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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 book "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 says. Having a variety of bra styles means you can dress your chest for the occasion. Here’s how.
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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, says Dale. Be sure to hang them to dry. “Never, ever put your bras in the dryer — that will be shorten their lifespan,” she emphasizes.
1. T-shirt / Seamless / Contour Bra
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 stick up 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 provide less nipple coverage.) You can get this type of bra in a variety of options, including full coverage, plunge and strapless, explains Dale.
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2. Underwire Bra
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,” says Dale.
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 Bra
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,” says Dale. 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, adds Dale.
Proving pain isn’t always beauty, 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.
4. Balconette and Demi Bras (they are different!)
“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,” says Dale. 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, explains Dale.
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 12 colors to choose from.
Prove you’re red-y for anything with this bold take on a demi from Journelle. The scoop neckline and allover lace lend a retro glam aesthetic, and there’s a matching panty and thong for upping the bombshell ante.
“These are the hottest new trend!” says Dale 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 a layering insert inside of a professional jacket. And for those with fuller busts, there are even some bralette styles made with underwire, says Dale.
It doesn’t get more bare-bones than this wire-free bra from Hanes. Aside from feeling like a second skin, this bra has convertible straps for a custom fit.
6. Strapless and Convertible 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 only need 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, advises Dale. “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 suggests.
Talk about a smooth operator. This bra from Maidenform contains embedded underwire, along with removable skinny straps, to ensure nothing is poking out of that slinky dress come date night.
This smart convertible bra from Vanity Fair contains a special heat-diffusing fabric for keeping you cool. Wide, thick straps also provide added comfort.
7. Sports Bra (they're not all created equally)
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,” explains Dale. 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, where 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, advises Dale.
For more sports bra recommendations, check out our round up of the best bras for every type of workout.
8. Minimizer Bra
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 bra 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, says Dale.
9. Adhesive Backless Bra / Cutouts
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, says Dale. 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 adds.
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.
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.