If you’ve ever walked past a rack of contraptions labeled as bras while shopping and wondered, “What in God’s holy name are those for?” — you’re not alone. Some of the stuff out there right now is so crazy it’s enough to make you want to take a hard pass. However, learning about the different bra types and shapes can actually help revamp your entire wardrobe.
Nowadays there are so many types of bras that it’s difficult to know if a bra style will actually work with your specific body type, and it’s confusing to figure out how and when to wear said style even if it does work for you in theory. But if you select the right bra, it can seriously take your comfort to the next level. Not only that, a well-fitted bra can totally make or break an outfit.
From demi cups to bandeaus, we’re breaking it down.
1. Convertible bra
A convertible bra is an important piece in every woman’s wardrobe. Convertible bra cups come in many shapes and sizes, but they all share the common goal of versatility. The straps can usually be entirely removed (although this is not always the case) or disconnected to transform the bra into a halter, racerback or even criss-cross pattern for different fashions.
2. Demi cup bra
Ah, the sensual demi cup. This bra style covers roughly half of the breast, and lifts your girls front and center for added cleavage. It’s a great cut for most breast sizes and shapes, but doesn’t provide the best support if you’re very well endowed.
3. Adhesive bra
Every woman needs an adhesive bra in her chest of drawers, since the bra provides support in even the most revealing fashions. Adhesive bras are typically backless, strapless and made of silicone. They use medical grade adhesive to bind the lift right to your body.
4. Push-up bra
Cut like the demi cup, the push-up bra lifts your breasts towards the center for cleavage, but with the added help of padding. Women with smaller breasts appreciate the power of the push-up — and it’s also great for women with asymmetrical breasts as long as the padding is removable on one side.
5. Mastectomy bra
The mastectomy bra is a must-have for women who have gone through a mastectomy and would like a breast prosthesis. The bra is specially fitted for each woman, and it has pockets to hold one or two breast prostheses.
6. Balconette bra
When you think balconette bra, think demi cup but with added shelf action. The balconette is designed to reveal the top half of the breast, with a band at the bottom pushing the breasts up, rather than toward the center. The balconette is a sexy and supportive option for women with medium-sized boobs.
7. Nursing bra
Planning on nursing your baby? The nursing bra is a must-have. These bras are designed to provide ample support with wide bands and soft cups, and typically come with a flap that you can open to easily feed your baby. If you buy a nursing bra to wear during pregnancy, make sure that it has flexible sizing since your breasts will grow rapidly once baby arrives.
8. Full cup bra
A full cup bra is the superwoman of the bra world. These bras cover your whole breast and are designed to provide excellent support and shaping through both the cups and straps. Women with large breasts benefit most from the support of a full cup.
9. Deep plunge bra
This wild little number is absolutely necessary if you’re sporting a plunging little black dress. The center of the bra dips down in a u-shape, and the breasts are supported by padding that pushes them up for gorgeous cleavage.
10. Sports bra
A sports bra is more than just additional support — it can actually reduce the chances of breast damage from leaping and jumping during exercise. The sports bra is designed to hold your girls in place so you can exercise without pain or worry.
11. Bandeau bra
The bandeau bra is a simple piece of fabric that wraps around the bust. This style provides little support, and is thus best suited for women with small breasts. Why wear one at all, then? They’re a great substitute for a tank top or cami that you might wear underneath a sweater or sundress.
12. Strapless bra
I tend to think that strapless bras emerge from the fifth circle of hell, but you can actually pick one up at a local department store. These are designed to wear with strapless dresses or shirts, and provide lift without the use of straps. Instead, strapless bras use silicone or, alternatively, underwire that basically staples to your skin to provide lift. Women of all breast sizes can benefit from the joys of hoisting a strapless bra up from the waistline all damn day.
13. Minimizing bra
The minimizer is cut like a full-cup bra, but it changes the appearance of large breasts by redistributing breast tissue so they appear smaller.
14. Shelf bra
Need some sexy time? The shelf bra might be the perfect bra to mix things up in the bedroom. It’s like a balconette bra, but it leaves all or part of the areola bare. It’s best for women with small- to medium-sized breasts.
15. T-shirt bra
The T-shirt bra is cut like a demi or a full-cup bra, but it is free of seams or fabrics that create unsightly lines under a tight T-shirt. T-shirt bras are comfortable, and they’re available for women in all sizes and shapes.
The bralette is a pretty, lacy bra that is wireless and usually doesn’t have padded cups. It’s a comfortable bra best worn with your Netflix and chill outfits or with any casual weekend wear. You can also wear it with loose tank tops.
Originally published December 2015. Updated May 2017.