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7 Tips to Remember When Getting a Bra Fitting at the Mall

Photo taken by The Lingerie Addict at Bellefleur Boutique

Photo taken by The Lingerie Addict at Bellefleur Boutique

Today's guest post is written by Lisa, a TLA reader and Midwestern 20-something with a penchant for lingerie, luxury, and low prices. She is currently working as a retail chain bra fitter and as a bra frame fit tester, with aspirations to win the lottery or pass her board exams, whichever comes first.

I am a retail chain bra fitter. I am tired of using a tape measure to perform bra fittings at my job. And I am tired of hearing horror stories about bra fittings.

Let’s work together to create the best experience for one another at the place that is likely most accessible to you to find bras: the mall.

Let me start from the beginning of my bra fitting journey.

My first introduction was at THAT mall store. I had a negative experience, amongst a sea of positive experiences, to be quite honest. A sales associate attending the fitting rooms literally blocked my path until she fit me. She likely had a goal from a superior to measure/fit so many customers for the day. Back then she measured me as a 32D, which was not far off the mark of a 34C. But she marked it in the cards they provided, handed it to me, and told me that a 32D was my size without checking the fit in their bras across varying styles and with no explanation of how a bra should look and feel when it fits. Long story short --- a 32 band for me at that time was too tight to allow the necessary life function of breathing.

Through trial and error on my own, I learned that my bra size was different across various brands and across different styles as well. Using online calculators was a start, but it did not tell the whole story and was more often than not grossly inaccurate.

So why do I hate the tape measure? Customers see it around my neck and want only one thing – for it to be around their body and for me to spit out a size that will be 100% correct in every bra and in every brand they try. In my experience, using a tape measure to fit will often underestimate the cup size, at least in the brand that I fit. Certain breast shapes will not be assessed correctly using the 2-line rib cage/bust and plus-4 method that my store encourages.

My mall store has a little video that teaches how to perform bra fittings their way: have the customer wear a tank top and a lightly lined bra, gingerly measure them, tell them their size and their sister size, and “check” the fit through the tank top once they have the bra on.
If you can tell that the underwire and gore is lying flat, fully encompasses the girls, and that the band fits well through a tank top, then kudos to you my friend.

I do not want to be the bra fitter that I had who snaked a tape measure around me and declared my size to the whole of the fitting room. There are likely quality bra fitters at your local stores and some not-so-great bra fitters as well. To find the quality ones, I recommend asking the associates at the front of the store how good the current fitter in the fitting room is. If they are not gushing about how wonderful they are, maybe take a pass on the bra fitting.

The company I work for just introduced the title of “Certified Bra Expert.” Often if a mall brand has an associate with a title like that, they likely have had either no or minimal further training from their company on bra fitting. And yes, the training was minimal. The best bra fitters at the mall in my opinion are the ones associates at competing stores know by reputation. I know the best bra fitter at THAT mall store in my mall. When I know she is working and my store’s product does not suit the customer’s needs, I send them her way and vice versa.

There are many things that you can do to ensure you have a positive experience in your mall store fitting. Here are seven for you and I to keep in mind.

1. First and foremost be body positive. I cannot tell you how often a fittee makes a negative comment about her body, even apologizing to me for feeling that she is small/big/sensitive/pregnant/lopsided/nursing/post-surgery/insert self-body snark here. Do NOT blame yourself if the bra frames in a store, especially a one-brand store, do not work well for you. Blame the bra frame. I will attempt to suggest a silhouette that will work best for you, suggestions of what to look for in your next bra, and brands if applicable.

2. Keep in mind that fittings in a mall store are nearly impossible to truly be one on one. Have patience and block out time in your schedule so I can spend more time with you. I have to check for additional sizes in the back, open more fitting rooms, clean out the fitting rooms and rehang and refold merchandise in addition to straightening the store merchandise in the room closest to the fitting rooms. Oh, and help you, the customer in the room next to you, and so on. So please do not expect me to be glued to your fitting room door. I strive to be back in the fitting room and spend as much time with you as you need, but if it is a busy day I am not able to provide the best experience for you.

