In an ideal world, we’d all know our exact bra size and manufactures would make lingerie in styles, shapes, and sizes to fit real women’s bodies. But this isn’t an ideal world.
Even if we know our bust measurements to a T, finding a bra in that exact same size can be a challenge few women have the time, patience, or money for.
Some of us need a small cup but a large band. Others have tiny ribcages but full bosoms. You’d think bra makers would have figured out by now that not everyone is a 36C. But no.
So, what’s a girl to do? For a start, not despair. Very few bras are a complete lost cause, at least when you’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve. Despite what some people think, it doesn’t take the talents of a professional seamstress to alter a bra.
Most alterations can be done quickly and simply at home… some without needing a single stitch.
And even when the alterations take a little more time and work, the end result of having a bra that offers both comfort and support makes the effort more than worth it.
When it comes to altering a bra that’s too big, we’ve got a range of options at our disposal.
Some women prefer to avoid making any substantial alterations to the bra itself, in which case push-up pads are, if not a life-saver, than certainly a bra-saver. Simply insert a pad into each cup and voila – any wrinkles resulting from the excess fabric are miraculously smoothed (and you get an uplifting little boost to boot).
If you’re happy to make more substantive alterations, you’ll find no shortage of methods that promise a snugger fitting bra… but be warned….
Some alterations are more visible than others; while they’ll deliver a more comfortable and supportive bra, it’ll be a very different looking bra than the one you started with.
If your bra has an underwire, you’ll also need to assess how well the wire fits before deciding which alteration route to plump for: if the underwire is too wide, sewing away at excess fabric won’t get you a better fitting bra, no matter how much you try.
Before you get too carried away with planning any changes to the bra, try it on. Not all fitting woes are the same. Some bras might fit perfectly around the cup, but be slack at the band. Others might have the opposite problem.
Sometimes, the only thing that’s letting the bra down is the straps. Before you start attacking it with a sewing needle, work out exactly what the problem is. Finding a solution to match is the easy bit.
Sometimes, the only solution to a poorly fitting cup is to completely replace it. Other times, a little strategic surgery is all that’s needed. Removing or adding a segment from the top of the cup can reduce or increase a cup size by up to two sizes, and makes a good remedy for bras where the underwire sits well across the chest but that are let down by the cups.
Try it yourself with this simple tutorial.
Step 1 - Using tailor’s chalk or a fabric pen, draw a line from the nipple area of the cup to the top edge of the cup. The lines should sit at right angles to the edge of the cups. If the bra has any decorations or beading, remove any that fall within an inch of either side of the line.
Related article: how to make a bikini top smaller without sewing
The method outlined in the previous segment is a great solution if the diameter of the bra cup is causing you grief. But what if the diameter is just fine, but the coverage is lacking? If your bra cup is too small to allow for modesty, adding a little more fabric above the cup can give you the support and security you need – best of all, it’s not hard to do either.
Simply cut out a piece of fabric to fit (it’ll need to be the same length as the cup. Width will depend on just how much coverage you want to add) and sew to the inside of the cup.
Bear in mind that this is a very ‘visible’ adjustment. If the end result is a little jarring, try using some beading or decorations to help it blend in with (or conversely, stand out from, but in a good way) the rest of the bra.
A properly fitting band is crucial to the fit and support of a bra. If yours is a little too loose (and if you’re anything like the rest of us) you might have found yourself falling into the trap of giving your bust a hoist by tightening the bra from the straps. But stop right there.
Breast support should come from the band, not the straps. The only thing you’ll achieve by continuing to tighten from the straps is sore shoulders and a strap that’s 3 inches above where it should be. If you’ve tried your bra band on a tighter notch and are still facing issues, try this simple alteration…. although be warned, you’re going to need a helper.
If you haven’t found anyone to lend you a helping hand, you can try this step alone by wearing the bra backward and drawing the lines from the front. Just be aware the end result won’t be quite so precise doing it this way, and it won’t work at all for larger busted ladies.
Altering bra straps is relatively easy, but always check how much of a difference simply working the strap securers (providing your bra has them) can make before embarking on any permanent changes.
A lot of women will need one strap to be slightly longer or shorter than the other, so don’t feel obliged to keep both straps equal if this doesn’t give you a supportive fit. If you’re still unhappy with the straps after you adjusted the strap securer, try one of these simple methods instead.
This method provides a permanent fix to the problem of overly long bra straps.
If your straps are too tight, ease the pressure with this easy solution. Ease a padded shoulder pad beneath each strap. The shoulder pad should be thin enough not to distort the line of your clothes, but padded enough to provide comfort.
Once you’ve adjusted the pads into the right position, you should be able to go about your business without worrying about sore shoulders and unsightly strap marks.
Altering a fashion bra is easy enough, but what about bras of a different kind? Can you adjust a sports bra using the same methods you would for a regular bra? The answer is… it depends.
Sports bras are made from stretchy material and designed in such a way as to provide the maximum amount of support possible. While making adjustments to the cup size, band length and straps can be done in much the same ways as we’ve already looked at, the success of the final outcome may vary.
In some cases, you could be left with a sports bra that, while a little snugger or looser than it started out, isn't necessarily going to provide the same even distribution of support that it would otherwise.
If you're making a bra from scratch, making a few little adjustments to the pattern is easy enough.
Method to correct a too-small cup
A too-small cup is likely to fail in the support department, not to mention add a few little bumps and lumps under your clothes that no-one wants to put on display. Avoid the issue entirely with a quick pattern alteration.
Most bra patterns come in a B-Cup… but not all women do. To adjust the pattern to your exact measurements, simply mark out three lines on the pattern. The lines should extend from the bust point to the hem (running parallel to the center front grainline), from the bust point down to the side seam (running vertically to the center front grainline), and from the bust point to the center of the armhole curve.
Cut along the length of each line, starting from the bottom of the hem and making your way along each in turn. Leave enough fabric at both the armhole and bust point to create a hinge.
Once the lines are cut, separate them by as much as required. The amount that you open up the pieces will depend on how many sizes you want to increase the cup size by. Use the following as a guide.
Place a sheet of paper under the new openings created at the side and armhole and use tape to hold in place.
Finish by drawing in a new side bust dart.
Method to correct a too-big cup
If you find your bra tends to get a little ‘bunchy’ at the front, you’re facing an excess fabric problem. To scale the cup size of a pattern down a notch, simply straighten out the curved seams that give the cup its shape. Cue less depth and less unsightly bunching.