Reader Emma e-mailed me this question:
I invested a significant chunk of money on several bras, and suddenly realized that my shirts look kind of different depending on what bra I am wearing. (Maybe this is obvious; it was quite a revelation to me!) To get to my question: do you have advice on what style of bra to wear with different types of shirts/sweaters/dresses? I’m thinking of the differences between a molded cup that really separates and smooths, versus non-molded cups that are supportive but don’t have a shape on their own and therefore have a slightly more ‘natural’ look, versus a no-underwire style that creates less separation. Of course there are many styles of bra that women could be working with, I just list these examples to try and make my question more understandable.
Bras are complex beasties and I would never claim to be an expert, so I coerced an actual expert into helping me out. Claire Dumican is the founder of Butterfly Collection, an online boutique specializing in DD-K cup bras for women in Canada and the US. Her approach to bra fitting is to empower busty women with knowledge about bras and breasts so that they can feel more comfortable and confident. Claire took a peek at Emma’s request and said, “My approach to this kind of thing is helping women work out what’s important to them and then how to translate that into feature of a bra. So for example, I can write a piece for you that explains why bras look different under the same garment and how that can work to your advantage and how to match your wardrobe to your bras based on your lifestyle and preferences. This is a subtle difference but one that I think is important.”
And I couldn’t agree more.
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September is a key fashion month for magazines and you’ll see lots of articles about must-have shoes, blazers, scarves and even bras. More so than any other region, North America has a very prescribed view of which bra is “appropriate” to wear under certain garments. I’d like you to set aside the idea that certain bras work with certain clothes and consider whether your bra and wardrobe are working for your life.
Why Different Bras Look Different Under the Same Top
First of all though here’s a quick guide to how the design of a bra changes your look under clothes. It’s easy to say that a t-shirt bra works well under a t-shirt (the clue is in the name) but whether a t-shirt bra works well for every woman is seldom discussed. To help you figure out which bra you should wear with a particular outfit here’s a quick guide to bra features and how they change your shape under clothes:
Seamless bras with give you a smooth look, however, they can spread out your bust so they’re great under tops with no front fastening but can be problematic under button-front shirts. If you have a narrow torso and want a smooth bra, look for designs that have a side sling inside – this is a piece of fabric that will push your boobs forward rather than out to the sides. If you have large breasts then smooth cup bras tend to be quite tall and that’s because they need the surface area to stop bounce. If you want less coverage you may need to switch to a plunge style or seamed bra.
Bras with horizontal seams (the seam starts in the middle outside edge of the bra) are good for women with wide breasts and for women who want less projection under their clothing. Look for styles that have flat fabrics (like the flat lace on Melody above) as this will give you a smoother look but with more lift and stability than a seamless bra.
Bras with diagonal seams (the seam starts where the strap meets the cup) are ideal for narrowing your bust under clothing which can lessen any pulling at the front of your clothes. This will give you more forward projection and make your top look less wide.
Seamed bras usually have a vertical seam that comes up from the bottom of the cup. This improves lift and makes your torso look longer so if you’re short waisted a bra with a vertical seam can lengthen your look.
Now that you’ve got an idea of how the design of a bra can change your look under clothes it’s time to work out which bras work best with your life.
Physically Demanding Days
If you work in a job that requires a lots of upper body movement like landscape gardening or emergency service, and especially if you’re a caretaker of children, your bra needs to give you a lot of support.
Seamed bras like Envy by Panache Superbra keep breasts in place during busy days.
Bra features to look for: Support comes from bra seams (a bra with seams will reduce bounce), medium to deep gores (the gore is the center bit between the cups) and full or teardrop shaped cups. For extremely physical jobs like nursing or logging I recommend wearing a sports bra to give you maximum support.
If you want a smooth cup then look for bras with full cups like this Basic Beauty by Wacoal
Bra features to avoid: Short gores (like plunge styles) work well with v-neck tops, however, they don’t give adequate support for busy days. If you want a smooth cup then look for full cup styles that will give you support.
Office Workers and Sedentary Days
If your day consists of a lot of desk work then you don’t necessarily need your bra to be high impact resistant, however, you need it to be secure and comfortable and versatile enough to work with lots of different necklines.
A bandless bra like Lucy by Cleo has a medium height gore that works well with lots of necklines
Bra features to look for: Balconette style cups or styles with a medium height gore. Look for bandless bras (styles that don’t have an extra strip of fabric below the wires) because they will be more comfortable when you have to sit for long periods.
Bra features to avoid: You can wear most styles for sedentary days but you might find that bras with deep bands tend to fold over or curl up as you sit.
Matching your bra to your life will ensure you have control over your breasts which boosts your confidence no matter what you wear over the top. If you have trouble finding bust-friendly clothing then check out my review of bust-friendly designers.