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Ladies, you know what we mean when we say the bra was both the best and worst invention in the entire history of inventions. After all, it serves as a lifesaver on lengthy hikes, busy errand days and those moments when you crave a little va-va-voom. But the wiry undergarment is also the source of headaches (in the most literal sense), unsightly back bulges and the kind of discomfort that makes you curse the gods.
Regardless the love/hate relationship with your brassiere, you must come to terms with the fact that she's your ultimate bosom buddy -- and your relationship can be a much healthier one.
Believe it or not, a woman should put on her bra in the morning and not think about it again.
- Kristine Iannazzi, owner of New York lingerie store Embasse-Moi
Wearing the Wrong Size?
Get this: a ghastly 80 percent of women wear the wrong bra size and have been doing so most of their post-growth-spurt years. Thankfully, it's easy to tell if your undergarment collection is the incorrect size. The number one sign? Discomfort.
"Believe it or not, a woman should put on her bra in the morning and not think about it again," said Kristine Iannazzi, owner of New York's Embasse-Moi, a lingerie store specializing in custom-fitted bras. "If a woman is wearing the wrong bra, it will shift, bind, cut in on the shoulders or need constant readjustment."
Other signs that it's time to toss your bra out the window? Sagging, back or shoulder pain, bent (or missing) underwire, poor posture and pesky bits of boob popping out here, there and everywhere.
Measuring Your Bust
Sound like you have a dreaded case of Bad Bra Syndrome? If so, it's time to whip out your trusty measuring tape, grab a friend and measure that lovely bust of yours. As unpleasant as it sounds, doing so is one giant step toward solving your brassiere woes. Plus, it's not as difficult as you'd think.
First, throw on your (currently) best-fitting bra. Then, ask a friend to measure the distance around your chest. The measuring tape should go underneath your breast.
"That number is your band size," explained Diana St. Louis, owner of Bijete, an intimate apparel company. She says to round up to the nearest band number if it isn't exact. For example, if you measure 32.5 inches, your band size is 34.
Next, determine your cup size. To do this, measure the distance around your chest again. This time, however, do so over the fullest part of your bust.
"Bring the tape measure tautly across the nipples to be precise," St. Louis noted.
After you've got your two numbers on hand, subtract the first number (band measurement) from the second number (cup measurement).
For example, if the fullest part of the bust measures 39 inches and the band measurement is 32.5 inches, your subtracted number equals 6.5 inches.
"Every inch represents the letter for the cup," St. Louis explained. "One equals A cup, two equals a B cup, three equals a C cup and so on."
With the numbers in this example, the bra size is 34 F or 34G.
You know how you spend hours at the mall tracking down the perfect pair of jeans? And how once you find that heavenly garment, you hoard the entire merchandise stock in your size? That's kinda what you need to do when finding a bra.
You'll probably scour various boutiques and try on countless bras until you find one you're happy with, but investing your time in the search is well worth it.
When shopping at a bra specialty store, you'll get professionally measured and directed to the correct size. You can also go to department stores to try on a variety of bras. No matter where you go, you'll need to try on several in order to find "the one."
While shopping, be open-minded about your size. If you're surprised -- or even disappointed -- with your number, remember that nobody sees the size of your bra. What they do see, however, is the result of a poor-fitting undergarment (saggy breasts and uniboob included).
"Women who are larger busted -- DD cups and up -- often get discouraged because many lines don't carry their size," said Jene Rose Luciani, style expert, TV host and author of The Bra Book.
"However," she added, "there are lines like Panache, Fantasie and Frederick's of Hollywood that cater to larger sized busts. Conversely, lines like Lula Lu Petites and The Little Bra Company are made just for smaller busts."
The Perfect Fit
Now that you're standing in the dressing room, facing the mirror and trying on bra after bra, it's time to find an undergarment that actually fits. A daunting task, but imagine the joy you'll feel when the perfect one crosses your path.
Luciani explains that the bra should feel snug, but should still allow you to move.
"Bras are designed to stretch and move with your body," she explains. "However, it shouldn't be moving anywhere once it's on your body. The straps shouldn't be sliding, the back band shouldn't be riding up and the underwire should stay in place."
The bra should also hold your breasts halfway between your shoulder and elbow. If your lovely pair is anywhere south of there, the bra isn't doing its job. Other signs of an ill-fitting bra include gaps, spillage and digging in.
Your bra's also a keeper if it adheres to these credentials listed by St. Louis.
"The center part of the bra should lie flat against the chest, the breast should be fully within the cup, there should be no side spillage and the band should lie flat and low on the back," she explained.
Once you find the perfect bra, you'll definitely know the difference between good and bad brassieres. Scratch that -- you'll feel the difference.
Re-Building Your Bra Collection
We know what you're thinking. You've just thrown out all your bras and are not happy about the prospect of rebuilding your bra collection from scratch. While it may take time and dinero for you to re-stock your bra supply after throwing all the bad ones out, having the right bra for the right outfit is a worthy splurge. Especially if you want to avoid peek-a-boo straps, bras that show through sheer shirts, visible underwires and other disastrous undergarment faux pas.
To build your bra arsenal, begin by purchasing multiples of your core bra type -- the type that accommodates the majority of your mainstay ensembles. To do this, consider what types of tops you wear on a daily basis and orient your core bra acquisitions to those tops.
"Aside from your core bra collection, have one or two 'one-off' bras," recommended Constance Dunn, author of Practical Glamour. "These are the types that you need to fulfill the unusual cuts, colors and silhouettes in your wardrobe."
As for which bra goes best with which outfits, refer to the following suggestions:
Basic Tees: You'll want a contour bra for basic tees and tops. Contour bras are typically constructed out of soft microfiber and eliminate bra lines even under your thinnest tee. They're also ideal for sweaters, spandex, knits or other clingy tops. In addition to preventing bra lines, contour tees conceal erect nipples.
Deep Neck Lines: Select a bra that has also has a plunging line. You don't want to risk any part of your bra (no matter how cute or pretty it is), peeking out from under your shirt.
Tanks: Opt for a racer back bra to prevent straps from making an un-welcomed appearance. The straps on racer back bras still exist, but they criss-cross in the back instead of going over your shoulders. As a result, the fabric of your tank conceals them.
Strapless Tops/Dresses : Every lady likely has at least one or two strapless garments in her wardrobe. For these occasions, you'll want a strapless bra. For lighter tops, opt for a seamless bustier or a wire-free bandeau that wraps around your body. Both conceal bra lines. For fancier, thicker attire (including formal gowns or dresses), select a bustier with boning. These provide more support than seamless or wireless options.
Lastly, there's always the "hybrid bra." You've likely seen this chameleon-type brassiere advertised on TV or in stores -- they're the kind with movable straps that accommodate various tops.
"While hybrid-type bras can be annoying in terms of having to rearrange the straps to suit a specific top, they are ultimately worth buying -- in the highest quality you can afford -- because you will have fewer bras crowding your collection," advises Dunn. In addition to serving as a typical bra, hybrid bras convert into racer back bras, strapless bras and even one-strap bras.