One evening in my Hip Hop cardio class, there I was wavin' my hands in the air like I just don't care and all of a sudden… oops! major wardrobe malfunction. My cute new sports bra lifted up with my arms and kept right on going. Thankfully it was dark and I yanked it back down immediately, but I was still humiliated. I'd committed the ultimate sports bra sin--buying for fashion instead of function--and paid for it. But I'm not the only woman who has been embarrassed, let down, or even wounded by a bad sports bra. It's so common that LaJean Lawson, Ph.D., adjunct professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State university and Champion's 'go-to guru' in sports bra research, design, and testing for more than 25 years, estimates that only 15-20 percent of women are wearing the best bra for their shape.
How do you find your perfect fit? First, it has to do with a lot more than just your cup size. The biggest mistake women make is being unrealistic about their needs, Lawson says. "First, before you even pick up a bra, do a little realistic self-analysis! Recognize whether you’ve changed size, gained or lost weight, had a baby, or altered your workouts. The more honest you are with yourself, the easier it will be to quickly find the right fit and support."
Standard size charts are fine for finding your band size, but since every woman's chest is unique, the rest requires a little more effort. Here are Lawson's top five things to look for:
1. Watch out for jail-breakers! If ‘the girls’ try to escape the bottom of the bra when you raise your arms, try going down to a smaller band size to snug things up and keep them properly corralled (Where was she when I needed her?).
2. Whoa, down in back! Turn sideways and check the back of the rib band—if it’s pulling up and riding higher than the front of the bra, the band might be too large or the straps too short. Try a smaller band size to keep things anchored and release the straps a little (if they’re adjustable).
3. Ogle your cleavage. Look straight down—the center front of an encapsulation or underwire style should sit flat on your chest. If it doesn’t, try going up one cup size.
4. Beware the cup that runneth over. If your bounty spills over at the sides or top of the bra (double-bubble!),
you’re definitely going to need a bigger cup size.
5. Smile wrinkles are good—cup wrinkles are bad! Folds, wrinkles, or other looseness in the cup are your clue to go down a cup size. You'll get more support and prevent chafing that can happen when your cup is too loose.
Lawson says that the top priority for large chested ladies (a C-cup and up) should be finding a bra with minimal stretch and maximum adjustability. Other nice features include wide, padded shoulder straps, front closures (no pull-over styles), and "encapsulated" styles that keep breasts separated to prevent chafing and bounce.
Lawson's best tip for smaller chests? Wear a true sports bra and don't just rely on built-in shelf bras. Beyond that, since you don't need as much support, comfort is paramount. Look for light, wicking fabrics that allow for lots of movement.
I'm no bra expert (except perhaps in what not to do?), but as a small-chested woman, I think it's also important to look for styles that shape you instead of "smoosh" you. I'm not advocating padded push-ups at the gym, but bras like The Handful or Breeze Comfort are made just for this reason.