A topic for the fashion and comfort conscious, bras vs bralettes is becoming an increasingly popular debate.
Bralette sales might have boomed in recent years, but before you abandon your best bras and bulk buy their comfy counter-part instead, let us assure you there's probably a place for both in your underwear drawer.
We've weighed up the pros and cons of bras vs bralettes to help you pick the most appropriate and comfortable solution for your wardrobe.
Bras vs bralettes: What is the difference?
The main difference between a bra and a bralette is that bralettes are softer, more lightweight and are usually made without wiring. As a result, they give lighter support than a regular bra.
However, it’s worth pointing out that due to the increasing popularity of bralettes, many of the best bra brands are now creating them with wiring, so that those who love the look but need more structure from their lingerie can also indulge.
How to pick a bra or bralette that supports your boobs
Whether you’re opting for a bra or a bralette, the basic support system remains the same. You want to consider two things:
1. The underband
“The key to a supportive bra or bralette is the underband,” says Paula Skarratt, technical manager at Bravissimo.
“It should be firm but comfortable, and lie horizontally across your body.”
Busting a common fashion myth, Paula says you don’t need a wide underband for a suitable level of support (hello, slinky styles) but, instead, it’s more about the quality of the elastic.
Still prefer the reassurance of a more substantial underband? You’re in luck. There are plenty of really pretty long-line bras and bralettes available on the high street and beyond.
2. The straps
The straps are important, too. “Remember, they’re there to hold the cups in place, not to support the weight of your bust,” explains Paula.
“Straps can come in a variety of widths to suit the styling of the bra and help them to work well under different outfits. The clever construction of the elastic will stop the straps from curling and cutting into the shoulders.” Added padding along the straps will help avoid digging in, too, as will soft fabrics like silk.
Once you've decided what type of style you want to go for, we have plenty of bra and bralette recommendations to choose from, but we've listed some of our favorites below:
Best bralettes for small busts
RRP: $59 / £45 | Sizes: 32-38 B-C | With a sleek triangle shape, this pretty everyday bra comes in four colors. The silk fabric finish is smooth and cooling.
RRP: $39 / £22.50 | Sizes: US 2-18 / UK 6-22 | With pretty pleat detailing, this is the kind of bralette you'll want to show off. This piece is more of a special occasion look than everyday support.
RRP: $111 / £80, Matches | Sizes: XS-L | The bralette trend is one that often wants to be shown off. With attractive lace, you can let this bralette peek through a blouse.
RRP: $9.99 / £9.99 | Sizes: XS-XL | Sports bralettes are a large portion of the bralette market and this bargain piece from H&M is great for everyday comfort. The fabric is fast drying and the bra is seamless for increased mobility.
RRP: $39 / £25, Next | Sizes: S-L | Made using recycled yarn, this delicate bralette features a fashion-forward cut out detail. Without wires and padding, this is the super sultry bra that is also comfy too.
Best Bralettes for Large Busts
RRP: $32 / £37 at Net a Porter | Sizes: XXS-4XL We've put Kim Kardashian's lingerie through its paces before in our Skims bra review. But this new Fits Everybody bra goes up to a 4XL and from a 2XL onwards features thicker shoulder and under bust strap for better support.
RRP: $70 / £55 | Sizes: 28-40 D-HH | A wire bralette specifically designed for larger busts, our fashion editor swears by their innovative design. Sturdy enough to wear like a normal bra everyday, it's great to see a bralette up to a HH cup. They've recently launched a sports bralette too.
RRP: $24 / £15 | Sizes: XS-L | More of a loungewear bralette than an out and about piece, this bralette, with removable padding and scoop neckline offers great shaping. A strong option for those with a medium sized bust looking for a lighter level of support.
RRP: £42 | Sizes: XS-2XL | Chantelle is one of the best French lingerie brands, that also makes great bras and balettes for larger busts. You can see here how thick the shoulder straps are, offering marvelous support. The smooth fabric will be great under t-shirts too.
RRP: $35 / £20 | Sizes: 32-34 E-H | Specifically designed with larger busts in mind, this really sweet lace, is wire and padding free. Available in three shades, blue, white and black, this is a great option for everyday wear. The attractive scallop edging offers extra added detail too.
RRP: $41 / £30 | Sizes: 1XL-3XL | The fuller figured version of the classic Calvin Klein bralette, this style comes in four colors. The black body with white band and logo underband is one of the most timeless lingerie styles you can buy and has matching briefs too.
Best Bras for Small Busts
RRP: $49 / £39 |Sizes: 32-38 B-D | This pretty, delicate lace bra with triangle front shape is a really attractive bra for smaller busts. With underwire shaping to give lift and a stylish cut out detail on the back straps, this is the kind of bra you might want to flash a little lace off under a top or blouse.
RRP: $45.90 / £27.99 | Sizes: 32-38 B | As the sizing on this style suggests, this is aimed at those with a smaller bust who often need less uplift and support. As a general rule, the larger your bust, the more you should look to specialist retailers for the most important of foundations.
RRP: $12.99 / £9.99 | Sizes: 30-38 A-DDD | Covered in simple but attractive lacework, this push-up bra is padded to give the illusion of a larger bust and cleavage. With a cute charm detail at the center of the bra, it's available in three colors. At such a great price, if this style works for you, stock up.
