A much touted number is that 7 out of 10 women wear the wrong bra size. How many of you believe that? Actually how many of you reading this have had your bra size checked in the past 6 months? It's ok...I can't see you raise your hand.
The truth is really that at some point during the month we are all wearing the wrong bra size. Whether its that time of the month or you're breaking out that worn-once-a-year bra for a special occasion, at some point you're probably not in the right size.
But here's another thing - while bras are far more size standardized than say, a pair of jeans (hello 3 size difference if I switch brands), it's really the style that can affect a lot. Who has wandered into a store, saw a bra on a mannequin and wanted to try it on only to find that it looks terrible? It's your size right? Just like any other clothes, some women look better in some styles than others.
My personal recommendation is this:
1. Go get sized. Preferably somewhere competent. I've never paid to be sized (it takes like 2 minutes to do). Yes, you can do it yourself, but let's leave it to someone trained. When you go - wear a bra with minimal padding. This is not a time to try and "cheat" the system.
Locally - any lingerie store is capable of sizing you (Bravo Boutique, Victoria's Secret, Alice Rae, etc). Also, large department stores (Macy's, Dillard's) usually have someone who can measure you properly. Do not go at this alone.
Any time I'm in a lingerie store I ask to be sized. 99% of the time my size hasn't changed, but it's never bad to check. It takes no more than a few minutes.
If you want do it at home (not my recommendation, but hey I'm not your mom)
A. Wear a non-padded bra...let's not fool ourselves here shall we? A sports bra is out because it compresses.
B. Wrap a measuring tape around your back at band level, under each arm and then around to the front to the point where the straps meet the cup (so above the bust). If this number is odd, round to nearest even. This is your BAND size.
C. Keeping the tape in the same spot in the back, measure at the fullest part of your bust. Make sure this isn't too snug. If this measurement falls to the half inch, round up. From this number subtract the number you got in step B, the difference is your cup size (2" - B, 3" - C, 4" - D, etc)
2. Try on lots and lots of bras. If you're somewhere without a big selection, go multiple places. Try on everything you can get your hands on, even if it's something you wouldn't normally wear. This is an experiment. Experiments are good and you might surprise yourself. Make note of styles and brands that work for you.
3. If you find a bra that fits, looks good, makes you feel good, BUY IT! Buy it in every color you can find. You shouldn't wear a bra more than 2-3x before washing it, but you also shouldn't wear the same one every day. It'll just wear out faster. Not to mention - what if that particular bra gets discontinued? You'll start your search over and you need something to tide yourself over.
4. Don't freak out if that world's most awesome bra doesn't fit every single day. Our body fluctuates and that includes your chest. I don't really have a recommendation on how to combat this, other than having a couple styles you can choose between can often solve this dilemma.
A few quick tips to check your fit before you even leave the house:
1. Your straps should stay vertical and not dig into your shoulders or fall off your shoulders.
2. The band should stay horizontal during wear (it shouldn't be tugged up in back)
3. There should be no spillage over the cups and you should not have a noticeable indent with the lower coverage bras.
4. There should not be a big gap between the center of your bra and your sternum.
If any of these things are wrong, it might be time to do a little shopping.
I'll do a separate post on bra styles, but right now you should go out with an open mind. What you've been wearing for years may be doing nothing for you.