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Dear Maddie: Pros and Cons of Wired and Non-Wired Bras

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Every woman likes and wears a different type of bra. Just like ordering a hamburger or a cheeseburger, whether she takes lettuce, tomato, and/or onion on top of her meat depends. Fit, support, comfort, and fabric all play a role in how she dresses both her breasts and her burger (enough with the synonym, Maddie!). There are pros and cons in the construction, patterning, and fit of each type of bra and when Brigid reached out to me with her question above, I thought it would be the perfect question for a ‘Dear Maddie’ post. Because I wear an A or a B cup and have only worked on bras this size, I reached out to two other expert bramakers to help me answer Brigid’s question – Amy of Cloth Habit and Norma of Orange Lingerie. Even though we three “take” our bras differently, a couple of things rang true for all of us. The obvious being comfort and support, but the not-so-obvious was that without an underwire, the bridge at the center front, or point of most strain (POMS), will stand away from the body. In other words, without the underwire, it is hard for the bridge to sit back on the chest wall.

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Pros of soft cup bras without underwires:
Comfort – many women have not found an underwired bra that fits them satisfactorily. Some women like the looser, “freer” feeling of a non-underwire bra.
Special needs – great for and sometimes medically required for special situations such as post surgery around the breasts or breast area.

Cons of soft cup bras without underwires:
Support – This is by far the number one issue. For A and B cups this is not much of an issue, but any cup size larger than that will not get the lift and the support provided in an underwire bra.
Fit – It is rare for the bridge sit back at the chest wall in non underwire bra for anything but an A cup.

A few other points on wire free bras:
Height of bridge – the center front bridge should be higher to help with breast containment and to provide more strength to the frame and band to help support the breasts.
Fabric – the fabric used for the cups and the frame for a wire free bra must have very low movement properties. Without underwires, all the pressure of support is going to be on the fabric.

There have been some developments where manufacturers are using molded foam to replace an underwire and combining this with a foam cup in an effort to create a wire free bra that has the same support as one with a wire. See the “Warner’s This is Not a Bra” for an example. I have not tried one of these out, so I can’t speak to the efficacy or the durability, but it is an interesting idea.

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Pros to non-wired bras:
Very comfortable! I wear a B or a C cup depending on the brand (or day), and I am also a little bit bony under my breasts, so a poorly fitting underwire really feels like a cage. My least favorite bras are strapless (even though I find them necessary for some clothes), since the wires on a strapless bra tend to go higher up the center front and sides for support and to keep the bra in place.

Cons to non-wired Bras:
They don’t lift the way wired bras can. Even in my small cups, there is a difference. The bridge at the center front usually pulls away without wires to hold it down, and without them, it’s almost impossible to “separate” larger cups (they will compress). Some bra styles, like balconettes or strapless, just don’t work well without wires.

I have found that vertical seams in the cup are really helpful to the shape and support, especially in a non-wired bra. I recently made a nursing bra sans wires for a friend, and used all vertical seams with an extra lining to help make the bra a little more lifting. Fabric choices and linings are always important to bra shaping, but critical in a non-wired bra. But again, this is personal preference. I sometimes make very light and stretchy non-wired bras for myself, but they tend to fit more like a compression sports bra. Lately I have been cutting my own wires – inspired by Norma’s book! Nailing my personal favorite wire shape and length has really helped with comfort – I feel like I’m not wearing a bra at all.

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Non-wired bras:
Construction pros and cons – one pro when sewing a non-wired bra that has cup seams (as opposed to a bralette/bandeau) is that there are two steps you don’t have to take, which is inserting the underwire and closing off the channeling at the center front and side (remember that even though the bra is non-wired, channeling should still be sewn at the cup seam). This makes construction a little easier as one of the hardest parts for me in bramaking is making those little tacks look neat and tidy, but the difference is not by much. Con for constructing a non-wired bra? Hmm… I don’t have one!

Support pros and cons because I’m an A or a B cup, I don’t notice a difference when it come to support between a wired and a non-wire bra (unless I’m working out). So whether I choose a bra with wires or sans wires when getting dressed in the morning actually depends on the top, tee, or blouse I’m going to where. If I’m wearing a tee, which is usually oversized but still clingy, I chose a bralette like this (technically a non-wired bra) because it gives my breats a better shape underneath my shirt. But if I’m wearing a blouse, I opt for a wired bra like this, because the shape of my breasts doesn’t matter as much underneath the loose fit of blouses. Also, I feel more feminine wearing a wired bra.
*I own and wear the bras linked above and highly recommend them for smaller chested women*

Fit pros and cons – just like Amy and Norma wrote, without underwires, the bridge of a non-wired bra won’t sit next to the body and it will pull away from the chest, especially at the point of most strain (POM). This is a huge eye sore for me because it can result in horizontal draglines at the POMS. Since I’m an OCD patternmaker and this point is front and center, I immediately want to correct it. The pros of a non-wired bra when it comes to fit is that is provides the shape of a wired bra but the comfort and freedom of a bralette.

