Bra Problems, Begone — 6 Solutions You Need

Want to learn a fun new party trick? If you find yourself in a circle of women looking for small talk, just blurt out: “Underwires — so frustrating, am I right?” Sure, it's a personal matter. But, oh, does it resonate. Odds are, a mutual understanding of how much underwire bras suck will induce a string of “Ugh, yes!” and sighs of agreement from your fellow female.

The trials and tribulations of finding and wearing an underwire bra are ones most women learn early on. Yes, our pre-pubescent selves couldn’t wait to get our hands on our first grown-up cups, leading to Lizzie McGuire-level meltdowns at local department stores. Now, it’s a necessary evil, providing support to our bust, and solutions to our tricky outfits. More often than not, we need to remind ourselves that underwires are our friends, not our enemies.

Who better to get us ridiculously excited about bras than the people behind some of the biggest lingerie brands? We spoke to the experts at Negative, HanesBrands, Eveden, and The Little Bra Company to understand our underwire better. Why does it fit so uncomfortably? Why does it poke out? Why does it feel like it's coming after us with all it's got? They not only reassure us that our skivvies don't actually hate us, but they also offer great tips to get to a better stage in our relationship with our everyday undies. Click through for their insights, as well as 30 awesome bras that'll hopefully put an end to all #underwireproblems.

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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
The Problem: The wires from the cup and the band cut into the side-boob.
Why This Happens: You’re wearing the wrong size.

If you want to settle it once and for all, it’s worth your time to book a proper bra fitting with an expert. And, odds are, they’ll tell you you’ve been doing it wrong for years. The main culprit is wearing a band that’s too big and a cup that’s too small.

Marissa Vosper, cofounder of Negative, recalls a surprising stat from a reliable source: “Most American women wear the wrong size bra, according to Oprah,” she says. (This stat comes from the great Bra Intervention of 2005.) “What that means is that you’re going to have a wire that doesn’t encompass the full flesh of the chest,” she explains, “because your band is over large and your wire, then, is going to come a bit narrower on your chest.”

Bernadette Wallace, senior manager, public relations at HanesBrands echoes this statement, adding that “the underwire should never touch your breast tissue.” Instead, "the wire 'smile' should be able to contain all tissue without any spilling over the sides (thus creating side-boob)," wrote Frederika Zappe, Eveden’s national fit specialist, over email.
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Pay a visit to your local lingerie store, and talk to someone who knows what they’re doing. “Once you have a proper fitting bra, just about all of these problems disappear,” explains Wallace. With your new measurements in hand, you can approach the shopping process with fresh eyes.
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In terms of market, there are two main types of underwire: “J”-shaped and “U”-shaped. And, their names are a pretty accurate description of their shape. The J-shaped underwire is what you’ll find in most full-coverage bras, “Where the wire is coming much farther up on the outside of the breast and the bottom of the wire is coming much lower on your sternum,” describes Vosper. The U-shaped style, on the other hand, is more like a balconette — perfectly symmetrical with a flat top.
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This bra was specifically designed to tackle pesky, painful poking underwire (say that five times fast). The underwire is cushioned well into the cup, which in turn, works to shape the breast and smooth the look of the bust under shirts.
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While style is an afterthought to getting the right cup and band size, it can still affect how the bra feels on your breasts. However, it’s a matter of preference. What you can look for from the get-go, though, is the casing surrounding the underwire. How the underwire is covered and constructed into the cup will ultimately dictate how it’ll sit, and how comfortable it'll be for you.
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You have to look very closely to catch the perfectly-hidden underwire on this full-cup bra. The way it's built into the silhouette makes the support unnoticeable (visually, at least).
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
The Problem: The cup rides up.
Why This Happens: Again, you’re wearing the wrong size.

So, have you booked your fitting yet?

If you find yourself tugging your bra down throughout the day, “you probably need a smaller band size, so the band really anchors the bra on your body,” says Wallace. The bad news is: Your underwire problems were bigger than you thought, and actually have to do with other parts of your bra. The bright side, however, is that it’s easily fixed by scaling down.

