Bra fitting guide

Tips and tricks for getting the right fit.

Does your bra measure up?

It's estimated that over 70% of women are wearing the wrong size bra. The most common problems are that the cup size is too small and the underband too big. Poorly fitting bras – especially for larger women – can cause all sorts of problems, such as grooves in the shoulder, bad posture, rounded shoulders, upper trapezium pain, skin irritation and chaffing, loss of range of shoulder movement, and upper back pain. Nerve symptoms include pins and needles and numbness in wrists and hands. And finally, there's breast pain.

Experts tell us that bra fitting is an art as well as a science. Below, we share their advice for ensuring a good fit. 

Looking for a quality sports bra? See how the cheapies measure up against high-end brands in our sports bra reviews.

Size matters – or does it?

Measurements don't tell the whole story. If you look at a sizing chart, or even if you're measured by a sales assistant, the final number (12B, 14D, etc) is at best a guide – a starting point, really. There's little consistency in bra sizing between manufacturers, and even within manufacturers you may find sizing varies from model to model. Try on a few bras of slightly different cup or underband sizes in the model you like to see which fits best.

Fitting checklist

Once it's on, use these tips to check the various components of the fit. 

Good fit

  • The back underband lies level with the front.
  • The underband is snug enough so as not to shift around, but still allows you to fit two fingers under the hooks.
  • The front underband pulls the wire in snugly, but allows you to fit a finger under it.
  • The bra stays in place when you lift your arms.
  • The underband should fit on the loosest setting when you buy it – as it stretches with wear, you can then make it tighter.
  • The underwire encircles the breast.
  • The wire at the centre-front sits flat on the chest.
  • The material of the cup lies smoothly and encloses breast tissue at the top.
  • The side wing encloses the breast, with no bits bulging near your armpits.
Shoulder straps 
  • Shoulder straps are snug, without slipping down your shoulder or cutting into your skin.
Shape and appearance
  • There are no unsightly bulges (check front and back) when you put your top on. It can be helpful to wear or bring a top that doesn't hide these sorts of bumps and lumps, so you can see if a bra works under your most fitted t-shirt as well as looser garments. If the bra is being purchased to wear with a particular item, take it with you to try them on together.
  • Breasts should be well supported, sitting at a level approximately halfway down your upper arm. They shouldn't be squashed towards each other, nor so far apart that they're pointing sideways.

Bad fit

  • The back of the underband rises in the middle: the chest size is too big.
  • Flesh bulges over the back underband: the chest size is too small.
  • The cup puckers at the nipple: the underband may be too loose and there's not enough tension to pull the cup tight.
  • The bra moves up when you raise your arms: the underband is too loose, or the chest size too big.
  • Wire cuts across the breast tissue, or lies too far away: try a different size, or a different brand/model.
  • Wire digs into your arm: the wire is too long for your shape.
  • Wire doesn't sit flat at the centre-front: the cup is probably too small.
  • Breast tissue spills out at the sides: the side wings are too low (you might have to try a different style) or the cup size is too small.
  • Breast tissue bulges out the top of the cup: the cup may be too small, or the style wrong for your breast shape.
  • Breast tissue poking out the bottom of the cup: the cup is too small and/or the underband too big.
  • The cup is baggy or wrinkly: it's probably too big, or the wrong style for your shape.
Shoulder straps
  • Shoulder straps dig into your shoulders: the straps are bearing too much weight. The chest size may be too big, the underband too loose, or the shoulder straps may not be long enough to allow you to adjust them properly.
  • Shoulder straps slide off: they may be too loose, so try tightening them first. If that's not the problem, try a style with shoulder straps aligned in the middle of the cup, rather than attached further to the side. One of your shoulders may be lower than the other.

Too big or too small?

If the cup is too big or too small, try a different cup size but in the same chest size.

If the chest size (underband) is too big or too small, go up or down a chest size, but also note that the cup size may no longer fit. Generally speaking, if you go up a chest size, you'll need to go down a cup size; if you go down a chest size, go up a cup size. So a C cup in a size 12 is equivalent to a B cup in a 14. However, this may only hold for smaller cups (up to and including a C cup).

How to find a good fitter

A good professional fitter can make all the difference. A good fitter will give you their undivided attention for as long as it takes. If a fitter is hasty or off-hand with you, unwilling to suggest brands and models, insists you are a particular size and won't yield under evidence to the contrary, or makes you feel uncomfortable, go elsewhere.

You can increase your chances of getting a good fitting by going during quieter times, and during the week when there are more permanent staff working. You can even try phoning to make an appointment, to ensure someone suitable will be around.