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bra styles and breast shapes

Bra Styles and Breast Shapes: How to Get the Look You Want

  |   By Elisabeth Dale

Lately, I've noticed a shift from articles focused on finding the correct bra size to talk about matching bra styles and breast shapes. What does it mean?

Some retailers suggest that all you need to know is how to classify your boobs, and they'll figure out the ideal bra style for you. It is important to acknowledge that breasts come in multiple shapes and can rest anywhere on your chest. Yours might be widely or narrowly spaced, or fuller or more shallow. You could have an athletic, petite, or tall torso. The only problem is that there are far more breast shapes (on a variety of unique bodies) than there are bra designs from which to choose. You can use their suggestions as a guideline, but there's no exact science behind their recommendations.

Not all bra styles have the same fashion purpose, either. The terms used can refer to the materials, like underwire or padding, or bra design, such as a bralette, demi-cup, or strapless. There are even bra styles named just for their purpose, like back smoothing, sports, nursing, and post-mastectomy bras. Plus, not all brands and retailers use identical style names -- making it more confusing if you're searching by name alone.

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How do you know which ones will work best for your chest? You have to look at the way a particular bra sculpts your breasts under clothing. For instance, I might wear a rounded scoop neck t-shirt during the day and switch to a deep plunge V-neck top at night. Both fashion choices require different bra styles to make me look my best. Then I must decide on materials that tailor my look, be it with an underwire, multi-way straps, or lace or contour cup.

It's always good to review basic bra vocabulary and be familiar with bra terminology. Many styles feature wired or wireless options; push-up or extra padding; cut-and-sewn or more smooth, seamless cups. A seamed bra, for instance, will change the projection of your breasts more than a molded cup. And as you can see from the examples included below, some "styles" could fall under more than one distinct category.

Here are four of the most common bra styles and some of the fashion problems they solve:

Full Cup or Full Coverage. As the name implies, this bra provides the most support and coverage of your boobs. It serves as a wardrobe “workhorse” with straps set closer together, a higher center gore, and it may feature side slings to lift and bring your breasts to the front. Full coverage bras can have additional features like back smoothing wings.

bra styles and breast shapes

Prima Donna Deauville Full Cup Bra
Available in 3 Colors, Fitting Bands 30-44, Cups C-J
via Bare Necessities

bra styles and breast shapes

Empreinte Cassiopee Full Cup Bra
Available in 2 Colors, Fitting Bands 30-42 and Cups D-G
via Bare Necessities
bra styles and breast shapes
Chantelle Hedona Minimizer Underwire Bra
Available in Four Colors Fitting Bands 32-42 and Cups B-G
via Bare Necessities

Full coverage bras work for almost all breast shapes, and especially full and heavier busts as maximum coverage will keep everything in place. You'll find plenty of nursing and sports bras in this style. On the downside, they may be more visible under plunging, deep scoop neck, or low-cut necklines.

Plunge. The gore is cut lower and deeper on this style, and the wire has more of a “J” shape, meaning it’s shorter in front. The cups have a triangle rather than circular, rounded shape.

bra styles and breast shapes

Chantelle Parisian Underwire Plunge Bra
Available in Four Colors, Fitting Bands 30-42, Cups B-I
via Nordstrom
bra styles and breast shapes
Parfait by Affinitas Full Busted Plunge Bra
Available in 5 Colors, Fitting Bands 30-40, Cups D-G
via HerRoom
bra styles and breast shapes
 Natori Feathers Seamless Cup Plunge Bra
Available in 12 Colors, Fitting Bands 30-38, Cups A-G
via Bare Necessities

This style can be perfect for wider-set breasts as the cut of the cups brings breasts closer together. They are also an ideal choice to wear under deep plunging necklines and a wonderful way to create that boobs-pushed-together-type cleavage. But those with closer set breasts or with more volume on top may feel like they are spilling out of this bra.

Balconette, Balconet, or Balcony. The name pretty much sums it up -- think of this style as putting your boobs "in the balcony.” More breast flesh is exposed with a shorter cup and lower gore. The design also lifts and separates (unlike the plunge). Straps are set wider apart than with the full-coverage style but not as far apart as with the demi-cup style below.

bra styles and breast shapes

Panache Envy Underwire Stretch Lace Bra
Available in Bands 30-38, Cups F-J
via Nordstrom
 bra styles and breast shapes
b.tempt'd by Wacoal b.sultry Underwire Balconette Bra
Avaialble in 3 Colors, Fitting Bands 30-38, Cups B-DD
via Nordstrom
bra styles and breast shapes
Fantasie Allegra Underwire Balcony Bra
Available in Band 30-38, Cups B-G
via Nordstrom
bra styles and breast shapes
Ashley Graham Dreamer Balconette Bra
Available in 36-44, Cups C-DDD
via Nordstrom

This style is a good choice for those with shallower breasts or who want to center their boobs on their chest. However, if your breasts are already fairly full on top, the danger is that you might spill out over the top of the cups, depending cut of the cups. Wider set straps can be a problem for those with short torsos or sloping shoulders.

Demi-Cup. You’ll recognize this bra by its vertical seam on the front of each cup. (Note that many balconette bras have identical stitching, as with the Fantasie above, but offer more coverage.) Bra straps are set wider apart than the balconette, and the top of the cups typically look as if they are cut straight across the bust. This half-cup style has shorter wires and exposes more of your chest. The vertical seam placement lifts and centers your breasts.

breast shapes and bra styles

Simone Perele Delice Underwire Bra
Available in Bands 30-36 and Cups B-E
via Nordstrom

bra styles and breast shapes

Chantelle Intimates Opera Underwire Demi Bra
Available in Bands 32-38, Cups B-F
via Nordstrom

bra styles and breast shapes

Lula Lu Havana Demi Cup Bra
Fitting Bands 32-38, Cups AAA-A
via Lula Lu Petites
bra styles and breast shapes
Chantelle Illusion T-Shirt Underwire Demi Bra
Available in Bands 30-38, Cups A-F
via HerRoom

The demi-cup style is a terrific to wear under low-cut tops and a good option for when you want less “creasage” in your cleavage. Breasts with less upper volume may benefit from the sexier push-up look this style creates, without add extra padding. Demi bras are available in a variety of cup sizes. Wider set straps can also be a challenge to those with narrow shoulders. The more open décolletage might not feel like enough coverage.

Agent Provocateur (US)

What do you think of the focus on bra styles and breast shapes? Does it help you to consider your shape and placement when searching for bras? Should bra brands be more consistent in what they name their bra styles?

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Breast and bra expert, author, and founder of My latest book, The Bra Zone: How to Find Your Ideal Style, Size, and Support, busts common bra fitting myths and helps consumers navigate the confusing world of bra styles and sizes.
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