How to Buy a Bra : 10 Criteria you should take into consideration every time you are shopping for one.

how to buy a bra

Even those who feel squeamish about discussing bras will need to wear one – it is one of the blessings (or curse, according to your attitude) of womanhood. Might as well buy and wear one that fits.

There are many parts to choosing a bra – you do not just go to a supermarket and take the first one off the rack like cornflakes. If that is what the sales lady urges you to do, run out from the showroom and find a place that will take into consideration your shape, your needs, your dimensions etc. But that is easier said than done – because a vast number of women wear bras that do not fit them properly. 

But before going into all that, check if your current bra follows the fit standards of an ideal bra. If your bra fulfills the criteria given below you need not look further – buy more of that same style.

You may want to take a look at the different styles of bras available in this post 45 different types of Bras

different types of bra


10 fit standards for bras

FITTING BRA cup size

1 Bra band is the most important thing in a fitting bra. In a good bra, the band is not too tight or too loose – it feels just right, firmly clasped. Not digging into the skin and leaving marks or coming down and dancing around. If the band is over tight it can distort the natural shape of the breast (or cups) by pulling them down. The band on you should be parallel to the floor. 

2 The center gore of the bra is flat on the sternum. This will prevent spillage of breasts from the bra and give good support. Do not buy a bra if the gore juts out away from the body – especially wired bras. The ordinary bras may not strictly adhere to this if you have more generous shape. 

3 There is no spillage of the breast from the top of the cup of the bra. Especially bad if the breast is divided very obviously into two by the top edge of the bra.

4 The bra cups give adequate coverage of breasts without flattening, or squeezing your breasts.

5 No back bulges – look in the mirror. But if there are, don’t worry if all else about band and cup are right.

6 There are no wrinkles or big creases on the outer/inner layer of the bra.

7 The underwire adequately covers the breasts from below. It is not squeezing the breast because it is too narrow nor is it poking under the armpits because it is too wide

8 The straps are not slipping down all the time down your shoulders because they are too loose nor are they making angry red marks on your shoulders because they are too tight

9 The fabric of the bra is cotton or a similarly soft comfortable breathable material.

10 You know how to put the bra on you – this can change everything – If you do not, (and you will learn surprisingly that you may not) you can read this blogger’s post How to put on your bra properly 

bra buying guide

Buying a Bra – the things you need to take into account 

Here are the aspects that will influence your decision to buy a particular bra.

Shape of your breast

Out of the 4 billion women in the world, you are you, very unique in your attitude, in the way you behave, in the way you are built. Everything about you is distinctive. So are your breasts.

The size of your breasts has been categorized into some alphabets and numbers by many bra companies for their own convenience and economic sense. But that does not fully comprehend the different ways that each of us is made.

Here are the different shapes in broad categories. 

Close-set breasts

Very obvious from the term used. Close-set breasts can go with nonwire bras.

Wide-set breasts 

This includes breasts that are not so close together (a two-finger distance between the breasts) to very very wide set. When they are very wide-set, you will find that your breasts go east and west (facing different directions). This is very evident in unmoulded soft bras.

Bras that give side support is best for these types. Balconette bras are this type. Plunge bras can also bring the breasts closer. The bras with a narrower center gore suit these types to bring the breasts closer.

High set breasts 

Here the breasts will be placed high up on the body. In these kinds, the bra top edge will be visible from a not very deep neckline and you will need to adjust the straps of all the new bras to make them shorter. 

Low set breasts

Here the breasts will be placed low on the body. A push-up bar can lift low set breasts.

Asymmetrical breasts 

These are unequal sized breasts  – one breast will be bigger or smaller than the other. In this case, you will need to find a bra that will stretch or one fitting the larger breast and adjust the other with more padding (bra with removable padding) etc.

A molded /contour bra can be used because they have a permanent shape and the difference between the breasts will not be noticeable from the outside. For a smaller difference of less than a size a t-shirt bra or a lined cup bra will do. Some even add a cookie (foam/pad) to the less sized cup to increase the size or wear one with removable padding. 

