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Ask any woman who has gotten her bra professionally sized, and she'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.
Pro tip: 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.
Check out these nine bra styles to see which ones are right for you.
1. 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.
- Delimira Smooth Wire Free Lightly Padded Triangle Contour T-Shirt Bra, $16-$20, Amazon
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.”
- Calvin Klein Women's Perfectly Fit Lightly Lined Wire-Free Contour Bra, $22+, Amazon
Available in beige and black, this wire-free bra can also convert into a racer-back style.
- Hanes Women's Ultimate T-Shirt Bra, $13+, Amazon
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.
2. 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.
- Wacoal Women's Embrace Lace Bra, $22+, Amazon
The unlined cups with embroidery and lace details add a ladylike touch to this supportive bra.
- Warner's Women's No Side Effects Full-Coverage Underwire Bra, $15+, Amazon
This bra boasts extra-wide, elastic-free side panels to eliminate the dreaded underarm bulge.
- Victoire Plunge Bra, $68, Journelle
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.
3. Push-Up Bras
Nothing beats a push-up bra if you want to lift the twins higher. “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.
- B.tempt'd Wacoal Women's B.Splendid Wire Free Push Up Bra, $20+, Amazon
Proving beauty isn’t always 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.
- Curvy Couture Tulip Lace Push-Up Bra, $30+, Amazon
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.
- Maidenform Women's Ultimate Lace Push-Up Bra, $15+, Amazon
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.
4. Demi 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.
- Panache Women's Clara Balconette Lace Bra, $32+, Amazon
This bra from Panache offers women with larger cup sizes the support of a full bra but with the sex appeal of a balconette. Last time we checked, there were 17 colors to choose from.
- Natori Ethereal Contour Underwire Demi Bra, $68, Nordstrom
This pretty demi bra is meant to disappear under clothes for everyday wear.
- Romy Demi Bra, $74, Journelle
The scoop neckline and allover lace lend a retro-glam aesthetic to this demi bra, and there’s a matching panty and thong for upping the bombshell ante.
“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 made of 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.
- Cosabella Dolce Vita Soft Bra, $16+, Amazon
Reviews recommend this lace and scalloped bralette for smaller bust sizes.
- Hanes Women's Convertible Seamless Wire Free Bra, $11+, Amazon
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 custom fit.
- Yianna Women Floral Lace Padded Racerback Bralette, $15, Amazon
This bralette provides a comfortable and stylish alternative to a regular bra.
6. Convertible 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. Convertibles 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 style.
Since all the support of a strapless 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.
- Maidenform Smooth Strapless Extra Coverage Bra, $15+, Amazon
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.
- Fine Lines Plunge Bustier Bra, $43-$55, Amazon
This bra is perfect for low-cut tops and dresses. Amazon reviewers noted that it has “way more support than expected.”
7. 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 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.
- New Balance Power Sports Bra, $10-$65, Amazon
With wide straps and supportive cups, this sports bra is made for high-impact workouts.
- VPL Tani Bra, $70, Spring
This bra pulls double duty by being both a sports and a swim bra.
- Syrokan High Impact Support Sports Bra, $22-$25, Amazon
The mesh provides breathability, while the double-layer style and racer-back straps increase stability and support.
8. 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.
- Chantelle C Magnifique Seamless Unlined Minimizer Bra, $30+, Amazon
This bra claims to minimize your bustline by 1 inch while still giving a great shape, due to the fuller coverage and supportive underwire.
- Lilyette Enchantment Three-Section Unlined Minimizer Bra, $16+, Amazon
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.
- Wacoal Visual Effects Minimizer Bra, $41+, Amazon
This pretty bra promises to make clothes fit better and smooth the back and sides of the body.
9. 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.
- Clotiya Breathable Invisible Sticky Push Up Bra, $16, Amazon
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.
- Fashion Forms Women's Backless Strapless U Plunge Bra, $29+, Amazon
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.
- 3. NuBra Seamless Adhesive Bra, $23+, Amazon
Last and certainly least from a coverage perspective, this self-adhesive, barely there set from Nubra can be applied for days when you need the bare minimum. Scoop it up in one of three shades to best match your skin tone.
This article was originally published on Aug. 29, 2016, on TODAY.com.
For more undergarment guides, check out:
- The best sports bras for every type of workout
- 15 of the best pairs of underwear for women, according to fashion experts
- The best shapewear for every outfit, according to style experts