The new bras: Abreast of a trend

A pile of new entrants into the intimates market promise a bra without wires that dig, straps that slip, and general chestal miasma.

So many factors affect a woman's breasts: weight change, child-bearing, building or losing muscle mass, and aging. Given that the most popular bra size in North American is 34DD, and the population continues to grow larger, lingerie makers have their work cut out for them.

I ordered a bra to try from the each of two popular brands. Both were made of synthetics: nylon and lots of spandex.

Test bra #1

The Tank Bra (about $50) fit and felt like my Nike sports bra, a comfy, compressed hug but short on the shaping and lift needed under a fitted top. Another term for this style is is "bralette", which has been extended to mean not just small sizes with minimal coverage. This style is made to be seen, but in some clothes I wouldn't want that strap on centre stage. I just fit the specs for an XL. (See the Rhonda Shear bras for similar styles for larger cup and band sizes.)

Test bra #2

Bra #2, also seamless, had more conventional features— a 3-hook closure, formed cups, and adjustable straps—closer to the usual constructed bra than a bralette, but at $68, I thought it was pricey. Comfort high; overall look, average.

Both the bralette and comfort style are really tarted-up sports bras in softer colours, sometimes with more feminine details. The marketers' pitch is, "Look, sports bras feel great. You didn't like bright colours and patterns, so we made them more discreet. Now you can wear them any time you want!"

But the price tag is close to that of a mid-priced seamed, underwire bra, which has up to forty components. Manufacturing costs are far lower, so that's profitable. It reminds me of the dolman sleeve "trend", among other cheap manufacturing strategies.

How will it work for you? It's worth the time to put on a lightweight top and try various styles— both conventionally constructed and these new ones—with a good fitter, if you can. I was steered away from one of the comfort bras by a fitter who pronounced it "trop mou".

Prima Donna "Deauville"
The day I sent the bras back, I had an appointment at the optometrist's and noticed that my optician looked well-supported, but not in a hoochie-mama pushup-to-the chin way. I told her I was returning two of the new-style bras. She said she was devoted to shapely support. So I asked her; she said, "Prima Donna, all the way."

The marketing copy for the hybrid bras is seductive as a balconette: be "free", enjoy the "no frills" styling and discreet hues. Wait, is that even a benefit? I've always loved a lingerie department abloom with gorgeous colours, embroideries, florals— even when I walk out with grey.

Apparently, so do others; J. Crew have revived their lingerie line with styles like this emerald lattice mesh:
J. Crew lattice mesh

I like the new hybrids, but I don't love them. And speaking of love—since it's Valentine's Day— if you are wearing your intimates to be intimate, the hybrid is not so alluring.

Perhaps you are trying the new minimalist bras, and I'd like to know what you think.


LauraH said…
Many thanks for your experiment. I have been reading about the new wave of artisanal bras, many made in Canada, for some time. Due to difficulty in fitting my somewhat sunken breastbone, I have been reluctant to try them. Your report confirms my doubts. Think I will stick with my current styles...good fit, pretty colours. BTW I highly recommend going to a good bra shop to get fitted, it can make a big difference. In Toronto I have had good experiences at Secrets From Your Sister.
I wanted to order one of the Knix bras but they were out of my size. I have one underwire bra but haven't worn it in a long time as I no longer have to wear formal workwear (for conferences etc). Of course they support better (I'm very busty) but I find them instruments of torture. I like pretty colours but very plain bras (and panties).

I'll have to open a Pay Pal account (which I should have in any event) as Knix doesn't accept cheques or debit and I deliberately have never had a credit card, after an overspend when I was very young (long repaid, of course).