The width of the band (and strategic elastics placed throughout) can work to ensure the cup’s stability on your torso. “The more narrow the elastic, the more concentrated the pressure,” explains Vosper. A wider band disperses the energy it takes to lift and support the bust, which creates a more comfortable alternative to keeping the breasts steady. Seek out a bra with elastic on the band or underneath the underwire — even a longline style, if you’re feeling on-trend — for a closer, but still satisfying fit around the torso.
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In terms of that snug sweet spot, there are a couple of pinpoints you should notice when you’re trying on a bra. “You want that band to be right at about where, if you put your arms by your side, it should be between your elbow and your shoulder,” advises Wallace. Then, “you shouldn’t be able to put more than a few fingers between the sternum center part of the bra and the sternum,” says Vosper.
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If the stretchy power net material wasn't enough, this bra is trimmed with gold elastic underneath the bust — adding a visually stunning cut-out and an extra layer of support in the band.
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That soft bralette feel, with underwire support. What more could we ask for?
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“A properly fitting bra should feel like it’s hugging you. It shouldn’t feel like a loose T-shirt,” notes Emily Lau, owner of The Little Bra Company. “It needs to be a little bit snug. Not constricting, but snug.”
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The longline silhouette has become a lot more popular in lingerie recently. Instead of focusing the detailing and embellishment on the cups, this style puts the emphasis on the band — a stylish and supportive way to add steadiness.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
The Problem: Underwire starts poking out of the casing (and starts poking into your skin).
Why It Happens: Your bra has run its course.

We know it’s hard to say goodbye to an old friend. But, when said friend is literally poking at an erogenous zone with a sharp, metal wire all day, maybe it’s best to cut ties. Experts generally recommend tossing a bra after six months to a year of wear, its longevity contingent on how often you wear it. But, some of your favorites may start turning on you even earlier if not cared for properly. You’re not going to like what we’re going to say next…

“If you have an underwire bra and you put it in the washing machine, the rustling around tends to wiggle the wire in it’s casing, which makes it a lot more likely to poke through,” Vosper explains, as we lower our heads in shame. Bernadette concedes that you can run your underwires through the wash, but take it out before you switch the load to the dryer. “Heat can kind of break down the fabric,” she says, “and once that fabric gets broken down, the underwire can poke through.” So, give your bras a little TLC by hand-washing and line drying. It’ll reciprocate the love right back by not poking at your boobs (at least for a while).

If you’re wincing as you’re reading this, thanks to an overworn bra, it’s time for an upgrade. Pick up a brand-new version of your go-to (in your proper cup and band size, of course). Or, try a new style. We found some stunning underwire bras, so delicate and lovely that you’ll actually want to add the 30 minutes to your laundry schedule to wash and hang them properly.
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If you are machine-washing(because, really, who has the time), Lau suggests a bra cage to protect your ultra-delicates from the rest of your laundry. Be weary of those mesh lingerie bags, though: "That separates your lingerie from the rest of your laundry," she warns, "it doesn't protect the underwire."
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The most dainty lace cups are held in place by an underwire, built into the satin bra. Elegance personified.
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This satin-meets-lace number adds a tad of luxury to the everyday.
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When you're in the market for a new underwire, Zappe suggests investing "in well-made, high-quality lingerie." That way, you'll get the best bang for your buck (and look real good in the process).
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And, for those extra special occasions when you feel like dressing up at every layer, a sheer, tulle-and-lace demi bra is luxury personified.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
The Problem: The bulky underwire construction is visible under T-shirts.
Why It Happens: You may (surprise!) be wearing the wrong size, or you can be wearing the wrong casing.

This issue arises particularly among small-chested ladies, when wearing an underwire bra that’s either in the wrong size or has a more elaborate construction than what they really need. For this, we take the wardrobe philosophy we apply to the rest of our undergarments: Similar to each blouse and trouser hanging in our closet, we like to have a selection of different intimate styles to be worn under particular outfits or for specific occasions — a neutral-colored bra for work, a strapless number for summer dresses, and so on.

If support isn’t crucial, ditch the underwire in favor of a smooth-fit, wire-free style. Otherwise, pay attention to how the underwire is built into the cup. Some bras come with flat casing, so there’s less visible construction on the cup. Eschew heavy-duty polyester in favor of a lighter base, so that the cups don’t feel as bulky under a sheer top.

