Yes, O frantic parent, you too will survive the first bra-shopping trip. I did, and so will you. Is it fraught with cringiness? Of course. Does it have to be a scarring experience for you and your teen or preteen? Nope. We’ve rounded up the best bras for teens — and tips on how to help her shop for them without both of you dying of embarrassment.
I consulted a couple of true experts — my two bra-sporting daughters, ages 17 and 15 — for advice for parents and teens and preteens looking to navigate the bra years as smoothly as possible. (Apparently I didn’t do too badly, so, yay! One less dollar in the therapy jar.)
Stay calm & let her lead the discussion
Are you the one freaking out that your kid needs to start wearing a bra, meanwhile your kid is totally chill going bra-less? Guess what: As the kids say, sounds like this is a you problem. So be patient. The time will come. Or it won’t, and that’s cool too. There are no rules saying anybody’s got to wear a bra. So let go of your own expectations — and how old you were when you got your first bra. This is not your story anymore.
Don’t fret if it’s not bra time yet
Ms. 17 texted me, “I remember [before we were ready for bras] you’d tell us we should wear stripes, because they minimize pointiness.”
True story: If you get the sense your child isn’t ready to talk bras, that’s okay. Hey, it’s a lifetime commitment for a lot of us — who wants to dive in early? Uh, nobody, usually. Doesn’t it feel great to take the damn thing off at the end of the day anyway?
But my girls were kind of not okay with their “pointy” brand-new boobs. Their new body changes made them uncomfortable. So, my art degree finally came in handy: Stripes and busy prints and cozy cardigans and cool vests can go a long way to minimize the 3D effect until they’re ready and really want a bra. Trust the art mama.
Never underestimate a good sports bra
Another great item for girls who are mortified by the idea of a “real” bra? Do not underestimate the power of a great sports bra — which can double as a bathing suit top, in a pinch. Here are some recommendations:
Panache bras get seriously rave reviews from bigger-breasted folks looking for attractive support options, though they’re not the cheapest out there. They do come in a wide range of sizes — and this one has an easy back closure for newbies.
Initiate the bra convo in bite-sized chunks
In other words? It doesn’t have to be a THING. My daughters recall that I kept gauging their possible interest in bra-shopping, by bringing it up from time to time — as casually as possible — when we’d be out shopping. No high-pressure sales tactics, just, “Hey, did you want to look into bras today? No biggie if not. They can just make you more comfy as you grow.”
Normalize — & love your own boobs
Normalize, as much as possible, is my very best mama bra advice. Ms. 17 added, “You DEF brought it up with us… You told us that underwear can be fun and not to be embarrassed.”
Walk around in your own skivvies at home, if you’re chill with that. And be kind about your own body: There’s literally no better way to teach your kids to love their bodies. Well, Ms. 17 says there was also this: “The incident of u trying on my bra and scarring us for life.” Okay, fine, I have blocked that one out. But I do remember Ms. 15, then 3, wearing my DD bra cups on her head and cracking up our all-girl single mom household. Do what works for you and your girls, and don’t be afraid to laugh. Boobs are funny, dude.
Books & visuals can help
If you’ve got a kid who’s just not a talker when it comes to this stuff, no problem. Ms. 17 (a non-talker herself) gives her highest 5-star endorsement to the American Girl Library collection of books for young women, whether trans or cis:
“There’s a good page in the American Girl’s The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Older Girls that shows you all the different kinds of bras. I remember asking for a sport bra and finding out that it was much more comfy for my small titties.” Ms. 17 added, “Literally a game changer. I’m gonna buy it for my kid.”
Thank your lucky stars for online shopping
It used to be our moms would haul us to department stores to get fitted by a total stranger in a way-too-bright dressing room. Ugh. While some girls might be down with this approach, a ton more (especially trans girls and shy kids) would rather have a root canal and a gynecologist appointment in the same day. So embrace 2019. There are so many great online stores (although there will always be a bosomy saleslady in the froufy lingerie department at Nordstrom’s who can figure out your kid’s bra size if you’re stumped).
Just because it’s everywhere doesn’t mean it’s good
We can’t recommend Victoria’s Secret or Pink. We just can’t. The airbrushed perfection is no good for developing minds and psyches and self-esteem. Hard pass.
If you want fitting rooms and a post-bra-shopping chai latte, Target is now using a range of lingerie and swimsuit models that look like, well — people. And we are so here for it: Cellulite. Scars. Gorgeous, natural, muffin-topped real-life beauty. Let your babies see those life-sized images as they shop for bras, not unreasonable, detrimental, Photoshopped pics of impossibly pouty, tiny models, okay? Target also has major bra brands such as Maidenform and Hanes, and everything from strapless convertible to “baby bras” (as named by Ms. 15) with no seams or wires to bother those with sensory issues:
Look elsewhere, too. We adore TomboyX, which has this tagline: “Comfortable underwear that fits your body and how you see yourself. Fit-tested on hundreds of bodies, size XS-4X. Be exactly who you were born to be — no apologies.” DAMN STRAIGHT (and endorsed by Ms. 17 wholeheartedly). I can vouch for their products, which wash like a dream — including pesky period stains on underpants. This company is particularly fantastic for gender-fluid and trans kids. PSA: Bralettes like this one are fab for those who want to feel pretty but don’t necessarily have a lot of breast tissue / definition:
We like Thirdlove, too, with their motto of “Bras for every body. More options in more sizes.” This is a great pick for anyone unwilling to sacrifice beautiful design for comfy fit (and vice versa):
Listen to advice from older bra-wearers
Ms. 15 says to tell your kid: “Do it on your own timeline. It’s not something that needs to be rushed. It might not seem like a big deal, the switch from baby bras to sports bras to real bras, but it is — and it’s your deal, no one else’s.”
Ms. 17 continues, “Also don’t be afraid to literally do the most comfy thing. Wear only cute loose sports bras if you want! Wear mens’ underwear like me! Explore brands — like TomboyX underwear — that cater to people who wanna be comfy.”
The only “should” for your kid’s first bra? Help her find something truly comfortable that makes her feel good inside and out. The only “must”? Let her lead the way.
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A version of this story was originally published in March 2019.