a pile of different kinds of bras

The Every-Woman’s Encyclopedia of Bra Styles

Bras as we know them today were officially introduced to the world in 1914 by Mary Phelps Jacobs, who received a patent for a strapped garment that was designed to support breasts. Since then, we have seen some ridiculous bra styles, from Madonna’s (in)famous Jean Paul Gaultier cone-shaped bra to the annual Victoria’s Secret Fantasy Bras which have retailed at $1,000,000+ USD.


For us everyday women, we only want our bras to feel like a million bucks. But how do we begin to navigate the world of bras when there are so many bra styles? It seems like every season, lingerie brands are inventing new bra styles that we’ve never heard of before (Cage bra? Seriously?). Here, we break down all the vocab that brands are using to talk about bras: what they look like, when you should wear them, and why they are useful. Most bras are a mix of different styles, but here are the basics.

Support System: Everyday Bra Styles that Get the Job Done

The following bras are the basic bra styles that vary according to their basic construction.

1. Padded Bra

Illustration of a padded bra

Why is it special?

Padded bras are bras with a padded lining that enhance the shape and size of breasts. They give you the appearance of a fuller bust, and they can disguise any unevenness in your breasts.

When do I wear it?

Many women wear padded bras every day because they offer support while still being comfortable.

Is it right for me?

If you are part of the #ittybittytittycommittee and want an extra size boost without being too obvious, a padded bra is a good choice.

2. Convertible Bra

Illustration of three convertible bras with convertible straps

Why is it special?

Convertible bras can come in all styles, structures, and supports, but they are special because the straps can be restyled and even removed.

When do I wear it?

Convertible bras are the ultimate Swiss Army Knife for all types of outfits. Are you wearing a racerback top? Convertible bra straps can connect at the back. Do you have a one-shoulder dress? The convertible bra can work with that. Do you need a strapless bra? A convertible bra has you covered.

Is it right for me?

If you have a diverse wardrobe but don’t want to shell out a small fortune on lingerie to work with your different styles of tops, a convertible bra is your answer.

3. Minimizer Bra

Illustration of a minimizer bra

Why is it special?

Minimizer bras are the opposite of padded bras: they are designed to make your breasts appear smaller. They do not actually shrink your breast size (sorry) but they are designed to minimize their size, by either lifting and distributing your breast tissue across your chest, or by doing a good old-fashioned Spanx-style squish.

When do I wear it?

Minimizer bras are good everyday, every occasion bras if you wish to reduce the perceived size of your breasts. They look especially great under clothing with streamlined silhouettes, such as bodycon dresses or turtleneck tops.

Is it right for me?

If you have a larger chest and wish to appear smaller, we recommend trying a minimizer bra. When buying a minimizer bra, buy one in your normal size, as a smaller size will simply make your breasts look misshapen.

4. Underwire Bra

Illustration of an underwire bra

Why is it special?

Underwire bras come in a wide array of styles, but they can be identified by a hard strip of U-shaped or J-shaped wire sewn into the cup of the bra.

When do I wear it?

Because of the rigid structure, underwire bras offer good support and lift to all breast shapes and sizes. Many women use them as everyday bras.

Is it right for me?

A good underwire bra will help you conquer the world, but an ill-fitting one will send you spiraling. We’ll help you find one that minimizes poking – take our Fit Quiz now!

5. Full Coverage Bra

Illustration of a full coverage bra

Why is it special?

Full coverage bras are straightforward – they offer greater stability due to longer wires and more fabric on all sides. They are designed to be comfortable and subtle.

When do I wear it?

Because of their support, full coverage bras are great everyday bras if you have a larger chest. They can be worn under anything, because they often come in neutral colors and smooth, body-hugging fabrics.

Is it right for me?

If you have a bigger bust or generally require more support, you will find full coverage bras to be more comfortable and supportive than their plunge or balconette counterparts. 

6. Demi Bra

Why is it special?

Demi bras once again reference French: “demi” = “half”. Compared with full-coverage bras, they are designed to cover less (ie: half) of your bust.

When do I wear it?

Demi bras are versatile and can be worn under anything: t-shirts, button downs, or summer dresses. They offer good coverage and support while still being very natural-looking.

Is it right for me?

Demi bras work for small- and large-chested ladies. They can be low-cut, so if your breasts are fuller on top, we recommend a full coverage bra instead.

Our Favorite Br-ahhhhh: Bras Designed for Comfort

This group of bra styles are the bras that we could live in (and do!). They are the ones you reach for on your day off, the ones that you wear on planes, the ones that don’t poke you or shift around, the ones that make you forget they are even there.

7. T-Shirt Bra

Illustration of a t-shirt bra

Why is it special?

T-shirt bras are lightly padded and made of soft, smooth fabrics. The cup is lightly shaped to create a very natural looking bust.

When do I wear it?