3. Remember that you are not a bra size. Your best fit size will vary from brand to brand, and within the brand itself depending on the bra frame. Please keep in mind that both the cup and the band size of your best fit may change from bra to bra. Importantly, keep an open mind about your best fit size. “I’m not a D! Those are huge!” and “I can’t possibly be an A, that’s so small!” are some of the most awful phrases to me. You are not a letter and a number. I once had a mother who refused to purchase her daughter an admittedly perfectly fitting 30B bra because there was “no way” her daughter “was a B cup,” even after I explained that a 30B was the same cup size as a 32A. Sheesh.

4. On that note, be selective about who you bring to your bra fitting. Someone such as your mother, who is in denial about your best fit size or your best friend, who has a running commentary on everything that you do may not be the best support for you.

5. Measurements do not tell the whole story, which is why I would caution you against using an online size calculator or measurements that you did at home. Sometimes I’ll measure for show, but select the bra frames that will likely fit you best, regardless of what the tape measure said. Do not be startled if your bra fitter does not use a measuring tape. That likely means that they have been fitting long enough to know what might be your best fit size.

6. Expect that you might have to try on several bra frames and styles to get your best fit bra, and that you might have to go to more than one store to find one. Some customers expect that the first bra they try on will meet all their wildest hopes and expectations, and walk out the door confident that none of the bras in the store will fit them, when all they needed to do was communicate with the fitting room attendant about their needs. You cannot tell me too much, or show me too much for that matter. You had a tumor removed from one breast? You’ve had a mastectomy and use a prosthetic? You have scoliosis? You have to comfortably accommodate your TENS unit for your back pain? You’re nursing or pregnant? It’s difficult for you to reach the middle of your back? Your breasts are sensitive? Whatever the case, it’s my job to help you find a bra frame that fits you best and accommodates your needs. I cannot know your needs unless you tell me.

7. Most importantly, if you are not comfortable in any way with the fitting you are receiving, walk away. The experience is all about the fittee, and I am not doing my job if you are not comfortable standing in front of me wearing your bra. It sends a strong message to me, and my manager, that I am not doing my best and there is something lacking in our service to you. If you feel comfortable doing so, leave the store manager feedback about your experience, so we may better help you, and everyone who comes in after you.

You should expect that your bra fitter will ask what you are currently wearing, and listen to what you want in your next bra. I should select several sizes and styles for you, and seek additional bra frames if needed. Your bra fitter should teach you how a bra should fit, helping you find a bra shape that suits your breasts best, and provide washing and wearing tips. I’ll also (surprise!) be looking at you wearing a bra and checking the fit for you.

And bottom line, if you are not happy with your bra fitting experience in any way you may walk out at any time. I am not doing my job if you are not happy.

What are your tips for getting a bra fitting in a mall or department store? Any good (or bad!) experiences to share?

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Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

15 Comments on this post

  1. Rochelle Broder-Singer says:

    I have found the best bra-fitting experiences invariably come at my mall’s Nordstrom (shout out the lingerie fitters at Nordstrom Aventura Mall in Miami, Florida!). It sure feels like a one-on-one experience, and when needed, I’ve worked with fitters who brought me dozens of different frames to try, in various sizes, until we found my perfect ones. I no longer buy bras anywhere else.

    I always go up to the first staffer I see and ask for a bra fitting when I’m in-store to buy (at least once a year). Most recently, the fitter measured me, looked at what I was wearing, disappeared and reappeared with 5 bras that all fit me, in the right shade of nude for me. It was a little bit amazing.

  2. Nadil says:

    Can I ask you something? Well I am doing it now, so, when I go to the department do I just ask the lady for help and she will help? Am sorry it sounds weird but I find it really awakard and embarrassing to ask someone about my bra size also I am not too confident with my breast. Even though am a teenager I really hate the way it looks so I lose the confidence to ask someone. As well as who to ask or where to go? Am sorry if it sounds weird.

  3. Gary Frisch says:

    Great information. I’m sure this will benefit many women shopping for the right bra.

  4. I have hardly any shoulders, straps are always falling down. I have too full cups and am at a loss as to what I should buy. I am 70 and not very perky. Please help.

