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Meredith Holt, Published April 14 2013

Not as easy as A-B-C: Correcting bra size can improve comfort, appearance

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - With the help of a family friend, Beth Hedstrom had a total bra makeover three years ago.

After a proper fitting, she felt and looked better. Even her husband noticed, exclaiming, “Wow, you can really tell the difference!”

“I certainly wasn’t wearing the correct size,” says the 51-year-old Detroit Lakes woman.

Without a proper bra fitting and instruction, women size themselves incorrectly, which is why most of them are wearing the wrong size.

Heather Swenson, Hedstrom’s fit specialist, started The Crystal Corset Bra Boutique out of frustration with her own bra shopping experience and inspired by Oprah’s 2005 “bra intervention.”

“Not only did she fit me, but she taught me the tools to know that, in the future, as I’m buying bras, whether it’s from her or someone else, I know what to look for myself,” Hedstrom says.

In her little space in downtown Fargo’s Black Building, Swenson carries bras in band sizes 28 to 44 and cup sizes A to K from brands such as Curvy Kate, Le Mystère and Sassy Bax.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I can usually tell what size women wear,” she says.

In south Fargo, Sheila Robertsdahl and Jeniece Howland are also giving women a lift at Sanford Health’s Just for Women boutique, which offers hard-to-find sizes and specializes in lumpectomy and mastectomy bras.

All three bra-fitters say a good-quality, well-fitting bra can improve your posture, reduce shoulder and back pain, and improve your silhouette.

“It’s like losing 10 pounds instantly when you’re wearing the right-size bra,” Swenson says.

Poor-quality, ill-fitting bras can cause all kinds of annoyances – straps digging in, cups stretching out, underwires snapping or poking out, hooks tearing out.

“Most women who need it hate underwire because it’s never been properly fit,” says Howland, a certified mastectomy fitter. “They end up with underwire coming right into their breast tissue. So they equate that with, ‘Underwire is bad, underwire hurts,’ when underwire is very comfortable and gives you a nice, secure fit.”

The standard method of determining bra size is to subtract the band measurement (across the back under the breasts) from the cup measurement (across the fullest part of the breasts). Each inch represents a cup size.

Since most women aren’t wearing a good-quality bra when they get fitted, Swenson has them pull their straps up before taking their cup measurement.

But, more importantly, she has them try on different brands, styles and sizes.

“There isn’t any one way to measure correctly,” she says.

Robertsdahl and Howland say cup size is more important to a good fit than band size.

“Generally, women aren’t fitting their cup size first. They keep going bigger around in the band size to get the cup size to work, and it doesn’t give you any support by the time you get that much material around you,” Howland says.

Swenson says most women she sees wear too big of a band and too small of a cup.

A too-big band can ride up in the back, causing the breasts to sag, and a too-small cup can create what she calls the “double bubble.”

She says some women get hung up on the labels, especially if they should be wearing harder-to-find sizes.

“If it fits, it’s going to look better, so ignore the number and letter,” she says.

Robertsdahl, the Just for Women boutique supervisor, says women aren’t used to hearing about F’s and G’s because most department stores don’t carry the bigger sizes.

“Anything past a DD is almost impossible to find,” she says.

Once you determine (and accept) your correct size, don’t get too attached to it.

Howland stresses that size varies by brand and style, so unless you’re sticking with the same bra, try it on.

“Each manufacturer is going to be different size wise. In this brand, you could be a 36, but in a Goddess, a 32,” she says.

Swenson says a good-quality bra, when properly taken care of, should last at least a year.

Before Hedstrom discovered the Le Mystère T-shirt bra (an Oprah favorite), she was replacing her bras every two to three months.

“Even though you invest more upfront, you’re not spending as much every year,” she says.

Since her own “bra-tervention,” Hedstrom has given up shopping for bras at department stores. The difference is in what she feels – or, rather, doesn’t feel.

“When you wear it all day long at work, you don’t even think about it. In the past, I’d want to take it off as soon as I got home,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590