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According to Jené Luciani Sena, author of “The Bra Book,” bralettes have always been hailed for comfort. But during the coronavirus pandemic, they became what she called something of a “hero” for women. Bralettes are a type of wire-free bra known for their seamlessness and simplicity — a contrast to more structured bras, according to Luciani Sena. As people spent more time at home during the past year, they opted for casual, relaxed clothing from loungewear to athleisure, and undergarments were no exception.
“People were craving comfort, so they tossed their foam underwire T-shirt style bras in favor of lounge bras, sports bras, yoga bras and bralettes,” Luciani Sena said.
Typically bralettes are one piece, similar to sports bras, Luciani Sena said. They usually don’t have clasps or wires, and they’re not always adjustable. But now, Luciani Sena noted that “the bralette or lounge bra has gained so much popularity of late that it has morphed into other styles to cater to a larger range of women.” We talked to experts about how to buy a bralette and the different styles emerging from brands like Harper Wilde and Parade, as well as tips for sizing, supportive features to look for while shopping and more.
SKIP AHEAD What is a bralette?
Best bralettes of 2021
Luciani Sena recommended bralettes made from fabric that does not create seams and offers stretch and support, like microfiber or spandex. Harper Wilde’s The Bliss is designed from microfiber smoothing fabric. Lift comes from the bralette’s thick band, and it has a V-back and neck. The bralette is available in sizes ranging from XS to 3XL and comes in four colors: Beige, Tan, Brown and Black. You can purchase The Bliss individually or as a bundle.
Elisabeth Dale, founder of The Breast Life and author of “The Bra Zone: How to Find Your Ideal Size, Style, and Support,” said as bralettes continue to grow in popularity, more brands are offering styles in extended sizes. Lively’s The Busty Bralette was specifically designed for sizes ranging from D to DDD. It’s made from mesh fabric with nylon lined cups, and has a hidden inner sling to offer additional coverage and shape. The bralette also has wide adjustable straps and a wide adjustable hook-and-eye band closure. It’s available in five colors: Toasted Almond, Soft Pink, Smoke, Plum and Jet Black.
If you have sensitive skin, Dale recommended wearing lace bralettes that are lined with a softer fabric (although all laces are not created equal, she said). This bralette is made from floral lace fabric and features a mesh lining. It has scalloped edges and a racerback. The bralette is available in sizes ranging from XS to XL and comes in five colors: Ivory, Graphite, Black, Latte and Navy Blue.
One of the most common bralette styles is the triangle shape, according to Kimmay Caldwell, undergarment educator and owner of HurrayKimmay.com. Parade’s Triangle Bralette — which comes in 10 colors — is made from the brand’s Re:Play fabric, which is constructed from soft recycled yarn, recycled nylon and spandex with a cotton lining. Larger sizes have wider straps to offer more support, and the straps are adjustable. The bralette’s AirBand is adjustable due to its hook-and-eye closure, too. It’s available in sizes ranging from XS to 3XL, which fits bra sizes A-D. Parade also offers three additional sizes (1+, 2+ and 3+) for bra sizes DD, DDD and F.
Some bralettes are lightly lined or padded, and others are designed with removable padding, Caldwell said. This bralette from Aerie is padded and has an adjustable halter strap. It’s designed with ribbed seamless fabric and a thick band. The bralette is available in seven colors and sizes ranging from XXS to XXL.
Danny Koch, owner and president of Town Shop, a lingerie and swimwear store in New York City, said this bralette from Cosabella was designed for fuller figures, specifically for DD cups and above. The bralette has wide adjustable straps and its band features elastic to offer increased support. It’s constructed from non-sheer scalloped lace and is lined with mesh. The bralette is a pullover style and comes in over a dozen colors.
Girlfriend Collective’s Cami Bralette is available in sizes ranging from XXS to 6XL, and you can recycle it through the brand’s ReGirlfriend program when you’re done wearing it. The bralette is made from material constructed with 80 percent recycled bottles and 20 percent spandex. It’s double lined and features adjustable straps with a soft elastic band. The bralette comes in four colors: Black, Shell, Copper and Lavender.