  5. Avigayil says:

    I would request that bra fitters be not afraid to say “I’m very sorry but we do not carry your size” or find some way to impart that to customers who are large busted and trying to shove themselves into bras that are too small for them because that is all the store carries. There is nothing wrong with their boobs… which is the impression many women get when the largest cup a department store may carry is a 36DD and they are several sizes too large for that. I wanted to walk out of a mall store change-room one day, to tell the well endowed woman next to me whose chest certainly was (much) larger than mine WHY she wouldn’t fit into a 32C (heck, I’m a 36E). They didn’t even bother to measure her at that department store. But there has to be a way of saying “we do not have the products to serve your needs” before all the frustration.

    • Vicki says:

      I agree with telling the woman they don’t have bras for her, she is out of their size range. Sometimes they might be trained not to which is where ‘sister sizing’ came about. Also giving her places that can help her, or other fitters that work in her size range that can help her with correct bra fit.

      I completely agree with telling her- its not you , the undergarment is too small. Also, the balconnet or demi won’t work for you because your breasts are full on top, that’s why the cup shape ‘cuts’ you off on top.

  6. Vicki says:

    The only mall store that started sister sizing is VS. Be body positive – Ok but if the woman/teen is not feeling secure about their body- how they look, they might make negative comments. The most sensitive place for a female sans clothing fitting room is a bra fitting room. Breasts are a sensitive body part for most women, and if they have never experienced an excellent bra fitter or had an excellent bra fitting, they have no idea if what this experience is good or bad.

    I agree with # 4 to a point but when dealing with minors , mom is going to be there in the fitting room. Unfortunately there are a lot of moms that do NOT know about correct bra fitting, so for many girls, what they get at whatever lower end dept store is ‘good enough’. # 5 Yes sizing by sight, some can well, others not. I have been sized by sight by a fitter who sized my bust number measure by sight, but got the band and the letter incorrect( At that time- insisted I was a 34DD when I was a 32G), and insisted when I told her what my band size is, that what I know – was wrong.

    7, Ok but for a lot of women, they feel intimidated with the bra fitter, so even if they feel uncomfortable they won’t walk away. In one community that bra sizes continually – many women said they felt pressured in the fitting, even buying the bra that didn’t fit.

    I agree with a new way to measure besides the standing bust measure. For myself and women in my family, I found a new way to measure when I found standing bust measure did not work. ‘ That is a bending over measure braless, it gets the full measure, esp if the woman has a lot of side boob, it gets it all in the measurement. That bust measure is a good starting measure then going back in number if necessary to get the correct cup.

    Asking the associates about the bra fitter is ok but if they don’t know what good bra fit is, then they are going by what they think is true , and or what they were taught.

    Band should be snug , gore should tack, cups should completely hold breasts with no spill – front , sides or under cups and underwire should go around the breast completely – underneath and side to side with out digging in or poking.

  7. Adrianna says:

    I was a “Certified Bra Fit Expert” at JCPenney for a year and most of what you’re saying is the same as what I experienced. The only real difference was we would fit women wearing just a bra w/o the t-shirt. I had SO many women (and lots of moms) tell me that the size I measured their daughter/themselves (using the +4 method no less) was IMPOSSIBLE. I had to tell them, look at me, are my breasts gigantic and ridiculous? And when the answer was no, and it always was as mine are very proportionate to my frame, I would drop on them my size, a 36GG. I also would go get sister sizes so that they could see that while it may seem ridiculous that a 14 year old was a C cup, facts are facts. Ladies love yourselves and your bodies, you are beautiful because of your breasts and despite them!