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12 Comments

  1. Reply

    Hanne

    Very helpful! I feel with a bigger cup (like myself) I do need the underwires. Both for comfort and for modesty!

  2. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    I’m a D/DD and I prefer non wired bras mainly for ione technical reason that naturally my breasts are very close together so theres not a lot of room for a bridge in there. Maybe 1-2 wires width. So shove an underwire bra in the and guess where those wires will go? So for me having the bridge pull forward is a must. Lift and separate you say? Well life might be nice but my nipples already point outwards so separating them would not be helpful. Of course all this happens because of a lot of weight being added to what is a petite frame so I am outside of the norm on this one. But hopefully useful information.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I freaking love your honesty!

      • Reply

        Natasha Estrada

        Yes well probably 20 years from now talking about my nipples on the internet will hinder my senate campaign. Oh well.

        FYI the Warner This is not a bra still has an underwire wedged under all that foam. So to Warner I say yes yes it IS still a bra.

        Foam cups are not a big breasted women’s friend they add extra volume and just feel weird like my boobs are bionic or something.

        Platex however makes a few good wirefree bras for larger ladies. I’m fond of the 18 hour bra. Pretty much the cups and entire front are not stretchy. I prefer that.

  3. Reply

    No chic Sherlock

    Love this post. this is very intersting topic and a great issue for most women I think. I would love to be able to wear soft wireless bras or maybe even no bra at all, but that is not the case here. Although soft bras are my dream, wearing them ends in more discomfort and it just looks bad (sad sagging stuff). I was always minimum C cup, went to DD at some point (everything just goes up there, god forbit it went to my ass), and now shift between B&C depending on design and manufacturer. But when I am just at home, I do use soft bras, to at least have them contained at minimum 😀
    xoxo,
    NCS
    http://nochicsherlock.blogspot.com/

  4. Reply

    BigGirl

    Interesting article, but it seems to favor wireless bra’s. When I was a C/D I didn’t make much of a distinction either but now I wear anything from a DDD to an E or F (depending on the cut) so things are different now. I find that wireless bra’s allow the breasts to hang in a way that seems more natural but wired bras keep my chest under control- they’re more likely to stay where I put them, and they don’t droop as badly by the end of the day. They also work better under my blouses. I don’t wear t-shirts very often and the neckline on wired bras is far less likely to show under a work shirt than a wireless one. Also, padded bras tone down nipples that poke out, which makes me less self-conscious when I’m out and about. I don’t find wireless bras to be uncomfortable as long as the wires are padded and the waist band fits. The only caveat is that I never work out in a wired bra- they cost too much and all the hopping around destroys the elastic even faster than normal- so I use wireless ones for that.

  5. Reply

    SmilaZ

    I used to have huge breasts during puberty and eventually when they were not so huge anymore I had a breast-lift done surgically with pretty much perfect results. But they were still heavy enough to eventually not be so perfectly uphigh anymore, and I was always wearing wired bras as well. BUT THEN I’ve been SO LUCKY to have the experience a natural breast-lift later on when I lived on ibiza for some years where I eventually got into wearing mostly only my favorite triangle-bikini instead of a bra. The reasons were mainly that I know from the earlier surgical experince that wearing wire-cup-bras is ironically not good if you want to keep your breasts from sagging, as the surgent advised me not to wear wired bras. But I did not know exactly why those bras help the sagging, so I kept my speculative always-analysing mind on the subject for years till it became clear to me as I was always wearing wired bras.
    Eventually it became obvious to me that the part of the wire that goes out onto the outer side of your body, is actually keeping the side part of your breasts unable to move freely with your movements throughout the day, meaning it is all the time stretching your skinn. Furthermore most bras are designed to push your breasts to the front which obviously is only supporting that stretching of the skinn.
    The triangle-bra was making it very clear, because unline the wired bra, the triangle bra was keeping my breasts pressed into the body, rather than pushing them away from the body for that silly push-up effect, and while each edge of the triangle-bikini was keeping the breasts from sliding out, at the same time it was always loose enough to let all the skinn move freely with my movements throughout the day so the skinn was not stretched all the time nor pulled up and away from the boby. Surely when looking from the side of me my breasts would look smaller, of flatter if you will, but now they were kept higher up and in a natural possition, and viewing me from the front the breasts looked rather like young new/fresh tight and higher sitting breast.
    What I had not expected though, was that after some 2years of wearing this triangle-bikinni-top all the time, that my breasts would suddenly sit higher and be tighter without the top on! But when the bra was starting to loose its elastic and sort of falling appart I tried to find a new one that would sit and hold my breasts exactly the same, but no other bikini I found was that well made/designed/sewn, so I gave up and went back to wired bras again but this time noticing the different feeling of it on my skinn, and even the visual of it was looking silly to me now with the way it pushes the breasts to the front/outwards, rather that holding them into the body so that the skinn is not streched all the time.
    Go ahead and put your wired bra on so it sits exactly how it looks and feels right, and then move and stretch your body in all ways, maybe even bend over forwards a few times, and then look in the mirror how your breasts end up sitting with the upper skinn hanging and side skinn all stretched. Yeah it is incredible that the people who make these things are suppoed to be proffesional in their job and getting paid to in fact just fool us totally with the (in fact purely stupid and ruining) push-up ideas.
    Of course I thought; no it must be my immagination that my breasts actually look younger/tighter and higher, but wearing the wired bras again, after so long, made it extremely clear that it was not at all my imagination.

