First, the terminology. Here are the parts of the bra, as explained by my lovely assistant FrankenBra! We call her FrankenBra because she is very afraid of fire. Just kidding. It's because she's a different kind of "training bra": as you can see, one side of her is quite different from the other, because she is showcasing several different bra styles in one bra. The lines next to dotted lines represent seams.Take a look:
On the one side, Frankenbra has 3-section cup, with a one-piece adjustable strap. On the other side, she's got a 2-section cup, with a 2-section adjustable strap. These are the 2 major configurations of strap type, and of cup type, and they operate independently of each other. That is to say, the strap type doesn't necessarily go with a specific cup style: you could also have a 3-section cup with a 2-section strap, and often, you will.
A one-section strap is generally made of a stretchy material, and you can adjust it all the way to the back or front with the slider. A 2-section strap puts a bit of stretchy material on the adjustable part at the back, and a non-stretchy strap for the part that goes over your shoulder.
But, keep in mind, the main support from your bra should not come from the shoulder straps-- its should come from the band encircling your rib cage. That is what makes for a well-fitting bra, and it's something we'll discuss in depth in the next post about how to fit yourself for the correct bra size.
But for now, let's talk about cup styles.
Just like every pair of pants, or every dress, won't look great on any given person (even if the dress or pants are in your size), the same is true for bras. There are many different styles, and some will look and feel better on you than others. The trick is to find which styles work the best for you. The differences in bra style primarily have to do with how the cups of the bra are constructed. This is the main point of variation. In the images below, the dotted lines next to a solid line indicate seams. Take a look at some common bra configurations:
As you can see, there are a plethora of different cup styles: I've only listed some of the most common/popular ones. So, here's the Cliff's Notes to cup styles. Like all Cliff's Notes, these won't be as good as reading the book (i.e. going out and trying on bras to see what works for you), but, they will give you a place to begin.
-Styles 1, 2, 5, and 8 are the most commonly worn (and commonly sold). They tend to give a "normal" not-too-high, not-too-low, rounded to slightly pointed look, which varies a bit depending on the bra manufacturer/brand.
-Style 2, though similar to style 1, gives more "uplift" than style 1, because of the "sling" effect of the outer cup section. If you like a 3-section cup, but need something that looks less droopy, try style 2.
-Styles 3, 4, and 5 are the most boob-boosting cup shapes out there. 5 is a little more subtle, it's the sort of shape you could wear every day or in professional context (in fact, I am wearing one right now!). If you have trouble with your boobs being too low down for your liking, give this style a try. 3 and 4 are more extreme. In addition to lifting your boobs a lot, they also usually have a narrower center gore than many bras, bringing your boobs closer together in the front. This can be a godsend for ladies with small ribcages, who find that most bras put their boobs under their armpits, and it is also a useful configuration for creating cleavage under tank tops or low-cut tops. When you simply must have your boobs front and center, styles 3 and 4 are the way to go. They are the party girls of the FrankenBra posse.
-Style 6, also quite common, is the bane of my existence. This style tends to give a low, pointy-boob look. I find this style makes many ladies look quite matronly, giving the impression of adding years to their age and pounds to their figure. Unfortunately, style 6 is also one of the most common and widely-available bra styles, especially in discount ranges that are made overseas and sold in the USA. It is one of the oldest and most traditional bra shapes, and while I realize many people might disagree with my opinion here, for my money, I think there are many newer, better shapes out there, so I would advise against style 6.
-Styles 7 and 8 are slightly newer fashions that try to give you good lift with a "natural" looking shape. Style 7 tries to combine the "normal" boob positioning available with style 1, but give it a less pointed look and a little more lift by adding extra vertical seams to the bottom section of the cup. Style 8 is a cup style that employs no seams, and is often referred to as a "t-shirt" bra because it give a smooth, seamless look under t-shirts, thin sweaters, blouses, and other thin materials that might allow bra seams or lace and embroidery on bra cups to show through. Though all bras in style 8 are made using the same process, they often vary widely in the shape that they give your boobs. Some seamless, molded-cup bras can be quite pointy, but others give a much rounder shape. It depends on the brand. For my money, the best seamless bra is the Panache Porcelain T-shirt bra. (I own this one black, chocolate, and nude and they get lots of use.)
Whew! Ok, that was a long one! but we're getting there, slowly but surely, to the point where we can really get into finding you the best bra for your body shape and fashion style. Just to make sure nobody fell asleep, here's a quick quiz to do while you wait for the next post. Below are images of bras available in the DD to G cup range. Your mission is to go through and play seam detective to figure out which cup style each one of these 18 bras uses. Let the Frankenbra posse help you if you get stuck, and be careful, there's one in there that's a trick question, and one that is a mashup of 2 different styles! Post your answers 1-18 with the number (1-8) of the cup style they use in the comments and on February 10th, I will randomly draw one winner from everyone who got all the correct answers (or the most correct answers), and you will get a prize!
Next time: Bra Fitting with just the items you have available in your house! No special measuring tape required!