26 Bra Types Every Woman Should Know - With Pictures

Bra types
Image: Bra types

There are many types of bras that can make you look better. Yes, you! Regardless of your body shape or age. The secret is to understand how different bras fit and support your bust, as well as what functions they have. When you know this, it will be easier to find a bra that is both comfortable and stylish.

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Don't be fooled - Learn to understand bras to shop smarter and make better choices

Stores want to sell the products they have available in stock. But the products they sell are not necessarily products that are suitable for you. If you understand bras better, you reduce the risk of getting fooled into buying wrong products.

Before you buy bras, you should understand the different bra types, their characteristics and their features. Bras often have a target audience. These target groups depend on the type of bust, bust size and age.

The purpose of bras varies, many bra types are created for specific functions where comfort is not necessarily of the highest priority but the aesthetics are.

In other words, you will learn what is right for you so you can make better choices and look better than ever.

The English language uses loanwords as name for some bras, we will explain them. The English word bra is a abbreviation of brassiere, it's a loanword from French "brassière" meaning "bodice" or "child's vest".

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Push-up bra

Push-up bra
Image: Push-up bra

Alternatives / Meaning: The term "push-up" refers exactly to the bra "pushing up" the bust.

Features:
Push-up bras are often just called "push-up" and have the purpose to make the bust look bigger. This type of bra has pads on the inside of the cups. The pads are located at the bottom and slightly on the sides. These push the breasts up and slightly towards the middle. The result is a bust that looks bigger and with a more accentuated cleavage. In some push-ups, the pads are removable. Normally, all bras with push-up also have wired cups.

Usage and occasions:
Suitable both for everyday use and for clothes with low-cut neckline. Push-up is the most popular bra type for smaller bust and especially for special occasions when you want to show cleavage.

Breast type and size:
Push-up is especially suitable for smaller bust and bust that has started to lose its shape.

Pros:
Makes your breasts look bigger and firmer.

Cons:
Usually unpopular among busty women due to the enlarging effect.

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Full cup bra

Full cup bra
Image: Full cup bra

Alternatives / Meaning: The name refers to the cups offering full coverage of the bust.

Features:
A full cup bra covers more than other bra types. The main goal is comfortability! The cups extend higher up over the bust. They "embrace" the bust more, which keeps the bust in place, even where you bend forward. Full cup bras are usually perceived as the most comfortable bra type, especially among women who need a lot of support. Available with and without wires (in the cups) and with or without padding.

Usage and occasions:
Very suitable for everyday use. Less suitable for clothes with deep cleavage.

Breast type and size:
Particularly popular among big busted women. Smaller busts don't have the same need for such extensive coverage.

Pros:
Comfortable, supports well and holds the bust in place.

Cons:
Unsuitable for clothes with cleavage and open back.

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Half cup / Demi cup bra

Half cup / Demi cup bra
Image: Half cup / Demi cup bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also known as "demi cup bra". "Demi" is Latin and means "half" or "part of".

Features:
Half cup bra can be considered to be a "traditional" bra. The cup cut slants inwards towards the middle and covers about half the bust. This bra type can be padded and have additional pads to give the bust more volume and shape, but not as prominently as in a push-up. A half cup bras is usually very neutral in both support, lifting and its shaping effect. It's are a great choice as a staple bra for women with smaller or medium sized bust. Women with big bust are recommended to choose bras with full cup. Available with and without wire and with or without padding.

Usage and occasions:
Fits all everyday clothes.

Breast type and size:
Suitable for women with smaller or medium sized bust.

Pros:
Comfortable and suitable for many types of clothes.

Cons:
Less suitable for women with big bust.

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Full support bra

Full support bra
Image: Full support bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Is also called "support bra", without the word "full".

Features:
Full support bra is the type of bra that provides the most support and coverage. The main goal is convenience and support, especially for larger or more mature bust. It is similar to a full cup bra but offers even more coverage of the bust and chest. Normally, the shoulder straps are wider, which makes the bra lay more comfortably on the shoulders with less noticeable pressure. The cups are often wireless. Especially popular among mature women.

