One of the most common garments out there also happens to be one of the most mysterious. Commonly considered a product designed primarily for breast support, they’re rarely pictured as being used by women with small cup sizes.
But did you know bras are actually used by women with flat chests to back breakers and even by men? Yes, you heard right, even men wear bras (and not necessarily for the reasons you might think), and there are approximately 50 different types out there when just counting the women’s styles!
While it would take an entire book to properly de-mistify this amazingly versatile garment, we can at least give a fair selection of some of the most common types of bras.
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Types of Bras
1. Adhesive Bra
When wearing low-cut dress with bare sides, most bras would be highly visible. Not so with the adhesive bra. Usually comprising of two silicone pads with a naturally adhesive backing, these pads cover the nipple and add a minor amount of cup shape.
There’s a similar foam version available for those on a more limited budget. A third variant is made of cloth and resembles a strapless bra, only the sides are adhesive flaps instead of a connecting band. This last version is cheap and works well for backless dresses but requires side material to hide the adhesive straps.
2. Balconette Bra
A variation of the deni-bra, the balconette bra gets its name from the horizontal cut, which acts as a sort of balcony for your breasts to rest on. Made primarily for small to medium-sized breasts, these bras have underwire support and wide-set straps but provide very little support otherwise.
They’re ideal for dresses with a lower bustline. Be warned that the term is often associated with any form of low-cut bra that has underwire and wide straps, including shelf bras, so always check to make sure the cup height is what you want before purchasing one.
3. Bandeau Bra
You’ve likely seen or even used this kind of bra without knowing what it was called. It resembles an elastic tube top in design but has the same basic protective qualities of a sports bra. Visually, it’s a band that wraps around the chest and may be regular fabric or something more fancy.
There’s generally no form of breast support, so bandeau tops are generally only used by individuals with a smaller cup size. However, a few do include a bit of underwire or shaping to give them a (mostly) cosmetic similarity to normal bras. These bras are popularly worn under loose-fitting shirts.
4. Cami Bra
Allowing for a lower neckline, the cami bra is a piece of lingerie made from molded microfiber fabric that covers the entire breast area without being visible under even tight-fitting tops. The only support is an elastic band along the bottom.
The straps are naturally set wide to keep the neckline squared, and it lacks fitted cups. As they tend to be see-through, pads may be worn under the bra for modesty,
5. Compression Bra
Used mainly by women following various types of surgery (implants, reduction, reconstruction, etc.), compression bras can resemble sports bras and provide the right amount of pressure and support, while keeping breasts comfortable and secure.
When used for recovery, the compression helps support the chest, reduce bruising, and help prevent infection, lymphedema, or shifting of breast implants. Many models are also able to accommodate drainage tubes.
In addition, some men who are suffering from gynecomastia (development or growth of the breasts) may use a compression bra to create a flatter chest profile.
6. Contour, Molded, and T-Shirt Bras
While often confused, these are actually a family of bra sub-types. A molded bra begins with fabric that contains synthetic fibers. This material is stretched over a heated breast-shaped form. A second mold piece then sandwiches the fabric, molding it into the breast shape.
These pre-molded cups are then sewn into a bra frame to create a bra which naturally contours to the (basic) shape of your breasts. Most molded bras are seamless, although some add in seams to improve support.
Contour bras are a molded bra which has a thin layer of foam added to cover the nipples and add some modesty. As with molded bras, they may be seamed or seamless. Seamless contour bras are sometimes referred to as T-shirt bras.
7. Convertible Bra
A favorite of fashionistas everywhere, the convertible bra can be converted (hence the name) to three different styles. Some may be worn strapless, but all convertibles (also called multiways) have removable straps.
These straps may be worn over the shoulders, crossed over the back, looped around the neck, or other variations (such as a single strap over the opposite shoulder).
A variation of the convertible bra is designed for low-cut backs. These either include hooks on the bottom of the bra so you can run a bra strap around the stomach to pull the back of the bra down, or have a special converter strap that connects the ends of the bra and crosses around the stomach to create an X-shaped connection in the back.
8. Demi Bra
The demi (or demi-cup) bra is an entire class of bra with specific shape characteristics. These bras have wide-set straps and are low-cut, often stopping just above the nipples and tend to plunge in the middle.
Some sub-types expose the nipple or show less cleavage, but as a general rule, demis are great for low-cut or V-neck outfits, as they show plenty of cleavage while still providing support.
9. Full-Cup Bra
As the name implies, these bras have far more cup coverage than a normal bra and usually have wider straps. Popular with women who are highly endowed, the full-cup is more likely to encase the entire breast when other bras fail.
They also tend to provide more support than other bras. The only downside is that they’re incompatible with lower or wider necklines due to the amount of coverage.
10. Longline Bra
It can be argued this type of bra is actually a type of corset, as it extends from a demi cup down to just above the navel. The material tends to be boned or use ridges to hold tight against the body in the same manner as a regular corset. Longlines are very popular with evening or wedding gowns as they’re both slimming and supportive.
