Fashion tips: What is the most comfortable bra style for my size?
Some tips and definitions to help you choose the most comfortable bray style for your size and preferences.
Choosing a comfortable bra is a matter of individual preference, but after taking a look at different bra styles and how they are constructed, it should be easier to make good choices.
Lingerie departments everywhere sell a dizzying array of bras, in many styles and colors. The word bra is the shorter form of the word brassiere, which was an undergarment originally designed to give support and contour to the female breasts. The typical modern support bra is constructed of dozens of separate fabric and elastic pieces that must be sewn together to make the finished product. When the bra, consisting of all its parts, successfully molds to the shape of the woman and at the same time, changes her shape in the desired fashion without exerting too much force, then it should be a comfortable fit.
Small busted women
Women who have a small bustline, generally considered A and B cups, are often looking to increase their cup size. This can be done in numerous ways.
Soft cup bras have a molded cup and no underwire or padding. This makes them very comfortable with most women, but since they don’t provide strong support, they are most popular with A and B cup sized women.
Padded bras are very similar to soft cup bras except that they have 4 oz or more of fill in the cup, which will add one full cup size to the bustline. Since full-figured women generally have no desire to increase their size, these bras are also for A and B cups only. These bras are usually comfortable as long as they don’t get too bulky.
Padded bras have the option of an additional padded insert, to increase size even more. These are called “cookies” and are usually made of fiberfill, although they can also be made of water, oil or gel. The bra cup has a slit in it and a special pocket that the cookie slides into. Using a cookie can help to change the shape of the breast or restore balance when one breast is smaller than the other.
Push-up bras have significant padding at the bottom of the cup which decreases towards the top of the cup. By lifting the breasts, the bra gives the illusion of greater breast size and creates cleavage. A good push-up bra should make the bustline look one cup size larger than it normally is. This bra may or may not be comfortable enough to wear day after day because there could be too much binding or pressure.
Day bras are very comfortably made, oftentimes with no metal parts at all and consisting of mostly cotton with only minimal elastic. Their comfort level is high because they are non-binding, but their construction provides very little support and are only for A or B cup sizes.
Bandeau bras also provide little support and are for small bustlines. They are a bra that is only a band of material going around the chest, usually made of cotton or nylon mixed with elastic. A piece of elastic at the bottom forms the band, and elastic at the top of the band keeps the bra against the chest. Some may have an underwire added for additional support. These can be very comfortable with ease of movement as long as the compression is not too high.
Gel-filled bras and water-filled bras are specifically designed to enhance a small bustline. These bras are often chosen to wear with an evening gown or other formal wear but can be worn on a daily basis. However, the additional weight of the water or gel adds heaviness to the bra and for this reason, it may not be comfortable for everyday wear.
Stick-on bras (also called backless bras) are a specialty item which can be taken advantage of by smaller busted women. These come as gel-filled forms that stick onto the breast so that they are compatible with low cut and shoulderless dresses and gowns. Typically, they are a silicone material with a sticky surface that goes against the skin and can be reused up to 100 times, or they may be fabric cups that use peel-and stick backing or a bottle of glue to hold them in place. The fabric cups may be reused only a couple of times, if at all. If a woman is a C cup or bigger, this bra design will not work because the breast tissue has too much mass, and both bra and breast will droop downward. For any kind of stick-on bra, the clock starts ticking once they are applied. Perspiration and the factor of time dictates that these bras may come off after 5 or 6 hours, depending on conditions, with 11-12 hours maximum. The glue may be uncomfortable in response to body movements, so these items are best reserved for special occasions.
Small to Medium Busted Women
Contour bras have cups which are lightly padded with fiberfill sewn under a cloth lining, to smooth and add definition to the breast. The fill provides additional shaping and lift and also makes the bra less see-through. There is not enough padding to add any size. A bra with this minimal padding provides a good fit for women who are in between bra sizes or who have an uneven bustline. They have a high comfort level.
Lined cup bras are similar to contour bras except that they do not have any fiberfill, just a fabric lining sewn into the cup. The lining gives a bit of additional support and also makes the bra more opaque. Such a bra would not increase size so it would be ideal for a small or medium busted woman who has an ideal shape.
Molded cup bras have formed cups that do not change their shape, so the breast tissue must properly fill the cup without any gaps in order to obtain a good fit. These are also called T-shirt bras or seamless bras because they have a plain sculpted cup with no seams, giving a smooth shape and silhouette when worn with a soft cotton shirt or any sheer or clingy clothing. If there is lace on the cup, it may ruin the desired effect when worn with revealing or tight-fitting tops. These bras can be quite comfortable if a good fit can be obtained.
Demi bras have half a contoured cup that reveals the top of the breast but not the nipple. Also called shelf bras, balcony bras or balconette bras, these bras are often worn with low-cut dresses or tops. The shoulder straps on a demi bra are also set farther apart in order to be compatible with a top that is low, wide or square. Usually containing an underwire or boning to provide support, they give lift to the breasts.
In the 1800s, undergarments were often reinforced by whale bone or other animal bones, to give support and rigidity for body contouring. The bones were usually sewn into the garment and were hidden in seams. In the lingerie industry of today, the same concept has been carried forward but stiff plastic strips are used instead of bone, even though it is still called “boning.” With either underwire or bone, a demi bra with a good fit and design can be comfortable enough for everyday wear.
