Rows and rows of lacy things, straps and clasps that don't make sense, utter silence except for the stares of the sales staff that you can somehow hear being aimed at the back of your head as you float between aisles. Bra shopping in person can be very intimidating. The best way to go is to be friends with someone who knows a lot about bras AND shopping AND will take you. But if you don't have a person like that in your life, I've compiled some general tips from the times I've gone with my friends and guided them through the mysterious world of the department store lingerie section:
1. Have a Goal
Try to have a goal in mind. It doesn't have to be super specific, but what are you trying to get out of this? Are you looking for a set for a special event or outfit? Were you forced to go because all your bras are 10 years old and falling apart? Are you just curious about what's available? Having a goal can help guide your experience.
2. Get a Professional Fitting
If it's accessible to you (and I understand that's a big if), get a free fitting from a place that specializes in them. Nordstrom does pretty good ones. In my experience, they have consisted of an older saleswoman taking you to a fitting room, measuring you over your current bra, and leaving for a few minutes to find a bunch of bras in different styles and colors for you to try on. If you're comfortable with being assisted, they can help you put the bras on and adjust them on your body. You'll get more rounds of options based on your feedback as you figure out what you want and don't want. This is a lot of work for a free service, and the reason why it is free is that they hope that you'll buy something they picked out for you. You can usually bring a friend with you in or outside of the fitting room for moral support and second opinions.
3. ...But Don't Value Their Judgment Over Your Comfort
If you do get a fitting, they are inevitably going to tell you to size down in the band and up in the cup. This results in bras that squeeze your ribs way fucking tighter. You don't have to listen to them!
You know how you see all those articles and news reports about how 80% OF WOMEN ARE WEARING THE WRONG BRA SIZE? Besides that statement being kinda bullshit, the "right" bra size that they're talking about is often reached by sizing down in the band and up in the cup and that fucking hurts. The only reason to do this is if it makes YOU feel more comfortable. It's your body, don't let a random person tell you what should feel good to you.
4. Understand How Cup Sizes Work
- Cup sizes are relative; there is no fixed volume or measurement. Something like a "C cup" does not exist on its own. It's relative to the band size it goes with (the number, like "32").
- Sister sizes are sizes that are basically the same, which means you can consider multiple sizes when you're shopping. They're calculated by incrementing the cup size when decrementing the band size, or vice versa. So 32C = 34B = 36A.
- DD cups are not that big on the scale of cups that commonly exist. Getting fitted into D cup bras is not nearly as unusual or extreme as people make it sound.
5. Make Bras Fit Your Body, Not the Other Way Around
- The outside edges of the cups (underwire or not) should not dig into breast tissue. If the bra is "cutting off" the breast tissue on the sides, top, or bottom of the cup, it needs to be adjusted (if possible) or is too small.
- Pure, bleached white is too bright to be a suitable "nude" for nearly all skin tones. Be aware that white bras show under everything.
- If a bra feels too tight and has adjustable shoulder straps, try loosening them. I have a relatively long torso (I guess?), so I do this immediately to any bra I'm about to put on.
Everyone's experience is different and these guidelines are by no means universal or comprehensive. But regardless of where you find yourself, I hope you find what you were looking for!