Usage and occasions:
Everyday bra that fits all types of clothes without deep cleavage.

Breast type and size:
Bigger or less firm bust.

Pros:
The bust does not spill out of the cups when you bend forward. Comfortable.

Cons:
Can feel hot and excessively covering.

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Balconette / Balcony bra

Balconette / Balcony bra
Image: Balconette / Balcony bra

Alternatives / Meaning: "Balconette" is French meaning "little balcony", hence also known as "balcony bra".

Features:
The prominent characteristic of a balconette is the low, horizontal cut of the cups. The bust lies straight down on the cups, like on a balcony. Balconettes don't cover the top of the bust. They give the bust a natural lift because they support the bust straight up, instead of pushing the bust together as in a push-up bra. The shoulder straps are often wider apart, farther out on the sides of the cups. Balconettes are more revealing and are often seen as a sexier bra type where comfortability and support come second. If you are planning a romantic evening, then a balconette is a alluring choice. The cups usually have wires and padding.

Usage and occasions:
Romantic occasions or sexier clothes. Goes well with shirts and clothes where the cleavage is shown more.

Breast type and size:
Suitable for all sizes of bust. Less suitable for a mature / softer bust as balconettes don't hold the bust in place in the same way as a more covering cup.

Pros:
Also suitable for larger bust as it lifts upwards instead of pushing the bust together.

Cons:
Has usually only very slim shoulder straps.

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Underwire bra

Underwire bra
Image: Underwire bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also known as "wired bra".

Features:
An underwire bra has semi-rigid wires inside the bottom edge of the cups. The purpose of the wires is to create and maintain a shape that the breasts adapt to. The wires shape the bust but also help keep the bust in place. The cups are kept apart thanks to the wires and the breasts are prevented from merging together into a single large mass. Most bra types have wires. Wires are sometimes regarded as less comfortable, but this is usually due to wrong bra size or unsuitable model. A well fitting bra with wires offers the best support, even for larger bust. Underwire bras are available with and without padding. Best wires are made of special plastics that neither snap nor permanently malform.

Usage and occasions:
Wires can be used both in everyday bras and bras with special features. However, it is important that the bra and its wires are of good quality so that the wires do not puncture and penetrate the fabric and poke the skin.

Breast type and size:
Underwire bras normally provide the best support for all bust sizes and types.

Pros:
The cup maintain its shape and provides good support. The breasts are kept separated.

Cons:
Underwire bras are less forgiving if the bra size or model is wrong. Wires can poke the skin if the fit is wrong.

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Wireless bra

Wireless bra
Image: Wireless bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also known as "non-wired bra".

Features:
Wireless bras are softer and adapt more to the bust's natural shape. The breasts have more freedom to more around. This type of bra is mainly intended for women who have difficulties finding a well fitting wired bra or who prefer a softer bra that feels more like a top. Normally, a wireless bra is preferred for relaxed evenings at home and is more comfortable to sleep in.

Usage and occasions:
For everyday use, at home, for sleeping and other occasions when you can allow the bust to move around a bit.

Breast type and size:
Suitable for most bust sizes and shapes. Suitable for augmented bust that require less support. However, larger and more mature breasts get better support with braces.

Pros:
Can be perceived as more comfortable. An alternative for women who dislike wires.

Cons:
Not quite as good support and shaping ability as underwire bras. The breasts can move around and merge together into one single mass.

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Bralette

Bralette
Image: Bralette

Alternatives / Meaning: A mix of English and French meaning "little bra". Sometimes also referred to as "soft bra".

Features:
A bralette is a soft bra, without wires and unmolded. It provides very little actual support and is usually without padding. The bralette has traditionally chosen as a first bra. Nowadays, this type of bra has become a fashion item among adult women and is often used as a top. Since modern bralettes are usually meant to be displayed, they are usually sewn in lace or other beautiful, detailed materials such as lace.

Usage and occasions:
The bralette is a fashion item used as a top, often for the purpose of creating a sexier look. It does not offer the same support as other, more traditional, bra types and is not recommended for everyday use.

