A lot of people know that something’s not quite right with their bra, but don’t know exactly what to look for or where to go from there. For this reason, I had been thinking about writing a post summarising different signs of poor bra fit, but instead I’ve decided to make (what I hope is) an easy-to-follow flowchart. To assess your bra’s fit, first ensure you have put your bra on properly and adjusted fully. Fit issues may still arise due to style or shape incompatibilities (even in a bra with the appropriate cup volume and band length), which I have discussed further down the page, but following this should lead you to your optimal size.
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Found a seemingly good size, but still having fit issues?
Bra size is only one piece of the puzzle. Once you know a good size range for you, and you know how to tell if your bra doesn’t fit, you then need to look for the best bras for your breast type. I’ve answered some common incompatibility questions below, but finding bras will be much easier if you can work out your breast shape and root width. If you have any more questions that are not addressed below, please feel free to leave them in comments.
Bras I Hate & Love wrote a great post on figuring out your breast shape here, and this infographic may also be useful. You may also have issues with centre/outer fullness, though I don’t know of any resources for this, so I have made a graphic to help determine centre/outer fullness here. Determining root width is slightly trickier, and will usually have to be done by trying on different bras, and comparing the underwire width with your root width. Some resources on root width include Venusian*Glow’s posts showing examples of narrow roots and broad roots (NSFW), and this chart, which lists the typical width of different brands in relation to each other.
- 1 The straps
- 2 Empty space/overspill
- 2.1 I have empty space at the outer-upper cup (around the straps), but not towards the centre
- 2.2 I have empty space/gapping towards the centre, but not at the outer-upper cup (around the straps)
- 2.3 I have empty space at the top of the cup, but if I try a size down there isn’t enough space at the bottom
- 2.4 I have empty space at the bottom of the cup, but overspill at the top
- 2.5 I have empty space at the bottom of the cup, but the top fits fine
- 3 The apex
- 4 The wires
- 4.1 I have empty space at the sides
- 4.2 The wires sit on breast tissue at the sides
- 4.3 The wires poke up into my armpits
- 4.4 Breast tissue escapes over the sides of the cups
- 4.5 The centre gore puts too much pressure on my sternum, it’s uncomfortable
- 4.6 The centre gore does not sit flat, but when pushed down, there are no other signs of a poor fit
- 5 The band
The straps are adjusted to two-finger tension, but they still dig in
Digging straps are often due to a too-loose band, but if you’ve followed the flowchart then a tighter band may not be the solution. Your straps are meant to take 10-20% of your breast weight, which may be quite a lot for larger busts. I personally get this problem with thinner or more rigid straps – you may find that bras which have wider straps, stretchier straps or padded comfort straps help to relieve this. You could also try using bra strap pads to redistribute the pressure on your shoulders.
The straps are adjusted to two-finger tension, but keep falling off
Slipping straps are often due to a too-loose band, but if you’ve followed the flowchart then a tighter band may not be the solution. A lot of bras are currently made with wide-set straps, so if you have narrow or sloping shoulders, it may be that the straps are placed too far apart for you. Look for bras with more central straps, such as the Claudette Dessous range. You could try adding a racerback clip to bring your straps more central, or if you want a more permanent solution, you could try this alteration to move the strap position.
The bra cuts into my shoulders/armpits where the straps and cups meet
This can happen if the cup is too big, but if you’ve followed the flowchart then a smaller cup may not be the solution. This issue is usually due a combination of wide-set straps and too-tall sides. Look for bras with more central straps (such as Comexim bras or the Claudette Dessous range) and/or lower sides (such as Comexim or the Panache Jasmine). You could try adding a racerback clip to bring your straps more central, or if you want a more permanent solution, you could try this alteration to move the strap position and/or lower the armholes.
