18 April, 2017

Bra Science - 16 Signs You're Wearing a Parachute Bra

Since people loved my 11 Signs You're Wearing a Boob Hat post, I have decided to write one about the opposite syndrome: The Parachute Bra.

Parachute bras are worn by people who have realised that the "plus 4" method of measuring people is a terrible system, but they go too far the other way - wearing too small bands and too large cups to compensate. I call them parachute bras because the cups billow in the wind, and the band is tight around you like a harness. Some people call this "reverse letterphobia" but I've chosen a different name because I feel that reverse letterphobia is a little bit.. judgey (and my name is catchier ngl).

Why do people do this? They may be very afraid of the too loose bands they were wearing in the past, they may want to be a smaller band and larger cup than they are because of a lack of body confidence, or they may just not quite know how a bra should fit. They may also have a projected shape and size up to get the depth they need in too shallow bras, instead of trying bras better for their shape.

When a band is too small, the wires get warped, pulling the cups wider. This means that there is less outwards depth in the cups, making them appear too small. So you size up in the cups until the outwards depth is right - the bra looks like it fits! However, in reality, the band is too small and the cup is too large.

So here are the symptoms of this phenomenon:

Edited note: Just like on a page about a medical issue, I haven't written much about the other causes of these symptoms here. If only one or a few of these symptoms apply to you, you probably are not wearing a parachute bra, other fit issues may be at play. 

Your band may be too small if...

1. You really like taking your bra off at the end of the day


Image maco with the words "The best feeling in the world" overlaying a drawing of someone undoing their bra

What happens:  Your bra is just that little bit uncomfortably snug. It's ok to wear for a few hours, but it is just a bit too much to wear all day long.

Why: The band is too small - ideally, a bra that fits well is comfortable for the whole day. Some people with sensitivity issues will never be able to wear a bra for the whole day, but people without these issues or similar medical conditions shouldn't face this problem.

How to Fix It: Go up in band size to loosen it off.

2. Straining hooks!

Bra that is too small on someone - the fabric around the hooks is straining
This bra is really struggling! 
A damaged eye tape - the hooks are almost coming out of the material
This is a bra I own - it was in pretty bad shape when I bought it! The person who owned it before me must have tried to power through a too small band.
What happens: The hooks and eyes don't seem to be quite up to the job, straining a lot and getting damaged easily. You may find the eyes being pulled out of their slots, or the tape becoming a weird warped shape - wider at the end and narrower in the middle.

Why: If the band is too small, it is being stretched too far, putting excess strain on the hooks and eyes.

How to fix it: It seems that as soon as the tape is warped, you can't get it back to its original shape (I've bought secondhand bras that have tape like this, and it's not gone away). A looser band will stop this happening in the future!

3. Your wires poke out easily


A bra with the underwire poking out of its casing

What happens: After less than about 6 months of wear, your wires escape your bra, leading to much poking and pain.

Why: Wires are generally a little bit shorter than their channels, and when a band is stretched to more than it's supposed to, the bit of fabric above the wire channel is pulled too. This makes the tip of the wire put lots of pressure on a bit of the wire channel that is not designed to take this force, so the wire rubs through and creates a hole.

How to fix it: You guessed it! A looser band can help this.

4. Your bras don't last long until they stretch out


Three bra bands, all with visible wear and tear

What happens: Your bras lose their elasticity within about 6 months (or less).

Why: Overstretching a band deteriorates the elastic and other materials, making them lose their tension much more quickly. Also make sure to care for your bras well so they're worth the money you spend on them.

How to fix it: A looser band and correct bra care will get you much more bang for your buck.

5. Your gore digs in


A man touching his sternum in pain

What happens: Gores (the center of a bra where the wires come together) are a little (or a lot) uncomfortable on your sternum, they seem to tack too much.

A woman stretches an underwire sideways and demonstrates that it twists in the middle
When she pulls outwards on the wire, it twists.
Why: A band that's too tight can pull a gore in quite a lot, causing pain. However, gores digging in can also be a symptom of a too tall gore, too wide gore, too firm wires, or a ribcage shape variation like pectus carinatum, none of which are necessarily related to parachute bras. Also, a wire that is pulled too much will twist, pulling the gore inwards. This effect can also happen in reverse - the twist can go outwards, causing the gore to float.

How to fix it: How many times do I have to say "try a looser band" before I regret this post format?

6. The side seams on your bras are warped


Bra showing a side seam that's warped.

What happens: The side seams on your bras (the part that attaches the cradle surrounding the cups to the band, on [full banded bras]) aren't straight or slanted but curving.