Breast type and size:
Suitable för smaller bust or very firm bust that does not need support, hence also very suitable for augmented / enlarged bust.

Pros:
Comfortable and pleasant to wear. Can be used as fashion apparel.

Cons:
Not suitable for larger bust as it does not offer meaningful support. Not suitable for mature bust.

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Plus size / Big cup bra

Plus size bra
Image: Plus size / Big cup bra

Alternatives / Meaning: "Plus size" is referring to larger sizes. "Big cup bra" is also used.

Features:
Larger sizes can refer to a bra where the cups, band (around the torso) or both are larger than average. Note that big cups refers to the cup size only and does not automatically mean that the band is larger than average. The design and structure of this bra type is specifically adapted for big sizes and are therefore usually not available in smaller sizes. The cups, wires, straps etc will all be more sturdy and more durable to provide good support. The shoulder straps are usually wider. All the included parts will have higher quality to prevent excessive stretching and losing their supporting ability. This in turn means that plus size bras are often more expensive than bras in small sizes. Usually, the cups are of the type full cup. Bras for larger cups have traditionally only been available in simpler and "boring" designs. Nowadays, however, there are plenty of stylish bras in larger sizes.

Usage and occasions:
Best choice as everyday bra for larger sizes.

Breast type and size:
Most suitable for women with larger breasts.

Pros:
Very good support and less perceived weight on the shoulders.

Cons:
Nothing specific.

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Shelf / Open cup bra

Shelf bra / Open cup bra
Image: Shelf / Open cup bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also called "open cup bra".

Features:
Shelf refers to the bust laying as on a shelf. Open cups refer to the cups giving little to no coverage of the bust. The cups do not cover the nipples. A shelf bra provide minimal support for a larger bust, while it can create a visual push-up effect for a smaller bust, and is instead meant as sexy alternative for intimate occasions. The cups usually have underwires.

Usage and occasions:
Used as sexy lingerie when support is not needed. Unsuitable bra type for everyday use.

Breast type and size:
Suitable for smaller or firm breasts.

Pros:
Alluring and sexy.

Cons:
Offers minimal support for larger or more mature busts.

Show shelf bras and open cups.

Longline bra

Longline bra
Image: Longline bra

Alternatives / Meaning: The name refers to the long cut below the cups.

Features:
The distinctive attribute of longline bras is that the band under the cups extends further down. This part can have a decorative function and is often made of lace. The lower part may also be functional by having a shaping effect, which may be in request when, for example, wearing snug fitting clothes. A longline bra, depending on the model and appearance, can also be used as an attractive top. The cups usually have underwire and padding.

Usage and occasions:
Suitable to wear under tight clothing, popular for wedding dresses. Also as an alternative to a stylish top.

Breast type and size:
Can be worn by anyone, depending on design.

Pros:
Creates a more attractive silhouette than regular bras. Can also be used as regular for special occasions, without any other clothes on top of it.

Cons:
Mainly for special occasions and usually not for everyday use.

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Maximizer

Maximizer bra
Image: Maximizer bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Refers to "having a maximizing size effect".

Features:
A maximizer bra is really a push-up but the term maximizer is used strongly to point out that you want to focus on making the bust look bigger. Maximizers have the function to make the bust look two cup sizes bigger, or more. The cups are padded and usually with particularly large pads / cushions on the inside.

Usage and occasions:
Maximizers are popular when it's desired to make the bust look larger. Suitable both for stylish, formal and everyday clothes.

Breast type and size:
Intended for women with very small bust.

Pros:
Can make the bust look much bigger.

Cons:
Can feel particularly warm due to a lot of padding.

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Minimizer

Minimizer bra
Image: Minimizer bra

Alternatives / Meaning:Refers to "having a minimizing size effect".

Features:
The minimizer bra has the purpose of making the bust less prominent. This can be especially requested by women with very large bust having difficulties finding clothes that can fit their bust. A minimizer covers the entire bust so that it does not "spill over" from the cups. Full support bras and minimizers often give similar results.