RRP: $39 / £27 | Sizes US 2-12 / UK34-44 | Made of recycled polyamide, this delicate pink lace triangle-shaped bra is absolutely gorgeous. The thin straps and slim triangle front suggest that this bra is for women with smaller busts. The style of this bra is not too dissimilar from a bralette and is a good choice if you can't choose between the two.
RRP: $110 / £81 | Sizes: 85-95 A-D | From French lingerie house Maison Lejaby, this attractive burgundy lace bra with satin ribbon detailing and a scalloped edge along the bust line is truly beautiful. With a microfibre knit back, this bra marries style and comfort with ease. Available with a range of different cuts of matching briefs.
RRP: $47 / £25 | 32-36 A-D | Pretty in pink, this bra is absolutely gorgeous. Featuring an on-trend cut-out detail at the front and fashion-forward frilled shoulders, this is certainly a bra you won't want to keep to yourself. Allow the shoulders or the top of the bra to poke out underneath a silky cami.
Best Bras for Large Busts
RRP: £31 (stocked internationally) | Sizes: 30-38 D-J | Panache bras really are a great fit for fuller busts. This full-coverage bra is great under t-shirts and more fitted clothing as it offers a sleek finish. Practical for every day but still attractive with this chic lace detailing.
RRP: $77 / £36 | Sizes: 28-40 D-J | Gravity defying, this strapless bra really is amazing for larger busts. Of course bralettes are comfy, but when you're getting glammed up, or are opting for a shoulder baring look, then a strapless bra is a must-have style.
RRP: £38 (international stockists) | Sizes: 32-46 DD-K | Another brilliant label for full busted women, Elomi has a wide range of lingerie up to a K cup. This attractive red bra is perfect for adding a little va-va-voom to your lingerie drawer and features stretch lace and cute bow detailing.
RRP: $79 / £48 | Sizes: 30-38 D-J | With stunning embroidery, the half-cup style allows for natural and flattering cleavage. With extra support across the back and special side shaping to push the bust line forward, this is a stunning and style bra for larger busts.
RRP: $42 / £18| Sizes: 32-40 B-H | For a smooth bra that offers the comfort of a bralette but with more structure and shape, try a t-shirt bra. With a sleek finish they're great under tight-fitting fabrics, try one under any of your best v-neck t-shirts.
RRP: $162 / £118, at Rigby and Peller | Sizes: 34-38 C-G | With a retro style, this sensational longline bra with embroidered roses is real piece of artistry. Adding comfort to style there is a soft satin ribbon running under the bust line and cups for a beautiful finish.
What is a bralette?
Bralettes are soft, unstructured bras that tend to be free from niggling wires and, in most cases, padding. Much like with non-wired comfortable bras, the key selling point of a bralette might be their comfort factor, but that doesn't mean they don't look good too.
Just like normal bras, the best bralettes come in plenty of different styles, from wispy, lacy triangle styles to sports-inspired jersey crop tops.
And because they look less functional than your average bra, It’s actually fashionable to reveal a flash of bralette (if you're feeling brave, of course!). Layer yours beneath a semi-sheer shirt or let a pretty strap peek out from beneath a cami.
Bras vs bralettes – which is right for my boobs?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question, as ultimately it boils down to personal preference.
“There’s no specific benefit for a bra over a bralette or visa versa,” says Paula. “It’s all down to personal choice, the level of support you’re after, and what styles you prefer. Choose between the two based on what best fits your lifestyle and keeps you feeling confident and uplifted.”
If you like the support that underwiring offers, you might want to opt for a traditional bra for daytime and reserve bralettes for cozy at-home wear, but if you’re comfortable with less structure, then a bralette could be the perfect type of bra for general day-to-day wear.
Who suits bralettes?
As a general rule, smaller boobs tend to need less support to keep them feeling comfy and looking perky, so they tend to suit bralettes better, whereas those who are trying to tackle saggy boobs might struggle with them a bit. For this reason, bralettes are very suitable for smaller busts and have become especially popular at the lower end of bra sizing - especially if you're one who usually goes braless and you just want a bit of support. But if you're big-breasted and feeling left out, fear not: we've highlighted the best bras for large busts that belong in your boudoir ASAP.
Are bralettes suitable for big boobs?
It’s a common misconception that the flimsy shape of most bralettes makes them unsuitable for those blessed with a bigger bust, but really it’s just about choosing the right shape and style and making sure you know how to measure your bra size so that it fits well.
“Bralettes are supportive enough for big boobs – in fact, lots of our customers tell us how comfortable, supported and secure they feel in non-wired bras and bralettes,” says Paula.
“While they won’t offer the same level of support as a structured wired bra, brands like Bravissimo offer bralettes especially designed to support big boobs and provide the coverage you need. This gives our customers the option to shop styles they love without compromising on support.”
Jess Beech is an experienced fashion and beauty editor, with more than eight years experience in the publishing industry. She has written for woman&home, GoodtoKnow, Now, Woman, Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Own and Chat, and is a former Deputy Fashion & Beauty Editor at Future PLC. A beauty obsessive, Jess has tried everything from cryotherapy to chemical peels (minus the Samantha in Sex and The City-worthy redness) and interviewed experts including Jo Malone and Trinny Woodall.
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