Why: A band that's stretched too much will warp out of shape, perhaps the top and bottom of the band stretching more than in the middle. The seam bends.

How to fix it: While sometimes poor construction can be to blame, often a looser band will reduce the excess strain.

7. Your band wants to slide down (if you have a V shaped Torso)


Someone wearing a bra, which has the band angled downwards
This isn't a very good example and for that I apologise, but you can see that there is a slight downward tilt here.
What happens: You feel your band slowly creeping downwards at the back and/or at the front, and you have a torso which is narrower below where the band sits.

Why: There are many non-parachute-bra related reasons as to why a bra might ride down at the front (and back). However, it can also be caused by a too small band - it follows the path of least resistance.

How to fix it: See if a band extender stops this happening. If it does, then try looser bands in the future. If not, another reason is causing the bra to ride down.

Your cup may be too large if...

8. Your bras all seem to be very full coverage

A too large bra looking like a full coverage one
See how this bra is quite high coverage? This is a 32F by the way.
The bra fits well now and is much lower coverage
This is the same bra in the same size, but now it is on a person who fills it out as intended by the manufacturer. See how much lower the top of the cup sits?
What happens: It seems that no matter what style of bra you try, they all come up very high on your chest - no matter if it's a full coverage bra or a cut that's designed to cover less breast tissue.

Why: These bras are designed for more breast tissue than you have, so they of course are larger. Tightening the straps a lot and adjusting the bra can make it look like it fits fairly well, so it may be harder to notice than you'd think as there may not be any obvious extra space. Having less boob to deepen a fabric cup can make it come up higher on your chest, too.

 It must be noted that some bras are, of course, very full coverage - particularly in larger cups, and that if you have a smaller frame bras may look fuller coverage than the same size on a person with a larger frame.

How to fix it: Check on Bratabase or other resources to see how the bras fit other people in the same size. If there is a discrepancy in the level of coverage, go down in the cup until it matches up better. Also consider the name of the style - generally, full cups are meant to cover nearly all breast tissue, balconettes about 3/4, and half cups a little over half of your breast tissue.

9. The apex position is wrong - the apices are too far apart or too high up.


Someone wearing a bra with an incorrect apex position
Where the seams meet should be approximately central in this bra - see how the apices are too high up and far apart?

A person wearing a bra, the apex sits too high up.
See how the deepest part of the cup is above the fullest part of this person's boobs?

Someone wearing an unlined bra, the apex is too high up
Again, the part where the seams meet is above the fullest part of this person's bust 

What happens: Generally speaking, your nipples should align with the deepest part of the cup (of course there is natural variation in nipple position, and if your nipples aren't very near to the fullest parts of your breasts then use the fullest part of the breast as a metric instead). Usually the deepest part of the cups in balconettes and full cups is where the seams cross.

Why: When a bra is too large, it is generally too wide and too tall. As it wraps around your sides, most of the cup goes towards your armpits, so the deepest part of the cup is pulled artificially outwards. Also, as the cup is too tall, your breast tissue rests at the bottom of the cup, so the deepest part of the cup is too high.

How to fix it: Go down in cup size until the bras seem to match your breast proportions.

10. The wires too tall (so they ride down or are uncomfortable)


Someone wearing a bra, the wings are very high up, almost hitting their armpit

What happens: The wires come up too high in your armpits, so they're either uncomfortable or the bra sits below your inframammary fold.

Why: Generally speaking, as cup size increases, root height does too - so bras are made with taller wires to fully encompass all breast tissue in larger cups. If your cup is too large, the wires may be too tall. If they can't sit comfortably at their current height, they'll naturally slide down.

How to fix it: If the wires are riding down, try pulling them up to your inframammary fold, as there are many causes for this. If this makes them poke uncomfortably in your armpits, then consider going down in the cup. It should be noted that some bras generally have tall wings that irritate many people, and some people have little space between their IMFs and armpits, so not many bras work. Consider finding bras with shorter wings if wire height is the only issue that applies to you in this list.

11. You tighten your straps a lot to stop wrinkling/gapping


Someone wearing a bra with the strap sliders on their shoulders as they've been shortened so much
Even though the straps are tightened so much you can't really see the adjusters...
The person has lifted the cup fabric, revealing lots of empty space in the cup
...The bra still has space at the top (even though it's hidden on the left cup)
What happens: Your straps are always adjusted to be very short, otherwise, there's a lot of empty space in the bra. This hides a too large cup.

Why: Tightening the straps pulls the cups closer to your chest, which can eliminate extra space. This can be useful for those with asymmetry as it is recommended to fit to the larger breast, but should not be used to make a too large cup fit better.