I have empty space at the outer-upper cup (around the straps), but not towards the centre
If you have overspill at the centre no matter how much you size up, this is probably due to having more centre fullness and less outer fullness than the bra, though it may also occur if the cups are wider than you need. Look for bras that bring you more upfront, and have space towards the centre (such as Cleo balconettes or the Panache Jasmine). This may also be due to a too-small band making the cups shallower, so if you haven’t tried a larger band, you might want to try a sister size up (e.g. 34FF -> 36F).
I have empty space/gapping towards the centre, but not at the outer-upper cup (around the straps)
This is usually due to having more outer fullness and less centre fullness than the bra, though it may also occur if the bra is narrower than you. You should be able to find bras to suit this (such as Curvy Kate or Bravissimo balconettes).
If you have this problem, you are likely full-on-bottom. Look for styles that are more closed on top with more lower projection (such as the Bravissimo Alana, Curvy Kate Princess or Ewa Michalak CH).
If the cups are too small, your breasts will not be able to get into the bottom of the cup, so make sure this is not the problem. It can also occur if the band is too tight, as the tight band makes the cups so shallower. You should align the underwires with your breast root while adjusting, so if this occurs even after scooping and swooping, and a larger cup and/or larger band do not fix this, it is likely a shape issue. It may be that you are more full-on-top, and the bra has too much lower volume and not enough upper volume. Look for styles that are shallower at the bottom and open on top (such as the Masquerade Rhea, Curvy Kate Tease Me or Ewa Michalak S).
You should align the underwires with your breast root while adjusting, so if this occurs even after scooping and swooping, and you have followed the flowchart to your optimal size, this is likely a shape issue. Again, it may be that you are more full-on-top, and the bra has lower volume that you just can’t fill. It could instead be that you have more lower fullness than the bra, so your breasts push the cups down to get to a deeper section. This is not the biggest fit issue as long as the bra is still supportive and comfortable, but you may find a better fit in a bra with better suited lower projection (see above answers). If you have roughly even fullness, look for even styles such as the Ewa Michalak S, Panache Jasmine, or the Cleo Lucy and Marcie.
I get empty space at the apex that my boobs can’t fill, but a cup down gives overspill
This may be because the cup is too small, and your boobs can’t get into the cups. If going up in the cup has the same problem, and a cup down gives overspill, the bra probably just has more projection than you. It may be that you have shallow breasts, so you may want to look for shallower bras (such as the Parfait Charlotte, Cleo Marcie or Freya Marvel). You may also want to consider altering your bra to take space away from the apex, as shown in this tutorial and this tutorial.
This usually occurs when a bra does not have enough projection. It may be that you have deeper, projected breasts. Look for deeper bras (such as the Bravissimo Boudoir Beau, Ewa Michalak PL).
I have empty space at the sides
If a smaller cup does not fix this, the bra’s wires are probably too wide for you. Look for bras with narrower wires. In my experience: Comexim, Parfait, Ewa Michalak and the Panache Ariza and Jasmine have narrow wires; Cleo, Bravissimo and Freya balconettes have fairly average wires; the Panache Melody, Freya half-cups and most Curvy Kate bras have fairly wide wires. This chart may also be useful.
The wires sit on breast tissue at the sides
If a larger cup does not fix this, the bra’s wires are probably too narrow for you. Look for bras with wider wires. See the above answer for suggestions of bras that may have wider wires.
The wires poke up into my armpits
The wires may be too tall. Look for bras with lower sides (such as Comexim, Ewa Michalak PL or Bravissimo Alana). If it is the entire armhole which is too tall, you could try this alteration to move the strap position and/or lower the armholes (though you would need to shorten the wires if they are the same length as the wire channel).
Breast tissue escapes over the sides of the cups
If this occurs even with scooping and swooping, and the wires are definitely not too narrow and the cups are not too small, the wires may just be too short to contain your breast tissue. Look for bras with taller sides (such as the Parfait Charlotte, Curvy Kate Portia or Panache Ariza).