T-shirt bras are perfect for – you guessed it – t-shirts (and every other type of top). They are middle ground between very structured bras and no bra: you will be comfortable, but still lightly lifted.

Is it right for me?

These bras are great for all breast shapes and sizes, but they work best for women who do not need a lot of chest support.

8. Bralette

Why is it special?

Bralettes do not have defined cups, and are made without wire or molded supports. Bralettes can have padding or padded inserts, but typically are very light coverage. They come in a variety of styles: strapless, lace, embellished, etc.

When do I wear it?

Bralettes can be worn underneath tops or can be worn as a top on their own. They are great for warm weather, festivals, and going to the beach.

Is it right for me?

Bralettes offer very little support, so smaller-chested ladies will be most comfortable in them.

9. Sports Bra

Illustration of a sports bra

Why is it special?

At its most basic definition, sports bras are designed to restrict the movement of your breasts during physical activity. They have straps and are commonly made of stretch performance fabrics.

When do I wear it?

Sports bras are designed for exercising, but the recent athleisure trend has made sports bras acceptable for all activities of daily life. They can be worn under any garment, but are typically worn under tank tops or t-shirts for working out.

Is it right for me?

Yes, the sports bra is adored by ladies of all breast shapes and sizes. If you have a large chest, we recommend high impact sports bras, which offer the most support and movement restriction.

10. Unlined Bra

Illustration of an unlined bra

Why is it special?

Unlined bras do not have padding or wires – they are simply one piece of fabric.

When do I wear it?

They can be worn under t-shirts and loungewear for ultimate comfort. The absence of padding and structure means they are not bulky underneath clothing.

Is it right for me?

Unlined bras show the natural breast shape and can show nipples, which is not for everyone, but they are very comfortable.

11. Longline Bra

Illustration of a longline bra

Why is it special?

Longline bras are a mix between crop tops and bras. They cover more of the body than typical bras, sometimes even extending down to the hips for body-shaping.

When do I wear it?

Longline bras can be worn on their own, or underneath form-fitting clothing, or as everyday bras. They come in a large variety of styles.

Is it right for me?

Longline bras offer high coverage and support. If you have a large chest, you may be interested in longline bras.

Hidden Secrets: Discreet Bra Styles for Indiscreet Outfits

Raise your hand if you have envisioned the perfect outfit for a date, wedding, or GNO, only to find that once you got dressed, your bra peeked out of your clothes. We’ve all been there. The following bra styles are our secret sidekicks and we thank them for their humble service in helping us look great.

12. Strapless Bra

Illustration of a strapless bra

Why is it special?

Strapless bras are, surprise!, strapless. They are often half-cups with underwires and silicone lining to keep the bra from slipping down.

When do I wear it?

Strapless bras are designed to be worn under strapless dresses or shirts. They can also be worn with one-shoulder, wide-shoulder, or off-the-shoulder tops.

Is it right for me?

Strapless bras exist for all breast shapes and sizes, but a perfect fit is tricky to find. Take our fit quiz to learn more about how to find the right one for you.

13. Stick-On (Backless) Bra

Illustration of a stick-on, backless bra

Why is it special?

A stick-on bra is adhesive and sometimes resembles chicken cutlets. Some are made of fabric, some are made of silicone, and some come in the form of two sticky circles to cover your nipples.

When do I wear it?

Stick-on bras are perfect for backless and strapless garments.

Is it right for me?

Stick-on bras come in a variety of styles that fit all body types. The adhesive can be uncomfortable for some, so we recommend a test-wear before you commit to wearing one for an event.

14. Plunge Bra

Illustration of a plunge bra

Why is it special?

Plunge bras have two cups that connect at a very low center.

When do I wear it?

Plunge bras are designed to be worn under deep V-necks or low-cut tops and dresses, but they can be worn under anything. They offer medium support and are sold in an assortment of styles.

Is it right for me?

If your breasts are touching or very close, you may find plunge bras less likely to poke you in between your breasts. Also, the deep plunge of the bra creates great cleavage, if you’re in the mood for showing off!

15. Halter Bra

Illustration of a halter bra

Why is it special?

A halter bra has straps that connect at the base of your neck.

When do I wear it?

Halter bras work well underneath garments with halter necklines, as well as regular tops and t-shirts.

Is it right for me?

While a halter top offers more support than a bandeau or a strapless bra, they can be straining on your neck if you have larger breasts. We do not recommend wearing them as everyday bras.

16. Racerback Bra

Why is it special?

Racerback bras have straps that meet in a Y- or V-shape on your back. They can come in bralette styles, or more traditional bra shapes.

When do I wear it?

Racerback bras can be worn under tank tops or sleeveless shirts, and under regular tops as well. The placement of the straps distributes the weight of your breasts throughout your core, so they can be more comfortable and supportive than a strapless bra.

Is it right for me?

