How Is a Bra Supposed to Fit?

woman smiling wearing pink floral bra

Something's not quite right with your bra and you're not sure why. Maybe the band is riding up, maybe the cups are gapping, maybe the straps are slipping. Whatever it is, it's preventing you from getting a good fit with your bra.

As a Personal Shopper, I frequently get the question, “How is a bra supposed to fit?” Today, I'll walk you through my top tips for choosing the right bra size and adjusting your bra once it arrives. Get ready to have the best-fitting bras of your life!

Determining Your Bra Size

One of the most important steps to choosing a well-fitting bra is to measure yourself correctly and choose the right size. We've actually put together a whole guide that explains how to determine bra size and what different cup sizes look like! In brief, you'll need a flexible fabric tape measure and also an unlined or lightly padded bra (not a push-up—you're trying to determine your natural size here). Put on the bra and adjust it so that your breasts sit comfortably in the middle of the cups. They shouldn't be squeezed flat or saggy.

To get your band size, grab the tape measure and measure directly above or below your breasts, around the rib cage (you also take both measurements and then average them together if you want). Take some deep breaths to make sure that you haven't pulled the tape too tight. Your ribs expand and contract as you breathe, so you want to make sure that your bra band leaves enough room for that.

how to determine your bra size

I usually recommend a band size one to two steps up from your measurement, which is how the traditional system was designed to function. For example, most women who measure 32 inches around the rib cage would want either a 34 or possibly a 36 band size. Keep in mind that bra bands made of thinner material will stretch more than a thicker, stiffer band with lots of seams or structure, so you might want to go up one band size on certain styles and two band sizes on others.

To figure out your cup size, wrap the tape measure directly over the largest parts of your breasts. The tape measure shouldn't droop, but it also shouldn't be so tight that it cuts into your breasts or creates a dent. Again, take a couple of deep breaths to ensure that the tape measure isn't too tight. Once you have determined your bust measurement, subtract your band measurement from it to get your cup size. Each one inch difference means an increase in one cup size, so someone with a 32-inch rib cage and a 34-inch chest circumference is a B cup and would want a 34B bra size.

Always measure yourself before ordering a new bra. Your size may have changed since the last time you ordered a bra, or you may not have chosen the right size in the first place. In the rest of this guide, I'll walk you through some indications that your bra isn't fitting properly to help you figure out whether or not you have the right size.

Checking the Fit of Your Band

the Fit of Your Band

The majority of lift from a typical bra comes from the band, not the straps, so the band needs to fit accordingly. It shouldn't ride up or sag down, and you shouldn't be able to easily pull it away from your body (if you can, then your bra is probably old and worn out). Most of the time when you first receive your bra, the band usually fits best on the loosest hook. As it stretches out over time, you can move onto the other hooks to tighten the band and still maintain a good fit.

It's okay if you have a little back fat that hangs over the band. That's totally normal, as these bands are supposed to be snug. If the band is really tight and uncomfortable, it might be time to size up. Keep in mind that you might need to go down a cup size in order to accommodate the band size increase. A wider, flatter band will also help smooth out any lumps or rolls on your back if you find this to be a chronic problem no matter your band size. Another option to consider is using an adjustable bra extender if the band is too snug but the cup fits perfectly. 

Checking the Fit of Your Underwire

Strapless Bra - Leonisa

Underwire is one of the major contributing factors to an uncomfortable bra fit, which is why you need to make sure that you've chosen the right size. In particular, underwire that is too small can dig into your ribs or poke into the sides of your breasts. But in a well-made bra of the right size, you won't have any of these problems!

The underwire should not sit above or below your breast, and it definitely should not rest on top of your chest. Instead, the underwire should rest on the rib cage right below the breast crease. The curve of the underwire should be large enough to accommodate the entire breast without digging into it. You may need to adjust your breasts so that they sit in the middle of the cups and do not touch the underwire. If the underwire is too small to fit the entire breast, you'll need to choose a larger cup size.

Poorly made bras that don't pad the underwire properly may be painful to wear no matter what, even if the underwire is the right size for your breasts. However, you'll never have that problem with Leonisa's quality underwire bras. Each of our bras is carefully engineered for comfort and support, which is why I love this brand so much.

