I’ve talked a lot before about what to look for in a brand-new bra, and how to take care of your bras once you have them. A recent closet clean-out (and some recent weight loss) made me realize that I’d never actually talked about how to know when it’s time to say good-bye to a bra. As lovely as they are, and as wonderful as the construction and materials modern brands use may be, bras aren’t immortal, and there will probably come a time when you have to step back and say “You know what, bra? We had a good run.”
1. That bra is TIRED.
This is probably the number one reason I ever get rid of a bra. Bras, particularly full-bust ones, are designed to have some longevity: Lycra, adjustable straps, sturdy wires, deep bands, and several columns of hooks and eyes all work together to fight stretch and distortion that come with wear. Still, no matter how carefully we fit, care for, and store our bras, they’re not immortal. The band will eventually stretch past the point where it offers support, the wires warp and poke into underarms, and the cups stretch out of shape. When you notice that you have to hook your bra on the tightest set of hooks and yet still adjust it throughout the day, your bra’s molded cups are creased and weakened, the elastic and mesh are starting to get threadbare and worn out, or your once-comfiest bra now pokes and chafes, that bra has probably reached the end of its lifespan.
To some extent, whether or not a bra is “too-tired” will vary from person to person, depending on your size, body type, age, and comfort preferences. But I can tell you this for sure: the bra you’ve had for four years that you wear every week and toss in the dryer? That bra is dead. Good-bye, bra.
Remember: friends don’t let friends put their underwear in the dryer.
2. Change of size.
My size has fluctuated a lot throughout my 20s, so I’ve seen bras get both too small and too big with some frequency. This can sometimes be an emotionally fraught reason to have to say good-bye to a bra. Sometimes our weight changes for unexplained reasons, or because of illness, medical side effects, or other adverse physical condition, and discovering that our bras no longer fit can feel like an insult on top of injury. Even if our weight changes as result of intentional diet and/or lifestyle changes, or even in the case of natural physiological changes (like puberty, pregnancy, or menopause), it can still be irritating to discover that, whoops, there are no more bras that fit, and now we have to buy more, with all of that extra disposable income we have JUST LYING AROUND, SO THANKS, BOOBS.
In general, I always feel like if you’re gonna have a bra that’s not a perfect fit, then it’s better to have one that’s a little too big in the cups instead of a little too small. A too-small band can in some cases be fixed with an extender, but too-small cups can dig in and create bulges, and too-small wires will sit on top of breast tissue and prevent the center gore from tacking. Conversely, sometimes a bra will feel slightly too big in the cups, but as long as you’re still getting a shape and the support you like, then carry on. There is, however, a point where slightly big becomes just plain too big: the band is too large to keep your breasts lifted, the cups will gape or wrinkle, the gore might begin to tack painfully, or the wires will suddenly seem too deep and wide, and they begin to dig or poke into your ribcage or underarm.
As an example, I wore my lovely, adored Cherry Fling set by Bravissimo to work last week, and by the time I got home I had to admit to myself that it was time to pack it away in case my size changes again. The band has held up beautifully through heavy wear– I still get great support when it’s fastened on the loosest hooks, but the cups are just too big now: the center gore is digging into my sternum, I have too much space in the top and bottom of the cup, and the wires are beginning to spread too wide at the sides. Oh adorable cherry bra, I wish we’d had more time together, or at least that I’d snagged a smaller size when it was available.
Now, while there’s no need to let a bra that doesn’t fit take up space in your drawer (I recommend keeping your lingerie drawer a happy place, stocked with bras you can pull out and wear right this minute), I personally like to hang on to any bras that are still in really good shape. I know my size fluctuates, so it makes for sense for me to hang on to a range of sizes, so that I don’t have to buy new bras every time I need a different size. Once I settle into a new size range I do a lingerie drawer clear out and move any bras that don’t fit to a storage box under my bed, while seeing if any bras I’d set aside previously happen to fit again. This weekend I made the happy discovery that a bra I’d sent packing around a year and a half ago for being too small fits again, and it feels like I have brand new undies. I also keep my stash in case a friend asks me to do a fitting while we’re hanging out at my apartment, and I’ve sent many in-good-shape-but-too-small-for-me bras off to new and happy homes!
3. You realize the shape isn’t a match made in heaven.
This one can be especially annoying, especially if you’re new to well-fitting bras, or you’re still experimenting to figure out your size range and what styles you like best. Sometimes a bra feels amazing for the first two hours and then you want to rip it off your body. It can really take a few wears to discover how you feel about a particular shape and construction, and by then, of course, you usually can’t return it if you decide it’s not for you. Now, granted, some bras are like shoes, and they require a more involved break-in period. I often find that my Panache bras take about two wears and a wash before they start to feel like all-day bras. But sometimes no matter how much you wear it, no matter how many adjustments you make, and no matter that it’s technically the “right” size, the bra just isn’t for you.
I have tried more padded demi and balconette bras than I can count, at every size I’ve ever worn, and I have never yet found one that I actively enjoy wearing. I tried my Tutti Rouge Betty bra on the other day after several months of leaving it in the drawer, and I wore it for about 20 minutes before gratefully switching to something else. Padded bras are just not my thing: I feel more supported and I get a shape and appearance I prefer in non-padded bras. I’d much rather clear the padded bras out of my drawer to make way for bras I genuinely want to wear.
Bottom line: If your bra isn’t making you happy, it shouldn’t be taking up space in your lingerie drawer. If it doesn’t make you feel good, either because the fit is bad or it’s uncomfortable or it just isn’t “you”, it’s probably time to break up.
So what do I do with my dead/no-good bra?
In the case of dead bras, unfortunately the best thing to do is the throw them out. Bras with shot elastic, warped wires, mangled hooks and eyes, crushed and crumpled molded cups, and faded, soiled, or stained materials are not bras that should be donated. If you don’t want to wear it because it’s falling apart, why would anyone else? The exception to this is that sometimes your local lingerie boutique may offer bra recycling programs, in which case by all means save up your dead bras to take with you on a shopping trip.
If , however, you want to get rid of a gently-used bra because your size or needs have changed or you just don’t like wearing it, absolutely consider donating it so someone else can benefit! Many lingerie boutiques like Journelle or Bravissimo offer donation options: Bravissimo has donation bins available in-store year-round, and in New York City, Journelle and Sugar Cookies both offer Spring-cleaning bra donation drives. Not sure if there’s a donation center near you? Consider donating your bra to SOL, a lingerie store in Denver that partners with The Gathering Place to offer well-fitting bras to homeless women in the community. They especially need cup sizes over a DD and band sizes of 38 and up, so if you have some bras in that range going spare, do considering donating!
A quick housekeeping note:
Those of you who have business or hobby pages of your own are probably already painfully aware of this, but Facebook has drastically revamped the way their algorithms handle Pages (like the Sweet Nothings page), to the extent that sometimes only 4 or 5% of those who “Like” Sweet Nothings actually see the content we’re posting! Facebook wants to push more and more business users to pay in order to get their content out, which I understand (hey, we all have to make money), but I do hate how much it affects the “community” feel we used to have. If you want to see posts, pictures, and updates from Sweet Nothings in your newsfeed/timeline/whatever we’re calling it these days, hover over the “Like” button with your cursor, and select “Get Notifications” and/or make sure that “Following” has a checkmark next to it, and you’ll be able to see all the lingerie, blog posts, recipes, and cat pictures your heart could ever desire.