By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Updated: Apr 17, 2019 @ 5:46 pm
Jovana Vukotic/Stocksy

If you start unhooking your bra right after you walk in the door, you’re not alone. Bras can be uncomfortable for a host of reasons, whether it’s a too-tight fit or not enough support.

There’s an oft-cited 2008 study that found 80 percent of women reported an ill-fitting bra was the culprit behind their back pain, headaches and shoulder discomfort. That study had a sample size of just 30 women, but it’s clear from my research as an experiment group of one that bras are often very, very uncomfortable.

And, yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, with a little bit of time you can actually find a bra you like.

For starters, says Jené Luciani, a bra-fitting expert and author of The Bra Book: The Fashion Formula to Finding the Perfect Bra, know that finding the right fit is “not an exact science.” As she says, “Even after you take your measurements, it takes lots of trial and error and you will not be the same size in every brand, and will vary in size with styles within brands, too.”

Here’s everything you need to know about how to measure your bra size, straight from the bra fitting expert herself.

What Do I Need to Get Started?

The “tools” are simple: Luciani says all you need is a tape measure — the sewing kind, not the one you’ll find in a run-of-the-mill toolbox. Once you have that in hand, Luciani says you’ll want to take the following two measurements while wearing your best-fitting bra:

  • Around your ribcage: pull the tape snugly, just below your bust. Round up 1 inch from the measurement and record the number. This is your band size.
  • Around the fullest part of your bust: pull the tape just above the nipple line. This number will help determine your cup size.

Once you have those two numbers, it’s time for some math. Take the difference between the two numbers (band size subtracted from bust measurement). The difference in inches is your cup size, according to the following:

  • 0 inches — AA
  • 1 inch — A
  • 2 inches — B
  • 3 inches — C
  • 4 inches — D
  • 5 inches — E
  • 6 inches — F
  • 7 inches — G

For instance, if you have a 34-inch band size and your measurement at the fullest part of your bust was 36, then the difference of 36 inches and 34 inches would be 2 inches. That means your bra size is a 34B.

“Remember, this is only a guideline,” Luciani says, adding that factors like your breasts being fuller on the top or bottom could make a difference in your bra size. “But it gives you a starting point when you get to the store, or if you are shopping online.”

How Do You Know If You Have a Good Fit?

There are key points to knowing whether or not your bra fits properly, starting with the straps. They should not dig or slide down. You’ll also want to check for the following:

  • The cup should not be gaping, nor should breast be billowing out of it.
  • The back band should be horizontal across your back, not riding up. You’ll also want to make sure it isn’t squeezing anywhere and causing bulges.
  • The underwire — if there is one — should be flush against your ribcage.
  • The bridge (the piece between the cups) should also be flush against your body.

RELATED: Editor-Tested: Best Bras for Fuller Busts

Once you have a solid fit, the most difficult decision you’ll have on your hands is deciding which bra to wear under what top. For instance, a deep V-top will call for a bra that also takes the plunge, while a backless dress will call for some serious bra magic via a wraparound bra. If a wireless bra is calling your name, then the good news is there are plenty of options that are comfortable while also providing support.

What About Sports Bras?

If you frequently find yourself uncomfortable while breaking a sweat — whether it’s a too-tight band or not enough support — then finding a sports bra that fits might also be on the agenda.

When choosing sports bras, Luciani says it comes down to two types: encapsulation and compression. The former encapsulates each breast much like a regular bra and the latter holds them against your chest so they don’t move.

“It’s really a personal preference, although a lot of smaller-busted women prefer compression while it larger-busted women prefer encapsulation,” she says.

Your level of activity will also help determine the sports bra that will work best for you. For example, Luciani says, a bra for yoga practice will be different than the one you choose for running. Luciani suggests looking at the labels or tags that are included on most sports bras to see if there are details about which activity level they will work best for.

VIDEO: The History of the Sports Bra

What Common Mistakes Are Women Making When Measuring?

The trick to measuring, Luciani says, is really just knowing how to do it in the first place. Once you give it a shot, it’s a simple process and one that will lead to better bra comfort down the road.

Knowing how to measure yourself also keeps you from being clueless when you head to the store, meaning you won’t just make a purchase because a salesperson or flashy discount says it’s a good idea.

Above all, Luciani says, don’t get discouraged, adding: “This is a very personal choice."

One last thing to keep in mind? “Your bra size can change as a result of hormones or even weight loss or gain,” Luciani says. “Check on your size at least once a year.”

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