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Ask any woman who has had a bra professionally sized, and they'll tell you, “The right fit can make all the difference.”
But the right cup and bust sizes aren't the only important factors when choosing a bra, according to Elisabeth Dale, author of “The Breast Life Guide to the Bra Zone” and founder of The Breast Life blog. “It’s like picking out shoes for an outfit — sometimes you want flip-flops or ballet slippers or high heels,” she said. Having a variety of bra styles means you can dress your chest for the occasion — even if that occasion is lounging around the house.
Bras are made of delicate fabrics and elastics, and should always be laundered by hand or placed in a lingerie bag and washed on the gentle cycle in cool water, Dale said. Be sure to hang them to dry. “Never, ever put your bras in the dryer — that will shorten their life span,” she emphasized.
Read on to learn about the nine bra styles every woman should have in her closet.
To shop this article by category, simply click each link below:
- Best bralettes
- Best sports bras
- Best convertible bras and strapless bras
- Best push up bras
- Best stick-on and backless bras
- Best minimizer bras
- Best contour, wireless and T-shirt bras
- Best demi bras and balconette bras
- Best underwire bras
“These are the hottest new trend!” Dale said of the bras that are made as a one-piece without clasps and have an unstructured style that can slip on over your head.
Many bralettes are with supportive stretch-lace material with adjustable straps and bands, and come in longline styles that extend further down the torso. They're comfortable enough to wear to sleep or on weekends, but fashionable enough to be worn as sexy lingerie or as a layering insert inside of a professional jacket. And for those with fuller busts, there are even some bralette styles made with underwire, Dale said.
It doesn’t get more bare-bones than this wire-free bra from Hanes. Aside from feeling like a second skin, it has convertible straps for a comfortable fit.
Reviews recommend this lace and scalloped bralette for smaller bust sizes.
"Excellent quality and fabric feels amazing," wrote one verified Amazon shopper. "I will order this brand often. It's my favorite now. Worth the money."
Amazon's bestselling bralette provides a comfortable and stylish alternative to a regular bra. It's available in 6 different colors and is under $20.
Best sports bras
When you want to get the most out of your workout, pick up a sports bra. “Like running or hiking shoes, you should pick one that is right for your level of activity,” Dale explained. Most sports bras have a guide that tells you if it's designed for low, medium or high impact — the difference between, say, yoga and aerobic activity.
There are basically two types of sports bras: compression and encapsulation. The first is one that gives you the “uni-boob” look to hold your breasts down by compressing them. The latter is more like a regular bra, in which each breast has its own cup. For moderate-to-high-impact activity (like running), always wear a bra that does double duty with both compression and encapsulation qualities, Dale advised.
With wide straps and supportive cups, this sports bra is made for high-impact workouts.
2. VPL Tani Bra
This bra pulls double duty by being both a sports and a swim bra.
The mesh on this design provides breathability, while the double-layer style and racer-back straps increase stability and support.
Best convertible bras and strapless bras
Strapless styles are usually chosen to accommodate skin-baring outfits and come in regular or longline versions, which may be called bustiers. However, there is a difference between convertible and strapless styles. Convertible designs allow you to change up straps to crisscross or wear in other ways. You can choose to ditch the straps altogether, but it’s not constructed the same way as a true strapless bra. In other words, if you're looking for versatility, go for a convertible. If you need only a strapless, go for a specific strapless style.
Since all the support of a strapless bra comes from around the band, you may want to go down a band size and up a cup size, Dale advised. “Strapless bras are tricky to fit, because of differing cup construction — from plunge to full coverage — so if you need one for a particular outfit, bring it along, so you can see how it looks over the bra,” she suggested.
Talk about a smooth operator. This bra from Maidenform contains embedded underwire, along with removable skinny straps, to ensure nothing pokes out of that slinky dress come date night.
This bra is perfect for low-cut tops and dresses. Amazon reviewers noted that it has “way more support than expected.”
Best push up bras
Nothing beats a push up bra if you want to add lift and cleavage. “The most versatile style is one where the cutlets can be removed, so you can bump up your cleavage when you want but not have your boobs be the center of attention when you don’t,” Dale said.
This style is also a good solution for those with breast asymmetry — where one breast is bigger than the other (totally normal!) — or for those who’ve had lumpectomies since you can wear padding in only one cup. Despite their reputation, push up bras aren't so much about adding volume (though they do some of that, too) as they are about lifting tissue to a higher elevation, Dale added.
Proving beauty isn’t always a pain, this wireless bra from Wacoal’s B.tempt’d line offers the same boost of a push-up bra without any discomfort caused by underwires.
