Here’s your ultimate guide.
Bra shopping can be a daunting experience, with an overwhelming amount of styles, fits, and fabrics. It should also be a customized one, where you’re ideally choosing a design that’s catered to your individual body and needs.
“No two breasts are alike! My favorite or best style bra might not be what’s right for you. It’s really trial and error and you have to find what works for you. People often don’t think about breast shape which comes into play too!,” notes Jené Luciani Sena, author of The Bra Book.
As Sena notes, a thoughtful bra wardrobe not only supports your size and shape but also accounts for varying activities, clothing cuts, and personal preferences. Read on as Sena helps us break down different types of bras so you can find the most flattering fit for your body and lifestyle, and discover some of our tried and true picks here.
First up we have the T-shirt bra, which Sena refers to as “the workhorse” of bra styles. “It’s supportive (typically with full cups and an underwire), smooth (often made of foam), and goes with just about everything (with the exception of wide and strapless necklines), making it the perfect everyday bra for most women.”
Styling tip: Opt for everyday colors, such as nude, white, or black, that will layer seamlessly under your favorite tees and other go-to tops.
As Sena points out, a padded bra is a great option for anyone who wants a little boost in the bust. “There are also different types of padding to choose from now so you can achieve a more natural look, such as bump-up pads in the underside of the cup for women who have more volume loss on the bottoms of their breasts.”
Styling tip: Try to remain within two cup sizes for realistic appeal. Too much extra padding can also serve to weigh down your bra (and chest!).
“A push-up bra is similar to a padded bra in that it has padding to help push breasts upward,” says Sena. “Sometimes it has a plunge too. Other styles, like a balconette bra, can provide a push-up effect without padding, but there’s typically at least some padding present.”
Styling tip: Turn any bra into a push-up bra with your own silicone gel bra inserts. Some bras also come with removable pads for added customization.
Sena considers the balconette one of the most underrated bra styles. “It’s cut in a way that the tops of the cups go straight across your breasts, almost like a horizontal line. It’s not the bra if you’re looking for cleavage, but it’s a very flattering and supportive choice for both smaller and larger breast sizes.”
Styling tip: Choose a lace pattern that feels more like lingerie. Solid satin and cotton fabrics offer more coverage for tight-fitting tops and more professional occasions.
According to Sena, the strapless bra is among the most difficult to navigate. “Even with silicone lining, many simply don’t stay up! The trick is to go down a band size so you get a more snug fit. If you’re fuller busted, look for a wider band and an underwire for more support.”
Styling tip: Look for sticky bras for tops and dresses that are backless, sideless, or have peek-a-boo cutouts.
This multi-tasking bra is a must in any bra wardrobe, allowing you to switch up your style in a cinch.
“It’s essentially a T-shirt bra with detachable straps that can be removed and reconfigured to support different necklines,” says Sena.
Styling tip: Swap out your strapless for a convertible, one-strap bra for added support when wearing one-shoulder or halter styles.
A plunge bra looks like a t-shirt or strapless bra, but typically features a deeper v-cut down the middle. “This is an ideal option for low-cut tops and makes for a sexier silhouette that can prove more flattering in general,” notes Sena.
Styling tip: Make sure you get the cup size right so you’re not bubbling out or, as Sena points out, “resulting in a quad-boob effect.
“A minimizer bra is a popular pick among very large busted women who are looking to reduce the projection of their breasts, in some cases by an inch or more,” explains Sena. “The issue with this type of bra is that the bridge often doesn’t lay flat between the cups and it can cause a squished uni-boob look.”
Styling tip: Avoid designs that force breasts to spread out, which can flatten breasts and make you appear wider.
A plus-size bra is known to offer extra support, often in the form of broader and/or cushioned straps. “Opt for full-coverage cups and a wider band that has two layers of fabric (often referred to as power mesh) for a smoothing effect,” suggests Sena. “A hook and eye design with four rungs typically means a wider band and greater support.”
Styling tip: Opt for foam cups as opposed to unlined cups for more structure and support. For lace and fabric styles, a seam down the cups can minimize collapsing.
“A bandeau bra consists of a high-spandex fabric strip with no built-in cups or underwire,” says Sena. “These are usually better suited for smaller busted women, as they provide minimal coverage and support.”
Styling tip: Scoop up a few bandeau bras for sideless and cut-out tops. Due to their lack of structure, they’re also good for looser-fitting tops and dresses.
Sports bras can offer greater support during workouts and other scenarios where you’re more active.
“There are two types: compression (that compresses your breasts and can be pulled over your head) and encapsulation (which cups breasts more like a regular bra and usually clasps in the same way). Both should hold the chest firmly to minimize the amount of movement.”
Styling tip: Look for labels that indicate the level of support. And when trying styles on, do the bounce test: jump up and down to ensure breasts stay put.
“Any bra that is comfortable and doesn’t press against sensitive breasts can support you during pregnancy. You may want to avoid underwire as anything digging or pressing can cause mastitis, and be mindful of the fabric—nothing that’ll be itchy or annoying.”
Styling tip: Go with a stretchier fabric that can support breasts as they expand during pregnancy, and removable flaps for easier nursing once the baby is born.
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