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.
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.
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.
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.