Quick! How old is the bra you’re wearing? Is it a ratty, ill-fitting linen-and-lace number with stretched out elastic? Was it once your older sister’s or your best friend’s from an impromptu sleepover-turned-brunch? Amen, sister. I’ve been wearing the same ones since high school, because I always thought there’s no point of dressing the ladies up if nobody’s going to see them (this is not by choice, mind you). I figure, why bother spending an extra couple hundred on a new and improved wardrobe of undergarments when I can waste my money trying to attract men in those new Giuseppe Zanotti heels?
That is, until I met Linda The Bra Lady. After a co-worker passed me her card under the table at a department meeting, which was followed by a stern warning to wear a white tee, bring a hair tie and be prepared to strip, I made my appointment. This is serious business, ladies. After all, Linda has seen the famous racks of ladies like Bethenny Frankel, Victoria Beckham and Tea Leoni — and trust me, after 25 years of fitting all shapes and sizes, she’s earned her moniker. I walked into her Murray Hill boutique expecting a caricature of a woman with huge, fiery hair, big boobs and busy hands to be standing in front of a parade of bras, but to my surprise, Linda couldn’t be further from the loud-mouthed woman I envisioned. Still, she and her tape measure held the destiny of my 34Bs (or so I thought) in her hands.
I started my quest for the best-fitting bra within my budget about two months ago, and despite four weekends of shopping, er, hard work, I’ve yet to leave a mall feeling victorious. We all constantly hear we’re wearing the wrong size, but if that’s true, why do I seem to fit into everything from an A cup to a C? I needed answers. So do you.
So why do we sometimes feel like we can fit in every size from a 32A to a 36C? Vanity sizing, that’s why. Even though The Times blew the lid off this secret 3 years ago, it’s still happening: “There’s definitely vanity sizing in bras now, especially in the past ten years,” Linda told me. “They want you to think your back is really small and your breasts are really big. I’m a 32G, but 10 years ago, I would have been a 36D.”
Now that we’re armed with the knowledge that bra sizes are complete scam (there’s our proof!), we can better navigate the pesky territory of figuring out our fit. Here’s what Linda says every woman needs to know, lest they prefer unadulterated back pain and some serious stretch marks. Yep, a bra can cause stretch marks. Mind-blowing, right?
First, a quick (and incredibly scientific) lesson:
Band Size = The measurement of your rib cage, taken underneath the breast, plus three inches.
Cup Size = The measurement of the fullest part of your bust in inches, minus your rib cage size. If this is 1, you’re an A cup. If this is 5, you’re a DD cup.
Your Bra Size = (Your Rib Cage Measurement + 3 Inches) x (Measurement of Bust – Band Measurement)
Linda measured my rib cage at 26 inches, which means my band size would end on an odd number. Anyone that’s ever had the pleasure of digging through crates or bras knows there’s no such thing as an odd-numbered band. Always size up, because the band will be a few inches tighter than you’re probably used to (more on that later). My bust size is 31, so that makes me a 30DD.
And now, a few nuggets of bra knowledge straight from Linda, who, like some sort of boob goddess from the heavens above, knew my size just from looking at my boobs:
1. First, women are consistently told to wear bands that are way too loose for them. This means straps are digging into women’s shoulders everywhere. When you’re trying on bras, know that the band should supply 80% of the support while the straps should provide about 20% of a pick-me-up. Back fat > sagging boobies.
2. As with most garments, there’s not much of a difference between buying a $40 bra and a $120 bra, except for the quality of the lace and elastic.
3. Your bra’s elastic will loosen over time, no matter how high-quality it is. To lengthen the life of your bra, start wearing your bra on the loosest hook, then tighten up as you wear it more. When you feel like you need to tighten it more, it’s time for a new bra. If you haven’t lost any weight, though, a new bra in the same size should fit you just fine. Ugh, I know.
4. You should be fitted and replace all your bras just about every six months, so it’s best to spend $100 on three bras that fit great twice a year than $100 on one bra that’ll wear out come summertime.
5. There’s no need to wash your bra in between each use! Linda’s take: “When you get dressed in the morning, you’re clean. When you take it off at night, you’re still pretty clean, unless you’ve been sweating all day long. I wear a bra seven or eight times before I wash it.”
6. But that doesn’t mean you should wear the same bra every day for a week: give each bra at least three or four days rest in between each wear.
7. If you have stretch marks on the top of your boobs but not the sides or the bottom, they’re from poor support, not rapid growth. I had trouble coming to terms with this one, too.
8. So how can you tell if you’re getting enough support? Linda says your nipples should be exactly halfway between the top of your shoulder and your elbow. It’s science.
9. If you fall in love with one style of bra, don’t buy it in every color. Keep in mind that there are different bras for every style of top you’re wearing, so choose accordingly!
10. Lastly, if you’ve been lucky enough to figure out your size but haven’t found “the one,” bra alterations are a thing. I’m 5’1 with 30DD’s, so I routinely get my straps shortened.
Now we know why our mothers burned their bras… But oddly enough, getting my girls into the right size was strangely liberating, albeit shocking to see my former 34Bs fit (and snugly) into a 30DD bra. If you’re feeling inspired to get your ladies front and center — and maybe rid yourself of back pain for once and for all — make an appointment at one of Linda The Bra Lady’s two Manhattan locations for a personalized fitting. By the time you’re done, you won’t want to rip off that ratty three-year-old bra with the underwire poking out the side the moment you get home.
Check out our guides to the best bras, best wireless bras and the best Spanx for your body. Go forth and conquer!