Finding the perfect bra—one that doesn’t ride up, dig in, or sag—is a challenge. Anyone who has ever had to deal with any of these undergarment annoyances knows just how important a well-fitting bra can be. So if a great bra can mean the difference between comfort and misery, why do so many of us try to get away with spending the bare minimum for one?
According to one 2017 U.S. report, 65 percent of American women spend $30 or less per undergarment. And while lingerie is a $1.87 billion industry here in Canada, our bra spending habits are likely somewhat similar to those south of the border. But how much should you really be shelling out for a good bra that doesn’t have you ripping it off the moment you get home?
“You can spend whatever you like. It depends on your budget,” says Sharon Hayles, longtime owner of Diane’s Lingerie in Vancouver. “But the old adage is true—you get what you pay for.”
The bra you picked up for $20 at a big-box store is not necessarily going to save you money. After all, an ill-fitting, cheap bra is a waste of cash if it’s balled up and forgotten in the back of your underwear drawer. According to Hayles, purchasing a great bra means paying upwards of $85 to $200+. Of course, Hayles is a bit biased—her lingerie store specializes in high-end and luxury European brands. But ask her what makes a bra with a heftier price tag special—better construction and materials resulting in a more comfortable, longer-lasting bra—and the math actually starts to make sense.
For instance, say you buy three high-quality bras for $85 each in one year. At that price point, some experts say you should be able to get 100 to 125 wears out of each bra before it starts to break down. That’s $255 for a year of comfort and style. Meanwhile, a poor-quality $20 bra that loses shape after a month would require purchasing 12 each year (assuming you stop wearing it once it becomes uncomfortable or shapeless). At $240, you’re not saving much money by going this route—not to mention the extra hassle and waste. A typical middle-of-the road bra from a lingerie chain might cost you $40 or $50, last a bit longer and require fewer replacements, but it still won’t have the staying power of a truly high-end undergarment.
Here’s what to look out for when shopping for a new bra:
Look for a bra that’s crafted from high-quality fabric—a material that wicks away sweat if it’s a sports bra, for instance. French lace is delicate, but it’s a quality fabric that has more staying power than factory-made lace.
Wire that fits
A well-made underwire bra uses wire in different lengths and shapes, depending on the band and cup size. Your typical chain store bra doesn’t. There’s a reason that generic wire starts to feel like it’s digging into your side after a while. It’s usually the wrong fit, explains Hayles.
Avoid the stretch
Here’s the best way to tell if you’re buying quality: Give the straps and sides a tug. If they stretch way out, walk away. Stretchy fabric not only breaks down faster, it also doesn’t give you the same lift.
“All the support in your bra comes from the band and the side support. You really only get 10 percent of support from your straps,” says Hayles. “The fabric has to be tight.”
Buy that mesh bag
Quality bras typically last a year to 18 months, depending on how often they’re worn. (Look for the tell-tale signs that it’s time to purge: the bra is uncomfortable, the lace is torn, the cup padding has shifted or is rumpled, or it’s simply too small.) How well they’re taken care of has an impact too. To save money long-term, give your bras some TLC. Hand-wash and hang to dry if you have time, or simply throw them in a mesh lingerie bag and use the delicate cycle on the washer.
Always try it on
Bra construction is based on precision. A couple of stitches in a slightly different spot can mean the difference between one that fits perfectly and one that’s a waste of money. Even if it’s a brand, style and size you’ve worn for years, do yourself a favour and try before you buy.
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Maureen Halushak, editor-in-chief, Chatelaine