Bras 101: Everything to Know About Sizing, Fit, and Which Ones to Buy

Published on: Aug 19, 2021fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
Let's talk about bras, baby.Paramount Pictures

Bras: Love ‘em. Hate ‘em. Have a lot of feelings and questions about ‘em. 

With back-to-school and return-to-office in motion, you may have ‘bra shopping’ on your list of to-dos. We know that finding the right bra can be tricky — especially if you’re doing it online. So we chatted with Cora Harrington, founder and editor-in-chief of The Lingerie Addict, for some tips, tricks, and deets. We’re talking: how to properly care for your bras, what to look for when buying a new one, how to get the best fit, and more. Plus, some recs for our fave bras — including sports, maternity, and wireless options. Let’s go. 

How to tell if you need a new bra + how to make the next one last longer

  • Look at the elastic on your bra (specifically at the underband) and see if it’s all stretched out. “Most of the support for your bra comes from the band,” Harrington says. “So if you find that your band isn’t snapping back, your elastic has lost all its recovery and its ability to snap back to its former size and shape. Then that's a sign that it is time for another bra.” Also, if the underwire is popping out…buh-bye.

  • When it comes to laundering: “The holy grail is to hand-wash and hang to dry.” Otherwise, Harrington recommends grabbing a mesh garment bag (pssst: we like these), hooking all your bras together, tightening the straps, and putting ‘em in an empty washer. Then run a cold, delicate cycle — because “heat is the number one ruiner of elastic” — and hang to dry. Capeesh? Great. 

Breast shapes and bra sizes, Skimm’d

You can get a bra fitting at a boutique or take your own measurements. Either way, Harrington says to keep in mind that cut-and-sewn bras (aka bras with seams) will have more support than molded bras or T-shirt bras.

Plus, there are five common breast shapes, according to Harrington, and it’s helpful to keep yours in mind when shopping. Here are her recs for the best types of bras for each:

  1. Full on bottom: most of your breast volume is below the nipple → try a demi-cup or balconette, because the top of the cup is more open, but bottom gives support.

  2. Full on top: where most of your breast volume is above the nipple → try a balconette bra, because you get the volume on top. 

  3. Full all around: equal distribution of breast volume. Many bra styles will work.

  4. Pendulous: where most of your breast tissue is below the breast fold (which is where your breast meets your chest) → try a full-coverage bra that’ll help contain, lift, and shape your breast tissue. It’ll “give you the lift and projection that you’re not getting from your natural breast,” Harrington says.

  5. Tuberous: where your breasts have little tissue and are more elongated, more narrow, and cylindrical in shape → try a T-shirt bra for a smoother, more rounded shape under clothing.

Let’s Talk Fit

  • We cannot stress this enough: Use the size charts. It might sound obvious, but brands use varying sizing models, as do different countries. (And if you’ve got different-sized breasts, fit toward the larger one.) 

  • Then, Harrington relies on three easy Q’s to ask yourself:

  1. Is the band in the back parallel to the ground? It shouldn’t be rising up — if it is, try a different size. 

  2. With a wired bra, is your breast tissue fully contained within the cup? The wire shouldn’t be sitting on top of your breast tissue.

  3. Is the gore (aka the center portion of a wired bra) lying flat against your sternum? Note: In wire-free bras, the gore will not lie flat against your sternum, Harrington says. In that case, make sure your breast is fully contained within the cup area and not sliding over into the band or under the cups.

And now? It’s time to shop. (Oh, and if you’re someone who sweats a lot, Harrington recommends staying away from cotton bras, despite how comfortable they may be, as cotton absorbs sweat rather than wicking it.)

Underwire bras

ThirdLove T-shirt bra
A classic T-shirt bra with more than 48,000 reviews…

For real. This one from ThirdLove has memory foam cups that’ll form to your body and give you a smooth shape no matter what you’re wearing. This brand is known for its inclusive size offerings. They used more than a million measurements from women to come up with 80 sizes, including half-cup sizes. (Remember the golden bra-shopping rule: Look at the size chart.) New favorite bra, coming right up. ($65, ThirdLove

Buy it
Strapless Harper Wilde bra
A strapless bra that won’t let you (or your boobs) down…

This one has no-slip seams and extra boning that’ll keep your bra in place. It comes with removable straps that you clip in the front (so you don’t need a friend to help you clip them off). And it has a special gore that makes it easy to pack and fold for your next trip. Available in four colors, it runs from 32A–42F. Your move now. ($40, Harper Wilde)

Buy it

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Cuup triangle bra
A minimal triangle bra that’ll keep things simple…