The centre gore puts too much pressure on my sternum, it’s uncomfortable
Some bras have very rigid wires (such as the Panache Melody), which can be uncomfortable if you have close-set breasts. If this is the problem, try bras with slightly less rigid wires (such as Freya balconettes), or look for a bra with a lower gore (plunge bras) or narrower gore (Bravissimo balconettes, Ewa Michalak). In some cases, pressure on your sternum/ribs may be due to a too-tight band. You may prefer a looser band, or you may just be incompatible with that particular bra. You may find some relief by bending the wires (either by curving them and/or bending the gore away).
The centre gore does not sit flat, but when pushed down, there are no other signs of a poor fit
This is fairly common, and may be for a number of reasons. Firstly, some bras are just made with weak wires – for instance, Freya’s balconettes have a floating gore for just about anyone over an H cup, and non-wired bras will almost never sit flat. This may be slightly less supportive than a bra with firmer wires, but it isn’t something that will change with a different size, so it’s up to you if it bothers you.
Secondly, if your breasts are close-set, the centre gore may be too wide or too tall to actually get between your breasts, so your breasts will push the gore away. Again, this may be slightly less supportive than a tacking gore, or it may be uncomfortable if the gore sits on your breast tissue. It may help to slightly scoop your breast tissue away from the gore after putting your bra on, or you may want to look for narrower/lower gores.
Finally, some people will not get a tacking gore in any bra, whether due to the shape of their sternum or a medical condition such as pectus excavatum. As long as your bra fits in other respects, this is fine. You may find that bending the wires of your bra helps to relieve rib pressure, and you may prefer bras with lower/narrower gores (as they are likelier to sit closer to your sternum).
I’m between band sizes – what should I do?
If one band size is too tight on the loosest hooks, but the next band size rides up on them, you have a couple of options. The easiest option is to wear the larger band size on the middle or tightest hooks straight away, though the lifespan of your bra will be much shorter than if it starts out on the loosest hooks. If you want your bras to last a bit longer, you could go for the smaller band size and use an extender until the band stretches out. Similarly, you could go for the larger band size and use a Rixie clip to tighten it, though there are definite limitations to how well this works. Finally, for a more solid solution, you could go for the larger band size and alter it down to be an exact fit.
If your only problem is the bottom hooks coming loose, it may be that you always fasten your bra onto the bottom hooks first, putting more strain on them. Try to vary which row of hooks you fasten the bra onto first.
If the bottom of the band is firm, but the top is looser (such that it seems like only the bottom of the band is doing much work), or if the top is fine but the bottom digs in, it may be that you have a straight or A-shaped ribcage, and the band is better suited to those with a more flared, V-shaped ribcage. Look for bands which are the same length at the top and bottom. Some brands which are best suited to straighter ribcages include Curvy Kate, Bravissimo and Comexim (thanks to Dressing Curves for these recommendations). You may also find that bras with fewer hooks have more leeway in what works. If you still have this problem in these brands, or if you would like more brands to be available to you, you could try fastening your bra diagonally (so onto tighter hooks at the top), or you could try this alteration of adding a dart to the top of your bra band.
If your only problem is the top hooks coming loose, it may be that you always fasten your bra onto the top hooks first, putting more strain on them. Try to vary which row of hooks you fasten the bra onto first.
If the bottom of the band is fine but the top digs in, or if the top of the band is firm but the bottom is looser (such that it seems like only the top of the band is doing much work), it may be that you have a flared, V-shaped ribcage, and the band is better suited to those with a more straight or A-shaped ribcage. Look for bands which are slightly longer at the top than the bottom. Some brands which are best suited to V-shaped ribcages include Ewa Michalak, Freya and Panache (thanks to Dressing Curves for these recommendations). You may also find that bras with fewer hooks and/or a scooped-out back (such as Cleo) will have more leeway in back shape, and thus will be more likely to work for you. If you still have this problem in these brands, or if you would like more brands to be available to you, you could try fastening your bra diagonally with an extender (so onto looser hooks at the top), or you could try this alteration, modified to add a dart to the bottom of the band.
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