  8. Lahnna says:

    The first question I ask my customers when we’re checking their bra fit is “How do you feel?” The answer to that question is extremely telling in how she feels about her body, breasts, bras in general, and is a great way to establish priorities and trust. How a bra fits a customer means nothing if she doesn’t feel amazing in it. So, how she feels is my #1 priority.
    That being said, I’ve surprised hundreds of women in the last few years with the amazing qualities of different sizes and styles. For example, women tend to have a lot of misconceptions about push up bras, but most of them leave having tried at least one as well as the feeling of surprise that they liked it.
    In addition, I never assume anything about her shape, body, or life. I ask her questions that will (hopefully) or will not lead her to give me the information I need to give her the best fitting experience possible. But you guys are right, the fit experience is only going to be as successful as she allows it to be. If she’s not in the mood to try bras on, or is pressed for time, or is going through other life stress, I’ll do what I can, but I also remember not to take it personally if she decides to throw up her hands.

  9. Genna says:

    Needed this at work today. All of it. I so gingerly tried to explain to a couple of customers some of this while we were understaffed. Department store fitters aren’t commission, they are not brought int special, they’re paid the same wage as any working sales person. In my situation we work harder and try to be more customer-centric over ringing the most money but we’re not supported well by the company or even our leadership. As someone said we’ve been terribly understaffed lately and it is harder than squeezing water out of a stone to actually get a manager to the floor to help. Customers coming into the department store setting wanting a fitting need to be open, flexible and patient. Also need customers not to be dismissive of fitters in the Department store setting either. I have had a lot of “A Ha!” moments with customers these past couple of weeks where they tell me how they were fitted at some place that specializes in that only to have a better experience working with me.

  10. Genna says:

    Needed this at work today. All of it. I so gingerly tried to explain to a couple of customers some of this while we were understaffed. Department store fitters aren’t commission, they are not brought int special, they’re paid the same wage as any working sales person. In my situation we work harder and try to be more customer-centric over ringing the most money but we’re not supported well by the company or even our leadership. Two people in a department is hardly enough to cover fittings and ringing.

  11. Alison says:

    Excellent article. As a bra fitter in a shopping centre department store this all has me nodding.

    As for the one on one point. Yes, I identify with that. We are always shortstaffed and are often trying to cover bra fits and the fitting room door. We do our utmost to make fits one on one, but as soon as you go out to get another bra you get umpteen other requests which delays your return. So I agree, allot more time than you think. Some fits take 5 minutes, some take 30 plus.

    And I know it can be difficult but try to come at a time when you can leave your small child at home or have someone with you who can entertain them while you’re in the fitting room. The times I’ve had to rush fits or cut them short because the child wakes and starts crying or an older child is playing up and that’s no good for the customer who is too stressed to take the information in. Ideally I’d rather just have the customer in the fitting room, so I agree on friends and mums. Nothing more frustrating than a friend telling the customer the bra doesn’t fit when you’re still standing behind them doing up the straps.

    The best fitters are interested fitters who get quite passionate about the subject and who spend time on blogs like these in their spare time ;) Because fit is something you never stop learning as every body is different, so keeping interested and researching elsewhere is a valuable part of a good fitter’s training.

  12. Chad says:

    You work for Dilliards don’t you? I only ask because our Wacoal vendor mentioned that they started doing ‘certification’

    I disagree about it not being a one on one experience. I work for Nordstrom and that is just what we do. Yes there are times where I have 3-5 customers in a room all at the same time, but I wouldn’t say that I couldn’t give someone my 100% but maybe that’s just how we work.

    I think number 1. Is really the best one. I feel like I’ve become a body image consultant and it breaks my heart when people say how weird their body is.

    But I can’t stand when they stand in front of me and tell me that a DD is enormous (only because I am a 34HH, which they make fun of too… front of my face)

    I would add come in with an open mind, don’t be afraid to break your boundaries!!! Don’t wear lace? Try it!!! Only wear nude? Get that green bra!!

    And also, think of bra shopping as a treat, I’m telling you my customers that are smiling and crack jokes with me always says how much fun and how easy it was to find a bra. Bra finding is not a death sentence! And quit with the negativity (I hate bra shopping). Cuz that’ll just ruin the whole experience!

    Moms, when bringing in your daughters please leave the fitting to the fitters!!
    And honestly it’s best to come alone. I’ve had women in perfect bras and they don’t purchase it because their mother or friend didn’t like how it looked (knowing they needed a fit too…..)

    Ok I’m done haha

  13. Inez says:

    All of this. Yup.

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