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The Ultimate Guide to Bras

Linda has written content for national fashion and beauty websites. She enjoys sharing style trends and tips with her readers.

Shopping for a bra will make your heady dizzy!

Shopping for a bra will make your heady dizzy!

When you think about it bras are strange inventions. Some would argue that bras pressure women into unreasonable cultural and beauty norms. On the other side of the coin many women love the feminine aspect of these undergarments. As female pubescents, some of us couldn't wait to run out and buy our first girlie bra and others completely dreaded the thought. Regardless, it's always a good idea to wear a bra with certain clothes and for sports and exercise. They protect, conceal and support to create a sense of comfort and confidence.

A Glance Back

The modern brassiere, originally known as a "soutien-gorge", was a French invention that was introduced in the early 1900s. It was born out of a desire to move away from the confining, rigid corsets of the day. These painful foundations were used to shape the torso and bust keeping everything in place made with coarse fabrics and whalebones.

In 1914, Mary Phelps Jacobs was awarded the first U.S. patent for the brassiere, which was a simple design she created from handkerchiefs and ribbon. Homemade bras were common prior to the patent and subsequent mass production.

During the 1920s, flat chests and narrow hips were in vogue. Gone was the need for the curvy corset and in its place was a lightweight cotton bra, which in most cases was no more than a bodice or camisole that had virtually no support. Large busted women desperately seeking the coveted boyish figure of the flapper decade tightly bound their breasts against their bodies in order to fit into fashionable sheath dresses.

In the 1930s designers re-embraced the feminine form. Flowing gowns of silks and satins graced the bodies of Hollywood’s leading ladies leaving little to the imagination. The bosom was again in style. This decade saw the introduction of bras with fitted cups made from newly invented synthetic fabrics. These bras featured little in the way of ornamentation and were designed to appear invisible under clinging fabrics.

The Roaring Twenties ushered in freedom from painful corsets and such.

The Roaring Twenties ushered in freedom from painful corsets and such.

Types of Bras

There are almost as many types of bras as there are women who wear them. Here are descriptions of the seven most popular styles:

1. Seamless Bra

They're your best bet to wear under clingy fabrics. Just as the name implies, seamless bras have no stitched seams over the cup providing for a smooth appearance under knit fabrics. In many cases, seamless bras are marketed as T-shirt bras.

2. Strapless Bra

You definitely need at least one for the summer. They work with barely there fashions and are perfect for off the shoulder or strapless evening dresses. Many strapless bras have incorporated strips of silicone on the inside lining against the skin to keep the bra in place for a confident fit.

3. Sports Bra

Looking for extra support for your workout? An athletic bra will maintain order while you run, walk, jump and cycle your way to a toned body. These body-hugging, stretchy bras reduce bounce and feature breathable fabrics that wick moisture away from your body. You can find a sports bra fashioned like basic shelf bras, however manufacturers now make active bras that separate and lift for a more flattering appearance especially for women with larger bust measurements. Say farewell to the uniboob.

4. Convertible Bra

Why buy a bra for every outfit when you can own one that adapts to many different tops and dresses. Convertible bras allow you to detach and reconfigure the straps to accommodate a variety of back, neck and armhole styles. It’s like owning a bra wardrobe in one.

5. Push-Up Bra

Need a lift and more fullness? Try a push-up bra. They are designed to lift and push the breasts together to enhance your cleavage and give the illusion of a larger cup size. Many push-up brands like Wonderbra include foam or gel inserts that add to the wow factor.

6. Minimizer Bra

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They have quite the opposite effect of the push-up variety. Large-busted women looking to downplay their assets choose these bras that gently compress and redistribute the breasts to give the illusion of a smaller cup size. In some cases, minimizer bras can reduce your bust measurement by 1 1/2 inches.

7. Demi Bra

This will give you an ultra feminine look while still providing moderate support for most bust sizes. They can be worn with low cut or square necklines. The delicate demi bra is cut lower than the standard full bra. Women looking for a bra to tame the jiggles may want to avoid this style of bra.

Padded or molded bras add support and enhance cup size.

Padded or molded bras add support and enhance cup size.

How to Get the Fit

As you know, quality bras can be a serious financial investment so proper bra fitting is critical. If your bra is too big you will notice gaps within the cups and loose around your torso totally negating the support your bra is supposed to provide. Too small and you will experience overflow of tissue and skin in the front and back, tight straps and general discomfort from an overly tight fit. Here's our quick tutorial on how to measure for a bra:

  1. Wear your most comfortable, non padded bra when measuring for bra size. Use a cloth measuring tape to calculate your band size.
  2. Measure around your torso right under your bust where your bra band would fit. If this measurement is an even number use it as your band size. Add 1-inch to an odd number to establish your band size. Common band sizes are 32, 34, 36 and 38.
  3. Measure slightly loose around the fullest part of your bust. Round to the nearest whole number.
  4. Take that number and subtract it from the first measurement or band size. This number will indicate your cup size. If the difference is 1-inch your cup size is an A, 2 inches is a B cup and 3 inches is a C cup, 4 inches is a D cup, etc.
Measure around the fullest part of your bust for an accurate size.

Measure around the fullest part of your bust for an accurate size.

How Many Bras Are Enough?

There’s only so much room in your lingerie drawer so knowing “when to say when” is probably sound advice as far as bra buying is concerned. Most industry experts suggest owning four comfortable, everyday bras. You can choose your favorite styles in multiple colors. Purchase two white, one black and at least one nude.