Usage and occasions:
When you want to make the bust size appear smaller.

Breast type and size:
For big bust, regardless of type or shape.

Pros:
Suitable for women who feel that the their bust is a bit too eye-catching or for women who want to hide their big bust.

Cons:
Can be considered as overly snug. The cups usually cover the bust high up making it unsuitable for clothes with low cut neck.

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Multiway / Convertible bra

Multiway bra
Image: Multiway / Convertible bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also known as "convertible" and "multi-functional bra". The names refer to the adjustability.

Features:
A multiway bra offers the freedom to you the shoulder straps in different ways. It's a must-have speciality bra if you love dresses and chic clothing. The shoulder straps can be crossed in different ways on the back, around the stomach or be used as a halter neck. Usually, the straps can be completely removed. The straps can often be changed to transparent ones. This type of bra usually has cups with underwire and padding. Usually with clasp closure in the front instead of hook-and-eye in the back.

Usage and occasions:
Can be adjusted to fit dresses and tops with open backs or bare shoulders.

Breast type and size:
For small and medium sized bust.

Pros:
Can be tweaked and adjusted to fit most clothes.

Cons:
The support ability varies, depending on how the back and shoulder straps are adjusted.

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Unpadded / Non-padded bra

Unpadded bra
Image: Unpadded bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also known as non-padded bra. The names refer to the cups not having any padding. Is also called "soft cup bra", however "soft cup" usually means both without padding and without underwire.

Features:
Unpadded bras have thinner cups and are often made of lace. They are less hot and usually less noticeable. A new bra needs to be worn a few times before it adjusts itself to your bust. Because the cups in a unpadded bra are thinner they sometimes wrinkle during this adjustment time. This happens because the bust does not completely fill the cups, usually at the seams. Many find this odd and misinterpret it as quality issue. However, this wrinkling disappears after a few uses. Unpadded bras are available with and without underwire.

Usage and occasions:
Suitable both for everyday use and special occasions. Recommended for warmer weather.

Breast type and size:
Fits all types and sizes of breasts.

Pros:
Less warm. Unpadded bras with sheer lace are a great choice as sexy lingerie.

Cons:
Have less shaping ability than padded alternatives. Can require a few uses before they adjust to your bust.

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Padded bra

Padded bra
Image: Padded bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Name refers to the cups being thicker due to padding.

Features:
Padded bras have padding in the cups, usually made of foam. The padding can cover the entire cup or just the lower half. The advantage of this that the cups get a inherent shape which the bust adapt to. The padding a small shapewear effect on the bust. The result is a smoother and rounder bust that most women consider to be more attractive. Most women prefer padded bras.

Usage and occasions:
For women that want a smoother and rounder bust shape. Padded cups are available in most bra types and are therefore not limited to any particular usage.

Breast type and size:
Suitable for all sizes and types of breasts.

Pros:
Creates a nicer looking bust shape.

Cons:
Can be feeling hot, especially in warm weather.

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Self-adhesive bra

Self-adhesive bra
Image: Self-adhesive bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also known as "stick-on bra".

Features:
Self-adhesive bras have adhesives on the inside of the cups. The cups stick onto the skin and therefore no band (around the torso) or shoulder strap is needed. The bust is held together and the nipples are covered. Self-adhesive bras offer limited support and depends on how the cups are stuck on. This bra type is often padded and evenly thick (a few millimeters) across the entire cup, thus adding to the visual size of the bust. Almost always wireless. The adhesive eventually wears off but it should stay usable at least 30 times, depending on quality.

Usage and occasions:
Usually used with cocktail dresses and party clothes when you don't want the bra to show but still want to add extra size and shape to the bust, or when you don't want to go completely braless when wearing revealing dresses or party tops. This type of bra is normally not meant for everyday use.

Breast type and size:
Suitable for smaller and firm bust.

Pros:
No visible straps. Adds volume and covers nipples.

Cons:
Not suitable for large breasts. The adhesion ability weakens with each use, especially if the bra is not properly cleaned and stored.

