Okay ladies, I’m going to tell you something that you’ve probably heard many, many times before. Most of you will think I’m not talking about you, but chances are very good that I am.

You are wearing the wrong size bra.

We’ve all heard it. Oprah has told us. Those bra ladies on tv have told us. Reddit has even told us. “But surely they can’t be talking about me.” Unless you have had a professional bra fitting or spent some serious, quality naked-time with a measuring tape and an accurate bra size calculator, they probably are talking about you.

We see lots of women coming into have a boudoir photography session here in the Boston area that are wearing the wrong size bra. It’s really hard to look your best in poorly fitting lingerie. And we want you to look your best.

I’m going to go over it all again in the hope that some of the stragglers take note. Most women are wearing a bra that is too large in the band and far too small in the cup. Here’s the thing that most people don’t understand: cup size varies according to band size. Saying a woman has DD’s is irrelevant unless you know what her band size is. A 32DD is roughly the equivalent cup volume as a 40C. A woman wearing a B cup could have the same size breasts as a woman wearing a DD. Of course, that’s if they are both wearing the correct bra size.

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The good news is that a good portion of most women’s breast tissue is, as we speak, masquerading as back fat and armpit rolls. You heard right. Your ill-fitting bra could be the cause of some unsightly bulging in seemingly unrelated areas.

First things first. You need to measure yourself. You have to be naked from the waist up for this. Do not measure yourself with a bra or shirt on as the measurements will not be accurate. Get a measuring tape, a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Bend at the waist so that your back is parallel to the floor. This part is very important. Parallel, not almost parallel or might be parallel. You want all of your breast tissue to be in the front and pointing directly at the floor. For those with larger breasts it may be worth it to massage the sides of the breasts in an effort to make sure all breast tissue is hanging forward.

Step 1- place the measuring tape around the fullest part of your breasts. Make sure the tape is as straight as possible, ie, perpendicular to the floor. You want the tape to be snug enough that it doesn’t slide around, but not so tight that its squishing your breasts. Do this at least twice to make sure that you are getting an accurate number. Now write that number down.

Step 2- while still bending forward in the same position, place the measuring tape around the chest at the base of your breasts where the band will go. Most women are wearing their bra bands an inch to two inches below where they should be.

You want the band to sit just below the root of the breast tissue. Wherever the bottom of the breast ends while bending forward as described above is where the band should sit. This time the tape should be very snug against the body. Not so tight that it leaves a mark or you feel like a Victorian maiden, but tight. The wrong band size it what kills it for most women. If you start out with a band size that’s too big it’s only going to get looser as it stretches out over time. Measure at least twice and write down the number.

You now have two numbers. The second number is your band size. The difference between the two numbers will determine your cup size. Let’s say your band size is 36 and your other number is a 41. Your magic number is 5. Use this number in the chart below to find your cup size.

0″- AA…………..6″- DDD/E/F
1″- A……………….7″- DDDD/F/G
2″- B……………….8″- G/H/J
3″- C……………….9″- I/J/K
4″- D……………….10″- J
5″- DD/E…………..11″- K

A 36″ band with a difference between the measurements of 5″ puts you in a 36DD. No, really. Most women will look at this chart and think that there is no possible way it could be right. We’ve been conditioned to think that DD’s are huge. Unless your band size is very small, that’s not the case.

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Of course you can’t just take the chart’s, or my word for it. You have to go try on bras. Lots and lots of bras. As you can see by the chart, US bra manufactures haven’t really come to a consensus on bra sizing. Different brands come in different shapes and sizes. The size you just determined is a great jumping off point.

This next part may be the most important thing you learn today. It’s called the Swoop & Scoop. This is where we take some of that stuff you think is back fat and armpit rolls and make your cups runneth over. Before you bring that bra anywhere near your body you need to bend at the waist in the same way you did while measuring. Once in the proper position you need to hook the band around the base of the breast tissue where you measured your band size. If you have been wearing your band in the wrong place for your entire life then this may feel weird at first. Trust me, you’ll want to get used to it. If the band fits properly it should be straight all the way around the body. If it rides up in the back then it’s too big. Always buy a bra that fits best on the loosest hook. Bras stretch out over time and this will add to the life of the bra. Once the band is hooked and while still bent at the waist, reach up on both sides and scoop all that tissue that gets bunched up on your back and in your pits and pull it into the cups. Once everything is secure you can stand up and admire your new shape.

If the bra is the right size there will be no gapping at the top of the cup and no excess tissue spilling over. If you have either issue, you can go up or down in cup size accordingly. As I said before, there isn’t much standardization in the US bra industry so you may need to experiment a bit. The brands will also differ in the placement of the underwires, cup shape and other factors. You’ll need to find the one that’s best suited to your body.

Please remember that 80% of a bra’s support should come from the band. If the band is too loose you have no hope of a proper fit. The other 20% will come from the straps so you’ll need to make sure those are properly adjusted as well.

So here’s a recap:
1. Get professionally measured or do it yourself the proper way.
2. Try on lots of bras from lots of different manufacturers.
3. Swoop & Scoop every time you put on a bra.

He good news is that, here in Boston, we have plenty of places where you can be measured by a trained professional. Our friends at Forty Winks in Harvard Square are excellent. But a fitting can also happen at Victoria’s Secret or even Macy’s. Call ahead to make sure they’ll have someone available when you’ll be in. But you can always try it yourself.

Remember, they’re called foundation garment for a reason. Even if you aren’t having a boudoir photography session, you’ll want to get this right. Once you know the secrets you’ll be able to see the tragedy of ill-fitting bras all around you. Go out and share the good news with your girlfriends. They will love you for it.