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The Ultimate Guide to Bra Styles

Choosing the right bra can be surprisingly difficult. It is essential that your bra is the right size for you but size is only part of the story. There are several different styles of bra to choose from and the perfect bra for you will depend on what you wish to wear it with, your body shape and how you want to feel. This does mean, of course, that you will need several bras in different colours and styles to suit a variety of outfits and occasions. To make matters more complicated, the different brands will often have their own names for certain styles of bra and this can certainly cause confusion. At Bra Shop UK we would like to help you find the perfect bras with our ultimate guide.

The Balconette Bra

Balconette bras are underwired styles with widely set straps and relatively low cut cups. These bras have a high centre gore (panel). Balconette has become a rather general term to describe bras with cups that offer anything from half to three-quarter breast coverage.

Who Should Wear A Balconette Bra?

Balconette bras are also known as balcony bras and provide excellent uplift with good cleavage and a rounded appearance. They best suit women with broader shoulders and firm breast tissue due to the wider set straps and less than full cups. Balconette bras are a great choice to wear with low cut, square and sweetheart necklines.

The Bandeau Bra

This is a bra which is shaped like a strip over your breasts and which may feature ruching at the centre. A bandeau bra is something between a strapless bra and a tube top and is made of stretch fabric. Bandeaus often feature brightly coloured, funky fabrics which are ideal for summer wear and when you would like some of the bra to be visible. They can be used to create an appealing layered look with dresses and vests.

Who Should Wear a Bandeau?

A Bandeau offers no shaping and very little support and so best suits women with smaller breasts.

Contour Bras, Moulded Bras and T Shirt Bras

A contour or moulded cup bra has cups which have been moulded by machine to fit the shape of the breasts. The terminology can be confusing as there is a slight difference between these two types of lingerie. A moulded bra has cups which have been shaped over a breast mould to create a pre-defined form. The cups are then sewn into the frame of the bra. Many moulded bra cups do not have seams but seams can be included to provide extra support.

Contour bras are moulded bras but with the addition of a thin layer of foam in the cup to prevent the nipples from showing through. Contour bras can be seamless or have seams for additional support. Contour bras may also feature fabrics like lace which do not provide a smooth finish. To add to the potential confusion, seamless contour bras in smooth fabrics are often called t shirt bras! If it helps you to make the distinction think of the bras like this - t shirt bras are always contour bras but contour bras are not always t shirt bras!

Because the various bra manufacturers can use the terms moulded, contour and t shirt differently and not always consistently it is best to gain an understanding of the features of these bras and which of these you are looking for rather than to focus on the brands' chosen terminology.

Who Should Wear a Contour Bra?

So who should wear a contour, moulded or t shirt bra? Well, all three styles will give women a sculpted and rounded silhouette. The bras will provide a significant level of coverage with both contour and t shirt bras preventing the nipples from showing through. The foam in contour bras shields sensitive nipples. These bras are a great choice to wear with clingy fabrics or, of course, t shirts.

Contour bras are ideal for women who are in between cup sizes or who have slightly uneven breasts. The foam disguises any imbalance and is forgiving if the cup size is less than perfect. However, contour bras do not work so well for women with dramatically different sized breasts unless they wear an insert. This is because if one cup is not adequately filled it can flatten and look deformed under clothes. Women with large breasts may find that contour bras appear to add more volume to their breasts and may not provide enough lift and support.

Demi or Half Cup Bras

A Demi or half cup bra features cups which are low cut and offer breast coverage which extends to just above the nipple. Half cup bras tend to have straps that are set widely apart. They give you a sexy look and can be a great choice for wearing with low cut necklines to achieve discreet lift. When choosing a demi bra you must pay attention to the other terminology used to describe the lingerie as demi bras are available in push-up, balconette, moulded, strapless, plunge and t shirt styles. There is nothing straightforward about choosing a bra is there!

Who Should Wear Half Cup Bras?

Demi or half cup bras suit women with firmer breasts who want to look or feel sexy. If your breast tissue is loose it may appear saggy in the cups. Ladies with narrow or sloping shoulders may find that the straps of these bras will slip off their shoulders or dig into their armpits.

Full Cup Bras

As the name suggests, full cup bras completely cover the breasts. This style offers more support than any other type of bra. As they are designed for women who seek the maximum support and comfort the shoulder straps tend to be wide. The downside of these bras is that they could be visible if you choose to wear anything with a low neckline. Now for the complications! The term full cup bra refers to coverage rather that to a type of bra or structure. You will therefore find different types of full cup bra including contour, moulded, t shirt and plunge. We hope that you aren't becoming confused!

Who Should Wear a Full Cup Bra?

Full cup styles are great for women with full or large breasts, those with loose breast tissue or ladies who seek modesty. The full coverage and wide straps provide maximum support and ensure a pleasing silhouette even if breasts are a little saggy.

