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Wear the Right Bra Size: A Guide for Petites


Three different bra sizes holding fruit

Illustration by Vaselena

You are probably wearing the wrong bra size. How can I make such a bold claim? Most women are. Us shorties are even more likely because many of us have a size that is not common.

I’ll start with my own experiences. In my late 20s and into my 30s, I used to go shopping for bras by having a professional fitting expert measure me and bring me bras to try on. I thought I was doing the right thing and getting the right size. But the bras slipped off my shoulders or wires dug into my armpits, so I assumed it was me. It was my body that was wrong.

Here’s the thing: if the place you are shopping doesn’t carry the size you really need,  they will tell you that you need a size that they carry.

Until one day, a friend of mine who is also short and on the busty side shared with me her transformative experience of actually getting the right bra size. She looked amazing and the right bras really brought out her cute hourglass shape by making her waist more visible. She told me that I was likely wearing the wrong size. Here’s the thing: if the place you are shopping doesn’t carry the size you really need, they will tell you that you need a size that they carry. Even if they can order the right size for you, they probably won’t. I’m guessing they get commissions. That’s been my experience.

So, it came to a surprise to me that the band size should be what your rib cage measures. Simple and straightforward. I had been wearing a band size that was two to six inches larger than what the tape-measure indicated for so long that I had a hard time even believing this. Can you relate? Yet, if you are short and wear 16 P (or XLP in EcoPetites) or smaller it is unlikely that your rib cage is any larger than 36” based on data published by the U.S. Department of Commerce on petite measurements. You might be as small as 26” if you wear a 00P, though I have not seen any bra band sizes that start any smaller than 28”.

Fit Problems

The most common problem is that you are wearing too large a band size. At home or with a friend, measure your under-bust girth without a bra on. That is your band size. The increments are in even numbers, so if you measure for example, at 31 inches, try bras in a 30-band size and 32 and see what fits better. That is your base.

Let’s say you measured at 31” but you are currently wearing a 34C. The cup size is relative to the band size so a C-cup on a 34 band will be bigger than that on a 32 band, so you will need to go up a cup size. That would bring you to a 32D. Ideally, you want the band to fit on the outermost row of hooks. The elastic will wear over time, and you will need to be able make it smaller after a while. That means you should also try a 30DD.

Now you will likely see why you have been given the wrong size. That is not a common size, so a salesperson will likely not give you that size, or in my experience, even tell you that you are compromising. Remember, that fit expert was hired to sell you bras.

Here are some common fit problems that can be solved by going down in band size and up at least one cup size:

  • The band rides up your back.
  • The bra rides up or your boobs sneak out the bottom of the bra, especially when you raise your arms.
  • The underwire hurts. It is sitting on breast tissue rather than your rib cage, where it should be. You’ll need a bigger cup to completely fit your breast tissue; not necessarily a bigger band.
  • The straps slip off your shoulders.
  • The straps are digging into your shoulders. The support should come primarily from the band not the straps.

    Depending on where you live, you may need to shift your habits to buying online to get the proper fit. In NYC, I was able to walk into a major brand store and buy a 32DDD, but no such luck at the same store here in Minneapolis. Don’t be intimidated though! I’m here to help.

    How to shop for the right bra

    Start by knowing your band size. That is the critical measurement. The cup size is more of an art than a science and will be affected by things like your breast shape, the brand of bra, the style of bra and how much padding it has. But your band size should be consistent between all of that. If you are between sizes, this is the one time the smaller might work better, so try both up and down from your measurement.

    Take an educated guess at what your cup size might be to start with, and then see if you can shop in person. Check online before you go so see if they carry your band size, especially for the combination of a smaller band size and C cup and larger. If they don’t have a few cup sizes in your band size, including one larger than you think you need, then go in person with caution and healthy dose of skepticism, if at all.

    Otherwise, turn to online shopping. You will need to be willing to return some bras. This is critical, even if you think you know your bra size, things change. Your breasts change and manufactures change their products.

    Shopping for bras online

    Let me begin by managing expectations here. If this is the first time you are buying a bra online or need to change size, you will likely only keep maybe one out of every three or four you try. And it may take two or three rounds of purchasing and returning.

