Plus, get her tips for finding your perfect bra size.
Here’s the truth: You’re probably wearing the wrong bra size right now. And for something you put on every day, that’s an uncomfortable truth to accept.
I own plenty of ill-fitting bras from shopping trips gone wrong. The straps fall down, the underwire bites into my rib cage, and the cups give me that double boob effect. I’ve tried time and time again to find the right fit. But it seems like every time I head into a lingerie store, I’m a completely different size.
Currently my lingerie drawer consists of C cups that I’m constantly spilling out of and a few E cups, which make my boobs droop down towards my belly button.
Finally, I was fed up with constantly adjusting my bra in the middle of the day. So, I decided to visit another pro—the bra whisperer.
Iris Clarke has been featured in The New York Times and named one of the best bra fitters in NYC by Gothamist. In her little Brooklyn shop, she fits women from sizes AA to M (yes, M). I walked into Iris Lingerie with high expectations. There were hundreds of bras on display and even more tucked into clear drawers with letters scrawled across the front. But I didn’t have much time to browse before being ushered into a dressing room for a fitting (that’s what I really needed after all).
Iris is a woman with a motherly aura—sweet but tough. There can be something so uncomfortable about taking your clothes off in front of a stranger. But knowing Iris has seen many women in the buff helps calm any nerves.
She took one look at me in my 38E bra and declared it was the wrong size. And I got the scolding I expected. “You have to look good in your clothing,” she said. “Wherever you go, you have to look your best.”
Iris disappeared for a few minutes and reappeared with the right fit—a 32DD. No tape measure required. “After 30 years, I never measure. Just one shot, and it works!” Iris explained how a tape measure can give you a false read because it lays completely flat. It doesn’t account for the natural contours of the body. “Some people have a dent or curve in their back. And some women have a deep dent [between the breasts],” she said. “That affects the whole thing. I have to read the body and go get the bra.” Getting the perfect size in the back band is the most important step because that is where you get most of the support.
The first bra Iris had me try on was a lacy plunge style by Passionata ($52, nordstrom.com). She put my arms through and asked me to bend over and shake. I looked a little confused at first, but I did as I was told. This is Clarke’s technique for getting the breast tissue in the cups just right. Every fitter I’ve been to has a different strategy. Some like to swoop, others like to lift. Clarke was all about the bend and shake. She then clasped the bra on the loosest hook. She explained that you always want to fit a new bra on the third clasp. Then, slowly work your way to the middle and tightest hooks as the bra stretches out over time.
Once I was settled in Clarke’s first pick, I could already tell a difference. Iris explained that my 38 band was way too big because it was riding up between my shoulder blades, whereas the 32 sat low on my back. Surprisingly, the loss of six inches in the band didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. My breasts felt more secure.
Next, she brought in a T-shirt bra by Fantasie ($74,nordstrom.com). Iris and I both agreed that this full-cup style was a better fit. The fact that my breasts are a bit uneven was a little more noticeable in the plunge, indicating that I needed more support. Note: Iris confirmed that every woman has one breast that is a little bigger than the other. It’s TOTALLY normal, and you always want to get a bra that fits the larger breast.
Finally, Iris requested that I put my dress back on to see the difference. Shocker: My boobs actually looked perky, which is something I never thought I’d say since my DDs tend to sag a bit. Iris told me that her goal is always to get the boobs up, if possible. Mission accomplished! My back felt a little straighter with the new bra on, and I had no fear that my nipples would pop out of the cups if I bent over to pick something up.
After my visit to Iris Lingerie, I realized that purchasing the right bra is all about finding the right fit. And finding the right bra expert is just as important as getting a good hairdresser. You need a woman you can trust. Someone who will let you know that your breasts and a lace demi-cut bra are not compatible. Someone who will give you a lift once your boobs begin to fall due to gravity (yes, that really does happen). Someone who will support you just as much as the bra she recommends.
My view on lingerie shopping has totally changed—and my 32DD breasts are much happier, too.
Here’s what you need to know when you’re shopping for a bra:
1. Grab bras in a few sizes just in case.
Keep in mind that different brands have completely different fit guidelines. Some brands make tighter back bands or longer straps. So, you need to know your equivalent or sister size. That way if your typical measurement doesn’t quite fit, you can try on the alternative.
To find your sister size, go down in the band one measurement and up in the cup one letter—or vice versa. For example, a 32C could possibly fit a 30D or a 34B.
2. Make sure the band sits low and snug.
“When you have a band back that is nice and low and not going to heaven, you know you have the right size,” says Clarke. The band (which is measured by the number in the bra size) is too big if the clasp is creeping up between your shoulder blades.
You’ll know the back band is too small if the bra is tough to close and cutting into your skin. You should be able to fit your finger between your back and the strap with only about an inch of stretch.
3. If your size is J-M, opt for a bra with seams.
If you do have a larger bust, Iris recommended looking for a bra with seams for more support. And if that isn’t working, look for a sports bra (her favorite is by Anita Active).
4. If you can’t quite find the right combination, ask for alterations.
Many lingerie retailers offer simple fixes like shortening the straps or trimming the back band for free or very low cost. “If the straps are long and there is nowhere to adjust, I would take off an inch and a half to get a better lift,” said Clarke. Keep in mind your tailor will need to have expertise in working with the delicate construction and fabric of lingerie.
5. Try the bra on with a T-shirt to confirm the fit.
The final step before you buy a bra is to test it out underneath clothing. If you’re planning to wear the bra with a particular dress or top, bring it with you to shop. Looking for an everyday bra? Wear a T-shirt to really make sure everything lays smooth and your nipples aren’t on display through the cups.
6. Get at least two bras to rotate.
When I asked how long the bra should last, Iris explained it depends on how many bras you own. She recommended changing up your bra every other day. “Don’t wear the same bra for the whole week,” she said. “It’s good to change up so it doesn’t stretch out so fast, and get two bras to rotate.”
In the best-case scenario, your lingerie collection would include at least four bras: a T-shirt bra, a strapless, one occasional, and one lacy. You also want to schedule a new fitting every six months.
And you’ve probably heard you should hand wash your nice lingerie, right? Well, Iris said there is another way (hooray!). You can throw your undergarments in the washing machine on the delicate cycle, but you have to use a lingerie bag. “Only bra and panties go together—no sheets, no towels, no dresses, no jeans in the wash with it,” she warned.
This article was originally published at Self.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.