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Why the 'Right Size' Bra Can Still Be Wrong

Women's breasts change with age. Here's how to get the perfect fit

spinner image Susan Sarandon in a black bra and white suit at the 2016 SAG Awards
A well-fitted bra is a fashion asset even if you don't plan on flashing it on the red carpet à la Susan Sarandon.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Subjected to gravity, a lifetime of exercise and fluctuations in both hormones and body weight, women's breasts change with age. So when a bra fitter recently informed me that my trusty 34Bs — the same size since they first appeared on the scene in 9th grade — were now 32Cs, I was hardly surprised.

The adjustments she made were a good start, but a smaller band and a bigger cup size aren't always the full answer to issues of fit. Even among women who wear the same bra size, our breast friends vary in shape, position and spacing. So be aware that continuing to select your same old bra style, even in a new size, will not necessarily make your clothes fit better. Instead, you may need to search further until you find your "hero bra." Here's how to do that, depending on how your girls are configured.

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Your breasts are wide-set. Because your breasts don't touch at the center, you've spent decades using padded push-up bras to create the illusion of cleavage. (Don't ask me how I know this.) With the passage of time, the distance between breasts may become a two-inch gap, leaving you with volume at the sides — where you don't want it — and an empty space in the middle. This increases side-boob spillage and makes your rack droop, creating an unflattering swag across your chest like a rope bridge over a canyon. An underwire bra with tilted or sling-shaped cups that dip to a low V above a triangle-shaped inset will bring your breasts front and center.

Your breasts are teardrop-shaped. Check your body profile in the mirror. In a bra, your fullest bustline should be halfway between your elbow and your shoulder. If your breasts are small to medium and your chest is not too sun-damaged, try a sexy, French-looking lacy underwire balconette bra with wide-set straps. The two teacup "balconies" lift and support the bottoms, pushing the tops up for a more rounded look. If you're a larger size — a D cup or above, say — or you're simply after that smooth-and-sculpted look, opt for a contour bra (sometimes called a molded bra or a T-shirt bra). These are preshaped with a light foam lining, guaranteeing an even silhouette (and concealing your nipples).

Your breasts are large and in charge. Whether it's in proportion with the rest of your body or not, a big chest can be a pain in the neck — and shoulders, for that matter. Not only that, but large, heavy breasts make tailored jackets and dresses difficult — and button-down blouses and shirts impossible. Examine your nude body in the mirror. If your boobs hang below the breast crease and overlap inches of rib cage space, try the newest minimizer bras. These use high-tech compression fabrics (but without a "squeezed" feel) and some savvy engineering to reduce the apparent size of your chest. T-shirt bras, likewise, offer structured shape and support, especially racerback styles featuring X straps; these are also ideal for small or sloping shoulders.

Your breasts are asymmetrical. This is a fairly common condition, but be aware that overall bra-size changes after menopause may exaggerate the look. A preshaped, molded contour bra will instantly even out your bust. If you prefer to balance things out DIY-style, silicone breast inserts can be placed in any bra cup (whether at the side, bottom or top) to create a more uniform shape.

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Follow the steps outlined above and your bosom buddies will thank you!

For more beauty and fashion tips, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50, as well as AARP's new Beauty & Style digital magazine (available on iPad).

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