What Makes a Good Bra?

Abstract: This post discusses how I evaluate a bra based on comfort, shape, support, quality, and appearance. There’s also a list of design features, like wide straps and contiguous bands, that I find make a bra more supportive.

Before I start this post, let me say two things: firstly, I’m not a lingerie expert, just a consumer who’s figured out what mostly works and doesn’t work for her, bra-wise. Secondly, everyone is sized and shaped differently, and everyone has different preferences and priorities when it comes to clothes and undergarments. When I talk about ‘what makes a good bra’, I’m talking about what I personally look for in a bra; my criteria, and the ordering thereof, are by no means universal. That said: on with the list!

  1. Comfort comes up top for me. I require that my bras do not poke, stab, chafe, rub, or enact any other similarly unfriendly verb upon my person. It’s true that all bras, just like shoes, have an initial ‘breaking-in period’, but in the long term they shouldn’t cause any kind of discomfort.
  2. After comfort, I look for a bra that gives me a nice shape under clothes. I define a ‘nice shape’ as one that is extremely rounded — almost hemispherical — and I dislike bras that give a pointy shape. For sports bras, though, shape is less important than support and quality.
  3. Next is support. I prefer a high degree of support so that my boobs are nicely reined in by the bra and not flapping around or bouncing when I move. I’m not too keen on flimsy or overly-delicate lingerie.
  4. Quality. A bra of good quality should be well-made without dodgy stitches, uneven padding, wonky or non-secure hooks and/or eyes, and the like, and should last through at least one year of frequent wearing and washing. The quality should also square up with the price of the bra.
  5. Appearance, for me, comes in last. This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate pretty patterns or nice designs — quite the opposite, actually — but I would just as happily wear the world’s ugliest bra if it aced all the other categories. Like I said in my introduction post, I tend to prioritize function over fashion, but fortunately, lots of brands these days are bringing both to the table in equal measure!

Bras have loads of different design features. In general, I tend to prefer bras with lots of of structural engineering because they offer firmer support. To that end, I like bras with:

  • Wide bands. Not long bands, wide bands. Length is the band measurement, so a 34 band is longer than a 30. Width is the distance from the bottom to the top of the band. Wide bands tend to give more support and cut in less, reducing the appearance of ‘back fat’.
  • Three rows of hooks and eyes. Maybe even four.
  • Wide straps. Again, wide straps, not wide-set straps. Just like wide bands, wide straps reduce strain and cutting in. Thick, padded straps are nice too, especially on sports bras.
  • Moulded or padded cups, rather than thin fabric or mesh cups.
  • A high center gore. This is just a matter of personal preference, as I find it suits my wide-set boobs better and, again, gives more support.
  • A contiguous band (as opposed to a tripartite band), which gives more stability and generally feels less flimsy.
  • A balconette cut with vertical seaming on the cup and, in general, a structure that connects the strap directly to the bottom of the cup, well-illustrated here on the brilliant blog, Bras I Hate. This type of structure tends to give better support and uplift and a more rounded shape.
  • A leotard back, which distributes stress better than a camisole back.
  • Side boning. I think this might be the same thing as a ‘power bar’? — Basically, boning is when a bra has a vertical line of stiff material on the band, just behind the wires. It helps the band keep its shape and not crumple as you move, and it also shifts breast tissue from the sides to thefront of your body and keeps it there. Boning is my favorite thing ever. I hope no one takes that sentence out of context.

So there we go: an exhaustive (and probably also exhausting) laundry list of what I look for when I buy a bra. Of course, very few bras actually meet all or even most of these criteria, so it’s good to keep an open mind, but I also find that having a fairly concrete idea of what I’m looking for helps make better decisions about trying and buying bras.

Does anyone else have a list like this? What features do you like in your bras? Share it in the comments!

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