If you’ve ever read a women’s magazine, this gentle PSA will not come as a surprise to you (but chances are, you haven’t done anything about it). Look, kids: you’re wearing the wrong size bra. You probably don’t believe it, or don’t think it’s worth the effort to fix, or aren’t sure where to start. The first step, as with so many things, is admitting you have a problem. Also? Your bra might be ruining your life. (I admit, the chances of my being right about this increase astronomically if you are both female and wearing a bra; if those are both true, then I am probably right, because “over 80% of women are.” I don’t know when that became one of those widely circulated “facts,” like spicy food jumpstarts your metabolism and green juice is God, but it did…. Though I don’t remember the census taker coming by to check my tag?) And look, there’s no room for error here—your chest is important. A recent French study suggests that wearing a bra might be bad for you, which I am interpreting as “wearing the wrong size bra is bad for you,” because as we now know, everyone’s in the wrong size, and you better believe I am not burning this La Perla. But back to your chest: take care of it! It matters! If you’re standing correctly, it should be prominent (great posture makes you look thinner, taller, confident and more capable, as well as making your mother very happy.)
If you don’t ‘need’ to wear a bra, well, 1) Pin a rose on your nose, and 2) You might need to someday (gravity, breastfeeding...gravity) so don’t gloat. Nobody likes gloating. Nobody. And, finally, 3) ‘Need’ and ‘want’ are two very different things. Regardless? It should fit. [An aside: ways in which I hate the word ‘bra’? At least 582. It sounds and looks terrible. Maybe because it makes me think of “bray,” like the sound that donkeys make. It’s very nasal-looking. ‘Brassiere’ is worse, and who are you kidding? Nobody says ‘brassiere’ outside of Judy Blume novels (love you, JB!). I used to always say ‘support garment,’ even though that makes it sound medical, or like you’re wearing full-body Spanx. (Maybe you are? No shame in it.) Can we invent a new word for ‘bra’? ‘Underpinnings’? Get back to me.]
I feel that I know you well enough to say that you’re not an idiot. This whole ‘situation’ is not your fault. Chances are, you have an idea of your size that is either outdated or the result of being kind of basely misled—your body changes all the time (your ribs expand when you’re sitting, for example, so a bra might look great when you’re standing and then feel different when you’re seated), and different brands make different fits, and when did you last get measured, anyway? Even reality tv is catching on: there’s a new show on Lifetime called Double Divas, which as far as I can tell from the promotional materials is about a pair of Atlanta-based bra saleswomen who say things like, “It’s our duty to fix that boobie,’ and has the promising tagline of ‘Saving the World, One Cup at a Time.’ Regardless, it turns out that a good bra is such a day-making, appearance-improving, utterly easy fix!
Your measurements, once accurately taken, are a good place to start, but are not the be-all, end-all. “Women’s bodies come in all shapes, and they change with the times,” Eres’ Valerie Delafosse told me last year. “Think about paintings by Ingres, and then Stella Tennant and Kate Upton.” Delafosse recommends getting fitted once a year (“Bodies change! Years, pregnancies, sports, weight…”) and adds that if a brand fits you today, buy in bulk. Also, don’t get consumed with the label game. A salesperson named Lia at the lingerie retailer Journelle told me that some women have been known to react badly (as in storm-out-of-the-store-in-a-huff badly) when told that they’re a bigger size than they thought. “Mass-marketers have you thinking that a D cup is this astronomically huge size, and it really isn’t,” she says. It isn’t. Much to my surprise, my friends, it turns out that I am a D cup, and not, as I had thought for the past however-many breast-having years of life, a C. (I was a little upset, as I am that much farther from having the gamine Charlotte Rampling-y torso of my dreams.) “Fit is what matters, not the size,” Lia continues, and in a neat customizable twist, Journelle will tailor bras for around $15-30, adjusting bands and straps to make your underpinning perfect for your body, you unique snowflake. And I can tell you firsthand, you will know the right fit when you find it. It just feels better (and makes you feel like an idiot for spending so long in the wrong one).
Don’t have time to lounge around lingerie stores? Classic underwear brand Jockey recently sent ripples throughout the bra-wearing pond with their new in-home measuring system, which requires sending away for a $20 Fit Kit (replete with colorful measuring tape and thin plastic volumetric cups); and a new startup called ThirdLove is launching an iPhone app that says it can deliver to you a customized bra from their inventory, all based on a couple of breast-focused iPhone selfies. Should that feel too Anthony Weiner for you, there are a bevy of excellent lo-fi online fit guides (La Petite Coquette’s is a favorite) that detail how to do at-home measurements. But much like dating, arguing, talking, sex and, you know, living, this whole experience is best experienced in 3-D and outside of your computer: nothing really replaces the actual in-store experience.
