The backbone of a good wardrobe, bras get the most wear and the least love of anything in the delicates section. Many of us have been wearing the same two or three every day for years and, despite owning roughly 20 options (a conservative estimate), we can’t seem to get the majority into rotation. Maybe it’s that they’re the wrong size, don’t offer enough support, aren’t comfortable, or are simply incompatible with our breast type. (Yeah, look into it.)
To remedy that situation, we enlisted fit experts from Cosabella, Negative, andThirdLove to break down the 10 bra styles every woman should own. Open your drawers; are categories like T-shirt, plunge, balconette, push-up, contour, and more all represented? If not, your next stop should be the fitting room.
It seems only fitting to begin this breakdown with the T-shirt bra. It’s more than likely the style you wear most often — due in large part to its minimalist design and focus on comfort. “The T-shirt bra is really any style of bra that has a seamless, smooth look under a fitted shirt,” say Negative cofounders Marissa Vosper and Lauren Schwab. “Bells and whistles get in the way of the intent of the bra. Think smooth cotton, lycra, nylon, and silk — lace generally doesn’t cut it here.”
While other styles are more overtly sexy, this one’s purpose is invisibility. There’s a lot to be said for not having to “worry about lumps, bumps, and nip slips,” explains ThirdLove director of design Ra’el Cohen. “It’s perfect for everyday wear and works great for all breast shapes.” (Not sure what your breast type is? More on that here.)
A nude T-shirt bra is a must according to our experts. While they advise having a few great options on hand, a skin-tone one is best for an invisible look.
A T-shirt bra doesn’t have to be full-coverage; they come in demi cups as well.
A little lift and soft, sleek cups make this an ideal everyday piece. Its smooth design will disappear under anything — even that clingy tee.
2. The Balconette Bra
Balconettes are your sexier wear-everyday bra. “They give breasts a natural lift while also creating cleavage,” explains Cosabella‘s head designer, Elise Granjot. “Its wide-set straps create a more open neckline,” adds Cohen. This is a particularly appealing option if you’re wearing a lower-cut top.
“The term ‘balconette’ actually comes from ‘balcony’ for a reason,” explains Vosper. “The U-shaped underwire and straight cut across the cups and underband is meant to give the effect of placing your décolletage on a balcony, so to speak.” Schwab adds that, “While the open décolletage will play up your assets and highlight your clavicles in lower-cut tops, the style creates a great shape without overdoing it on the cleavage.”
The good news is that it’s also pretty universally flattering among breast types — especially for those with a wide breast separation. In addition to coverage and support, this silhouette offers a distinctly retro feel.
Balconettes are also known among the lingerie circuit as “shelf bras.”
3. The Bralette
“Bralettes are wireless bras with a bit more shape to them than a bandeau, and with a bit more sex appeal than a sports bra,” explains Schwab. “Depending on the brand, some can actually give you a great shape, though generally they work best with smaller cup sizes (cups A through C, to be safe) and augmented chests that don’t require as much support,” interjects Vosper. They’re an ideal choice for lazy weekend days spent lounging around your apartment or for quick errand runs when you can’t be bothered with an underwire.
Like longline bras, the style has also received a warm embrace from the fashion community in recent years, which means the selection available — from high-end designers likeAraks, Kiki de Montparnasse, and Fleur of England to more affordable ones like Free People, Only Hearts, and Eberjey — is vast and varied. Whatever your particular predilection, there’s undoubtedly a bralette to fit it.
4. The Plunge Bra
Plunge bras are distinct for the deep-V décolletage they create. Vosper and Schwab explain that, on this cut, “the center gore (the connector piece between the two cups) is intentionally slimmed or lowered to allow for low-cut tops and dresses.”
Granjot adds that they “create the appearance of increased cleavage because of their angled cups and narrow center gore.” She is also careful to note that plunge and push-up are not synonymous in the lingerie world. “Plunge bras differ from push-up bras in that they are not generally as heavily padded.”
This angled-cup bra is often made with underwire and is designed to stay hidden under tops and dresses with plunging — get it? — necklines. All we’re going to add now is: date night.
Plunge styles help to bring your boobs closer together and provide shape.
5. The Longline Bra
The longline bra had a major fashion moment in 2014 that’s still going strong. “It’s the crop-top of lingerie,” Granjot says. Unlike traditional bras with bands that are an inch or two wide, longline iterations extend farther down the torso for a retro feel. Depending on the fabric it’s made with (think: not sheer), this cut can be worn interchangeably with its ready-to-wear cousin.