Probably the new-style non-torture bras need some more engineering work.
Madame Là-bas said…
I'm a Prima Donna fan. They're expensive but I hand wash after every wearing and I buy the matching panties. I use Forever New and they last for years. I bought a couple of the wireless bras which are fine for everyday comfort at home but the support just is not there.
sandra said…
Prima Donna all the way... with a full bust the Deauville is my go to and I have it in many colours.
JohnInWI said…
Oh dear, the search for the "perfect" bra. I like breathable cotton. It's rare. I want lightly lined, no false advertising ;-). That's hard to find. I love pretty colors and prints, but let's be honest here, nude always works. Nude isn't all that common. So, I find myself constantly hand washing that one "perfect" bra in my drawer. -Lily
Bunny said…
About a year and a half ago I started wearing sports bras and bralettes full time. I am a 68 year old convert. I particularly like the bralettes I have from Cynthia Rowley. Their wide straps feel really nice on my thin, narrow shoulder bones. They have pads to hide nipples that slip in and out for washing and as the spirit moves. I like them in. And I have found much support with a knit on band that has no closure, so comfortable. I don't know if I could ever go back to a satin strapped underwire bra with hook closure. Oh, one other thing that I like is their loveliness allows them to be seen in garments with open areas and not look tacky. Bring on the bralettes for me. I wear a 34C.
Gretchen said…
I don’t have anyone to see me in my intimates, so I buy for comfort, as I’m not very well endowed. I actually like the Everlane and Commando bras, at least the ones with wide straps, as I finally had it with bands that dig into my ribcage and straps that feel like they’re trying to slice off my arms from the collarbone. That said, a well-fitted underwire does wonders for the figure and for certain clothes. And, truth be told, I loathe wearing bras of any sort and mastered the art of taking them off without undressing the second I walked through the door. My kids always teased me about this “skill” and I’m sure it will be a story that outlives me.
Leslie M said…
“Sarkari Results” has evidently posted an ad in your blog comments. Very irritating for you, I’m sure.

I’m also a Prima Donna fan and I feel well supported in one. I tried a wireless spandex bra, but not enough support for me. It provided as much support as a tight T-shirt. I donated it to a friend and she loves it. I wear a sports bra when I want comfort.
Duchesse said…
Laura: If curious, try one on at Secrets; they really know their stock. It's only my impression and a limited sample.

lagatta: You will find PayPal easy to use; let us know how you like your bra.

Mme: You are not alone in the love of Prima Donna, and of Forever New. I confess I often cheat and wash lingerie in a bag on delicate cycle in the machine.

sandra: It''s such a pleasure when you find one style that really works and it comes in beautiful colours. (And is not discontinued.)

Lily: So right about nude. I do not understand white bras: very hard to keep fresh looking.

Bunny: Thanks so much for your endorsement. You are not alone in loving these products which is why I wanted them to work for me. Maybe there is a brand that I have yet to find.

Gretchen: Not trusting my eye I took a photo in a conventional underwire and another the second test bra. Definite difference. That's some skill there. I have a friend who can do the same, with one hand.

Leslie: As lagatta said, maybe the next versions will have better engineering. I really like how a sports bra feels, but not the silhouette.

Susan B said…
The PrimaDonna Deauville and the Satin Seamless are the only two bras I buy and wear anymore. I've tried a lot of bras over the years, but at 32F, they're the only ones that combines both the comfort and support I need. Worth every penny, IMO.
Beth said…
Ha. I wear a 34B and have always worn underwire bras - they stay put, and I find them much more comfortable and supportive. Having said that, I decided to try the same experiment as you, and bought a Jockey bralette for around $40 - like a sports bra, no back closure. For the first few times wearing I thought, this is the lightest, most comfortable bra I've ever owned, and way better than any sports bra I've had either! That was as long as it lasted. After only three or four wearings, the elastic band below my breasts was stretched out and riding up to sit in the middle of my breasts every time I raised my arms. Good grief. It's in the bottom of my drawer, and I'm back to my much prettier basics, in breathable cotton, with underwire.
Adele said…
I swtiched to a bralette style last year after wearing Spanx Bralelluljah for many years. The only one I have found so far, that I really love, is Gap seamless bralette. Very comfortable, and washes and wears well. Plus, the pice is right when using the frequent 50% off coupons.