Specifically sized for women with larger busts, this bra is made with gorgeous lace and has a shape that is said to lift and hold breasts in place.
Pretty bras don't always have to be expensive. Starting at just $15, this push-up bra is available in a wide range of sizes and colors.
Best stick-on and backless bras
You’ve probably seen these in clothing catalogs or at the checkout of lingerie shops. This option is best suited for smaller or lighter-weight breasts, Dale said. They’re a good choice if you want some lift or want to bring the breasts together (usually in a backless outfit). Keep in mind that some adhesive bras may be uncomfortable to wear during warmer summer months or in tropical climates, she added.
This self-adhesive pick is like a strapless and push-up bra in one. Just tighten the corset to reach your desired amount of cleavage and you’re ready to go.
A must-have for plunging dresses with no backs, this self-adhesive bra may be more comfortable than others, since the adhesive is only on the wings. Plus, it can be used up to 25 times before you have to shell out cash on a new one.
Last and certainly least from a coverage perspective, this self-adhesive, barely-there set from Nubra can be applied on days when you just need a bit of cover. Scoop it up in one of three shades to best match your skin tone.
Best minimizer bras
This concept is a bit old-school, since many professional bra fitters today believe that a seamed, full-coverage bra does the best job of minimizing the appearance of larger breasts. A minimizer style spreads breast tissue across the chest rather than bringing it all to the front with centered projection. Many minimizer bras have other features, like wider wings, to reduce the appearance of back rolls, Dale said.
This bra claims to minimize your bustline by 1 inch while still giving a great shape, due to the fuller coverage and supportive underwire.
Who said minimizer bras have to be boring? This bra looks cute thanks to the lace detailing while still helping to minimize breast size (not shape) by up to 1 1/2 inches.
This pretty bra promises to make clothes fit better and smooth the back and sides of the body.
Best contour, wireless and T-shirt bras
This style goes by all three names, which essentially performs the function of “disappearing” underneath knitted or clingy clothing so that straps and bumps don’t show through fabric.
The cups always hold their shape, even when breasts aren’t in them, and are made on a mold of thicker materials that provide great nipple coverage — a common concern for many women. (Take note: Newer “spacer bras” that also fall under this style are made of lighter, more breathable fabric that provides less nipple coverage.) You can get this type of bra in a variety of options, including full coverage, plunge and strapless, Dale explained
This molded foam bra features a lightly lined cup, no underwire and an easily adjustable fit. Reviewers love it because it's “a great bra for the price.”
Available in beige and black, this wire-free bra can also convert into a racer-back style.
With 19 color options and an affordable price tag, it's easy to see why this bra has more than 500 reviews on Amazon and a four-star rating.
Best demi bras and balconette bras
“There’s a great deal of confusion between the balconette and demi bra styles, since many manufacturers call a demi a balconette and vice versa,” Dale said. They’re actually not the same type of bra. The balconette is a sexier version of a full-coverage bra, with the cup cut a bit smaller to show more of the top half of the breast.
The demi bra goes even lower than the balconette, with a single vertical seam up each cup and with the tops of the cups cut straight across. The demi style works well under lower, scoop-neck outfits. It’s also a good choice for those with shallower breast tissue, as it lifts each breast up without creating cleavage or creasing, Dale explained.
This bra from Panache offers women with larger cup sizes the support of a full bra but with the sex appeal of a balconette.
This pretty demi bra is designed to disappear under clothes for everyday wear.
The scoop neckline and allover lace lend a retro-glam aesthetic to this demi bra.
Best underwire bras
Bras made with underwire that surround the base of breasts provide structure by keeping the breasts anchored to the chest. While some women love the supportive feel, others find it uncomfortable. If you fall in the former category, look for underwire that is double- or triple-wrapped inside casings for more comfort.
You can find underwire bras in plunge, demi and full-coverage styles, as well as in nursing and post-mastectomy bras. “If you hate underwire bras, the good news is that there are plenty of non-wired bras on the market now — you just have to shop around to find what works best for your breasts,” Dale said.
The unlined cups with embroidery and lace details add a ladylike touch to this supportive bra.
This bra boasts extra-wide, elastic-free side panels to eliminate the dreaded underarm bulge.
Just because you’re a minimalist doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun. This plunge bra from Journelle offers the same practicality of a T-shirt bra but with an added layer of seduction.
For more style guides and recommendations, check out:
- Hundreds of TODAY viewers bought this popular wireless bra
- I bought Meghan Markle's off-duty maternity jeans and they're perfect
- Why a jumpsuit is what your stay-at-home routine is missing
This article was originally published on Aug. 29, 2016, on TODAY.com.