The style can be strapless, underwire, soft cup, and everything in between. That said, it’s “definitely more of a design statement,” according to Vosper. “It can look great under a blazer with nothing else (if you’re feeling extra bold).” If you’re saving it for the bedroom, the throwback bra definitely won’t disappoint.
Lonely’s softcup, longline bra features hook-and-eye fastenings all down its back (for a sexy touch). It also has a velvet, elastic band under the bust for added support.
6. The Push-Up Bra
We can probably all agree that “perfect cleavage” is elusive, and subjective at best. But, that hasn’t stopped women from trying to master it for ages — and succeeding with the help of a great push-up bra. “The technologies put into it are incredibly varied; from silicon to water to fabric…to good, old-fashioned tissues back in the day,” expounds Vosper.
They’re typically underwire bras with “some form of extra padding inserted into the side and/or bottom of the cups to create a pushed up and in effect,” continues Schwab. Your resulting insta-cleavage can be modest, or an extra cup size and beyond, depending on the brand, style, and construction. The key, Cohen advises, is to “make sure you’re getting a smooth transition from cup to breast along the top edge so that you don’t develop the dreaded ‘double boob!’”
“Wear this style when you want to get your sexy on or just want a little boost. Push-ups work great for all breast shapes under an E (DD) cup,” advises Cohen.
7. The Contour Bra
Contour bras are often confused with push-up ones. While it is possible — and actually fairly common — for a bra to be both, there is a difference between the two types. The Negative duo describes the contour bra as the push-up’s “more refined and conservative sister.” It comes with molded cups that aren’t necessarily padded.
“Molded cups add a layer of padding (sometimes thinner, sometimes thicker), butwithout the intent of creating amped-up cleavage,” explains Vosper. Instead, Cohen adds, “these styles provide shaping and symmetry. The cups are molded to fit close to your body and enhance your natural shape.” If you already own one, it’s likely one of the workhorses in your bra wardrobe.
Contour bras are great choices for all shapes and sizes. If you have uneven breasts, this style is especially suited to your particular needs. Of course, Schwab makes the point that, while functional, they’re “not as exciting for date night.” We say: To each her own.
Contour bras with molded cups will gently shape you. If you have uneven breasts, be sure to fit your larger side.
8. The Bandeau Bra
For starters — because it needs to be said upfront — the majority of bandeaus are best for women with smaller busts (and who, maybe, dislike wearing traditional bras). Once you get above a C cup, wearing these pieces can prove tricky as they don’t offer much in the way of shape or support. Cohen acknowledges this tubular-shaped, strapless bra’s shortcomings, but adds that it works well “under strapless tops and tanks with narrow necklines or low armholes.” Think Coachella, friends.
Granjot concurs, saying “bandeau bras are pretty much a band of fabric.” Of course, “some do have built-in support in the form of side boning or cups, while others are just fabric, like lace or mesh.” All in all, it’s a solid summer or lazy-weekend staple to keep in your underwear drawer. It’s also a perfect solution for anyone who likes to keep her pair snug at night.
9. The Sports Bra
Whether or not working out is part of your day-to-day, you should have a sports bra (or 10) in your arsenal. Over the last few seasons, they’ve become a fun, athletic fashion piece, but they’re also necessary if you are hitting the elliptical — not just dressing like it.
As far as construction goes, “the racerback is really popular in activewear bras,” says Granjot. “The V-shaped straps increase support and reduce bounce during physical activity.” Vosper and Schwab claim that it will also “provide a bit more lift than a traditional strap placement — especially if your shoulders tend to slope and your straps tend to fall.” The racerback is designed to stay put, and that’s one less thing for you to worry about, whether you’re sweating it out or not.
Just remember to shop sports bras with the proper levels of support for your chosen workout. Ones with light support are best for yoga and walking, but go for maximum structure if you’re into running or high-impact sports.
10. The Strapless Bra
It’s like Vosper and Schwab have read our mind: “The queen bee of bra woes for women everywhere!” While every woman can benefit from at least one great strapless bra in her wardrobe, it may take some guesswork in the fitting room to find the right one.
Go for one with a “wider back and gripping elastic to help keep it in place,” advises Cohen. “Most options feature underwire, boning, and padding for the additional support since there are no straps to lift,” Granjot furthers. “Once you find one that fits you perfectly, make sure you buy it in both black and nude.” Remember, the goal of this undergarment is to not be seen.