Fat pad near the armpit( Tail of Spence)

This is not a problem for many even if it is present but for those who want to hide them, you can try a full coverage bra like the longline bra. 

Projected breasts 

These are breasts with a small base (root) and jut out and look fuller than they are. Projected breasts are commonly big in size. If you want to reduce the impact you may want to try a minimizer bra. Another option is to choose any bra with seams (horizontal seams). Wear bras with depth at the underwire ie with a narrow shape.

Shallow breasts 

These are breasts that are spread out along the base and look smaller and less fuller than they are. They do not project out. In fact you can say that shallow breasts are common among small sizes.

You may want to opt for a padded /contour bra or a push up bra, depending on the look you want. Demi/half cup bras or balconette bras can also give the look of projection that the shallow breasts need.

Pendulous breasts

These are breasts with an elongated shape and facing down. They may even be called sagging when they are long and without much fullness particularly at the top. These breasts need lots of support.

A good quality sports bra can prevent sagging of breast tissue and prevent sudden change to pendulous shape from normal types.

Stretchy lace bras are not suitable for these kinds. Maybe a demi-cup bra would do, as it will give support from the bottom and lift up. Molded bras with underwire support or push up bras can give these breasts much-needed projection, rounded shape, and support.

Size of the breasts

Fullness of the breasts

The fullness of the breasts can be in different ways; it may be bottom full, top full, center full or evenly full. The words are self-explanatory. There is another way to check the fullness – just look at the direction that nipples point to. The nipples will always point opposite of your fullness when you stand and lean forward at a 90-degree angle, without wearing a bra.

Flat chest/ Not so endowed

These types can benefit from push up bras if having a projected shape is the goal. If it is not and you just need some shape try moulded bras. Demi bras. balconette bras are good to give a bigger look.

Small sized breasts can look feminine in bralettes. Wireless, lightly lined bras are more comfortable than underwire bras on this type.

Well endowed

This means that … No! I will not say what. Suffice to say that you do not need a padded bra. A full coverage bra is what you need. A longline bra is a style that will give adequate coverage and good band width support. A three part bra with three seams can also give good coverage and support

Underwire with side boning can give a lot of support to sagging shape in big breasts. Wide shoulder straps can support heavy breasts tissue and prevent back pain.

A minimizer bra is supposed to reduce projection, so if that is the aim, check it out. As does sports bras, with the added benefit of support.

With artificial implants

Augmented breasts are projected and firmer and self supporting and center full – that is the whole idea! You would not need moulded or padded cups as the implants make the breasts look rounded and projected already.  You will need bras that make you comfortable and at the same time give enough support. Wireless soft and stretchy lace bras and bralettes can be comfortable.

Soft breasts

This refers to the tissue of the breasts. Soft tissue breasts that can be moulded into any shape bras.

Firm breasts

Those with firm breasts may not even need a bra, in smaller sizes because they can support themselves very well. 

Wired or not

An underwire is used to give support to breast which measures B-cups and above. Ensure that all the breast tissue is enclosed within the underwire.

No spillage, No pain and No markings are indications that the underwire is probably alright. If any of these are present go up a cup size. If the underwires look too wide and they poke armpits it might mean that you are wearing a bra with a too large cup. If the underwire is too narrow, you will have marks under your breasts

People with sensitive skin may have problem with the underwire as it may cause even pain, after wearing for some time.  

Padded or not.

Padding is added to bras to give shape and to make the breast look bigger and shapely. Some bras have removable pads with small pockets on the inside of the cups where you can remove or add the inserts.

Padded bras ( seamless) have less flexibility. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage. For small breasts with soft tissue, this is an advantage as the pad can give a nice rounded shape. For firm breasts this may cause unfilled gaps.

Cup shape

Full cup bras and half cup bras are the usual variation. Then there are lined cups, padded cups, contoured cups. 

When you wear a full cup bra the sides or bottom of the cup looks wrinkled you will have to size down the cup size. If the breasts spill out of the cups, obviously size up the cups.