Some variations of the longline bra have a shorter lower portion that may be made of lace or a similar material for a sexier look without losing the shape and support. These variations usually have straps but still perform the same basic function.
11. Mastectomy Bra
This type of bra is popular both in breast cancer survivors and the transsexual community. It resembles a regular full-cup bra, except it contains a pocket inside each cup. Prosthetics or breast forms may be inserted into the pockets to provide the appearance of having both breasts. Some models are also designed to aid in recovery, much like compression bras.
Many transgenders, especially male-to-female transsexuals, prefer these bras as hormone treatments can take years before providing noticeable breast development. As the concept is simple but a fitted mastectomy bra can be incredibly expensive, many individuals sew pockets onto regular full bras as a cheaper alternative.
It’s advised that you get professionally fitted and try on some actual mastectomy bras before attempting to create one for the best appearance and comfort level.
12. Maternity Bra
During pregnancy, the breasts undergo additional development. For first time pregnancies, this results in a metamorphosis in the breast tissue. But regardless of how many pregnancies you’ve been through, it’s a given that your breasts will be tender and possibly swollen.
Maternity bras have soft, flexible cups which can grow with you. The straps tend to be wider, softer, and padded to help with the additional weight. These bras also have stronger underwire support.
For additional comfort, aim for breathable cotton and avoid seams too close to the nipples, which are extra-tender and sensitive to rubbing.
13. Minimizer Bra
Designed for medium to large cup sizes, these full-cup bras have underwire support and are made of an elastic material that compresses the breasts and can make them appear up to two sizes smaller.
They don’t work well with low-cut outfits, but wearing the same size as your normal bra will allow you to fit into tighter tops.
14. Nursing Bra
Similar in design to a maternity bra, the nursing bra has a fabric backing to the cups with reinforced nipple slits. The padded exterior of the cup unclips at the straps and may be folded down to expose the nipple for nursing purposes.
The slit is generally large enough to accommodate breast pumps for hands-free pumping. These bras have very sturdy underwire support and are very soft to create the best support and the least discomfort for your swollen and tender breasts.
15. Padded Bra
These bras come in a variety of shapes and sizes but are defined by the presence of padding under the breast. This padding is often removable and come in a variety of materials that can not only look but feel like part of your breast tissue.
They both lift and shape the breasts for a better appearance. Some padded bras use padding for the entire cup while others only have padding under the breast, allowing you to create different effects based on the type you choose.
16. Plunge Bra
For those times when a regular demi bra isn’t revealing enough, the plunge bra is a perfect solution. These bras tend to have wider-set straps and steep cup angles with the connection between cups laying lower than on most bras.
They have underwire support and many are padded, providing not only maximum cleavage but fuller-appearing breasts.
17. Push-Up Bra
When you need the maximum amount of emphasis on your cleavage, the push-up bra is your best friend. These bras are usually plunge-style and have padding that is often removable. Gel padding gives the look and feel of natural breast tissue, adding to the effect.
When wearing one of these bras, the cups push the breasts up and inward, making them appear larger and fuller. As a result, they’re most popular with women who have smaller cup sizes.
18. Shelf Bra
Sometimes referred to as a cupless, platform, or quarter-cup bra, this version of a demi bra tends to fit strictly in the realm of lingerie. The straps wrap around the outer sides of the breast, and there is underwire support. However, these bras have little or no actual cup.
The cupless give the same visual effect as some higher-cut corsets (which technically have a cupless bra built in), while the quarter-cup bras act as a literal shelf, holding the breast up to increase visual mass.
19. Sports Bra
This type of bra is designed to provide support during physical activity. Compression sports bras are widely used and tend to help reduce sweating while keeping the pectoral muscles and breast tissue from bouncing around too much.
Meanwhile, encapsulation sports bras are designed with women in mind and have molded cups that give them an appearance closer to traditional bras. Activities such as yoga tend to employ sports bras designed more for comfort than retention and have less breathability.
While sports bras may have standard wide straps, the most popular form is the racerback, which has the straps meet at the back of the neckline and descend in a thicker piece of material that leaves the shoulderblades exposed. Racerbacks also come in a variation where the two straps meet at the back of the neckline and then return to the same orientation as a normal bra.
20. Training Bra
Also referred to as a trainer bra, these are specially designed for girls who are just beginning to develop breasts. The material provides support without being constrictive so the breast tissue may continue to develop. They come in a variety of shapes and are usually a softer material such as cotton or polyester to reduce abrasion on sensitive nipples.
21. U Plunge Bra
Often referred to as a deep plunge, these bras continue well below the breast line and have an extremely deep U-shaped cut between the breasts. Outer boning and underwires provide improved support for these demi-cups.
U plunge bras are meant for extremely deep plunge tops and may require fashion tape to prevent accidents. The only bra that allows a deeper cut is the adhesive bra.