Target’s Colsie bralettes are popular on TikTok — one video about them was shared over 77,000 times, and some styles sell out after videos are made about them. This bralette features a thick elastic band and is designed with ribbed fabric as well as an inner liner. It’s a pullover style and is available in sizes ranging from XS to XL. The bralette comes in four colors: Black, Off White, Berry and Green (currently out of stock).
What is a bralette?
“Bra” is an umbrella term under which bralettes fall, according to Caldwell. “A bralette is a type of bra and the ‘lette’ implies less bra,” she said. The term bralette has recently become more widely used, and Caldwell noted that its definition has consequently become blurry. But the core characteristics of bralettes have remained the same: a lack of underwire and loose support. Caldwell also said bralettes are usually made of less material than bras, and they create a more casual shape due to a lack of padding or molded cups.
Caldwell said bralettes are often fashionable, too. They can be worn under a sheer blouse or low-cut top, for example, especially if they’re designed with lace or a strappy back. These stylish elements of bralettes once caused some people to think of them as a piece of lingerie, according to Koch. But he said “there has been a move in the past few years towards functional bralettes” designed for use while relaxing at home, running errands and engaging in low impact activities like walking or yoga. They’re not, however, meant for high impact athletics like sports bras, Caldwell said.
What to look for when buying a bralette
Because bralettes come in many different styles, factors like neckline and color come down to personal preference. However, there are two elements experts recommend you look for with any bralette you buy:
- Adjustable straps: Caldwell said adjustable straps help ensure a more accurate fit since you can choose a strap length that best works for your body.
- Adjustable wide band: Ninety percent of a bra’s support comes from its band, according to Luciani Sena, who is also the creator of The GemBra. She said the firmer it is — if it’s made from fabric with a high spandex content, for example — the more support it provides. Luciani Sena recommended looking for an elastic band that’s wider than the band on typical underwire bras — 2 inches or more — and a band that’s made with an adjustable back hook-and-eye closure.
Dale said bralette sizing between brands is not identical. Because of this, she recommended looking at a specific brand’s sizing chart before you purchase a bralette. “After all, you wouldn’t buy a medium every time you bought a T-shirt from multiple different manufacturers, even though you wear that size in one,” she said.
Furthermore, Koch said bralettes used to be sold according to alpha sizing — Extra Small to Extra Large — but many are now offered in bra sizes. While alpha-sized bralettes can often accommodate a range of sizes since they’re stretchy, Caldwell said bra-sized bralettes may fit more accurately. This is especially the case if someone needs a different fit ratio, like a smaller band and larger bust. Overall, she recommended trying bralettes in different styles and sizes until you find what works best for you.
“When it comes to bralettes, they still need to fit well in order to be comfortable,” Caldwell said. “Many people will go with a wire-free, casual lace bra thinking it will be cozy, but if it's hanging off them and digging into their body, it will be just as uncomfortable as a firm, underwire bra that doesn't fit.
Bralettes: Benefits and drawbacks
Experts agreed that comfort is the main benefit of bralettes, as they’re more flexible compared to underwire bras. Dale said bralettes are often more affordable than underwire bras, too. And Caldwell said“wearing a bralette can give your other bras a break. I often see people overwearing their go-to bras and they will become stretched out too fast.” She recommended rotating bras in your wardrobe to extend how long they’ll last, and one way to do so is by investing in a few bralettes.
What you gain in comfort while wearing a bralette, you often lose in support. “Many bralettes don’t offer enough support for anyone over a B cup,” Luciani Sena said. While there are factors that may make some bras more supportive than others — like a wider band and adjustable straps — they don’t offer the same shape and support that structured underwire bras do. However, Dale said that “if you don’t expect that from a bralette, wear them everywhere.”
Another drawback of bralettes is that they can become stretched out easily. “The majority of bralette styles require you to pull them over your head, which lessens the life of the elastic and fit,” Dale said. If you’re concerned about this, she recommended looking for bralettes with a hook-and-eye closure on the band.
How to clean a bralette
Koch said he is a proponent of hand-washing and air-drying all types of bras to preserve their overall fit in the long run. He recommended hand-washing bras using gentle detergent like Forever New or Soak. As experts also advised in our guide to sports bras, Koch said dryers make elastic wear out very quickly, and he emphasized that you should avoid putting bras in the dryer no matter how you wash them.