Let’s talk about bras

Springtime is one of those occasions when we make a broad (if sometimes gradual – hello sub-freezing weather forecast this weekend) transition from one set of clothing to a different set. Such occasions are good excuses to take at least a passing glance at that other part of your wardrobe that you wear literally everyday. Friends, if you are a person who wears a bra on a daily basis, let me encourage you to check up on your bras. Not just the condition they are in (they DO need to function as support garments, after all), but if they are in fact the size you need to be wearing.

(If you’re not a person who wears a bra, then by all means feel free to gleefully skip this post and I’ll be back next time with more project chatter. Please enjoy this procrastination moment on me!)

There are a lot of statistics out there about how most of us bra-wearers are not actually wearing the right size bra. This is largely a by-product of the fact that we are incredibly captive to the mainstream retail environments available to us and selection is very limited in a lot of the large scale undergarment producers – a lot of the most commonly available brands don’t come in the full range of band sizes and cup size combinations, so as a result we end up finding one that sort of works pretty well but isn’t necessarily a reflection of our actual body.


For similar reasons, a lot of us are walking around in shirts that aren’t the right length, in pants that are too loose in some parts but tight in others, and basically full outfits purchases more out of defeat and despair than out of factual relationship between garment size and body size. But shopping is so fun, right? Anyhow, the main difference with bras is that we wear them on a daily basis. That one shirt that doesn’t fit right can be ignored most days, but not so much the bra.)

An important first step is to measure yourself. You can get this done by a professional at many specialty stores and also some department stores. Ask around! You can also do this at home yourself. I like this quick and easy visual guide. The main consideration here is that you want to know:

  • Your body measurement around the body just under your bust
  • Your bust measurement around the fullest part of your bust
  • The difference between the two measurements.

The first one gets you your ideal band size, and the difference between the first and second gets you a reference to find your cup size. You may well come up with a measurement that surprises you – you may find yourself thinking you were an A or B cup all along but in fact you are more like a D or DD. Cup size is very relative – a 32D is not the same D as a 40D. (For the curious: I was walking around wearing 38A for years, then I measured myself, and I am actually a 32D. MIND BLOWN, PEOPLE. However, my upper bust measurement is in fact 38 ins around, which is not too far off from my full bust measurement, which is why I’d been so easily taken in by a 38-inch band size. I’m broad-shouldered. It’s also why I gravitate towards sweaters with a finished bust size of 39 inches around, because that’s a nice small amount of 1-2 inches positive ease for my upper bust AND my full bust.)

Take caution as well, in the fit instructions you’re looking at. Chances are, if someone immediately tells you to add 4-5 inches to that 1st measurement to get your band size, then that someone is a bra company trying to sell you a bra in the limited size rang they sell. Make the bras fit you, not the other way around.

The next step from there is to go find some bras to try on that are a better match for your true size. This may or may not be very challenging and/or very expensive, depending on the size you are. I personally lucked out and found some in my local department store that matched up for me, but your mileage may vary considerably. Exert the expense and effort you are comfortable with.

There are a lot of good reasons to seek a properly fitting bra, not the least of which is that you will feel comfortable and your clothes may fit better as a result. As knitters, though, it is good to be reminded of this because there is a persistent assumption that your bust size is the same as your bra band size, and this is rarely actually true. Maybe it IS true, for you, depending on your body shape, but if it’s not, that’s a heck of a piece of information to get wrong. If your full bust and upper bust measurements differ considerably, you will also need to consider short row shaping or other fit modification steps to construct your ideal sweater fit. This is a larger conversation topic than will fit in this blog post, but please do Google for more information on that – there is a wealth of it out there.

Happy knitting this weekend, blog friends, and may your bras always fit just the way you need them to.

Happy Friday!


Pictured: My Brightwood pullover sample for Twist Collective, purely because it’s on a dress-form (handy reference for when we chat about body shape), and also because it’s a spring sweater design of mine that I like. Surprisingly enough, I don’t have a lot of handy stock photos about bras. 😉 



  1. Caitlyn · ·

    There was a discussion about just this topic on the sewing blog Closet Case Files only a day or two ago! I’ll share here what I shared there: http://www.brasizecalculator.tk/. That’s a bra size calculator maintained by Reddit user irisflame of the lovely subreddit /r/ABraThatFits. Both sites are chock full of helpful information, and the subreddit in particular is full of lovely people who are happy to do measurement checks, provide fit analysis, give shopping tips, commiserate, and generally be super supportive of anyone who wears a bra or wants to.

  2. Mary Beth · ·

    I wore a 36A for years and thought I was just too flat chested and that’s why my bras gapped. I was astounded when I measured myself properly and learned I’m actually a 34C. After that, I became something of a bra-vangelist, encouraging all my female friends and relatives to check their size!

  3. Thanks for the great info. I am currently still nursing our third (and last) child. Once he is weaned I planned on treating myself to a proper bra fitting and some bras that fit perfectly. I’m hoping by the end of this year. I’m definitely bookmarking this post to refer back to.

  4. A properly fitted bra makes a huge difference! You should check out braobsessed.Com for beautiful bras and the owner Jaimie is really helpful. She has some great info on sizing on the site as well. Also she’s Canadian 🙂

  5. Linda A · ·

    Well, speaking of bras, oddly, I just discovered a Netflix series I had never heard of (forgive me if I’m totally out of it but, it’s a new one for me). It’s very compelling (at least to me) – set in Japan (Japanese subtitles … which makes watching and knitting a bit of a challenge so ditch the knitting and just watch it if you don’t understand Japanese). It speaks to me on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that we need to honor ourselves and what we believe in and, can do this without hurting others (or ourselves – something I sure hope the lead designer/mother/business owner will figure out before this series is over!).

