What Up, Bra?

La Perla
La Perla

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 Chances are, you have an idea of your size that is either outdated or the result of being kind of basely misled—your body changes all the time (your ribs expand when you’re sitting, for example, so a bra might look great when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.

—Alessandra Codinha

Favorite Finds:

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-Marc-Jacobs-SS14-TASSEL on the gore.

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.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • ekmc

    I used to be a bra fitter when I was at university...

    I see in the images that the fitter is measuring the actual cup, but I was always taught that this was pointless because two women with the same cup size could have completely different breast dimensions. For example, to most I appear to have a C cup, but I actually wear an E because of the way by breast tissue is distributed (full at the bottom and side, not very voluminous at the top).

    So we were taught to only measure the band size and then just allow the customer to try on a few different cup sizes (after a while i could tell a person what cup they were just by looking at them with their clothes on!).

    It's also amazing how many women would (and still do) underestimate their cup and then get upset when you told them they were 3/4 sizes bigger than they thought! Especially those who had just had breast augmentations...

  • Poulette

    This made me laugh! Last week I was home in Brooklyn visiting my European parents and my mom kept nagging me to go for a professional bra fitting because the one I was currently wearing was "terrible!" I promised I would go the next time I was in town mostly because some of my cousins (on the still in Europe side) have been and they said it changed their lives. No joke. They went to a shop on Atlantic Avenue.

    Viva la bra!

    • zillynyc

      where on atlantic avenue? would love to find a good lingerie store in bklyn

      • Poulette

        I want to say its Iris, but I will check with the Europeans... Knowing my family, it's a bit more on the... Err... Sensible side.

  • Alice Bradshaw

    nice post ! I don't have breast (Okay, it's an exageration but... true!) so that's why I love bralette :)




  • CarolinaG

    Eres is great!!!!

    I'm posting looks from L.A. and accessories:


  • Faust

    I love the title. Great read as usual, Alessandra!

  • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

    Learning how to find your correct size is a life-changer, especially for us ladies who live above the D cup!

    I also find that it's good to keep an open mind about brand loyalty. Sometimes I have to switch brands year to year, depending on how styles change. One brand might work for me one year, and the next they're not quite the same.

    Taking care of our boobs (and necks, shoulders, backs, etc.) is so important! Thanks for the advice!

  • Chrissabella

    Great post and a bra fitting is it first taunting but really worth it!

    Greetings from London,


  • JH

    Would love some advice for cleaning. Hand washing never seems to really get them clean, and machine-washing is too harsh!

  • mlle p

    Aside from just the size, which changes from brand to brand just like clothing, there's the issue of how close/far apart the cups are, especially if you need an underwire. Bras are the worst thing to shop for, except swimsuits, and I always dread it, and good lingerie salesladies are few and far between.

  • Lena

    Do women really get disappointed when they're told they're a bigger bra size than they thought?! At my school all the girls want bigger boobs. I'm pretty small and have more recently come to appreciate it upon realizing I never really have to think about 'support' etc., but it took me a while to have that mentality because of the attitudes around me. Most of my friends would be so happy to be told they're not a C but a D. Nice to know that the smaller breasted 'gamine' torso is seen as desirable too. Anyway, great article as always Alessandra!

    • ekmc

      It's all in the mind.

      In my experience women would get upset when I told them they were an E/F/G, when they thought they were a D or whetever. The size of their breasts are obviously still the same, but it's the connotatoins (in their mind) that having a large cup size brings that they don't like for some reason. I don't know why, but DD (much smaller than you think) is always portrayed as a 'sexy' size, but GG is in 'obese' territory, despite the fact that GG is more common than you think (and not just on larger ladies)! Then there's the fact that it can be very difficult to find cute bras in larger cups. I would have women ignore my recommendation of a larger cup just so that they could continue to buy dinky little La Perla bras!

