Let’s start by going over the most popular types of bras. There are many options when it comes to choosing a bra. The one you select should not only be comfortable but also make you look your best and complement your features. Different types of bras can support, accentuate, lift, separate, minimize or maximize.
A contour bra has shaped cups that are either padded or lined and usually include an underwire. Because this style offers a significant amount of coverage and control, contour bras are a good choice for women seeking a sculpted silhouette. Contour bras create a rounder, symmetrical look, but don't visually increase bust size.
Similar to the contour bra, the cups on a molded bra are machine-molded. Unlike a contour bra, however, a molded bra is designed to closely mirror a woman's shape for a natural look. These bras are generally unlined, without padding, and may either have soft cups or underwire.
Demi Cup Bra
A demi cup bra offers minimal coverage for petite- to average-sized women. Demi bras cover the nipple and approximately half of the breast. This style may be less ideal for women with a larger bust size.
The full-cup bra, also called a full-coverage bra, covers the majority of the breast, offering more support than a demi cup bra. These bras are ideal for women with larger cup sizes.
A minimizer bra actually minimizes the bust by up to one cup size. This style is best for women with a larger than average bust size.
Padded bras have a padded lining in the cups. Graduated padding is thicker at the base of the cups to create a natural-looking silhouette, add lift and create the appearance of increased cleavage.
The angled cups of a push-up bra create the appearance of increased cleavage, add extra lift and enhance roundness. Most have underwire and some amount of padding.
Because they are essentially invisible under clothing, seamless bras are a great choice for pairing with tops made of thin fabrics or lightweight jersey material. This style is sometimes called a “T-shirt bra.” A bra is considered seamless when it is constructed with smooth, seamless cups. (Of course, other parts of the bra will still have seams.)
Bralettes and Bandeaus
A bralette is a minimal bra that does not feature any underwire, padding or molding. Some women with a smaller bust size may prefer the lightweight comfort and look of a bralette instead of a traditional bra. Lacy and patterned bralettes with a longer base can make functional layering pieces underneath tank tops and sleeveless shirts with low-cut sides. A bandeau is essentially a strapless bralette and wears well under strapless tops and dresses. However, because bandeau bras offer very minimal support, they are typically not ideal for women with a cup size larger than B.
Unlike regular bras, sports bras are designed to offer additional support, bounce control and freedom of movement during moderate-to-intense physical activity. To get an ideal combination of comfort and control, choosing the right sports bra style and size is very important. For information and tips on how to choose a sports bra, check out our Sports Bra Fit Guide.
Bras may include several different features in order to enhance shape, add support or increase comfort. Below are a few of the most common bra features to keep in mind when shopping:
There are two primary types of bra closures: front closure and back closure. Most traditional bras have a back closure design that allows the band to be adjusted slightly for a more customized fit. Alternatively, some bras have a front closure, which is usually not adjustable. However, a front-closure bra is easier to put on and take off.
A center gore, also called a center panel, is a small piece of fabric that connects the cups of a bra together at the front. A bra with a narrow center gore is ideal for women with breasts that are set close together. A bra with a wider center gore is ideal for women with breasts that are set farther apart. Bras with a low center gore are sometimes called plunge bras. This design is ideal for wearing low-cut tops. Bras with a higher center gore provide additional support.
Comfort straps are wider than standard bra straps and are usually padded or lined to distribute weight more evenly and enhance comfort. This type of strap is ideal for women with fuller busts.
This type of tapered cup padding is thicker at the base and becomes thinner as it transitions toward the top of the cup. This design boosts cleavage but also creates a more natural appearance.
Underwire is a thin, flexible, fabric-wrapped wire that adds structure to the cups of some bras and other undergarments. Underwire bras provide additional support, which makes them ideal for larger bust sizes. When you choose a high-quality underwire bra, you most likely won't even know that the wire is there.
In this section, we’ll cover the key points of measuring yourself so you can choose a bra size and cup size that will fit comfortably and flatter your figure. When measuring yourself, it’s best to wear a properly fitted, unpadded bra, preferably with an underwire. Avoid wearing a minimizer bra, sports bra, padded bra or push-up bra when you measure, as these could affect your natural measurements.
First, extend the measuring tape around your back and across the fullest part of your bust. Make sure the measuring tape remains level from front to back. The tape should be just barely snug enough to stay in place. Measure the total number of inches and record it, rounding to the nearest whole number.
Bra Band Measurement:
There are two ways to measure your band size:
Method One: Wrap the measuring tape around your torso, directly underneath both breasts. Make sure the tape is snug and level from front to back. Try to keep your upper arms flat against your sides. Measure the circumference in inches and round down to the closest whole number. This is your “under-bust” measurement. If your measurement is an odd number, add one to make it an even number.
Method Two: Wrap the measuring tape around your upper torso. The back of the tape should be at the same location as the back strap of your bra. The front of the tape should wrap just above the bust at the point where the shoulder straps meet the cups. If this number is odd, round down to the nearest whole number.
It’s very possible that these two measurements will not be the same. If the second method results in a much larger number than the first method, consider splitting the difference. For example, if your under-bust measurement is 34” and your above-bust measurement is 37”, a size 36 bra may be the best fit for you. Remember, bra band sizes are always even. If the band size is too small, you can always get an extension for the band. However, there is no easy way to make the band size smaller.
