Of A Type: The Kinds of Bras

As with so many things in the lingerie world, it seems like there are dozens of types of bras. This can feel overwhelming, for sure, but it can also lead to confusion in the dressing room. You asked for a bralette, but what is this thing the fitter brought? You love T-shirt bras— bras you wear with T-shirts, right? And when you said push-up, this is NOT what you had in mind. To help you communicate with your fitter and to learn more about what suits your body, it helps to have a couple terms of art under your belt (or band).

Before we get started, let’s clarify the two kinds of cups: molded and unmolded. Very technical terminology, right? Basically, if the bra looks like a half of a citrus fruit could nestle in there when it’s hanging on the shelf, it’s molded cup. If you could fold it in half (please don’t) and lay it flat, it’s unmolded. Unmolded cups are often cut-and-sew or “pieced” cups, meaning, that’s right, that they’re multiple pieces that are individually cut and then sewn together to make a cup. They aren’t always (especially in smaller cup sizes), but there are no molded cut-and-sew bras, nor are there any totally seamless unmolded bras. That’s it!

All our amazing illustrations today are from  Studio HMVD  in Brooklyn, New York and were made especially for us!.

All our amazing illustrations today are from Studio HMVD in Brooklyn, New York and were made especially for us!.

Let’s begin with balconettes, which are sometimes called 'balcony’ bras. We use the French term instead, since that seems more fun, but these are the same thing. In this style, your breasts are about half covered, resting on a little patio like “hello world!” Balconette cups are usually cut-and-sewn, and they tend to have a relatively low profile in the middle. They’re ideal for small-to-medium busts, they give you nice cleavage, and they are perfect for every day wear, regardless of breast shape. Balconette styles can be tricky on full-on-top chests, since they offer less shaping.

See how simple this is? Some have a little bit of lace, or shimmery fabrication, but the goal is for it to disappear.

See how simple this is? Some have a little bit of lace, or shimmery fabrication, but the goal is for it to disappear.

T-Shirt bras are a perennial favorite at Underpinnings. They’re molded-cup, seamless bras without much adornment, if any. They’re usually medium coverage and as with all molded-cup bras, they tend to have a little bit of padding. The goal with a T-shirt bra is that it’s invisible under thin shirts, which is how it gets its name. If you have east-west pointing breasts, shallow breasts, or simply like the look, this is a great staple in any lingerie wardrobe, though it can be the trickiest to fit. The cups need to fit you pretty precisely— there is very little room for error. This is a style that either “likes” you or doesn’t, kind of like tequila. You might try on a dozen before you find the right one, but rest assured, there’s a T-shirt bra for you. Some people are under the impression that this is the ideal bra for nipple coverage, but that’s not always the case, so keep an open mind! Sometimes something unexpected ends up being just the thing.

See how the cup makes a pretty sharp line here? Gives more coverage, not less!

See how the cup makes a pretty sharp line here? Gives more coverage, not less!

Plunge bras do what you think they do: they dive deep. Plunge bras have a diagonal cup topline and very, very low gore and are perfect for low-cut tops. Even if you’re a little bit on the modest side, a plunge bra can still help you out. The angled cup gives you more coverage and prevents gaping thing you probably don’t dig. Speaking of digging (sorry, had to), plunge bras have shorter wires, which can help with that poking feeling you sometimes get. Plunge bras are great on smaller chests or widely spaced breasts, since it will gather you in a bit toward the middle.

Full-coverage bras run the gamut, but they’re high-necked pieces that prevent the dreaded quadaboob. If you’re full-on-top, very busty all around, or just modest, this is your dream bra. Don’t be deceived by the term “full coverage”— some of these pieces are extremely sexy and even revealing!

Push-up bras are padded, molded-cup, underwire bras that give you a certain oomph. Some people like to wear one every day, and some people prefer it just on special occasions. They’re usually a plunge or full-coverage shape, but sometimes we see one in a balconette style. They remain popular for, ahem, obvious reasons, but they’re also practical: if you’re dealing with asymmetry, the padding can help to even you out, especially if it’s removable. Wide-set clients also tend to like a little bit of push-up, since it can bring their breasts to a central location.

See how unstructred the cups are? It’s really just one cup, if you think about it. That’s a hallmark of the style.

See how unstructred the cups are? It’s really just one cup, if you think about it. That’s a hallmark of the style.

Bralettes are unlined bras without clasp, padding, or wires. They’re unstructred in the extreme, and you pull them over your head. They come in a wide variety of fabrications from lace to mesh to cotton, but they’re ideal for small-chested folks or people who prefer a very low-support look. They’re perfect for athleisure outfits, and some have enough coverage to be outerwear. Typically, these come in small-medium-large sizes, rather than cup-and-band measurements, which makes sense since they don’t have cups, per se. Bralettes aren’t to be confused with wire-free bras or unpadded bras— those come in all shapes, sizes, and support levels.

Minimizers hold everything close to the body and minimize bounce, kind of like a sports bra. Some of them have wires, some don’t.

Minimizers hold everything close to the body and minimize bounce, kind of like a sports bra. Some of them have wires, some don’t.

Minimizers are the last bra we’re going to cover. The name gives it away: they minimize. They’re similar to compression-style sports bras and can tamp down a larger bustline by about a half an inch. They’re not the same as chest binders, which are more constricting. Minimizers are almost always full-coverage affairs, but they come in wireless and underwire versions, depending on your preference.

Does this help clear some things up? Check out your lingerie drawer to see what kind of pieces you have, and what kind of things you’re missing. Next time you come in for a fitting, you can show off your amazing vocab words and we’ll be able to find you just the right thing.

Kirsten Schofield