best bralettes

The Best Bra Styles to Buy—At Every Age

  |   By Elisabeth Dale

Many lingerie articles focus on the number of or styles of bras you should own, to create a complete lingerie wardrobe. But materials also matter, as does breast shape. And fashion tastes make a difference. So the recommended best bra styles for one person may not be right for someone else.

And then there's the passage of time. My best bra styles 30 years ago aren't the ones I prefer at 60. So today I want to talk about which ones might suit you best, depending on your stage of life. (For this post, I'm leaving out nursing and post-mastectomy bras.)

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Here are nine of the most common bra styles on the market, along with a few reasons why you may—or may not—prefer wearing them.

The T-shirt/Contour Bra

best bra styles

Natori Rose Dream Custom Coverage Contour Bra
Fits Bands 32-38, Cups B-G
via Nordstrom

Less a style than the use of specific materials, the contour dominates the lingerie market. The foam cups are available in all sorts of styles, from plunge to strapless, and even wirefree. Molded, seamless cups give you a smooth look under tight, clingy clothing. Which is why it's a staple in most bra wardrobes. And while contour cups weren't available in my teens and early 20s, I would have worn them at that age. (To be honest, smooth boob coverage wasn't attractive in the 1970s. Back then going braless was trending, which I couldn't do either.)

best bra styles

Empreinte Melody Underwired Seamless Bra
Fits Bands 30-38, Cups D-G
via Figleaves

T-shirt bras were my go-to in my post-pregnancy years, though. They're the perfect bra style for hiding any saggy or less perky boobness. But starting in my 50s, they became uncomfortable. The extra padding feels more "matronly," partly due to my breasts getting bigger in menopause. There's one at the back of my lingerie drawer, but I can count on one hand the number of times I've worn it the past couple of years. But I still get that smooth, seamless look wearing a lighter-weight lace bra.

Full Cup Bras

Panache Clara Full Cup Bra

Panache Clara Full Cup Bra
Fits bands 30-40, Cups D-J
via HerRoom

The thing about full cup bras is that they often feel like too much coverage. You can't always wear them with v-neck or lower cut tops, because there's more bra to show. And, given that I have bigger boobs, these were often my only choice of bra style back in the day. So I hated this look for years. But they've changed, along with my tastes and needs. Now I appreciate how well they support and bring everything upfront. More coverage means more security to me. And, now, they're much prettier.

Balconette/Balcony Bras

balcony bra
La Perla Balconnet Bra
Fits Bands 32-36, Cups B-D
via Nordstrom

Panache Envy Balconette Bra
Fits Bands 28-40, Cups D-K
via Bare Necessities

Balconette (or balcony) bras are the easiest to wear because they work with all types of necklines. Cut a little lower than the full cup (but not as much as the half or demi-cup); they're more flexible under multiple fashion choices. And they come in smooth contour, underwire, and plunge options as well. I'm a massive fan of this style and its a winner for any wardrobe.

Demi-Cup and Half-Cup Bras

demi-cup bras

Simone Perele Delice Underwire Demi Bra
Fits Bands 32-36, Cups C-F
via Nordstrom

I know what you're thinking: how is a demi-cup bra different from a balconette? Most feature "straight-across" cut on the cups, single vertical cup seam, wider set straps, and shallower wires. But yes, sometimes you'll find the same bra listed under both categories. What I love about the half-cup bra style—especially post childbearing years—is how it lifts without padding or smashing my breasts together. The lower cup design gives my breasts a great shape. But if your shoulders are narrow (or slope), you might find the placement of the straps makes it challenging to wear.

Plunge Cut Bras

plunge bras

SPANX Undie-tectable Underwire Pushup Plunge Bra
Available in Bands 32-36, Cups B-DD
via Nordstrom

Made for plunging necklines, of course! But beyond that, it's a must-have style for summer and evening wear. Many people associate plunge bras with push-ups because padded versions create massive cleavage. The cut of the cup does bring breasts closer together, but they're also available in non-padded versions. Sometimes it is nice to get some extra lift, depending on the top or dress. But my days of push-ups plunge bras are long gone, simply because my thinner skin is more prone to "creasage." Not a good look for me. (But, yes, you will find push-up padding in other bra styles, as well.)

Minimizer Bras

pretty minimizer bra

Paramour Angie Front Close Minimizer Bra
Fits Bands 32-44, Cups C-H
via Bare Necessities

The poor minimizer style bra gets a bad rap. Like the full cups, it gives you full coverage. But it does it spreading breast tissue across your chest, rather than bringing everything forward. But every bra style has its time and place; it turns out. If your breasts feel heavy and hang more to the front than the side, you might find this bra to be a great "workhorse" bra. I never thought I'd wear one, but I am now a convert.

Strapless Bras

strapless bras

Wacoal Red Carpet Strapless Bra
Fits Bands 30-44, Cups B-H
via Bare Necessities

There was a time when it was nearly impossible to find a well-fitting strapless bra above a C cup. That's not the case anymore, as more brands find ways to engineer strapless support for all cups. And while I used to love them, this style is one that no longer works for me. Mostly because I'm not willing to suffer the tighter band needed to hold everything up. But I still have one in my bra wardrobe, just in case.

Sports Bras

high impact sports bra

Wacoal High Impact Sports Bra
Fits Bands 32-40, Cups C-H
via Nordstrom

How anyone can exercise (in or out of the gym) without wearing a sports bra is beyond me. I remember the pre-Title IX days when sports bra weren't an option. I couldn't live without them now and keep several in rotation every week.


best bralettes

Millie Lace Bralette
Available in Sizes XS - XL
via Figleaves

It's now as common to find bralettes as sports bras in every size. And they are perfect for relaxing on weekends or sleeping. While they won't give you much support compared to a structured bra, some people neither need or want it. I'm happy to wear them as a comfy and non-structured alternative to more binding bras.

So which bra styles should you buy for a complete bra wardrobe? For me—at this point in my life—it would be the balconette and full cups (in plunge and smooth cup styles), sports bras, and bralettes. Everything else I could live without (okay, maybe one strapless).

What's in your bra wardrobe? Have your best bra styles changed over the years?

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