How to Determine Your Cup Size:
To establish your cup size, simply subtract your band measurement from your bust measurement. For example, if your bust measurement is 39" and your band measurement is 36", use this equation: 39 - 36 = 3. According to the chart below, 3 is a C cup. Bra size is band measurement plus cup measurement (e.g. 36-C).
Difference Cup Size 1 inch A Cup 2 inches B Cup 3 inches C Cup 4 inches D Cup 5 inches E Cup (DD) 6 inches F Cup (DDD) 7 inches G Cup (DDDD) 8 inches H Cup 9 inches I Cup 10 inches J Cup
Now that you've found your size and understand more about the types of bras available, we’ll try to answer some frequently asked questions.
What should I do if I'm spilling out of my bra, or if I’m not filling out my cup size?
Cup size can be a sensitive issue, but choosing an appropriate cup size is essential in order to get a proper fit. You'll feel more comfortable and confident in the correct cup size, whether it's an A or E. If you notice that the cups of your bra are wrinkling or have a distorted shape, this may be a sign that you need a smaller cup size. If you’re spilling out the top, you’ll likely need a larger cup size. It’s a good idea to measure your bra size about once a year, or more frequently if you experience body changes like weight loss, weight gain or pregnancy.
What sizing and fitting issues should larger-busted women watch out for?
Finding the right size can be a little trickier for women with a larger bust. When trying on bras, women with a larger bust should lift their arms up after securing the bra to make sure their breasts are not dropping out of the bottom of the cups. Alternatively, if you find that you’re spilling out when you lean forward in the dressing room, you likely need a lager cup size or a bra with more coverage, like a full-coverage bra rather than a demi.
What bras do you recommend for petite women?
Many women with smaller figures prefer a bra with defined cups. Structured cups accentuate the body's silhouette underneath clothing and provide all-day support. For a more minimal alternative, some petite women prefer a bralette or bandeau; just be aware that these options provide much less support than a molded or underwire bra.
What can I do about uncomfortable underwire?
Underwire should surround and support each breast, but not poke or jab you. If the wire pulls away from your body in the center, the cup size may be too small.
Why are my bra straps so uncomfortable?
The shoulder straps of your bra should only provide about 10 or 15 percent of the total support. Most of the support should come from the torso band and cups. Think of the shoulder straps as stabilizers that help fine-tune the fit. If the straps are digging into your shoulders, you either need to adjust the torso band to be snugger, loosen the straps or select a bra with a smaller band size. Women with a larger bust size may also benefit from wider comfort straps.
Why does my bra feel too tight and constricting?
Your bra should be “snug” for the best fit and support, but it shouldn’t feel like a torture device. If you can slip an index finger in between your body and the side of your bra without too much difficulty, your band size is probably correct. If you have to jam your finger in with significant effort, your band size is probably either too small or you need to loosen the hook-and-eye closure a notch. Your bra should also feel just as comfortable whether you’re sitting or standing. If your bra becomes very uncomfortable when you sit, you may consider looking for a bra with an arched center panel. It’s also important not to wear your bra band too loosely, as this can cause your bra to ride up.
Why is my bra riding up?
If your bra is riding up, this could be a sign that the band is either too loose or too large. As we mentioned earlier, the majority of a bra’s support comes from the band, not the shoulder straps. Loosen the shoulder straps, pull the bra down and snug the band. Then adjust the shoulder straps just enough to be secure. If the bra continues to ride up on the tightest setting, you may need to go down a band size.
When should I retire my bra?
How long your bras last largely depends on how many bras you own and how often you wear each individual bra, so it’s always a good idea to buy several bras once you’ve found one that you really like. One major sign of wear is diminished elasticity, which makes your bra feel too loose, even when it’s fitted correctly. Excessive pilling and fraying are also signs that a bra is getting near the end of its life.
Once you’ve found a handful of great-looking, comfortable bras, you’ll certainly want to keep them that way for as long as possible. In this section, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to keep your intimates from winding up in early retirement.
1. Use Gentle Detergents
Harsh detergents won't just damage your bras; they can also irritate your skin. Stick with a gentle detergent and steer clear of anything with bleach.
2. Consider Hand-Washing in Cool Water
Hand-washing your bras in cool water is the best way to get the most life out of them and keep them looking new, although it does take a little extra time. Be careful not to wring or twist your bras, as this can stretch them out.
3. If You Choose to Machine Wash...
Use a mild detergent and wash cycle designed for delicate fabrics. Attach hooks-and-eyes to prevent tangling and snagging. For even better protection, place your bras in a zippered lingerie bag and wash them in the delicate cycle. Always use cool or cold water, and never hot.
4. Hang Dry
Even on a low heat setting and spin speed, your dryer can cause delicates to wear out sooner or pill. Letting your bras hang dry is best. If they feel a little stiff after air drying, you can simply freshen them up a bit by putting them in the dryer on delicate cycle and low heat for just a few minutes.
5. Alternate Bras
Try not to wear the same bra two days in a row. The "rest" will allow the fabric to retain its elasticity and regain its shape
6. Fold to Store
Underwire bras can be safely folded in the middle to store. Molded bras can be folded with one cup tucked inside the other.