Sports Bras

Well, no prizes for guessing what sports bras are but we thought that we should at least explain how they work and why they are a wardrobe essential for active women. Breasts are fatty tissue not muscle and so cannot be toned. Physical exercise can really take its toll and result in irreversible damage to the breasts if they are not adequately supported. Sports bras are designed to provide the required support and are fashioned from moisture wicking fabrics that help to keep you dry and which prevent chafing. Straps are designed to aid support, to stay in place as you move and to keep you comfortable. Sports bras are also full cup bras but you had probably guessed that!

Who Should Wear a Sports Bra?

The answer may seem obvious. Clearly anyone participating in sporting activity should wear a sports bra but this style of lingerie can also be a wise investment for those who go walking or hiking as the high levels of comfort, the non-slip straps and the moisture wicking fabric lend themselves to life in the great outdoors. Sports bras are also useful for wearing with tops or dresses that have racerbacks.

Plunge Bras

Plunge bras can be worn with V necks and low cut clothes without being visible. These bras have a low cut in the centre gore with a thin centre piece and often have lower-cut cups. U Plunge bras have ultra-low centre gores and are designed for really low cut necklines. U Plunge bras often have side boning to aid support.

Who Should Wear a Plunge Bra?

A plunge bra is the right choice for women who want to display some cleavage and to wear low cut clothes without their bra showing. Ladies with loose breast tissue, especially on top, may not suit these bras as the shape can make loose breasts sag in the cup.

Push Up Bras

These are the bras which do exactly what it says on the tin. Well on the packet anyway! They push breasts up and together to maximise cleavage and to give the breasts a more youthful appearance. These bras are usually also plunge or demi bras with a low centre gore to be worn with low necklines that will really show that cleavage. Many push up bras are moulded bras or T shirt friendly styles too.

Push up bras will make the breasts look bigger and draw attention to them. These bras are usually padded. The padding may be built in or it may be removable. The removable variety is helpful for women with larger breasts who do not wish to make them look too much bigger and who merely wish to create attractive cleavage.

Who Should Wear a Push Up Bra?

Push up bars are fabulous for women with smaller breasts who wish to create the illusion of bigger boobs. They create a sexy look with rounded cleavage that can be displayed in low cut clothing. Push up bras are not so kind to those with loose breast tissue as the structure can make such breasts appear to be flat on top.

Padded Bras

These bras have padded cups to lift the breasts and to give the appearance of larger, fuller and firmer breasts. Padded bras can be t shirt bras, contour bras, plunge bras, demi cups or push ups. The padding can be made from a variety of materials including foam, silicone or even gels which shape to your body and feel like real breasts. The padding can be sewn into the cups or removable. Sewn in padding tends to be graduated and so thicker at the base to provide lift.

Who should Wear a Padded Bra?

Padded bras are perfect for women who want to make their breasts look larger and ladies with loose breast tissue who want a more rounded and firm look. Wearing a padded bra can disguise uneven breasts and protect sensitive areas from chafing and knocks.

Mastectomy Bras

Mastectomy bras are full cup styles that feature pockets inside the cups into which breast forms can be inserted. These bras are for women who have had one or both breasts removed or for those who have undergone breast reconstruction. Some bras are designed specifically to be worn during the recovery process and are constructed to minimise discomfort and are fashioned from ultra-soft fabrics.

Who Should Wear a Mastectomy Bra?

These bras are obviously primarily for women who have undergone breast surgery but can also be useful for women who have uneven breasts as the pockets can be used to hold inserts which will produce a more balanced appearance.

Maternity and Nursing Bras

Anita Maternity Bustier Bra in blue
Anita Maternity Bra

These two types of bra are actually different styles but the terms are often used interchangeably. Strictly speaking a maternity bra is designed to offer extra support and comfort during pregnancy whilst a nursing bra is for breast feeding mothers and has a flap that unclips to provide easy access to the breast.

During pregnancy the rib cage expands and cup sizes increase. Maternity bras are designed to accommodate these changes and to provide additional support and comfort for tender breasts. Maternity bras may have wider straps, padded straps, stretchy cups and extra rows of fastenings. If you are breastfeeding choose your nursing bra quite late in your pregnancy otherwise you may have grown out of it by the time your baby is born.


You have many choices and much to consider when choosing a new bra. With so many styles available there can be confusion especially as some of the bra types we have mentioned are not so much specific styles as variants or bras with special features. However, there really are only three factors to consider - cut, construction and purpose. Cuts include balconette, demi, full cup and plunge bras. Construction refers to straps, fastenings, seams, padding and fabrics. Purpose is all about your body, what look you want to achieve and what you are wearing. Bras with a purpose include push ups, sports bras, maternity bras, nursing bras and mastectomy bras. Of course there are other types and styles of bras available and we haven't mentioned colour options but perhaps we shouldn't make your choice seem any more complicated than it already does!

We hope that this guide will help you to find the perfect bra for you. One that flatters your figure, makes the most of your assets and suits your wardrobe. That perfect bra is in the Bra Shop UK range. Promise!


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