    Start with that band size, or two band sizes for you who measure at an odd number. Estimate your cup size to start. Remember if this band size is smaller than you’ve purchased in the past, go for a larger cup size. It might be easier to start with a search by size rather than style. Start with a basic T-shirt bra. Find a style that comes in that size plus a few choices. Make sure they are in stock, because this will take some time and you want to be able to compare and return right away. Also avoid final sales or bras that you can’t return until you are sure of your size. Put those blinders on!

    Then go ahead and order the same brand and style in different sizes. I have found that there are just some brands that simply don’t fit me, so try multiple brands. You can try a few sizes in a different brand at the same time or wait until the next round. If you’re not getting a perfect fit, experiment with the cup size, the style or amount of padding. Don’t mess with the band size.

    Stay committed, don’t settle, and stay on top of those returns. Remember, when a bra doesn’t fit, the bra is just wrong for you. Your body is not wrong. When you reach that glorious moment of getting the bra that fits you well, it will really make a difference in your appearance, and might even influence how you feel about yourself, so stick with it!

    Where to shop online:

    Bare Necessities

    This is a great place to shop, especially if you are experimenting with your size. They have an incredible variety of sizes, brands, and bra styles so it’s a good place to start. Go -->

    Bravissimo

    Based out of the UK but also now in the USA, this retail shop specializes in serving large-busted women and thus have a great selection of bras for people who wear D cup and up while starting at band sizes of 28 inches. If you are not sure if this is for you, at least go to their website and look at the photos of the women who work there. They list their bra size—and it just might surprise you. Go-->

    The Little Bra Company

    Specializing in bras for petites, this is for the other end of the cup spectrum. This works for a small frame up to a D-cup. What is most special about this one is that the bras that look like real bras – sexy, grown-up numbers, not bralettes or training bras -- start as small as 28AA. If your band measured at 28 and you are an AA to C-cup, this is the best place to shop. Don’t even bother with anything else! Go-->

    Sustainable, ethical, or made-in-USA brands:

    Araks

    This brand is made in NYC and has a decent range of sizes. Their style is simple and unpadded, with a beautiful range of colors. Their selection includes lace, silk and organic cotton bras, though on the pricey side. The sizing isn’t highly specific, so it’s not a good one to experiment with your size, but once you know what you need and like, shop here for luxury bras and bathing suites. I also like that they offer natural fiber bras without switching to a bralette or unstructured ditty. They start at 28B but doesn’t look like they have great options for a small band/large cup combo. Go-->

    Negative

    This consciously made brand uses Oeko-tech certified factories and sustainable materials, however mostly nylon. This means they use fair practices and the garments are tested for harmful chemicals. The style is unlined or lightly padded and offered in a few basic styles, including non-wire. For A-D cups, the band starts at 30. They do have cup sizes up to G, but the band sizes start at 32 for those. They deserve mention for ethical manufacturing but lacking in the small band sizes that petites often need.

    Update June 21, 2022:
    I bought two bras from them which I love! 34G Sieve Demi Bra and a 3+ Silky non-wire. Both are so comfortable. Go-->

    Impish Lee

    For Made-in-USA lingerie in sizes common to petites, this brand offers the best size and style range. They can do that because the bras are custom made. The price point reflects that. If you are willing to pay and want to skip all the trying on, you just might want to go straight here. Go-->

    The Very Good Bra

    These are incredible in terms of leadership in sustainability. Their materials are 100% botanically derived, including clasps and hooks. Wow! They use organic cotton and Tencel. The only downside for US mainland residents is that they are based in Australia. They ship worldwide but makes you think about the carbon footprint. Again, this is not one I would experiment with on size and ship back and forth around the world. But once you are sure of your size, go for it! Sizes start at 30C and then start at A cups in the 32 bands. Not the full range of petite friendly, but some of you have this option. Go-->

    Nubian Skin

    Nude color bras are a basic wardrobe essential, but many brands only offer one light-skinned shade of nude. All of Nubian Skin bras come in 4 nude shades for the darker end of the skin tone spectrum. And they include organic cotton wire-free bras with structure! Sizes start at 30B/C and while they don’t start as small as some petite women need, they do have the small band/large cup size that is not uncommon for petites. Go-->

    Until next time...

    As I was doing my research, I found that if you are shopping for a bralette, more organic and sustainable options open up. So many, in fact, that the topic warrants a separate blog post! Until then, best wishes on your bra shopping.