A variation of the demi bra exists that is cut so low, the nipples are exposed, with most of the bra located underneath the breast. These can also be referred to as shelf bras, balcony bras or balconette bras. They usually have an underwire at the bottom for support and lift the bust forward.
Convertible bras are designed with versatile straps that can be taken off and put on various hooks sewed into the bra. The straps can be clear plastic or made of fabric. The bra can be converted to one of six different style bras — conventional, halter, one shoulder, off the shoulder, criss-crossed in the back or strapless. Most of these bras are very minimalist, made of just cloth material and elastic so they will not give enough support for a large busted woman. These bras work best with an A or B cup. They may not give strong support but they should be fairly comfortable, as long as the straps do not cut or bind.
Halter bras are almost always a convertible bra that must be worn in the halter configuration. These bras come with a strap that fastens behind the neck and would be worn with a dress that is backless.
Large Busted Women
Full support bras are necessary for D and DD cup woman. These bras have thick bands, substantial side panels, wider shoulder straps, and two or more hook and eye closures in front or back. Features that increase comfort in a full figured bra are additional cushioning for the band and shoulder straps. There are certain bras manufactured with a small amount of gel sandwiched between the material of the shoulder straps. This can lessen shoulder and back pain in a woman who wears a D cup or larger. Front closure bras are made for all sizes but can be an additional comfort feature for a full busted woman, to make the bra easier to get on and off and to relieve any discomfort from the area of the back where the hooks and eyes would be.
Underwire bras all have a stiff piece of plastic or metal wire (sometimes coated with plastic) sewn into the bra underneath the cups to create support. The design of all support or push-up bras utilize underwires, no matter what the cup size. However, an underwire isn’t really necessary for an A or B cup woman because the weight of the breast can be adequately supported with elastic. For a heavier breast, the wire helps to give extra support, but by itself, it cannot give any support without the help of the shoulder straps. In ALL bras, it is the shoulder straps which give support, not the band that goes around the chest. The underwire is sewn in along the band and it is below the breast, so it cannot provide much support unless there is something to lift it up. This is what the shoulder straps do.
The underwire is being pressed in a vertical direction by the band and the straps are lifting the bra (and the underwire) in a horizontal direction. It is this combination of forces that results in being shaped by the bra. If one of the forces overpowers the other, or if both are too powerful, discomfort will result.
Many women, full figured or not, complain about the underwire putting too much pressure on the rib cage, digging in underneath the breast or poking them somewhere in the chest. An underwire bra must fit properly or else it can be very uncomfortable.
Seamed bras have cups that are constructed out of numerous pieces, which are sewn together, creating seams running through the cup. These different pieces form the shape and size of the cup and can create lift and support when combined with the shoulder straps. In general, the more pieces used in the construction of the cup, the better support the bra will give. This should be considered by all women who are convinced that a bra cannot give adequate support unless it has an underwire, which is simply not true. Seamed bras are often considered more comfortable and less binding than an underwire bra, and they give adequate support in a full figured woman because of the construction.
Minimizer bras are sometimes desired by large busted women, to make their bustline look smaller. These bras have a cup which covers the whole breast and flattens it slightly. They have some compression but not as much as a sports bra. A good minimizer bra will give a smooth natural look while maintaining breast separation and if fitted properly, should be comfortable enough for everyday wear.
Sports bras generally have the most support or compression of any bra in order to keep the breasts from bouncing during physical activity. They often incorporate wider shoulder straps and broader cup coverage. Because they have been around for some time, manufacturers are getting better at designing them. Some full busted women end up wearing a sports bra everyday because they found a comfortable design that gives great support.
All Bust Sizes
All women, no matter what their size, can wear an underwire bra, but as discussed above, the support from the wire will be most beneficial to a C or larger cup.
Strapless bras can be worn by all women, but the larger the bust size, the more difficult it is to find a good fitting one with enough support. These bras often come with straps, which can be put on sewn-in hooks in the bra to convert them to a regular bra, halter bra or cross over bra. Since there are no shoulder straps to give support, these bras compensate by having underwires, a wide elasticized back with multiple hooks and eyes, wide sides that may have additional reinforcement with bone, and having strong elastic in the band and top. This might make the bra too binding and uncomfortable for long term wear. Also, the bra may have a rubbery material at the top and bottom to keep it in position, but this may increase perspiration and discomfort. If these bras are worn, it is usually for just a day with an evening gown or very low-cut top.
Racerback bras can be worn by women of all sizes, although they are usually designed for the smaller busted woman because they started out being a bra designed for the active woman. These bras are modeled after racing swimsuits for women that have “Y”-shaped straps on the back, between the shoulder blades. More and more women are finding out how comfortable they are for everyday use and how well they work with sleeveless tops. They are also a good fix, in fact the only fix, for the woman who finds that her bra straps are constantly slipping off her shoulders. These bras can be quite comfortable if fitted properly.
Front closure bras have hooks and eyes or a plastic clip or barrel closure in the front. These bras are made for all sizes but seem to be most desired by larger busted women because they are easy to put on and take off. The center of the bra where the closure is located is often very narrow, which makes these bras suitable for plunging or V necklines. They are often designed with other comfort features, such as soft material and non-binding straps that are desirable. Sometimes they are made with adequate support for the larger busted woman, and sometimes they are not. Many women are very happy with them if they can find one with the right support features.