    I’m now writing this not only to share the knowledge, but also because since this experience and discovery, I’ve been working on a design in the back of my mind, that will give me exactly all those good advantages (from all bra ideas combined) by picking out the details that Are Actually and Factually Right for the breasts in long-term, but I’m not a designer of bras or anything eve close, and I typically need too much help with sewing to do this project alone, so I’m wondering if anyone out there is capable ready and able with enough skill to team up and do this task with me!?

  6. Reply

    SB

    This is a very useful post. I certainly hope the commentor, SmilaZ, will get to develop a healthier alternative. I’d be interested in trying it. (Sorry I’m not skilled enough to help construct it however.) I certainly hope you kept that triangle shaped bikini even if it did wear out – it would be a prototype for construction and really should make your quest easier.

    As an otherwise small woman with natural DD or more cups, I can not wear underwires for very long without causing physical problems for myself. The wires actually makes my breasts quite painful – even though the size is supposedly correct. Never have this issue with wire-free bras. When I was young and only a C cup, this was never an issue. At that size, the breasts really didn’t need much support. I believe that as the breast size increases the extra weight makes the underwires increasingly difficult to wear, possibly because they dig in more deeply while worn under that weight. I developed breast cysts (diagnosed by ultrasound) after I went back to trying to wear underwires on a regular basis. Painful! They seem to go away again when I wear wireless for weeks or months with no sneaking in any wired bras into the rotation. The problem is, I can’t find a non-wired bra that holds up the girls in an attractive manner. I don’t like looking even moderately pointy which seems the case with so many wire-free bras – nor do I like the squished look that comes from compression (sports bras and shaped cup wire-free bras that spread my breasts around my sides too somehow!) The sturdiness required for the fabric and band of the wirefree bra makes me feel like Scarlet O’Hara in that corset. If you even modestly bloat during the course of the day, that band becomes torture. With all the technology at our fingertips today, it’s very strange that a truly good solution to the bra doesn’t exist yet. I’ll keep hoping!

    Meanwhile, thanks for this post.

    • Reply

      SmilaZ

      Thank you very much for your compliments/feedback. Yes I did keep that old triangle bikini to be a useful piece for the creation I want to make. ..as soon as possible. 😉
      Sorry about your troubles, I know how it can be yeah. I even know a Danish girl who had several breast reductions done.

  7. Reply

    Pratiksha Dhawan

    NIce Article! Yes both wire-free and wired bra have benefits and advantages both. Wire free bras also go by other names. Sometimes, they are commonly referred to as “wireless”.In addition, some lingerie websites or designers will call a wire free bra “soft cup”, because they lack the firm wire.

    An underwire bra (also under wire bra, under-wire bra, or underwired bra) is a brassiere that utilizes a thin, semi-circular strip of rigid material fitted inside the brassiere fabric. The wire may be made of metal, plastic, or resin. The wire helps to lift, separate, shape, and support a woman’s breasts

  8. Reply

    Camilla

    I only wear wireless bras, no matter how many sizes I try, I always find wired bras painful, and I always choose comfort over support!

  9. Reply

    Rachel

    I’m a C cup and wear only nonwired. I don’t feel like I have a problem doing so. Whenever I have gone for fittings they have always recommended non wired for me so I have always bought them. I prefer the shape I have when I’m wearing a nonwired. Support and coverage but not putting them out there. I hate the thought of wires digging in to me especially wearing it for 14+ hours a day. I’ll stick to what I’m comfortable with just now but am not opposed to the idea of needing wires when I’m a little older. Glad I read this article to help me with any future bra buying decisions!

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