What are bras?
Underwear designed to cover and/or support the breasts.
What do bras do?
Why might I want a bra?
You might want to wear a bra because:
- You find it gender-affirming to wear one
- You need the support it provides to your breasts
- You want to either accentuate or downplay your breasts
Why might I not want a bra?
You might prefer to go without a bra if:
- You find it uncomfortable
- It causes dysphoria
- You don’t see the point of wearing one
I want to wear a bra, but it’s uncomfortable…
If you struggle with wearing a bra for sensory reasons, but still want to wear one, there may be ways to mitigate the discomfort:
- If you find the material itchy or chafing, you might find that a non-lacy bra is better than a lacy one.
- If you find the straps uncomfortable, you can get comfort cushions to go under the shoulder straps.
What kinds are there?
There are lots of different kinds of bra, and which kinds you want to wear will depend on your body, your relationship with it, your fashion sense, and the situation you’re dressing for. For this article, we’re focusing on the types of bra that can increase or decrease the prominence or apparent size of breasts.
To emphasise or increase breasts:
- Padded bras have a thicker lining that adds to the size and improves the shape of the breasts
- Water bras are similar to padded bras, but the padding is made out of water or gel-filled bags rather than being part of the fabric
- Bras with pockets for inserts have a special pocket that can accommodate bra inserts
- Push-up bras push the breasts together and upwards, increasing the amount of cleavage, but don’t increase the overall size
- Mastectomy bras are designed to hold prosthetic breasts
To de-emphasise or reduce breasts:
- Sports bras are designed for use in physical activity, minimising breast movement and often compressing the breasts
- Minimiser bras hold the breasts relatively flat and use minimal padding
- Male bras (also known as gynecomastia vests or compression vests) are designed for men with gynecomastia (breast growth), and generally compress and flatten breasts
- If you want to eliminate breasts as much as possible, consider getting a binder
How do I work out my bra size?
To measure yourself you’ll need a fabric measuring tape. These usually only cost a few pounds, and can be bought in pound shops, supermarkets, online, or at sewing shops.
Bra sizes consist of two components:
Back or band size measures the circumference of your chest just below the breasts - the underbust. In the UK, this is represented by a number measured in inches, rounded to the nearest even number.
Cup size measures the difference between two different measurements of the circumference of your chest. Take the first measurement at the largest point of the breasts (the bust), and use the back size as the second measurement. The difference between these two measurements is usually represented by a letter.
In the UK the usual values are:
AA A B C D DD E F FF <1 in. 1 in. 2 in. 3 in. 4 in. 5 in. 6 in. 7 in. 8 in.
For example, a 36B would mean an underbust of 36 inches and a bust 2 inches larger than the band size, or 38 inches.
Some manufacturers add 4 or 5 inches to back size measurements and then reduce the cup size accordingly, but this is increasingly uncommon.
If you’re not sure how to go about measuring yourself, Women’s Health magazine has an online guide, and some shops will have staff who can measure for you.
If you have a particularly large back size, you can get bra extenders. These are small strips of elastic with extra hooks that can lengthen the back of a bra.
The Reddit community r/abrathatfits has plenty of in-depth information about bra sizing on their Wiki. They have a comprehensive guide to bra sizing for trans women, but their system for calculating sizing is more complex than the one we’ve laid out here. Also note that, while they do have an online size calculator, their calculator generally overestimates cup sizes for trans women.
What if I don’t have breasts?
- Back size is still important: measure this about halfway down your chest
- You can pick a cup size that you think looks good, or that will fit prosthetic breasts you have. You may want to make sure the weight of whatever padding you’re wearing hangs naturally, or it might be obvious that you’re using padding.
Where can I find a bra?
Most clothing shops will have a bra section. Specialist lingerie shops will have a wider selection of bras, but these can be more expensive.
If you need a particularly large back size, especially accompanied by a small cup size, you may have to go to a specialist shop or look online.
How much will it cost?
Bras vary widely in cost. Depending on where you get it and how durable it is, a normal bra can cost anywhere from £15 to £40, with “fashion” bras sometimes being significantly more expensive than that. Unusually-sized bras might cost more.
How do I put on my bra?
Usually the easiest way to put a bra on is “backwards”:
- Wrap it around your chest, making sure not to twist it, with the hooks in front of you
- Hook it closed using the widest hooks that don’t feel too loose
- Turn it around until the cups are at the front
- Put your breasts (if you have them) into the cups. If you have prosthetic breasts or inserts, you might want to finish putting your bra on first
- Put your arms through the straps
You may need to adjust the straps to the right size for you: usually there will be adjusters on the straps for this purpose.
To take off your bra, just unhook it at the back and then slip your arms out. If you can’t manage to reach the hooks while it’s on, then you can take it off in the same way you put it on, by rotating it until the hooks are in front of you.
How do I take care of my bra?
- Don’t wear it tighter than you need, as this can weaken the elastic
- Remember, the elastic will naturally slacken over time: that’s why there are multiple sets of hooks at the back
- You don’t need to wash it after every wear: once every 3 or 4 wears is fine. Some people only wash theirs once a week.
- Some bras need to be hand-washed, but most can go in the washing machine. A mesh lingerie bag will help prevent it from getting tangled with other laundry items
- After washing, air drying is best: the heat from a tumble dryer can reduce the elasticity of the straps
This page is illustrated using a photograph by Tommas Gunnarsson available at Wikimedia.
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