We recommend racerback bras to women of all breast sizes, but women with larger breasts will find them especially comfortable, because of their weight distributing qualities and supportive structure.

Showing Off: Bra Styles for Enhancement

If you’ve got it (and you do), flaunt it! The following bra styles will define, shape, boost, and highlight your twins. If you have grapes, melons, or something in between, and want to show them off, these are the bras for you!

17. Bandeau Bra

Illustration of a bandeau bra

Why is it special?

A bandeau bra is a tube of fabric that you pull on. It doesn’t have clasps or straps. They can be sold padded or unpadded.

When do I wear it?

Bandeaus are worn under strapless or sleeveless tops and dresses, or they can also be worn on their own.

Is it right for me?

Bandeaus have very little support, so they are most comfortable for small-chested ladies.

18. Push-Up Bra

Illustration of a push-up bra

Why is it special?

Push-up bras feature angled and padded cups that push and lift your breasts, giving you maximum cleavage and good support.

When do I wear it?

Some women wear push-up bras under all of their clothes, so they always look full and lifted. If you are wearing low-cut and form-fitting clothing, a push-up bra will make your girls look great while still offering support.

Is it right for me?

Push-up bras come in a variety of “boosts” – from minimal padding to cups equipped with air pumps – so you will always be able to find one that offers the amount of lift that you want. They work for ladies of all breast shapes and sizes.

19. Cage Bra

Illustration of a cage bra

Why is it special?

Cage bras have elastic or fabric straps connecting around the cups to create a sexy stylistic element.

When do I wear it?

You can wear cage bras subtly underneath regular tops and dresses as a fashionable element, or as lingerie.

Is it right for me?

Cage bras come in many different styles so they work for all body types and shapes.

20. Embellished Bra

Illustration of an embellished bra

Why is it special?

Embellished bras are any style of bra that features details such as appliques, rhinestones, studs, or lace.

When do I wear it?

Embellished bras work great as lingerie. You can wear them under tank tops, backless tops, or strapless tops – anything that shows them off!

Is it right for me?

If you are a “my eyes are up here” type, embellished bras may not be the right bra for you.

21. Balconette/Half Cup Bra

Illustration of a balconette/half cup bra

Why is it special?

The word “balconette” is French for “little balcony” – how cute is that? It has wide-set straps and a half-cup to give a boost to your breasts.

When do I wear it?

Balconette bras are a perfect match for wide-neck or and low-cut tops, because they produce great-looking cleavage and sit low on the bust. They will make you feel super sexy!

Is it right for me?

Balconette/half-cup bra does not offer as much coverage and support as other bras, so if you are larger chested, you may be uncomfortable in this style. Women with wide shoulders will find this a good fit, as the straps are typically wider-set than other bras.

Ephemeral Bra Styles: We’re Going Through a Phase

These bra styles support us in defining moments of our lives: when we become women for the first time, when we enter motherhood, and when we are faced with the unimaginable. They are only worn for a relatively short period of time, but we are grateful for them because they help us in ways that other bras cannot.

22. Training Bra

Illustration of a training bra

Why is it special?

Training bras are lightly padded or lightly lined bras that come in smaller sizes than standard women’s bras. They resemble a sports bra or crop top, and often feature thin straps and an elastic bottom.

When do I wear it?

Training bras are designed to be used by girls going through puberty who are developing breasts. Training bras help you get used to how a bra feels.

Is it right for me?

If you have not worn bras yet and you think you would like to, a training bra is a perfect first bra. They are inexpensive, they come in fun colors, and they fit every body type.

23. Mastectomy Bra

Illustration of a mastectomy bra


Why is it special?

Mastectomy bras feature cup pockets that can be used to hold breast prostheses.

When do I wear it?

If you recently underwent a mastectomy or double-mastectomy, a mastectomy bra and inserts can be worn to give the appearance of two breasts. Some women who have not had mastectomies choose to wear these bras because they are ultra-comfortable and made for sensitive skin.

Is it right for me?

Mastectomy bras should only be worn when recommended by your physician.

24. Maternity/Nursing Bra

Illustration of a nursing bra

Why is it special?

Maternity bras are worn during and after pregnancy, when a woman’s breasts grow and begin producing milk. They are stretchy and very adjustable, and nursing bras have a clipped cup that can be opened so a mother can breastfeed.

When do I wear it?

Pregnant women typically begin wearing maternity bras during the first trimester of pregnancy, and continue to wear nursing bras until their child stops breastfeeding.

Is it right for me?

While they are usually not the sexiest or most fashionable bras, maternity and nursing bras offer utility value. We recommend trying them out if you are pregnant or a new mom.

Head over to our Fit Quiz to learn more about your own breast shapes and identify which bra styles are best for you.

To know if your bra fits you correctly, check out The Ultimate Bra-Fitting Guide.

What are your go-to bra styles? Let us know in the comments!



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