      • Kate

        You said it girl! People seriously think that bras marketed for D and up are for women who wear larger clothing sizes but it's not true. Very thin women, even model size women, can have cup sizes over DD, over F. There are plenty of "plus size" women who are not DD and up, not F and up but actually true B and C.
        I used to model so I'm built tall with a tiny little frame. I've been professionally fitted as a 26H but that's hard to find so I need to get a 28G/GG or 30F/G. Whenever I walk into specialty boutiques in NYC, I get scoffed by the ladies with weird looks from people around me because people associate tall and slender with A, B, C (if she's lucky) cups. So when I ask for a G cup, I overhear other people questioning my size and my knowledge. Yet, the woman next to me who is roughly a size 10 asking for a 34F doesn't get weird and rude looks?
        Furthermore, my 26H looks like "a big C" to the average bar-hopping New Yorker if they had to play that "guess her bra size" game. My agency used to put "B/C" on my comp card. But then the ladies at La Perla look at me without measuring and say "You gotta be a Double-D!".. So our culture really has a skewed idea of sizes.

  • Abeille

    Will the band size determine how close/loose fitting the cups sit?

    • ekmc

      Definitely. If the band size is too large, it creates room at the front to the bra, so you can technically fit into a smaller cup. But it's still a squeeze! This is why when most women who think they are the standard 34B get measured, they find that they are usually around a 30D. If you decrease the size of the band (which should be firm, to anchor support) then the cup will fit tighter at the front, so you have to increase it to compensate.

  • Jane S.

    I love you Alessandra but are you really advocating spending $1,174 on five bras? Yikes! I've always wondered why bra experts measure you over your clothes, while you're wearing -- you guessed it -- a bra? Good info about the straps. Being built like a triangle, bra straps and purse straps are the bane of my existence.

  • Daphne

    We've missed Alessandra! Keep bringing her back. Girl knows how to write - modern journalism at its best.

    • Julian

      word! probably itg's BEST writer. please give her more assignments.

  • Sotengelen

    Lets just call it a titsling! ;)


  • kathS

    As another former bra fitter, one thing that is worth mentioning is that the cup size is relative to the band size. For example, a 32D and a 36D are not the same D cup. This is why someone like Allessandra can go around thinking that she is a 34C her whole life, when she is actually probably a 32 (maybe 30?) D.

  • Lori Santos

    Good to see you're still here, Alessandra. I was wondering where you were..

  • Diane

    As a former bra fitter and current lingerie design consultant, the proper way to measure the band requires two measurements--not just the one above the breasts that Journelle uses. If a woman has a lot of breast tissue on top, the measurement above the breasts is going to a skewed. That is why it is always important to have the second measurement below the breasts. Some women will measure 36 inches above the breasts and 30 inches below the breasts because 1. ) they may have an hourglass shaped ribcage as opposed to one that is straight down and 2.) they may have very full breasts. You want to fit a full busted woman in the snuggest band possible so they get the most support. You don't want to put a woman who measures 30 inches below her breasts in a 36 band. Put her in a 30 or 32.
    Another thing I wish was mentioned in this article is that letters/cup sizes like F-K are totally normal. A 32F is still smaller in volume than a 38DD.

  • http://www.slashedbeauty.com/ Miranda Mendoza

    My friends and I have always found that VS reaaaallly overexaggerates sizes (maybe to make women feel good about themselves?) I had a friend who was... well she was on the itty bitty titty comittee and they measured her as a D cup. It was just odd!

    • claire

      Well you know that a 32D is different from a 34D and 36D. 32D is volumetrically smaller than a 34D but also a smaller back. So a "D cup" means nothing without a number. D=4 inches of breast depth.

    • alyson

      They absolutely do!

  • Kira

    Alessandra, what size did you end up getting measured at? I tried shopping at Journelle and they don't carry my size!

    I also heard that there are a lot of stores that don't carry many sizes but they try to upsell and fit customers into the wrong size.

    • Alyson

      Kira, the only time I've experienced this situation was at the overwhelming, techno-blaring, Pink Wagon trying to pass itself off as a "secret" in the mall. Try finding a dedicated lingerie store in your area if you can, I was pleasantly surprised by the price point of the bras (on average, most the same as a mall store) and the one-on-one attention and patience of the sales woman was amazing. It turned out I was wearing a bra that was about 2 cup sizes too large for me. Total game changer.

