Guide to Choosing the Right Bra

Photo courtesy of Daquella manera via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Daquella manera via Flickr
Photo courtesy of dharmabumdri via Flixter
Photo courtesy of dharmabumdri via Flixter

The idea for this Hub came about while watching the 1933 movie "Dinner at Eight" starring Jean Harlow. At one point during the movie, my ever-observant husband turned to me and commented, "None of these women look like they are wearing bras." I replied, “Hmm, I guess they weren't in style at the time." I wasn’t really sure about my answer, so I took it upon myself to find out more about the advent of the modern brassiere and ended up learning a great deal more. I’ll share some history, useful information and titillating (sorry!) tidbits about this indispensable undergarment.

A Glance Back

The modern brassiere, originally known as a "soutien-gorge", was a French invention that came on the scene in the early 1900s. It was born out of a desire to move away from the confining, rigid corsets of the day. Corsets were used to shape the torso and bust, keeping everything in place with coarse fabrics fitted with whalebones. Ouch! In 1914, Mary Phelps Jacobs was awarded the first U.S. patent for the brassiere, a simple design she created from handkerchiefs and ribbon (homemade bras were common prior to the patent and subsequent mass production.)

Photo courtesy of Sacheverelle via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Sacheverelle via Flickr
Photo courtesy of veritas! via Flickr
Photo courtesy of veritas! via Flickr

During the 1920s, flat chests and narrow hips were in vogue. Gone was the need for the curvy corset and in its place was a lightweight cotton bra, which in most cases, was no more than a bodice or camisole without support. Large busted women, desperately seeking to create the coveted boyish figure of the Flapper, wrapped their breasts to their bodies in order to fit into fashionable sheath dresses.

In the 1930s, designers re-embraced the feminine form. Flowing gowns of silks and satins graced the bodies of Hollywood’s leading ladies, leaving little to the imagination. The bosom was again in style. This decade saw the introduction of bras with fitted cups made from newly invented synthetic fabrics. These bras featured little in the way of ornamentation and were designed to appear invisible under body-clinging fabrics — hence the bra-less illusion (although I don't think Ms. Harlow is wearing a bra in this publicity photo.)

Types of Bras

There are almost as many types of bras as there are women who wear them. Here are descriptions of seven popular styles:

Seamless bras are your best bet to wear under clingy fabrics. Just as the name implies, seamless bras have no seams on the cup providing for a smooth appearance under knit fabrics. In many cases, seamless bras are marketed as T-shirt bras.

Strapless bras are great for the summer with barely there fashions and work well under off the shoulder or strapless evening dresses. Many strapless bras have incorporated strips of silicone on the inside lining against the skin to keep the bra in place for a confident fit.

Looking for extra support for your workout? A sports bra will maintain order while you run, walk, jump and cycle your way to a toned body. These body-hugging, stretchy bras reduce bounce and feature breathable fabrics that wick moisture away from your body. You can find a sports bra fashioned like basic shelf bras, however manufacturers now make active bras that separate and lift for a more flattering appearance – especially for women with larger bust measurements. Ladies, say goodbye to the uniboob!

Why buy a bra for every outfit when you can own one convertible bra that adapts to many different tops and dresses. Convertible bras allow you to detach and reconfigure the straps to accommodate a variety of back, neck and armhole styles. It’s like owning a wardrobe of bras in one!

Need a lift and more fullness? Try a push-up bra. Push-up bras are designed to lift and push the breast together to enhance your cleavage and give the illusion of a larger cup size. Many push-up brands, like Wonderbra, include foam or gel inserts that add to your “va va voom” factor!

Minimizer bras have quite the opposite effect. Large busted women looking to downplay their assets, choose these bras that gently compress and redistribute the breasts to give the illusion of a smaller cup size. In some cases, minimizer bras can reduce your bust measurement by 1 1/2 inches.

Demi bras offer an ultra feminine look while still providing moderate support for most bust sizes. They can be worn with low cut or square necklines. The delicate demi bra is cut lower than the standard full bra. Women looking for a bra to tame the “jiggles” may want to avoid this style of bra.

Photo courtesy of jenny downing via Flickr
Photo courtesy of jenny downing via Flickr

Get the Fit

As you know, quality bras can be a serious financial investment, so fitting a bra properly is critical. If your bra is too big, you will notice gaping within the cups and looseness around your torso; totally negating the support your bra is supposed to provide. Too small, and you will experience overflow of skin in the front and back, tight straps and general discomfort from an overly tight fit.  Here is a quick tutorial on how to measure for a bra:

Photo courtesy Pink Sherbet Photography via Flickr
Photo courtesy Pink Sherbet Photography via Flickr

1. Wear your most comfortable, unpadded bra when measuring for bra size. Use a cloth measuring tape to calculate your band size. Take the measurement under your arms, around your back and across the upper portion of your chest. If this measurement is an even number, use it as your band size. Add 1-inch to an odd number to establish your band size. Common band sizes are 32, 34, 36 and 38.

