The brassiere. A girl's best friend or worst enemy. It all depends on how carefully you choose yours.
According to popular current (2006-2007) statistics (from many bra manufacturers and speciality stores such as Rigby and Peller), between 70 and 80% of women wear a badly fitting bra, which means that only three in ten of us have either gotten very lucky or have been measured recently and seven are at best uncomfortable and at worst giving themselves a bad posture with a high possibility of back pain and in some cases even potential tissue damage to the breast itself.
How to know if your bra fits
There are a few simple checks you can do to decide if you need to read any further. You can do this yourself with a mirror, but if you can talk a girlfriend into doing this with you (and you for her) it makes life easier.
Does the back remain straight and level without riding up, even after a hard day?
Is your breast entirely encased within the underwire/cup?
Does the underwire fit along the natural crease under your breast?
Do the straps sit comfortably without cutting into your shoulders?
Does the underwire sit against you all the way around?
Does your breast rise smoothly out of the cup with no 'bulge' at all above the top of the bra?
Does the cup fit comfortably providing you with support and shape with no baggy, gaping or creased sections?
If your answer to every single question is 'yes' and a reasounding one at that, then you, by accident or design, have the whole thing sewn up, you shouldnt even be reading this... go on, you're in the way, let the other 799,999 women through!
If you answered No to any of the above questions, there are two options; you're wearing the wrong size or the wrong type of bra.
Wrong type: This is the easy one.
If your bra has underwires that are an 'odd' shape, (for instance a strapless bra will have longer underwires that come up more into your armpit, which can be a problem for some people) then you may have to simply find a different style or make.
If it 'bags' or 'gapes' at the apex (where the strap and the cup join) it could be that you are more 'hollow' in this area in the same way some people have a deeper insole and some people's earlobes are bigger, it's a matter of finding a style that works. A more 'balconette' style bra could be better for you as the strap will join lower down the chest and more to the side. Converseley, if it's all a bit tight and restrictive or just the wrong 'shape' try a plunge or a fuller cup...
Wrong size: This is the more likely one.
If you have problems with the back riding up, the straps never being tight enough, straps digging in, the underwires in the front not nestling against your breastbone or some such, the chances are, you are wearing the wrong size bra.
Start off by measuring your 'rib' size.
If you can do this part with a friend's help then you will get much better results as measuring yourself involves all sort of twistings and gruntings and your stance will not be natural and casual, so your measurements will be somewhat different from normal.
With or without a bra on, measure around your ribcage, straight across at the back and under your breasts.
Secondly, with a bra on, measure the fullest part of your bust, again straight across at the back, try to keep it level all round.
This will give you a ratio. Contrary to popular belief, cup sizes and 'band' size (the ribcage measurement) affect one another. the cup of a 36E and a 38DD are around the same volume, the RATIO has changed though. So if you try smaller band sizes but your cup size is right, you should consider going up a cup for every size you lose around your ribs... You could think you're a 38B for instance and find you are actually a 36C or a 34D bcecause you have underestimated how skinny you are and how large your breasts are!
One of the most common mistakes is a too large band and a too small cup. To double check, your underwire should sit snug against you from end to end with no particular pressure points and it certainly shouldn't come away or stick out, even if you put your arms in the air and thrust your chest forward. If it does, your cup is too small.
If you put a t-shirt on over your bra and walk around a bit then look in the mirror (try jumping a bit and waving your arms around!), is there a slight shadow or an obvious bulge above the line of the top of the cup? if so, again, the cup is too small.
Are you constantly tightening the straps and is the back always riding up? The band is too big.
There are other problems and answers, but it boils down to this: If your bra is something you think about all the time, or are constantly adjusting (or just plain uncomfortable in) then the chances are it's the wrong one for you, and the easiest way to check is:
A Bra Fitting Service
Now, if you live in the UK, finding a bra fitting service is relatively simple, most department store lingerie departments offer fitting as part of the shopping experience if you dont have a specialist lingerie shop near you (i.e. unless you live in London, you probably have to rely on department stores!). If you have this option, it is extremely useful and should be free. Dont worry, they wont ask you to get naked! You will be shown to a changing room and an assistant will come and measure you as I described above (with your bra on).
They will tell you what sort of size range you should be looking at and will discuss with you what your preferences are and what you want from a bra, and then they will go and select a few bras in the general region of your choice (simple t-shirt bra for support? Nice and sheer and lacy? Basic and comfortable? Plunge in satin?) for you to try on. They will often ask you to let them know when you have one on and will come in to double-check the fit and advise you on what works and what doesn't.
Unfortunately I dont go bra shopping abroad, but I have heard there could be something of a lack of useful bra fitters lurking in and around changing rooms. If this is the case with you, I recommend that you measure yourself and then shop using your band size as a guide. Find a bra, or a couple of different styles perhaps, that you like the look of, and then grab a range of sizes (same band, different cups) and try them on. If anything, aim to have cups that are too big and work your way down... You may shock yourself! This will take longer and is a bit more of a fuss, but dont be too jealous about those who can access a fitting service, it really truly is worth it for the comfort and potential health benefits, not to mention a massive difference in your posture, appearance and confidence!
Trying on a bra.
Lengthen the straps all the way, do the band up (the loosest setting is best... then you can adjust it up when you need to because bras, like shoes, will relax over time), adjust the straps to a comfortable length, and then lift and release your breasts in the cup and let them find a comfortable place. Then jiggle around, jump on the spot, flap your arms like a mad thing, raise them above your head and stick your chest out... Then have a good look in the mirror. Run through the check list again, does it fit like a second skin or like a thing of torture? Too tight? Too loose? Baggy cups? Underwire cutting part of your breast out of the cup? bulge over the top? If any of it isn't right, try another one! It will be a case of trial and error, because even if you HAVE a fitter on hand you must remember this:
Two bras from different brands or of different styles WILL fit differently. An own-brand 36DD will most likely be a completely different size from Big Brand A, which will be different again from Big Brand B. It's a guide only. Even the 'lucky' ones will need to do a little bit of trying and changing to find the right bra whenever they want a new one.
The Good News
You have now learned that you never need to fall out of, slouch because of, be stressed by or in pain because of a bra. Even very large ladies can and should expect a good fit and a comfortable experience.
There are companies out there who specialise in making attractive bras for almost all sizes, whatever your preference.
Expect and demand that you have two comfortable, flattering and supported breasts. Not four because the cup cuts in, or squishes them out under your armpit. Not flattened and uncomfortable, restricting your breathing, and not unsupported and hanging near your waist (or up round your chin either... Unless that's what you asked for!).
One Last Thing:
That old chestnut about getting a 'sexy' bra a size or two too small to give you a better cleavage? Complete And Utter Nonsense. Unless you're partial to bulges of breast destroying the line of that gorgeous top, and having to readjust everything all the time. There are bras for every dress and top in plenty of sizes and they are made to maximise your charms in style or size, that choice is up to you, but going small just looks. Well. Too small!