How to fix it: Loosen the straps to a firm but comfortable setting - if your bras suddenly become much too large, go down in the cup until they fit well with a good strap tension.

12. You think you are full on bottom or short rooted cause the tops of bras never get filled out! 

Someone wearing a bra. The bottom of the cup is filled but there is lots of space in the upper cup

What happens: Even though the leaning test, hand bra or other methods suggest you have an even or full on top shape, you believe you have a very full on bottom or short rooted shape, because while the bottom of the bras are filled, the tops never seem to be.

Why: When a bra is too large, your breasts usually sit at the bottom of the cup, so there is extra space at the top. Particularly if you have soft tissue, your breasts will pool and stay at the bottom. So you try on more and more closed on top bras in an attempt to find a better fit, but nothing seems to quite work.

How to fix it: Go down in the cups until all parts of the bra cups are filled. This can be difficult if you have a projected shape, as you may be inclined to size up to get the objective depth you need in the cups (see below).

13. There's space at the top, bottom and/or sides of the cups.


Someone wearing a bra that has lots of space at the top, bottom, middle and sides of the cup
You can see there's space at the bottom and the top of ths cup though some of the bottom half is filled out

What happens: While you fill out the deepest part of the cups, the top, bottom and/or sides just have lots of extra space.

Why: A bra that is too large and would be too shallow if it were the correct volume is to blame for this. While a bra may have enough depth at the apex, it wants a taller and wider breast root. This issue is common in moulded cup bras as they are generally shallow and can hide fit issues well.

How to fix it: Try more projected cups in smaller sizes, so you'll have the depth you need without the extra space.

14. Bras just don't feel that supportive. 

Someone wearing a bra, but it is not giving them much support

What happens: Bras just seem to sit around your boobs instead of fully supporting them.

Why: A bra frame that is too large can't sit properly around your breasts, so you won't get the full support from your bra. The extra fabric doesn't have the structure to lift your breasts up properly and shape them.

How to fix it: While there are multiple causes for bras feeling unsupportive (even the opposite phenomenon to a parachute bra - a boob hat), if you experience this and some of the other symptoms, a too large cup is probably to blame. Try sizing down.

Your band may be too small AND/OR your cup may be too large if...

15. The wires on your bras are wide to the point of almost wrapping around your back 


Side view of someone wearing a bra, the wires are very wide - almost reaching their back

What happens: The wires on your bra go way past your breast tissue and seem impractically wide.

Why:  it can be due to a too small band pulling the cups much wider - the band doesn't have enough stretch to go around your whole body, so the cups get in on the action too.

Alternatively, the cup could just be too large for you! When a cup size gets larger, it also gets wider, and so the wire can become much too large for your root or frame.

Note: This can also be due to bad scaling (cups becoming too wide for most people in very large cup sizes), which isn't related to parachute bras.

How to fix it: Try the bras with an extender - if the wires narrow considerably, they're probably warping when you're wearing it normally. If not, then your bra is just naturally much too wide - this may be due to the cup being too large or it being a very wide bra in the correct volume.

16.  Your straps always seem too wide set

Someone wearing a bra, the straps are hitting their armpits as they're so widely spaced

What happens: Straps are always knocking about in your armpits, which can get pretty chafey and uncomfortable.

Why: This is a common complaint that people have with large cupped bras, so it's definitely not related to parachute bras most of the time - however, parachute bras can exacerbate it. A too large cup is built for larger proportions than you, and expects more boob to push it out from your chest (which usually keeps it away from your armpits). When there is nothing to push the cup outwards, it just stays snugly in your armpit and can rub painfully. Also, a too snug band will pull the cups wider, pulling the straps further towards your armpits.

How to fix it: A smaller cup and/or a looser band can fix this!

I'm wearing a parachute bra - what now?

Check out the resources tab for more information on bra fitting - /r/ABraThatFits and Bratabase are both great communities who can help you find a bra that fits better. Also see this blog post on reverse letterphobia (different name, same phenomenon). And don't be afraid to experiment with size and shape! Try shallower or more projected bras, try more open and more closed on top. You never know what'll fit you until you put it on. Provided, of course, that your wallet allows it. 

Many thanks to everyone who helped me with pictures for this post, I couldn't have done it without you! All bra photos were used with permission :)


  1. Great post, entertaining and very true. Being between band sizes I was guilty of sizing down in the band in bras I probably shouldn't have, though I would utilize an extender if it was uncomfortable.

    1. Thank you! It is very tempting to go for a snug band if you're worried about stretching out so no judgement here - extenders are incredibly useful tools.

  2. Great article! You've gone through so many bra fit problems with solutions. All right here in one place. Very informative! Great job :)