2. Measure around the fullest part of your bust line. Take that number and subtract it from the first measurement or band size. This number will indicate your cup size. If the difference is 1-inch, your cup size is an A; 2-inches is a B cup, 3-inches is a C cup, etc.

How Many Bras Are Enough?

There’s only so much room in your lingerie drawer, so knowing “when to say when” is probably sound advice as far as bra buying is concerned. Most industry experts suggest owning four comfortable, everyday bras. This can be your favorite style in multiple colors for rexample: two white, one black and at least one nude.


Photo courtesy of Mytime via Dreamstime
Photo courtesy of Mytime via Dreamstime

It is always a good idea to have a couple of specialty bras on hand. I would recommend a convertible and a strapless for occasions when your everyday bras just won’t do. Another staple is what I call the “girlie” or “frou frou” bra. A delicate lace demi with floral or pearl embellishments will definitely get the attention of your special someone!

Photo courtesy of Victoria's secret via People Magazine
Photo courtesy of Victoria's secret via People Magazine

Fun Bra Facts

Victoria’s Secret recently premiered its latest Fantasy Bombshell Bra. The jewel-laden Damiani designed bra is the showpiece of the lingerie maker’s annual runway show. This over-the-top bra is worth a reported $2 million…and for good reason. It features over 1500 carats of white diamonds, blue topaz and blue sapphires in a tasteful setting of 18-carat white gold!

Photo courtesy AZAdam via Flickr
Photo courtesy AZAdam via Flickr

According to bra maker Wacoal America, 36DD was on track to replace 36D as the most purchased bra size in 2009. Internet bra retailer Bare Necessities also noticed an increase of DD sales. Could it be the body mass increase of American women? Surely, the popularity of breast enhancements has something to do with it as well. Whatever the reason, it should make American men extremely happy.

The French word “brassiere” has been around for several hundred years. Originally, it was used to describe a combat arm shield. Then it became known as a military breastplate and then as a corset for women. Today “brassiere” in France refers to a baby’s undershirt or arm float. A U.S. company adopted the word “brassiere” early in the 20th century to describe their newest breast-supporting garments and the word quickly became part of English vernacular. The word “brassiere” was shortened to the slang word “bra” in the 1930s.

Test Your Bra Knowledge!

Take this True or False quiz to find out how much you learned from this fascinating Hub. This may never be a Trivial Pursuit category, but you will surely impress the heck out of your friends at the next cocktail party!

© 2010 lindacee

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So how did you like this Hub? 13 comments

dotty1 profile image

dotty1 6 years ago from In my world

Hello ... really enjoyed this hub as a self confessed boob obsessed flat chest hahaha. I think I may of tried every one of those at least once but am still looking for the magic (increase me 3 cup sizes) bra ....I want some !!! arghhh


lindacee profile image

lindacee 6 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Glad you like the hub dotty1! I think whether women are over or under endowed, they are never satisfied with their bust measurements! I shudder to think of the money I've spent over the years on almost every type of bra imaginable! You would think someone would have invented a super cup size increasing bra -- not everyone can afford breast enhancement surgery!


djw 6 years ago

Thanks...I know what I'm getting my wife for her holiday present. Great information! I hope the lingerie salespeople are as helpful as your article.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 6 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

djw, thanks for the comment. Glad I could help -- your wife should be quite pleased with her gifts! FYI, if you have a difficult time finding just the right thing, opt for a gift card from a lingerie retailer, then you can tag along when she picks out her present!


genwriter profile image

genwriter 5 years ago from Singapore

Great hub for ladies! Keep up the good work Linda =)

Rated this hub and happy following you. :)


lindacee profile image

lindacee 5 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Thanks genwriter! I appreciate the rating and the positive feedback. Cheers!


Klena profile image

Klena 5 years ago from England

Wonderful hub! As a well-endowed lady, I've actually only been properly fitted for a bra in the last 3 months. (Although there was a lot of change prior with weight fluctuations!!) A fantastic hub filled with excellent information. Thank you Lindacee!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 5 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Klena, thanks checking out this Hub! A good fitting bra makes a world of difference, doesn't it? Glad the information was helpful. I wear a larger size bra as well and have lost weight, so I am probably due for a resizing myself.


Klena profile image

Klena 5 years ago from England

My pleasure, Lindacee! It really does make such a difference, I couldn't believe it after the fitting! You should treat yourself and revamp the brarobe :)


holyjeans30 profile image

holyjeans30 5 years ago from Mostly in My Own Little World

Wow, makes me more glad to be so flat chested and very easy to cover, and not much to support lol. Great Hub!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 5 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Ha! Thanks, holyjeans30. Yeah, there are so many varieties and styles to choose from it can make for a confusing choice. Sometimes simpler is better!


vickiesec 4 years ago

Thanks for the great hub. I have noticed that there are more and more super padded bras, which I love! It's cheaper and easier than surgery!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Vickie, thanks for visiting! Yes, padded bras seem to be taking over. Glad you enjoyed this Hub!

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