Most of us have been wearing a bra from the day our pre-pubescent chests first showed signs of starting to bloom, when the sole purpose of those tiny triangles of fabric was to camouflage budding nipples. But in our 40s, 50s, and beyond, our upstairs lingerie serves more complicated purposes: to support and give shape to breasts made less perky thanks to pregnancy, breastfeeding, gravity, and time. This means, of course, that buying, wearing, and caring for bras is also more complicated. So WVFC turned to Dee Generallo, bra-fitter extraordinaire at Johari, a lingerie boutique in Montclair, New Jersey, for tips.

What should women over 40 be most concerned about when shopping for a new bra?

It might sound intuitive, but proper fit is especially important during and after menopause, when breasts may actually become heavier and need more support, thanks to overall weight gain. Women will come in not wearing the right-size bra and are so droopy it looks as if their bust and midriff are one body part. But there should be three separate body parts: two breasts, one abdomen! You have to get the breasts up off the midsection. They should be between your shoulder and your elbow.

So how do you find the perfect fit?

First, be aware that cup size is much less important than band size. Most women underestimate their cup size, and claim to be an “A” when really they’re a “B” or even a “C.” But what you should focus on most is band size. Ninety percent of the support is in the band. If the band is too loose, the shoulders will wind up taking on the weight of the breasts, and for someone with very large breasts that can be uncomfortable. And while it might seem that as breasts get bigger, the band size should increase, that’s not the case. With age, you often have to go tighter in the band and bigger in the cup.

How do you know you’ve got the right band size?

Let’s start with how you know you’ve got the wrong band size. If, every time you raise your arms, your bra rides up in back and you have to tug it down, then it’s too loose. When you buy a new bra, the band should feel snug, really snug, when you’ve got it on the outside hook. That’s because as you wash and wear it, the fabric will start to stretch, so you’ll want to be able to tighten it by putting it on the middle hook and then the first hook.

Okay, so you’ve found the perfect bra. Any tricks for making sure you put it on the right way?

The main thing to look for is “tacking.” The middle of the bra, between the cups, should rest flat against your skin—it shouldn’t pull away. After you put on your bra, stand up. Reach into the right cup with your left hand and center your breast inside the cup so that your nipple is centered. Do the same with your left breast. Then do what we call “windshield wipers:” Point the index finger of one of your hands down between your breasts and sweep it from side to side in order to separate them. No double-boobing allowed!

What’s the best way to take care of bras?

Never wear the same bra two days in a row. It takes 24 hours for a bra to go back to the way it was when you first put it on, elasticity-wise. And you should try to handwash your bras. This can be less time-consuming than it sounds if you use a fabric wash like Forever New. You toss your bras in the sink with some of this stuff and let them soak while you shower. When you get out, rinse the bra, squeeze out the excess water—but don’t wring or twist—and hang it to dry. Done. If you must use the washing machine, use a lingerie bag and mild detergent.

Any final words of wisdom?

Have yourself fitted once a year. Your body can change that much in 12 months. Schedule it for your birthday so you don’t forget. And besides, some new lingerie would make a lovely present to yourself.

Many thanks!

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