Lau always suggests what she calls the "silhouette test." When you're trying on a bra in real life, take your favorite blouse (or an item you wear a lot) into the dressing room to try on over the lingerie. That way, you'll know how it'll look.
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Don't be fooled by the perforated lace: This stretchy material sits flat on the breast, so it can go undetected under a T-shirt. (It also comes in blush and white, so you can wardrobe accordingly.)
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The underwire is embedded into the cup, so this T-shirt bra offers complete, smooth coverage of the breast.
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“When you’re in the bra store trying them on, make sure you bring a T-shirt,” suggests Lau. “Put your shirt on over it, and see how it fits.”
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If you can go sans underwire, try a comfortable wire-free style. This plunge bra has all the fixings you want out of your lingerie — adjustable straps, double hook-and-eye, neutral color offerings — without the bulky construction.
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It doesn't have as much support as a classic underwire, but molded cups and a hook closure work together to lift and keep the bust steady.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
The Problem: It’s hard to find sports bras with underwire.
Why It Happens: Generally, the sizing is generic, and not based on cup size.

Historically, the search for a solid sports bra revolves on activity. Are you running or doing yoga? Are you a CrossFitter, or the occasional elliptical-er? But, when you require support, no matter what your exercise of choice is, it can be difficult to approach. The good news is there is more and more fitness gear out here with built-in underwire. (We did some digging, and have some pretty sweet options ahead.) You can also shop select styles according to cup size, and not on the generic “S, M, L” scale. Victory lap!

"Sports bras without underwire support can still be supportive," explains Zappe, "but you need to know what to look for, as many brands create sports bras that compress rather than support and control." Regardless of cup size, though, you should also pay attention to the makeup of the style. Lau calls attention to power mesh, the "elastic fabric" that can offer great support in a sports bra. Also, other details in the construction of the item — like molded cups and structural beaming — can lend a hand to keep the bust steady during physical activity. "Seams are our friends," Zappe urges.

Take exactly what you'll be using the bra for into account when finding the right fit for you. “For yoga, you need something that’s not going to be as binding because you’re stretching and moving. For running, it’s all about compression,” Wallace says.
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"The band should sit firmly below the breasts and should feel anchored and supportive," wrote Zappe. "Look for seams in the cups," she goes on. "The more seams, the more support you’ll get."
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Underwire support plus mesh lining plus cushioned straps make for a sports bra you'll want to wear every day.
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Pedal to the max: This printed bra is meant for high-impact exercise, so it's equipped molded cups, wide straps, a keyhole detail in the back, and compression fit all work together to offer the support you need.
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This Panache sports bra doesn't have underwire; instead, it's fitted according to cup size, with molding and seaming in all the right places that offer support without compression.
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The sports bra that keeps on giving: Unzip the front, and you'll find a front-close bra underneath (that's right, a second bra), with concealed underwire and breathable padding. Bra-ception is a thing, y'all.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
The Problem: The offerings for sexy lingerie in large cups sizes are slim.
Why It Happens: Niche-sized brands weren't as big before (but they are now!)

Historically, busty ladies have been forced to pick between support and prettiness in lingerie. But, these two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive (revolutionary, we know). “There are more and more companies doing niche sizing,” says Lau. Her own brand, Little Bra Company, specializes on small cups and bands, but she notes that there are a lot of great brands working at the other end of the sizing spectrum. And, these companies are great — by narrowing the scope of their customer base, they really know and understand what the shopper wants and needs out of their bra.

Now, it's a matter of knowing who's who in the lingerie industry, and discovering new brands that fill your needs. Brands like Freya, Fantasie, and Elomi offer bras that "are sheer and sexy, which so many women with larger cups don’t believe they can wear," explains Zappe, but with underwire and good seaming, they are actually very supportive.
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These slightly-sheer lace cups (plus the wide band) offer support where you need it, while the various lace-and-strap color pairings let you get playful with your lingerie.
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This balcony style does double duty, supporting and lifting simultaneously for the most secure-sexy look, ever.
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The gorgeous teal lace is surprisingly versatile, so you could even wear your special lingerie on a day-to-day.
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Take the plunge — you'll be in good hands with this lovely silk-satin style.
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On paper, you'd think an embroidered, three-part cup with underwire would be overly bulky. But, this elegant French design is anything but (although, don't worry — the support is still there).
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