It may seem like an insignificant detail, but as many women can attest, there’s little that can be more frustrating over the course of the day than an ill-fitting bra.

Whether it’s a matter of too tight or loose a band or ill-fitting cups, slipping, ill-fit straps or those that dig into your shoulders, a bad bra can ruin a great outfit and a great day. Even though many women have become accustomed to buying whatever is near at hand off the rack, there’s no reason we should have to tolerate the torture of a bad bra. Determining your measurement is a simple matter, and then you’ll simply have to tweak that data for your preferred bra style and comfort level.

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The Bra in Context

The predecessor of the modern bra is the corset. This fixture of women’s fashion in the Western world influenced a number of other cultural features, including architecture. Stair cases in houses constructed during the most extreme fashion trends that dictated painfully tiny waists for women of upper class society have landings large enough to accommodate fainting couches where ladies of fashion could pause and avoid passing out from breathlessness.

However, the advent of World War I, or the Great War as it was known, pulled increasing numbers of women into the workforce and the corset was highly impractical for ladies performing physically demanding tasks that required increased flexibility. As well, the corset industry consumed nearly 28,000 tons of steel per year in order to make stays and grommets integral to the corset. In wartime, this metal had other more pressing applications than streamlining the feminine figure to conform to cultural standards. Thus, the brassiere was born in earnest, and corsets relegated to the world of novelty garments.

A Measure of Comfort

While the bra has seen many incarnations and advancements, in both the name of fashion and practicality, many women still don’t purchase bras that fit them properly. The bra in a box is still oddly popular, and while these cotton creations can prove incredibly comfortable if the proper size is purchased, they can often be ill-fitting when size is simply estimated. As well, considering the popularity of underwire and extreme push-up varieties, a perfect fit is essential.

In order to determine your bra size, simply follow these steps. Get a girl friend to help—an extra pair of hands and eyes will ensure that you’re measuring accurately—and pull out the tape measure.

  • To determine band size, hold the tape measure parallel to the floor and measure just under your bust at the top of your rib cage. Be sure to exhale before measuring, because it’s important that this number be as small as possible to ensure a snug fit. However, the tape measure should not bind. Round fractions to the nearest whole number.
  • For cup size, either wearing a non-padded bra or no bra, stand straight with your arms at your sides. Measure at the fullest point of your bust—usually across the center of the breast. The tape should not bind. Round all fractions to the nearest whole number.
  • To determine your bra size, subtract the band measurement from the cup measurement.

While there are many factors that will impact which bras fit best, these are individual to each woman and will require some experimentation. For example, the broadness of your back or narrowness of your shoulders, shape and fullness of breast, and even the shape of your ribcage will determine which styles suit you ideally. A well fitted bra can change the way a dress or top fits; a comfortable bra can be a lifesaver during a long, stressful day.

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