  • erinelukas

    I used to work at a lingerie store and can vouch for the mesh bags if you feel like you need to put them in a washing-machine. You can get them in packs at a dollar store. Wash in cold water on a gentle cycle and hang-dry them if possible. This should definitely keep them wearable and prevent the underwire from warping or poking through the fabric.

    If you have any bras with any sort of gel padding DO NOT put them in the dryer! This may seem like common sense but you'd be surprised at how many people came back and tried to return bras because the gel melted after they put them in the dryer.

    Hope this helped!

  • Jane S

    I just spent $75 for a black lacy Cosabella Trenta which is beautiful but has all the support of a wet tissue. I just wanted a pretty, sexy bra however this can only be worn under heavy denim shirts or suits of armor to avoid inappropriate nipplage. I'd love to have the lingerie drawer of a Parisienne (and a recent closet cleaning unearthed a silk leopard number & a frilly French number, tags still attached) but practicality (and decency) must prevail. Off to check out that Natori bra...

  • Tracy

    Bra fitter here! Alessandra, Charlotte Rampling looks to be about a 32C/D or 30D/DD. So not too far! A D cup in a smaller band is actually not "big" if you are comparing it to the grander scheme of all sizes available.

    • ITGAlessandra

      Tracy! Stop! You've made my day/entire week, probably. xx

  • becca stansfield

    Over the shoulder boulder holder is a favourite of mine!!
    I have a really out of proportion body and so bra fitting/shopping/anything is a NIGHTMARE for me! Apparently, being a 30/32 E/F/FF means I must wear granny underwear. Not cool. Although the market does seem to be improving. It's crazy how wrong your sizing can be though!


  • Maiastras

    Great article! I dropped by La Petite Coquette to buy some Cosabella bralettes in July and it was a madhouse with women (and men!) pouring in for bra fittings or to buy sexy gifts. Rebecca was insistent that I come back for a bra fitting during a less hectic time, which I think I will do soon enough once my Natori bras get worn out... New underthings for 2014 perhaps??

    With regards to lacy, minimum nipple coverage bras and bralettes, sometimes I feel like slipping them under sweaters or cardigans, which do make me feel more sexy and lovely around my significant other. I recommend getting these:

    I used them this summer, and while it is a bit weird to see the sweat trapped underneath the silicone pads when taking them off, it provided good coverage. I must admit though, my nipples are on the smaller side, so efficacy may differ from lady to lady.

  • femme_noir

    Lots of good information in the comments, but I wanted to add that for anyone on Reddit, /r/abrathatfits is a great resource for advice and information! (The url is reddit.com/r/abrathatfits for those unfamiliar with Reddit.)

    • K

      whoa. this just blew my mind. amazing. thank you!!

  • Tricia

    The suspension bridge comment killed me, haha! Those Double Diva ladies are also spectacular!

  • Colleen

    I took my bra off halfway through reading this

  • Colleen

    Also, while I'm here, I'll put it out there that Free People makes some surprisingly fantastic soft-cup underwire bras for ~$50

  • wanderlust371

    I love your writing! I would love to read more from you here.

  • Jenn

    Does anyone know what type of camera Emily shoots with?

  • Restless Blonde

    Very nice and helpful article. So many women do not pay attention to what they wear underneath their clothes.


  • Hannah

    I love your shorts Alessandra, where are they from?

    • ITGAlessandra

      Theory! I think they kind of look like boyscout shorts? But they're my only shorts of "an appropriate length." i.e. bottom-dollar-covering. Highly recommended, if that's what you're in the market for! xx


Eres: Lumiere Anissa Full Cup Bra
Natori T-shirt Bra – Women’s Understated Contour Underwire
Eres: Pompone Demi-Cup Bra NOIR
La Perla
Ardentemente embroidered tulle balconette bra