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Plunge bra / U-bra

Plunge bra / U-bra
Image: Plunge bra / U-bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also known as U-bra. The names refer to the deep cut between the cups.

Features:
Plunge bras are intended for clothes with deep neckline. The U-shape between the cups enables a deeper decolletage without the bra being visible, while also providing good support. The shape tend to push the breasts towards the middle similar to a push-up. The center of the bra is usually more rigid and harder to keep the cups in place.

Usage and occasions:
Great for clothes with deep neckline. A good alternative to self-adhesive bras if you need more support.

Breast type and size:
Suitable for both small and large bust. Larger, softer breasts may have a tendency to slip out as the cups are more open on the inner side.

Pros:
Creates a very attractive deep cleavage, but also offers good support.

Cons:
The bra lacks traditional support in the center and the breasts can therefore slip out of the cups more easily.

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Sports bra

Sports bra
Image: Sports bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Sometimes referred to as "sports top" or "yoga bra".

Features:
When you exercise, or move a lot, your breasts will inevitably move too. A sports bra takes care of this by covering the bust and the back. The shoulder straps are wide and distribute the weight of the bust. This bra also acts as a top, so you do not need to cover it with any additional clothes, but it's a matter of personal preference. Sports bras come in two types that support in different ways. The compression type pushes the bust against your ribcage, making them notoriously tight. Compression bras are suitable for smaller breasts. The second type of sports bra has an encapsulating function with clearly separated cups that prevents the bust from merging into one big mass. Encapsulating bras are suitable for women with larger breasts.

Usage and occasions:
Sports bras are appreciated by most women, especially those with large bust. They are essential for motion-intensive activities and sports, but also for calmer workouts like yoga. It is also a useful garment for traveling. Sports bras are often used by women with physically intensive jobs.

Breast type and size:
Available in different models that cover the needs of most sizes and types of breast. Sports bras are often seen as a must-have by big busted women.

Pros:
Exercise and move without worrying about the bust falling out.

Cons:
Usually very tight and can feel uncomfortable to wear for a long time.

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Strapless bra

Strapless bra
Image: Strapless bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Name refers to the bra not having shoulder straps.

Features:
Strapless bras are specially constructed and adapted to be worn without shoulder straps and the band (that goes around the torso) is therefore usually a bit wider to hold the bra in place, and provide support for the bust. Since the shoulder straps are omitted, it is very important that the band fits snug and stable around your chest.

Usage and occasions:
A good choice for clothes with bare or open shoulder, such as strapless dresses. Usually not used as an everyday bra.

Breast type and size:
Suitable for smaller and medium sized breasts. Less firm breasts can be difficult to keep in place.

Pros:
A good balance between support ability and aesthetics for clothes that don't allow shoulder straps.

Cons:
The choice of size is particularly sensitive. The band must be tight enough for the bra to sit properly and for the bust to be held in place.

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T-shirt bra

T-shirt bra
Image: T-shirt bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also called "molded bra".

Features:
T-shirt bras are seamless (or with flat seams), without lace or decorations and with smooth, molded cups. The molding create a stiffer structure and also acts as padding. Together, these features make the structure of the bra is less noticeable when wearing tight clothes. Not being visible through other clothes is a central feature, which is why these bras are usually single-colored and look very "simple". A t-shirt bra provides as good support as other bras. Most often with underwires.

Usage and occasions:
Popular as everyday bra and for thinner, tight clothing such as shirts or tight t-shirts (hence the name).

Breast type and size:
Fits most sizes and types of breasts. The molding results in the cups having a shaping effect on the bust, which some women dislike or find uncomfortable.

Pros:
Less visible under clothes than other types of bras.

Cons:
Less suitable for very firm or augmented bust. The styles tend to look "boring", however, the T-shirt bra is not meant to be seen. Some women dislike the cups having a shaping effect on their breasts.

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Nursing bra

Nursing bra / Breastfeeding bra
Image: Nursing bra / Breastfeeding bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also called "breastfeeding bra" and "maternity bra".

