A foolproof guide to bra shopping...
Shopping for intimates is, well, intimate.
You can sheepishly touch some chantilly lace, look and give a timid nod to the revealing pants, but more times than not, you're usually left confused with a million questions about what those numbers and letters on the tag mean and sometimes, it's not so easy to seek out help.
Bra experts recognise this hesitation, these fearful emotions - and they hold all the answers (even to those queries you're too shy to ask your mum). So, I called upon, Katherine Payne, the creative force behind the luxury larger cup lingerie brand, Katherine Hamilton, to compile the ultimate guide to buying bras.
So, once and for all, here's every question you ever wondered about bras, answered.
q: What are the essential different types of bra every woman should own?
"First of all, your special bras should be your everyday bra.
Bras should be comfortable that you can wear them every day no matter what the setting. In terms of aesthetics, that’s completely up to you. If you want to wear something plain and simple, go for it. Or if you prefer something with lace or embroidery, go for that.
But in terms of styles, every woman’s breasts are different so it’s about knowing your cup shapes. Plunge is great if you’ve quite shallow breasts and want to bring them back up but they’re not so great if you’re fuller on top. For fuller breasts, I recommend three-piece cups because you’ve got enough coverage to give you shape and make you feel comfortable and beautiful."
q: Does your body type determine the shape you should go for?
"I think it can do but it’s about knowing your body, knowing your breasts.
Once you know how a bra should fit, in terms of the band and cup capacity, then it’s about trying on different styles and seeing what works for you."
q: Is it possible to be more than one size?
Even the same brands can have different ranges and for whatever reason (usually the fabric) they just don’t fit the same. It doesn’t matter how hard a brand will try to make sizes equal - if you’re using different fabrics, the cut is slightly different - you might need a cup higher.
Focus on the fit rather than the size on the label."
q: What are the key signs you’re wearing the wrong bra?
"First thing you should look out for is the bra band, most importantly because that is where the majority of the support comes from. There are myths out there that say if you have some kind of red mark at the end of the day that you need to replace it, I don’t agree with that. There will be some indentation - you’ve got elastic sticking to your ribcage.
If your bra band is riding up or your straps are too short, then it’s time for a change."
q: Any tips for trying on bras?
"I think first and foremost if the shop you’re in has specialised bra fitters, go to them. But I know some women can find that experience quite daunting and stressful, use my bra measuring hack as a starting point.
Give yourself plenty of time, this is something that shouldn’t be rushed."
q: Why is it worth investing in bras?
"It’s an investment.
An investment in your comfort every day, an investment in your confidence. An investment into you.
For me, it’s about looking nice when I get dressed in the morning - and when I get undressed at night. It’s about the message that you’re sending to yourself - to value your comfort, your confidence and how you feel."
q: How often should we get measured?
"It completely changes depending on the person.
It’s why understanding how should fit is so important because it means you can be the one to decide when it’s time to check up on your breasts.
A good time to get checked, however, is if you find you’ve gone through a significant change in weight or experiencing hormonal changes. A lot of women find that they go up a whole cup size around their periods and a lot of women buy what they call 'a period bra' that they wear during their time of the month.
Also, an obvious time is after having kids because everything changes. I found that my size continually changed for three years after having my kids as everything was still settling."
q: How often should we be washing our bras - and how?
"It’s personal preference how often you should wash your bra - there are no golden rules.
But there are when it comes to how you wash your bra. It is crucial to wash your bras by placing them in a wash bag on a delicate 30-degree wash. A wash bag is so important because firstly, the hooks can catch onto other items in the wash causing damaging and also, the hooks can snag onto the bra itself ruining all the beautiful lace. It stops the wires from bashing against the machine meaning you’ll get longer out of your bras.
Also, never ever tumble dry your bras. Always lie out flat and allow to air dry. As for fabric softeners, it’s a no go. The chemicals found in fabric softeners can hinder the quality of your bra and loosen them.
q: How often should we replace our bras?
"I tend to swap out my bras every 6 to 12 months but you can always tell by the bra band. If you find your bra band is loose and beginning to rise up - it’s time to get a new bra.
It’s about paying attention."
q: What's the best way to get longevity out of our bras?
"My advice for getting longevity out of a bra is to always wear a new bra on the loosest hook.
The elasticity does go, so when you buy a new bra, always wear it on the loosest hook because it will stretch out and loosen. Then, once it does you can begin to go tighter and experience the same comfort and shape."
q: Should we be sleeping in our bras?
"It’s about preference.
There’s no study to say that sleeping in your bra is bad for you - that's a bit of an old wife’s tale. I personally don’t like the feeling of my breasts against each other when I’m lying on my side so I sleep in what our brand calls a sleep bra.
It’s a wireless bra that just makes sure everything stays where it should be because when gravity pulls at your breasts, it hurts. So if you do want to wear a bra going to sleep, maybe look into a sleep bra."
q: Should we be wearing a bra every day?
"There’s a common belief that women wear bras for men.
I wear a bra for me - because I enjoy it. But there are tonnes of women that choose not to wear a bra for the same reason - because they enjoy it, regardless of what men think.
It’s about understanding why you do or don’t wear a bra and once you know it’s for the right reasons, then that’s the most important thing."
q: How can women with asymmetrical breasts find a bra?
"Most women are slightly asymmetrical.
If there’s such a significance, we do offer a bespoke service where we can design a bra for that specific person. But a great trick I’ve learned is to use a prosthetic. When shopping for a bra when you have got an asymmetric bust, go for the size that fits your larger breast, then for the breast that is that bit smaller, simply pop a prosthetic into the cup and that will just fill it in."
Q: Finally, Underwire VS non-wired - what’s the difference?
"A lot of people don’t like underwire bras because they’re not wearing the right size and the wire hurts.
Truth is, the wire is really an essential mechanism in bras - it really helps shape the breasts to support and lift. Without it, it’s just malleable heavyweight all over the place. A good wireless bra should try to mould that without the wire."
Katherine Hamilton Luxury Lingerie is available in sizes 26-38, D-HH. Their designs can now be found in The Lingerie Room at Brown Thomas. For more info, click here.
Main image by Natalie Catalina