This pared-back silhouette has a deep V-neck shape with teardrop-shaped cups. It’s made from a buttery microfiber and has ultra-thin adjustable straps for that ‘I’m on vacation in my favorite bikini’ look. Sign us up. ($68, Cuup)

Buy it
Savage X Fenty balconette bra
A lacy balconette option for when you want something sexy… 

Take a note or two from Rihanna’s lingerie co. The unlined bra comes in bright colors and has rose-gold-toned hardware for some added luxury. For function, it’s got adjustable straps, a hook-and-eye back closure, and underwire for support. We don’t make the rules, we just abide by RiRi’s. ($59.95, Savage X Fenty)

Buy it

Wire-free bras

Harper Wilde Bliss bralette
A bralette that’ll make you feel like you’re not wearing anything…

Butter meets magic in this too-good-to-pass-up option. Skimm HQ’rs are obsessed with this V-neck bra that’s called “The Bliss” for a reason. It’s free of foam, cups, and padding, and it provides lift without skimping on comfort. Pure bliss is on its way indeed. ($45, Nordstrom)

Buy it
Lively wire-free pushup bra
A wire-free pushup bra for when you want some lift sans the pain…

It has a convertible J-hook back, which helps with support (and is ideal for racerback tanks and dresses). And front-adjusting straps so you can actually change up the length without asking someone else to do it for you. ($35, Lively)

Buy it
Knix contour wireless bra
A medium-support, contour option that acts like a wired bra but still maximizes comfort…

This wireless bra is great for when you want a little more support than a bralette but aren’t in the mood for a full underwire situation. It comes in six nude shades and black, and has molded foam cups that’ll provide shape without constricting. This one also has extra coverage near the sides and back to help eliminate overspill. ($60, Knix)

Buy it
Parade bralette
An ultra-comfy scoop bralette for the laziest of days…

Adjustable straps? Check. Feather-light waistband? Check. Sustainable fabrics that’ll keep you cool? Annnnnd check. You’ll be supported but not overdoing it in this one. Plus, it comes in 10 fun colors if you’re looking to brighten up your day. ($28, Parade)

Buy it

Sports bras

Knix sports bra
An actually supportive option that adapts to your body as you wear it…

This one is designed to provide support during high-impact workouts. (See: its thousands of incredible reviews as evidence.) At first, it goes on a little snug, then it relaxes to fit your body over time. It has performance molded cups, which help separate your breasts in order to keep the movement to a minimum. And it comes in a variety of colors and sizes (from 32A to 42G). ($89, Knix)

Buy it
Girlfriend Collective sports bra
An option for people who hate wearing bras…

We love this one’s barely there look (aka minimal straps). And how it’s ultra supportive thanks to its compression fabric and double lining. Plus it has removable cups and four-way stretch, and is made from — wait for it — recycled plastic bottles. Keeping your babes supported while you look out for the environment? Yes, please. ($46, Girlfriend Collective)

Buy it
Wacoal sports bra
An underwire exercise bra for maximum support...

Raise your hand if you’ve shied away from high-impact activities because of your boobs. Try this one, then give us a call. It combines everyday comfort with maximum coverage. The underwire sits on the outside of your bra and helps to reduce movement. And its moisture-wicking fabric and mesh back will keep you dry during your sweat sesh. It ranges from C through I cups and sizes 32–42, plus its G- and H-cup sizes come with extra support in the cups. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. ($47.60+, Wacoal)

Buy it

Nursing and post-surgical bras

Seamless nursing bra
A seamless nursing bra for anyone with a larger cup size...

According to one Skimm HQ’r, who “has not worn a single other bra” since giving birth, this one is the GOAT. It has a wide back band, lightly contoured cups for comfortable support, and is made from fabric that helps body sweat evaporate so you’ll get that cooling effect while wearing it. ($49+, Amazon)

Buy it
Two-in-one bra for nursing and pumping
A two-in-one bra for nursing and pumping…

The ultimate smart bra if you ask us. It comes in three colors, has a hook-and-eye closure, and allows new mamas to nurse and pump at the same time. It eliminates your need to buy pumping-only bras and lets you multitask easily thanks to its unique clip system. Plus it securely holds all types of flanges. ($49.99, Amazon)

Buy it
AnaOno recovery bra
A front-closure bra for those in recovery...

AnaOno offers a ton of options for people who’ve had breast cancer and surgery. The wide back bridge provides back and underarm support, and the easy-release front closure is ideal for dealing with postoperative dressing. AnaOno recommends this incredibly soft option for anyone undergoing radiation therapy, lung or heart surgery, or someone who’s in recovery for a breast reconstruction, reduction, or augmentation. ($54, AnaOno)

Buy it

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Skimm'd by Lindsay Schneider, Emmy Favilla