  6. Linda Bruce · ·

    Glenna – I have a similar story. I had a ‘fitting’ in Nordstrom’s in the US a few years ago. She just cupped her hand around my rib cage, and said I should wear a 32″ band size – I had been wearing either 34″ or 36″ because they were ‘comfortable’ because I have a boney ribcage ;-). The cup size was way off too! She put me in a D-cup Wacoul with a perfect fit – I had been wearing a B!

    Today, however, using the calculator, I measure an E or F! Yikes! I always thought of myself as flat. Wonders what menopause can do.

    I generally knit for a finished size of 38 – for a few inches of ease.

  7. There is a wonderful lady in a town near to where I live that offers the best bra fitting service I’ve ever had. I’ve tried other places, but always end up going back. We can spend a good hour each time finding the right style for my boobs and body shape – not all bras are equal, even the expensive ones. A 34f in a balcony doesn’t fit the same as a 34f full cup, nor do they give you the same shape. I’ve been going for over 10 years and I buy 3 or 4 bras a year which are pricey, but last and last? I recommend the shop to all my friends 💙

  8. Jeanette · ·

    I was very glad to see this article. I recently saw something similar on a sewing blog. I checked their details and found that I, too, was wearing the wrong size. While shopping, I tried on a bra in the new correct size and was surprised to see how well it fit. I didn’t buy anything that day as I want to look around some more. Your article has led me to think that I do indeed need a different size. I’m looking forward to the possibility that the right size bra under my clothes might enhance my frontal appearance. Thanks for writing this post. By the way, I really LOVE that purple sweater!

  9. V o n n a | DVon · ·

    This was awesome and timely for me. Thanks for the link. I actually encountered a site that said add those 4-5 inches and I couldn’t figure out why they was making it so unnecessarily bigger.

  10. Thank you for this post! Especially for the tips for knitters to use your upper breast measurement. I am broad shouldered too, with small breasts, and it is quite difficult to choose my size.

  11. The Stylish Stitcher · ·

    Interesting post thanks for this. Interestingly the method I use as described in Fit for Real People is slightly different. Measure about the rib cage that’s the band size, measure your high bust and full bust, and that’s the cup size. A difference of 1 cm in an A cup, 2 is a B cup, 3 a C cup etc. Most sewing patterns are designed for a B cup.

  12. The Stylish Stitcher · ·

    I got it a bit wrong and I can’t edit my comment! They add 4 inches to the under bust measurement to get the band size, and I meant to say the difference in inches not cm.

  13. Bra sizes – the bane of my life. When I lived in England I could never find one that fit, things got a little easier when I crossed the Atlantic, but what made a wonderful difference was the surgery I had after my second [and last] baby. I had a total of 4 lbs removed, and for the first time in my grown up life I could wear pretty bras and my neck didn’t hurt. However that was well over thirty years ago, and since then weight gain and gravity have had their effect. I’ve been very happy with the bras I’ve been wearing until now, but some cancer surgery [completely successful] has added to recent weight loss, and now I just don’t fill them any more, I’d love to find out where “Left Foot Daisy” lives – can’t find a place in Northern Michigan who fits bras with any success. Sorry for the long story, but as you can see I need help!!!!

  14. I live in Ireland, maybe there’s a gem of a place near you that you haven’t come across yet. If it helps any bit. I actually measure a 36, but they hang off me. For some reason I’m a 34. Like I said though, not all bras are equal. Be sure to go for a fitting when you’ve time to spare and try in different shapes and sizes to find one that works. I’m currently trying to find a soft bra to where at night as my breast tissue is beginning to loose it’s elasticity. If it continues, I’ll soon be able to tuck them under my arms at night and throw them over my shoulders during the day 😉

  15. Lynne Phelps · ·

    I just finished the Craftsy Sewing Bras: Construction and Fit class. I am now ready to start sewing my own bras. They are not hard to make! I loved the fit part of the class. She showed even fit problem and how to alter the pattern to fix it. I am so excited, as I have NEVER found a ready to wear bra that fit well despite professional measuring. There are two other classes but this first class is the prerequisite. They are taught by Beverly Johnson in Ontario, she owns bra makers supply. If you follow the class links from her website, http://www.bramakerssupply.com, they are half price.

    No affiliation, just a very satisfied student

  16. Reblogged this on girlwhoknitsandpurls and commented:
    This is a great blog post about fitting yourself for a bra!

  17. Lovely sweater Glenna! Thank-you for taking on this topic. There is some evidence that a poorly fitting bra can impede fluid movement within the lymph tissue and lead to problems. Also, like with knitting, fiber in important for skin health. I was told a long time ago to wear a bra with a high cotton content to absorb moisture. My bra manufacturer went out of business and I’ve been facing a dilemma. Thanks everyone for their input.

  18. Glenna, I love the sweater! It’s just ideally made! I’m only learning to knit, and it’s sometimes difficult for me to make the right measurements. As for the bras, I usually don’t pay attention to them much. But after reading your post, I’ve become more scrupulous to them.
    Happy knitting!
    Susie Lewis (happy mom and a student of the design faculty)

  19. This was really helpful. Thanks!

  20. Just after I read this, I headed down to my favourite Bra shop (Ooh-la-la Lingerie in Bowmanville). After feeling somewhat uncomfortable in a tried and true older bra, I was surprised to discover that I had gone up in size from a C to a D! She informed me that we tend to go through about 4 changes in bra sizes over the course of our lives and menopause is apparently one of them. So pursuant to Glenna’s post, don’t just measure yourself once and assume you’re that size for good. If something isn’t feeling comfortable, it’s likely for a reason.

  21. Oh my goodness. I NEEDED this post. Bras infuriate me when they dont fit……Now maybe they will

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