It is always a good idea to have a couple of specialty bras on hand. We recommend a convertible and a strapless for occasions when your everyday bras just won’t do. Another staple is the sexy or fancy bra. A delicate lace demi with floral or pearl embellishments will definitely get the attention of your special someone.

These types of bras my not be very supportive but they are very sexy.

These types of bras my not be very supportive but they are very sexy.

Fun Bra Facts

  • A jewel-laden bra for Victoria's Secret was a showpiece of the lingerie maker’s runway show. It was worth a reported $2 million featuring over 1500 carats of white diamonds, blue topaz and blue sapphires in a tasteful setting of 18-carat white gold.
  • According to bra maker Wacoal America, 36DD was on track to replace 36D as the most purchased bra size in 2009. Internet bra retailer Bare Necessities also noticed an increase of DD sales.
  • The French word “brassiere” has been around for several hundred years. It was used to describe a combat arm shield. It later became known as a military breastplate and then as a corset for women. A U.S. underwear company adopted the word brassiere early in the 20th century and the word quickly became part of our vernacular. It was shortened to the slang word “bra” in the 1930s.
  • Wash you bras separately or with other delicates. Place it in a mesh bag to prevent tangles. Never throw it in the dryer or it will lose eleasticity, shrink and the underwire will bend and pop out.
  • If you think you're getting all of the support from your bra straps then think again. That means you're wearing the wrong size and putting too much strain on your shoulders. Most of the support comes from the band.
  • Hey, guess what? bras don't last forever. Even though they're expensive it doesn't make any sense to wear the same ones for years on end. They're not like a comfortable, worn pair of blue jeans. Bras lose their support after time and should be tossed after a year.
  • Don't always rely on your previous bra size when buying a new one. Your bra size will change. Our bodies are complex organisms. The size can change if you're ovulating, starting to exercise, drinking too much caffeine, dieting or simply getting older. Your band and cup size will change several times as you mature.

Test Your Bra Knowledge!

Take this True or False quiz to find out how much you learned from this informational article. Bras may never be a Trivial Pursuit category but you will surely impress the heck out of your friends at the next cocktail party.


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. The French term for the bra is "brassiere".
    • True
    • False
  2. The first U.S. bra patent was awarded in 1914.
    • True
    • False
  3. Fitted bra cups made their debut in the 1940s.
    • True
    • False
  4. Push-up bras visually reduce a womens bust size.
    • True
    • False
  5. You should use a ruler to measure for bra size.
    • True
    • False
  6. It is a good idea to have at least four comfortable everyday bras.
    • True
    • False
  7. The latest fantasy bra by Victoria's Secret is worth $2 million.
    • True
    • False
  8. Industry reports indicate womens cup sizes are getting smaller.
    • True
    • False
  9. Today, the French word "brassiere" can refer to a babys undershirt.
    • True
    • False
  10. In the U.S., the word "brassiere" was shortened to "bra" in the 1950s.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. False
  2. True
  3. False
  4. False
  5. False
  6. True
  7. True
  8. False
  9. True
  10. False

© 2010 Linda Chechar

Start a Conversation!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on July 07, 2012:

Vickie, thanks for visiting! Yes, padded bras seem to be taking over. Glad you enjoyed this Hub!

vickiesec on July 06, 2012:

Thanks for the great hub. I have noticed that there are more and more super padded bras, which I love! It's cheaper and easier than surgery!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on January 20, 2011:

Ha! Thanks, holyjeans30. Yeah, there are so many varieties and styles to choose from it can make for a confusing choice. Sometimes simpler is better!

Amy D. from Mostly in My Own Little World on January 19, 2011:

Wow, makes me more glad to be so flat chested and very easy to cover, and not much to support lol. Great Hub!

Klena from England on January 01, 2011:

My pleasure, Lindacee! It really does make such a difference, I couldn't believe it after the fitting! You should treat yourself and revamp the brarobe :)

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on January 01, 2011:

Klena, thanks checking out this Hub! A good fitting bra makes a world of difference, doesn't it? Glad the information was helpful. I wear a larger size bra as well and have lost weight, so I am probably due for a resizing myself.

Klena from England on January 01, 2011:

Wonderful hub! As a well-endowed lady, I've actually only been properly fitted for a bra in the last 3 months. (Although there was a lot of change prior with weight fluctuations!!) A fantastic hub filled with excellent information. Thank you Lindacee!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on December 09, 2010:

Thanks genwriter! I appreciate the rating and the positive feedback. Cheers!

genwriter from Singapore on December 08, 2010:

Great hub for ladies! Keep up the good work Linda =)

Rated this hub and happy following you. :)

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on December 02, 2010:

djw, thanks for the comment. Glad I could help -- your wife should be quite pleased with her gifts! FYI, if you have a difficult time finding just the right thing, opt for a gift card from a lingerie retailer, then you can tag along when she picks out her present!

djw on December 02, 2010:

Thanks...I know what I'm getting my wife for her holiday present. Great information! I hope the lingerie salespeople are as helpful as your article.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on December 02, 2010:

Glad you like the hub dotty1! I think whether women are over or under endowed, they are never satisfied with their bust measurements! I shudder to think of the money I've spent over the years on almost every type of bra imaginable! You would think someone would have invented a super cup size increasing bra -- not everyone can afford breast enhancement surgery!

dotty1 from In my world on December 02, 2010:

Hello ... really enjoyed this hub as a self confessed boob obsessed flat chest hahaha. I think I may of tried every one of those at least once but am still looking for the magic (increase me 3 cup sizes) bra ....I want some !!! arghhh

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