A Molded Bra will have a smooth, molded rounded cup (permanently breast shaped) and this is used for giving much needed shape to the breasts. Those with small, pendulous or shallow breasts can take advantage of this type of bra. 

If the cups are wide and look flat on you or it is some how distorted it may have nothing to do with the cups, it may be because the band of the bra is tight. Or the shape of the cup is not right for you.

Type of straps

Wide straps are comfortable for almost everyone, and wouldn’t slip every often. Wide straps are preferred for people with big breasts because they can give a lot of support.

Strapless is used with strapless dresses. Convertible bras can remove the straps to make it into a strapless one

Full band or band less 

The band mentioned here refers to the fabric strip under the cups. There are bras which are band less. Most people find a full Band under the cups comfortable and the band less type not so much. If you have a big belly a big band in the front may be uncomfortable as you sit.

A tighter band (not over tight) all round the bra will give enough support to big and heavy breasts – and they should be perpendicular to the ground.

Ideally you should be starting new bras on the loosest hooks – if you have to hook at the furthest row of hooks it means that the band is loose.


For exercising nothing works like a sports bra. Everyone knows that.

For  a dressy evening when you have decided to wear a plunge neckline dress you need to wear a Plunge bra with angled cups revealing more in the middle than you would otherwise. Or else the bra will be visible to the outside.

A balcony bra covers only about half of the breasts on top. A demi cup bra covers a little bit more.

Under your work clothes, you need a full coverage bra, and none of the above. If you are wearing t-shirts you need a bra with a smooth surface – a seamless bra (t-shirt bra). A t-shirt bra works great under figure hugging clothes – no seams or pointy shape.

Cup size, band size and fit

Breast sizes and shapes change over time. So the bra fitting you did one year ago may have already changed. Check again.

Not elaborating on this here as there is a post on this site – How to measure for a Bra ? with more details on this.

You can learn even more about this on a forum on Reddit on fitting a Bra.

Brand variations 

Bras are available all over the world under hundreds of universally recognized brand names.  Most of them carry a number of sizes, shapes, in lots of colors, and fabric types.

Sizing between brands is greatly varied but even within the brand, it may be varied. You may be loyal to the style of a brand but find that other styles of the same brand do not suit you. The variations can happen in the band width, wing height, cup depth, cup height, etc and all these can decide on how the bra feels and looks on you.

Some may be right in everything including fit but you may not like it because of the shape. It is not you. It is the bra. Blame the bra.

To counter these variations you will have to try each and every variant on your body to get the perfect fit. Some stores may not allow you to try the inner wear but if you are making a costly purchase you will have to find a store which allows this. Some online shops like Amazon (fulfilled by Amazon) may allow you to freely return after trying. 

References :

 Different Parts of a Bra. ; How to wash and maintain your bras ; Wash the bras in a washing machine in a DIY lingerie washing bag; Bra Strap holder- DIY tutorial.

what is bra


Comments 5

    1. Post
  1. Bra Buying 101
    Step 1. Ensure there is an adequate (and by adequate I mean megatons) supply of chocolate and icecream.
    Step 2. Ensure at least 2 bottles of wine are chilling in the fridge
    Step 3. Your emergency contact number for your best friend ( to talk you down off the ledge) is up to date and pre-programmed into your phone.
    Step 4. Print out 1 or several of these signs and stick them on your pillow so that when you throw yourself on the bed in a sobbing mess you will see them.
    a) bras were invented by men why should I conform to their ideal of the perfect
    b) I am unique in this universe and that is why no mass produced bra will ever fit me.
    c) I have safe $$$$$$’s today by not buying an ill fitting bra that will sit in my drawer
    for years guilting me every time I open the drawer.

    1. Post

      Hi Kat,
      For those who have a problem with ‘them’ going north (rapid descend downwards) no need for all that persuasion or incentives – they welcome bras : )

    2. Kat This was the best part of the site. Thank you for sharing it.
      Ann Lovely informative article. I got a lot out of it, It was timely as I have lost a lot of weight and both my cup and breast size have really changed.

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