Bra types explained

Most people think that a bra is just a bra, but once you know the different types you can choose the right one for your shape, outfit and activity.

Be sure you are wearing the correct size to give yourself the best look, but remember you might be a slightly different size in each make and style, so it’s always advisable to try before you buy and get professional help if needed.


Underwired bras come in many shapes and sizes, but they all have in common a wire under each cup to support and lift the bust. Underwire doesn’t necessarily give you an exaggerated bust or cleavage, but it will gently raise your boobs and is a natural boost for anyone who feels their breasts have dropped with time. When an underwire bra fits properly, you should not be able to feel the boning, so most women find them just as comfortable as soft or non-wired bras.

Soft or non-wire

Without underwire, soft bras rely on the structure of the cups to provide support and lift, but to be really effective for larger ladies they can resemble scaffolding and remind you of something your nan would wear. While many women find that they are not as supportive as the underwired version, others prefer the comfort and more natural feel of soft cup bras.

Moulded, contour and spacer

If your breasts have lost some of their perkiness, then these pre-shaped cups could be just what you are looking for. The gently curved cups give saggy boobs a more appealing shape, mimicking the roundness of youth. They can be T-shirt bras if they are seam-free, or not if they have any lace detail. All types should hold their shape through washing and storing, so long as you pay attention to the care instructions.

Moulded cups use synthetic fabric stretched over a hot mould to define the shape, while contour cups use a thin layer of foam between two pieces of fabric to give a curved outline. Spacer foam bras are the latest development of the design and the innovative cup allows the skin to breathe, so you don’t get sweaty boobs.


T-shirt bras can be moulded or not, but the key point is that they are seam-free – they are designed to give a natural, smooth silhouette under a close-fitting top and therefore will be plain and free from lace or detail.


If you want the classic “hello boys” look, then the push-up bra is for you. Padding is strategically placed under the boob, as well as at the side, forcing that killer cleavage. The pads can be foam for a natural look or gel for a more pronounced lift, and are often removable to make the bra more versatile, giving you the option to boost or not. Air pads give you the ability to inflate or deflate the amount of lift according to your mood.


The plunge bra is also designed to maximise your cleavage, but does not artificially create one like a push-up bra. The front of the band is cut very low so that you can wear a daring v-neck to tease with your décolleté.


Whatever size you are, there is nothing more important than a supportive sports bra to look after your breast tissue during any vigorous activity. Made from breathable material, a good sports bra will draw sweat away from your body as well as minimising breast movement. Boobs generally follow a figure of eight as our body moves, but certain sports can emphasise more of the sideways or up-and-down action, so do your research to fully support your bust.


As 80% of a bra’s support comes from the band, it’s not surprising that it can work almost as well without straps. However, if you miss that vital lift provided by the straps, you could choose a moulded version to boost your bust, and you can even add inserts to get the look you desire.


A multi-way bra is like a strapless one, but with detachable straps – they might be changeable at the back only, or at both the front and back connections. By moving the start and end point of the straps, this versatile contraption can be easily converted from a regular bra to accommodate a halterneck, crossover at the back or front, one shoulder, side strap or strapless look.

Balcony or balconette

This bra is designed to be lower at the front and slightly mimics the cleavage of a corset, making it the perfect bra for a low-cut top. As the top half of the breast is exposed, this style is very sexy, but is less suitable for larger-breasted women, who may find they fall out when they lean forward.

Demi or half cup

Similar to the balconette, the half cup bra only covers part of the boob – confusingly, it’s more like three-quarters than half! Again, this style is suitable for low cut outfits and is usually better for those with firmer breasts, as they are required to hold themselves up to some extent, because there is less cup support.

Full cup

As the name suggests, the full cup bra covers all of the breast and is often favoured by larger ladies who prefer a bit more control. The extra support can contain big boobs and relieve back pain, but don’t dismiss them as frumpy as nowadays many designers make full cup bras both sexy and stylish.


Some fitted outfits look better on a flatter chest, so you can contain your puppies with a minimiser bra to expand your wardrobe choices. Like the full cup bra, you might imagine this to be a dowdy option, but modern minimisers are attractive and come in a variety of styles and colours to enable you to wear a wider selection of clothes.


You shouldn’t wear underwire during pregnancy as it can damage the milk ducts and potentially affect your ability to feed your baby, so maternity bras are usually supportive soft cup bras. Make sure you get regularly fitted as your boobs will increase in size and you don’t want to squeeze your swollen melons into your previous sized bra.

Nursing or drop cup

Like a maternity bra, the nursing bra will provide you with support without underwire, but it also offers easy access for you to breastfeed your baby. The top of the cup clips to the strap and each one can be quickly released to allow you to discretely feed your child.


This bra is simply two triangles held together by thin straps from each angle of the material. It is not very supportive as the back band is minimal, but can be very sexy as they are often sheer and lacy. This style is good for someone with small or firm breasts, or with self-supporting ones after a boob job.


Some women find they are not flexible enough to comfortably fasten and unfasten regular bras behind their back, so they opt for front-fastening bras instead. The back of the band is smooth and therefore gives a better line under tight-fitting clothes, and the bra clasp is neatly tucked between the boobs, where it is easy to reach.


If you have a racer-back top, you can either get a bra strap connector to temporarily hold your straps together between your shoulder blades, or you can invest in a racer-back bra where the straps are designed that way.


Derived from waist-constricting corsets, basques offer a flattering form for the whole torso through a semi-rigid bone structure and underwired cups. These super-sexy garments often have detachable suspenders if you want to recreate the whole look, but are usually saved for special occasions as they are often not the comfiest item of underwear.


This shorter version of a basque tends to resemble a strapless bra with an extra wide band and, as such, it offers more support than the normal option and is sexier than a regular bra.

Longline bra

A longline bra extends downwards over the rib cage for a little extra coverage. Each style varies – it can be as little as an inch or so under the cups, or as far down as your belly button. Depending on the look you are aiming to achieve, this can be particularly effective when teamed with a full suspender belt and briefs. Strapless longline bras are also quite eye-catching as they resemble structured crop tops. Seems almost a shame to hide them…

Frame bra

More for the bedroom than for everyday where (probably), frame bras have no cups and instead ‘frame’ your best assets in straps of leather, lace or satin. Futuristic and/or kinky, sometimes nipples are covered by tassels, stick-ons or a modicum of lace, and the frame straps can continue either up or down the body. Not for the fainthearted but no doubt a lot of fun!

All-in-one body

Looking a bit like a swimsuit, the all-in-one body fastens under the crotch for easy toilet-break access. It gives you the breast support of an underwired bra with the seamless slimming benefits of control pants, making it the perfect underwear to beat the battle of the bulge under a clingy dress.

Stick on bra

If your dress or top is completely backless, you can always opt for adhesive bra cups. These moulded stick-ons will give you shape as well as providing a little support and restraint.

Secret support tops

If you want more comfort, or like to feel supported while in bed, try a vest top with inbuilt secret support. Camisole-like in appearance, these vest tops offer all the support of a bra without the underwire or back band and can double as pyjama tops.

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