Features:
Nursing bra is a specially designed bra for women who are breastfeeding. The tops of the cups have a snap or a hook which makes it possible to open the cup easily, the mother can then breastfeed her baby without having to take the bra off. Nursing bras are usually somewhat stretchy to adapt to the constant size fluctuation of the breast. The cups sometimes have underwire, especially in larger sizes, and are important to provide good support for a large bust. Some claim that underwires can cause milk stasis or other issues, but this is just a scary myth. If the bra has the right size and the underwires rest against the chest the underwires will not cause any issues.

Usage and occasions:
Simplifies breastfeeding, especially outside the home.

Breast type and size:
All women the breastfeed.

Pros:
Make breastfeeding possible without having to take the bra off.

Cons:
Suitable only for final months of pregnancy and during the time the mother is breastfeeding.

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Pregnancy bra

Pregnancy bra
Image: Pregnancy bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also called "bra for expecting moms".

Features:
Breasts change during pregnancy. Pregnancy bras take this into account by being partially elastic, very adjustable and taking into account the growing belly. Underwire cups are available, especially in larger sizes. Many pregnancy bras have openable cups and can also be used as nursing bras.

Usage and occasions:
During and after pregnancy when the breast size is in constant change.

Breast type and size:
For women, regardless of breast size, during pregnancy and right after giving birth.

Pros:
More malleable than regular bras, and therefore more forgiving to size changes.

Cons:
The stretchiness makes it suitable only for pregnant and breast changing.

Show pregnancy and nursing bras.

Front closure bra

Front closure bra
Image: Front closure bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also called "front open bra".

Features:
Front closure bras are perfect for those who have a hard time using a traditional hook-and-eye closure on the back of a bra. Front closure is sometimes the only alternative for bras with unconventional bands or shoulder straps that do not allow for a traditional closure on the back, e.g. with straps crossed on the back. The front closure is often based on clasps (a hook mechanism similar to the one on bikini bras), but can also be hook-and-eye, zipper or lacing. Some women find front closure bras easier to put on. Available with and without underwire and with or without padding.

Usage and occasions:
For bras with special back straps, for women having difficulties with traditional closure on the back or just due to personal preference.

Breast type and size:
Small and medium breasts. Larger bust usually need a construction sturdier than a front closure.

Pros:
Regarded as easier to put on. Allows for special bra design on the back.

Cons:
Less stable bridge (the part between the cups) especially in larger sizes.

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Built-in bra

Built-in bra
Image: Built-in bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also called "integrated bra" or a product with "real bra cups".

Features:
Built-in bra refers to clothing items where a bra supporting ability is part of the garment, e.g. a nightgown with built-in bra as opposed to a gown with soft cups that just covers the bust. Usually is the built-in bra supports just as well as a normal bra and can have both padding and underwire. Having a larger busts, lingerie such as nightdresses can be problematic to wear. A built-in bra is a great solution to create a sensual silhouette. Garments having this kind of bra are often described as having real bra cups. Highly recommended!

Usage and occasions:
Garments, usually underwear that need to provide as good support like a real bra.

Breast type and size:
For all breasts but more common in larger sizes when support is more likely to be needed.

Pros:
Offers support equivalent to a real bra. For softer / mature breasts, creating a more attractive shape and silhouette.

Cons:
Usually more expensive as it's actually two products in one.

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Cage bra

Cage bra
Image: Cage bra

Alternatives / Meaning: Also referred to as "strappy bra" or "harness bra".

Features:
A cage bra support the bust just as well as regular bras. The straps are a decoration and have normally no actual function. Many consider this type of bra as a type of top that can be used as both underwear and clothing, in a similar way as bralettes, and can be used as decoration when wearing an unbuttoned shirt or other low neckline clothing. Nowadays, separate straps are available as accessories to be worn with your existing bras.

Usage and occasions:
Primarily decorative. Very attractive and stylish with unbuttoned shirts.

Breast type and size:
All sizes and breast types since the straps are only decorative.

Pros:
Attractive alternative to "normal" bras that provide an interesting décolletage.

Cons:
Is an aesthetic accessory that have no function if worn under clothing.

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