Not exceptionally attractive, and it does give a slight "uni-boob" effect, but I've had it with tight bands and slipping straps. I wear a traditional size 38B, and a size L in this bralette.
KH said…
34F here, says the fitter but I prefer to breathe, which makes me a 36 “triple”. Aka 36DDD. I’ve never found a so- called “minimizer” that didn’t create instead what the magazines so flatteringly call “back fat”. I’m perfectly happy in a bralette at home and on the weekends but they carry me a bit low to work properly in fitted clothes (and at 5 feet tall) there isn’t great distance between my bust and waist anyway). And alas I will work FT for six more years (I’m 54). But I’d wear them full time if it weren’t for what the magazines (I clearly read too many) refer to as “the dreaded ‘uniboob’”). My exercise bra is a nice minimizer (but uniboob) and I am a full size smaller in a blouse in it. I have no doubt that the fact that almost every woman of any endowment has some bra-related struggle diverts our energy from changing the world.
sensitive poet said…
I'm 38D and like Adele, enjoy the comfort and shaping of the Spanx Bra-lelluja (I think I've spelled it right?). It has a front closure, a godsend if you have shoulder pain or arthritis, comfortable straps and a smooth back, which I think looks more professional under sweaters or blouses. It is lightly and discretely padded so you can wear it under T shirts. It comes in a lovely nude and a black, and maybe other colours I've never tried.
But I'm always open to trying something new, so I'll take a look at the Deauville - thanks blogwriters and blogreaders!
sensitive poet said…
The other good Spanx bra is Bra-la-mode which also has a front closure and a nice smooth back. It too is discreetly (sp) padded, so you can wear it under anything. Nude and black also if my memory serves me right.
Whatever size or shape, women deserve to feel like goddesses (who also came in different sizes and shapes!).
Nancy K said…
I found, or rather my husband found, Rigby and Peller in NYC a few years ago. I am a 38DD and their Prima Donna bras are fabulous! Expensive but worth every penny. I am 68 and gravity hit a long time ago. My breasts have never been perky, but my Madison bra is a wonder and I actually feel thinner it fits so well. It's not hot in the summer like my former bras that were mostly molded. They are also the prettiest bras I've ever owned.
Duchesse said…
Nancy K: You probably know Rigby & Peller make the Queen’s lingerie. The right bra changes a woman’s entire torso, especially if she has a definite bust. I’ll never forget a comment Bette Midler made about a TV seies in which she had the lead role: “ In this show, I basically play myself, with a better bustline.”

Le Duc loves lingerie stores and has startled some friends by inviting himself along. This offer is declined but he does have terrific taste.

sensitive poet: I agree about the goddess part and find many of the bralettes a little austere. But a pretty color goes a long way.
Since I wrote this post, I talked to a self-described “ lingerie freak” who said, “If women think their structured bra is uncomfortable, they are wearing either the wrong style or wrong size.”

KH: Hey even us retired women do not necessarily want uniboob! I will wear a sports bra under a loose cut top but fitted clothes demand a different type.

une femme: Prima Donna has somehow created a superior bra that has earned devotion. Good for them! I have two and love them. My go to everyday bra is a nude Olga model which I buy in multiples when there’s a sale.

Beth: Note Adele’s comment...Gap mightvwork. It’s so annoying when something deteriorates so quickly...could youvreturn?

Adele: You need that good bra because now everyone will be noticing your necklaces ;)
amandagreenaus said…
I love Prima Donna. $150 here in Australia but worth every penny. I just bought another one in dark purple
Unknown said…
I have been loosing weight and my bra size including cup has changed quite a bit ove the last 2 years. I went from 44 DD to 36 D. I will share, I have a lot of excess skin. Very saggy. At some point, I could not tolerate any kind of stays at all. They were just too uncomfortable.
The no stay bras all seemed too nonsupportive. I was getting panicked, what to wear?
About 18 months ago, I stumbled upon the Rhonda Shear bras on tv (HSN? QVC?) on sale. I bought a pair, and they were heaven.
I bought all the size L I could find. They are the kind with no adjustment in the back nor none in the straps, they are one solid piece. I double them with no issues, no unibody and I’m supported and comfy. I wash them (with no fabric softener as instructions note!) in the washer and hang to dry. They dry super fast. I have about 5 pairs that I routate, and they have not stretched out and are doing great.
I never ever thought in my life these bras would work for me.
Gianna Blake said…
Buying a good and fitting bra can be such a hassle, but it’s necessary because if it doesn’t fit well then it can get so uncomfortable. To find the perfect size, I prefer to buy sports bras from retail clothing stores instead of online. That way, I can try them on before purchasing.
Duchesse said…
Gianna Blake: The particular brands of the bras I tried, these « non- sport bra sports bras » are only available online. This is a model many retailers are following. If you can get to a retailer and prefer that, yes, go and try. However, as Beth commented, one of these can feel good when trying on and then fail.

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