Are you comfortable in your bra?

Is your bra causing discomfort?

Well, are you comfortable in your bra?

We’re asking because it seems that most of us are not, according to the results of our recent bra shopping survey

Quick facts

  • 88% of women complain of discomfort to some degree from wearing their bras
  • More than half of women struggle to find bras that fit
  • Around 65% of women who complain of frequent discomfort have never or not recently had a bra fitting
  • Appromixately the same percentage have a favourite brand or retailer
  • 56% are an E cup or above

We have loads of data thanks to almost 400 of you who completed our survey, and rather than analysing everything in one go, we’re going to be writing a series of articles looking at different aspects of our relationship with bras. And we’re starting with comfort, because out of that mass of data, that’s one of the first things that jumped out at us. After all, why shouldn’t we be comfortable in our bras? What’s stopping us?

Let’s start with the basics. According to our survey, the vast majority of women in the UK experience occasional to frequent discomfort wearing their bras – around 88%, in fact. Only a lucky 12% report never experiencing any discomfort. We wanted to find out whether there are any correlations that can be drawn between discomfort and other factors, such as bra size, bra fit and even price, so we dug a little deeper.

Out of that 88%, more than a quarter report that they often suffer from pain or discomfort when wearing their bras. Of this number, 86% also said they struggle to find bras that fit compared with just 54% of women when we look at the sample as a whole. So we can assume that fit is a factor.

There are lots of health issues linked to badly fitting bras. Bras that are too tights can cause everything from breathing difficulties to indigestion, circulatory issues and even skin problems, while bras that do not provide enough support, especially for larger busts, can cause back, neck and shoulder pain as well as headaches.

So why are so many women struggling to find bras that fit? Well, data can’t tell the whole story, but we can make some guesses. Of those women who report frequent discomfort and struggle to find bras that fit, more than a quarter have never had a bra fitting and nearly 40% have not been fitted in the last few years. When you compare that to the 12% who are pain free, those figures drop to 11% and 29% respectively, and most have been fitted in the last six months. Even the group who reported occasional discomfort are nearly twice as likely to have had a recent fitting.

As bra size can and does change over time, depending on various factors such as weight, age and lifestyle, regular fittings are important to ensure your bras continue to fit well, and it’s also important to be aware that bras don’t last forever. In fact, with regular wear, a bra can lose its elasticity and support relatively quickly. So that bra you bought two years ago that you’re still wearing? It’s probably time to get rid of it.

Could an old, worn out bra drawer be a possible reason why these women are so uncomfortable? Actually, it appears not. The vast majority (77%) of our women complaining of frequent discomfort have all bought a new bra within the last three months – more than a third have bought a new bra in the last month – and they buy an average of eight per year. So it’s not a lack of experimentation that means they can’t find the perfect bra. Or is it?

What surprised us about this group is that more than two thirds reported having a favourite brand or retailer, despite the fact they are not finding their bras comfortable. And when we look at the sample as a whole, it’s clear that if women have a favourite brand or retailer they are much less likely to have had a recent fitting, or to go for regular fittings.

On the one hand, that makes sense. After all, if you know your size and how a certain brand fits, why bother going through the fitting process each time you buy a bra? But, on the other hand, this assumption that you know your size does not necessarily apply across all styles your favourite brand makes nor does it take into account the fact that your bra size can change, and in quite short periods of time.

Going for a fitting is not just about size; it’s also about finding the shape and style of bra that suits you best. It could be that you fit a 34F in a balcony bra but a 32F or a 34FF in a full cup bra from the same brand. And even that small difference can lead to discomfort. A proper fitting, if carried out by a fitter who knows her stuff, should identify not only your size but also the type of bra that will fit most comfortably.

But what about bra size? How does that factor in? Well, if we look at the sample as a whole, those within the 32-38 A-DD bracket – the core size range that most brands and retailers cater for – are less likely to complain of pain and less likely to struggle to find bras that fit than those who fall to either side of this range. Of those who report frequent pain and discomfort, 56% are an E cup or above and 32% have a back size of either 30 or smaller or 40 and above. In contrast, in the pain free group, 71% have a cup size between A and DD.

There are two factors at play here. One is the availability of styles in different size ranges and the other is size itself. It is true that above and below the core range options are more limited, although there are now many more brands catering for smaller and bigger back sizes and in larger cup sizes, at least up a K cup. However, with the majority of women still preferring to shop in store rather than online, availability in different areas can vary. Not everyone will have access to these brands in their local shop.

And then there’s the fact that bigger busts require more support and have more potential to cause discomfort if they do not get the support they need. This is where understanding good fit, and everything it entails, becomes even more important. Which is probably why, even among our group that suffers from frequent pain, those who have had a recent fitting are almost all above an E cup.

However, before we conclude that it’s all about fit, there is one more factor to consider and that’s price. How much are people prepared to spend on their bras and how does this relate, if at all, to issues of discomfort?

Price is not the same thing as quality, which is what we’re really talking about, but it is an indicator. And we’re not trying to dictate how much anyone should spend. Everyone’s budgets are different, and not everyone can afford to spend £30 or £40 or more on a bra. But the truth is that a bra is a complex piece of engineering made from lots of different components that all have to work together. A bra that only costs a few pounds to buy at full retail price is less likely to provide an adequate level of comfort and support.

According to our results, on average the most people are prepared to spend on a bra is £38. For those who never experience any discomfort that goes up to £44, while for those who complain of frequent pain it goes down to around £31. However, this latter group also includes all those who report their maximum spend per bra as £10 or less.

This does not automatically mean that the discomfort these women are experiencing could be solved by spending more on their bras. It could just as easily indicate a refusal to spend any more than necessary on something that hasn’t proved very comfortable. But taken together with the rest of the points raised by the survey, it’s another thing to consider.

In the end, we think, it largely comes down to a willingness to experiment. We all like familiar things precisely because they are familiar, but that should not stop us from looking around if what’s familiar isn’t actually working. So often we are guilty of sticking to what we know and if it doesn’t work, just putting up with it. But underwear is an area of fashion that rewards research and experimentation.

If you are one of those women experiencing regular discomfort and you are only spending a few pounds on each bra, consider upping your budget a little and seeing whether a more expensive bra could make a difference. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a quality product.

Or, if you haven’t had a bra fitting, consider going for one. Read our feature on what happens in a fitting if you are worried about what to expect. If you can, find an independent store with specialist fitters who are real experts. You may be surprised by the outcome. Likewise, if you’ve only shopped at one retailer or bought from a certain brand, shop around. The same goes for style. You may love those plunge bras but they might not love you. Try a different shape.

And if you’re having trouble finding bras in your size, whichever end of the spectrum you’re at, spend some time doing your research. Have a look online and see what your options are and what other people are saying. There is a vibrant community of lingerie bloggers out there and their sites have a wealth of information and reviews about bras in all different sizes. Maybe even yours. Take a look and see.

We’re not going to argue that every bra problem can be solved by going shopping, but it’s a good place to start!

Image via Shutterstock

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