can't have fashionable bras.

The fastest-growing segment of bras is DD and over, according to Bromley. In fact, Nethero says she sold 40,000 bras in a G cup last year alone. And unlike in the past, demi- and semi-bras are being made in sizes up to D cups. The style is “not as shallow as a smaller cup size, but it is proportionally smaller and gives a much more youthful appearance," Nethero says. "It gives a fuller-busted person the opportunity to wear something that's youthful and sexy but still gives full support."

Rule #9: Opt for greater quantity—and quality—of bras.

The more bras you have, and the better quality they are, the less often you'll have to replace them. Though it will cost more money upfront, you will end up saving in the long run. According to Nethero, you shouldn't be wearing the same few bras week after week or the same bra for two days in a row. "We know from our research that women are wearing four bras or fewer, but they really should be wearing seven to 10," she says. With a higher number of bras, you can rotate them and wear the same three or four bras one week, then another three or four the next. "And while you might say a less expensive bra will cost less, it will wear out faster. So it's our belief that women should get better-quality bras and have a diversity of bras."

Rule #10: Always follow care tag instructions.

If you do buy higher-quality bras, proper maintenance will help make them last. Experts recommend you hand or machine wash your bra after two wears. "Use a soap that is gentle on Lycra-based material, like Forever New, and never put them in the dryer," recommends Nethero. When laundering undergarments with a washing machine, a netted laundry bag will protect the hooks from clasping onto other articles of clothing as well as prevent the bra from twisting and turning out of shape.

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10 Bra-Shopping Rules to Follow
Learn about fit, material, seams and other important brassiere basics to consider
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