Checking the Fit of Your Straps

In an underwire bra, your straps are basically there to make sure that the cups sit flush against your breast. They don't really provide lift, and should definitely not cut into your shoulders. You should be able to lift your straps one to two inches off your shoulder with moderate pressure. If you can't get your fingers under the strap, it's too tight, and if you can raise it higher than a couple of inches, then it's too loose.

The fit of your straps can be affected by the fit of your band. If your band is too loose and therefore rides up, then your straps will fall down. Some people also have narrow shoulders that make their straps more prone to falling. If that's the case for you, consider a convertible or racer back style bra. If your straps dig no matter what, then look into a wider strap design to help distribute some of that pressure.

Checking the Fit of Your Center Gore

Strapless Bra - Leonisa

The center gore is the triangular section on the front of your bra where the band, underwire and cups all come together. If your band and underwire are the right size, then the center gore should lay flat against your sternum. You should not be able to move it easily, but it also shouldn't press too hard on your chest. If the center gore of your underwire bra does not lay correctly, then the cups are too small or the band is too loose.

Underwire is a major reason why the center gore lays flat. If you have opted for a wireless bra without underwire, the center gore may not lay as flat as an underwire bra. In fact, some wireless bras don't even have a center gore because they don't have separate cups. If that's the case for your bra, then I recommend focusing on the other criteria I list in this article!

Checking the Fit of Your Cups

Strapless Bras - Leonisa

Your cups should neither gap nor run over. If your cups are gapping even after you've tightened the straps, then the cup size is probably too big. If your breasts are overflowing on the top and/or sides, then it's time to get a larger cup size. For women who have breasts of two different sizes, something that's actually quite common, I recommend choosing a bra size to fit the fuller side and then padding the other with an insert, such as a removable push-up pad.

Another thing that I mention a lot to clients is the way that different cup styles fit different breast shapes. For instance, if your breasts are more bottom heavy and less full at the top, a balconette bra might fit your breasts better than full coverage cups. If you definitely have the cup size right and the cups still aren't fitting correctly, you might want to try a different cup style and see how that works for you.

Troubleshooting the Fit of Your Bra

Sometimes you'll try everything obvious and the bra still won't fit the way you want it to. Here's what I suggest doing if your bra isn't perfect right out of the package: If you ordered the correct size, but it doesn't lay right... Try adjusting the straps and the band to make them looser and tighter to see if one combination is better than the other. In some cases, you did order the correct bra size for you. You just need to adjust it a bit to get your perfect fit. If the bra size doesn't fit, then try to determine whether it's the band or cup size (or both) that is causing the issue. You might need to size up or down in one or the other.

how to determine your bra size - Leonisa

Remember that not every bra will fit the same as another bra, even from the same brand. Different styles are designed to fit differently, and you might need a slightly different size in order to get the fit you want. For example, a smaller cup size might work better for a full coverage bra, while you might want to go up a size for a demi bra with less coverage to avoid spilling out of the cups.

If you've adjusted everything on this list and it still doesn't fit right…

Some bras just don't give you the look that you want no matter what, even if you have the correct size and you've adjusted everything. Not every bra style works well for every breast shape and size, and sometimes you won't know that until you try it on.

To get a sense for what fit you like, I recommend trying on all your bras and taking notes of what you like about them—not only the size but also the cup coverage, the bra materials, the strap width and more. Also consider how full your breasts are and how the tissue is distributed (in other words, if your breasts are top heavy, bottom heavy or neither). Once you know what you like, you can seek out bras that have those qualities. Also, look at pictures of the bras on models to see how similar they are to your breast shape and sizes, as the bra may sit differently on the model than it will on you.

smiling woman in back bra

If you aren't sure what bra styles will fit you best, then you should definitely consider scheduling a personal consultation with me or the other Personal Shoppers here at Leonisa. We'll talk with you about your likes and dislikes and help you navigate the many bra options available to you. You can also call or chat with our expert consultants if you don't want to wait for an appointment.

It's time to say no to bad-fitting bras, and yes to bras that make you feel amazing! If you follow the tips in my guide, you'll be able to choose the right bra size and get a great fit every time. If the bra that you ordered doesn't work for whatever reason, Leonisa offers free returns to make sure that your satisfaction is guaranteed 100 percent with every purchase you make. Shop our collection today to find your next favorite bra.