What did I learn in my ventures to all manner of purveyors of things lovely and lacy, Vicky’s Secret included?
1) Fling open that changing-room door. (Maybe not “fling,” as you might injure or surprise passerby): lingerie salespeople are there to help, and the good ones can tell immediately if you’re headed in the wrong direction. (The best ones will even politely pretend to appreciate your “I thought you’d at least buy me dinner first!”-style joke.)
2) The actual measuring will go around your back and over the top of your chest (to get the band), and then from your ribcage to the top of your breast, for the cup.
3) If you are wearing an underwire bra, the center piece, which is apparently called “the gore,” should always lay flat against your sternum. If it rises up off your chest at all, you’re in the wrong size (the cups are probably too small, or the style just ain’t for you, kid). The straps should not slide off your shoulders (too wide-set), the band should always be under your shoulder blades, not scooching up (too big). Red marks? (Too tight.) Bras are actually incredibly complex garments, really, a feat of engineering that one Rebecca at La Petite Coquette compared to a suspension bridge. You don’t want to screw around with your suspension bridge, do you? People can DIE THAT WAY.
There are also so many options: slight variations in shape and style can change the whole look and feel of the thing. Do you want to go safe and t-shirt-bra-y? Lacy and semi-visible? Thick straps, thin straps, no straps? Underwire or a barely-there bralet? Push up or pull back? Overtly sexy, or ‘romantic’, or aggressively basic? Choice can be paralyzing. (DON’T PANIC. STOP PANICKING. Is there anything less helpful than someone telling you not to panic? Maybe someone shouting “STOP CRYING!” in your face, while you’re crying, but just barely.) Eres’ Delafosse chimed in with some basic guidelines: “You should have a lingerie wardrobe, much like you have different shoes for different purposes, from evening to sports to low-cut evening wear, or to wear under a white t-shirt. You need a skin-tone bra that’s completely invisible, a multi-option bra that’s strapless, backless, or deep décolleté, a full bodysuit for winter, and of course, a silk lace one, to conquer.” We’ve gotten in trouble in the comment section before for our alleged Francophilia, but my god, people. (Or should I say, mon dieu?) What is not to love about a silk lace bodysuit “to conquer”?! So, go forth and conquer. Just make sure it’s the right fit.
Natori T-shirt bra: Thin, soft, perfectly comfortable and nearly invisible. There is something to be said for an undergarment intended to disappear under clothing. I recently devoted my life to white Equipment button-downs and those things are not exactly OPAQUE. Lace underneath makes you look like you have some insidious skin disorder and sheer properties will have you dealing with the whole ‘visible nipple agenda’, which (when done right) is kind of terriblement chic, but buying groceries and business meetings are DECIDEDLY NOT the appropriate occasions.
Eres Pompone: Polka dots, graphic zig-zagging lace borders, demi-cup styling, and wide-set straps so you don’t have to worry about necklines. This is basically the Alaïa of bras, which is to say, can’t you just see Helmut Newton shooting the hell out of it? (On you, or, you know, Lisa Taylor, or something? Dream big.)
Eres Lumiere: You know what’s rarely, if ever, fun or luxurious? Being PRACTICAL. And yet, Eres nails it with the Lumiere. Wireless, soft cup, ultra-thin. Sigh.
La Perla Ardentemente: So, ‘ardentemente’ means ‘passionate’ in Italian, which sounds about right considering how I feel about this underpinning. It’s sexy, it’s relatively subtle, it’s black and lacy, and it even has a little very-on-target-considering-
Kiki de Montparnasse Ondule: This is very Catherine Deneuve circa Belle de Jour (NAVY LACE!), and do I really need to say anything else? If so, I will: while it may seem like there’s a superfluous amount of fabric here below the band, there really isn’t. It looks KILLER on. The elongated band makes it feel sort of sexy-'50s-cinched, and the cups are barely there, which makes for a bra that’s both alluringly simple and sneakily supportive.
Alessandra Codinha photographed by Emily Weiss on August 20, 2013; photos 9-14 by Mathea Millman.