Bra Shopping 101 — for Every Body!


Bra Shopping 101 — for Every Body!

Bra shopping can be hard no matter what your gender history is like! Lots of women (cis and trans!), non-binary people, and even trans men who feel comfortable wearing bras can struggle to find the right fit. Bra sizes are often not consistent from brand to brand, and bras can be expensive, too! Fortunately, there are tips and tricks you can learn to help make finding a bra more comfortable.

A note about language: We’ve used the term “breasts” throughout this article. While the word “breast” can be gender-neutral, and our intention is to use it that way, it’s often not used that way in casual conversation. So, not everyone is comfortable with that word for their body, and that’s okay! Other common phrases include “chest growths” and “upper body area”.

Picking a bra style

Bras come in many different styles that serve different purposes.

Sports bras are binding, and can help support and hold breasts in place for exercising. If you’re transmasculine and have a hard time binding all the time, sports bras can be a low-impact alternative. Sports bras can also be comfortable if your breasts are sensitive due to recent development. And anyone, trans or not, can wear sports bras for athletic activities!

Minimizer or t-shirt bras are low-impact bras for casual wear.  Unlike a sports bra, they don’t bind or compress the breasts. But, they also don’t lift or separate the way a push-up bra does. If your breasts are developing, they may be sensitive. A t-shirt bra can provide support while still being modest and comfortable. A variation on the t-shirt bra is a bralette, which has a similar structure but no underwire.

Push-up bras are designed to accentuate the breasts. They lift and separate the breasts to make them more noticeable. Lots of people wear push-up bras with low-cut shirts or dresses because they can exaggerate a person’s cleavage. Push-up bras have an underwire for support, and usually some padding to help shape and accentuate. A common variation of the push-up bra is the balconette bra, which gives the tops of the breasts a rounded look. Some people find push-up bras uncomfortable for long-term use. But if you want to show off your breasts, a push-up bra can help!

Convertible and strapless bras are bras that can be worn with strapless clothing. Strapless bras do not have straps that go over the shoulders. Convertible bras have straps, but the straps can be removed or repositioned as needed. They also feature underwires and padding for support.

Mastectomy bras are bras with foam or silicone padding sewn in to approximate the shape of a breast (or breasts). They are marketed towards people who have had breasts removed due to cancer. However, there are companies that make mastectomy-style bras for trans women and transfeminine people, too!

Taking your measurements

Bra sizing is notoriously tricky! For starters, isn’t consistent from brand to brand. And, a lot of bras are made with only one type of body in mind. That being said, there are some tricks that can help you find the right fit!

Knowing your measurements is a good place to start. You can do this at home, in private, or with the help of a friend or loved one. You will need a measuring tape.

First, measure your body, just below your breasts. Do this by taking a measuring tape and wrapping around your body, right beneath where your breast tissue begins to protrude. Try not to hold your breath when you do this, because it may distort the measurement. Write down the measurement in inches.

Next, you’ll need to measure your breasts. To do this, wrap the measuring tape around your body at the fullest part of your breasts. For many people, this is the aereola, but everyone’s body is different! Write down the measurement in inches again.

Now you can use these two numbers to calculate your bra size. The first number you gathered is your band size. The band size is the number featured on most bra sizing tags. If you measured 38 inches, then your band size is 38! If you measured an odd number, like 37, you will need to round up.

On most bras, cup size is given as a letter. You can determine your cup size by subtracting the first number you measured from the second, larger number. Cup size letters correspond to numbers. 1 inch is an A-cup, 2 inches is a B-cup, and so on.

How to tell if a bra fits

Often, you can tell right away if a bra fits or doesn’t. It may be too tight or too loose, or the underwire might poke you in uncomfortable places — all of these are signs that the fit is off.  Here are some other things to check for when bra shopping:

  • The band should be parallel to the floor. If it rides up in the back, that means it’s too loose.
  • If the top of the cup cuts into your breast, the bra is too tight. For bras that offer compression, like sports bras, it can help to look for a bra with a higher neckline that comes up over the chest in order to allow for a snugger fit. If the fabric of the cup bunches or folds, that means the cup is loose. 
  • If a bra has underwires, the wires should lie flat against your chest. 
  • You should be able to slide two fingers under the straps comfortably.

Bra shopping for everyone

Bra shopping can be intimidating, but it’s not that different from shopping for any other type of clothing. The important thing is finding something that fits your style, body, and budget. You deserve to feel good in whatever you choose to wear!

If you feel comfortable doing so, you can call bra stores ahead of time to ask if they’re trans-friendly. And, once you know your measurements, you may be able to shop online! There are many online retailers, like Origami Customs, that cater to trans and gender-non-conforming people specifically.

If you’re feeling anxious about going bra shopping, it can help to bring a friend (or a few friends!) with you. If you’re uncomfortable using store changing rooms, you can buy a bra, try it on at home before removing the tags, and return it with the receipt if it doesn’t fit. Most bra stores have return policies for bras, though not for underpants. Some bra shops also take private appointments, so you can shop without a lot of other people around. This may cost extra, though!

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