The Mystery of Underwire

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So many bras these days are constructed with underwire, that women are becoming increasingly convinced that all bras should have an underwire.  But then, why would most companies still offer several non-underwire options to their customers?  I’m going to help solve the mystery of what an underwire actually does for you.

Let me start with one of the basic principles of bra fitting (you can see my other blogs on this by clicking here).  When your bra fits properly, the underwire should contour all of your breast tissue (from under your arms to where your cleavage resides) and lay flat against your breastbone in the front, without constraining your breasts or rubbing against your skin.

Dahlia bra and panty set by Valisère (Triumph). Size range: 34-40, D-DD cups. Available at Now That’s Lingerie.com.

The purpose of an underwire is to contour the natural shape of your breast by encompassing the entirety of your breast tissue and giving it lift and a round shape.  When encased in those cups, your breasts will only be supported to the extent that the fabric of your cup covers your breasts.  For example, let me compare two distinct types of underwire bras.  If you’re wearing a padded push-up bra (most of which offer only minimal support), you are getting less support than if you were wearing a full cup minimizer (intended to deliver the utmost support).  But both bras have underwire.  So what determines this difference in support levels?

For any bra, the straps, elasticated back band, fabric, stitching, underwire and coverage all work together to play a crucial role in perfecting your comfort.  The majority of the support of a properly fitted bra lies in the elasticity (or firmness) of the fabric of your cups, plus the stitching (if any) on or along the cups.  (The reason I emphasize properly fitted is because, if your bra doesn’t fit, it doesn’t matter what style you’re wearing– you will not be get the support that the physics of your bra intended!  Click for more of my blogs on bra fitting.)  So, if your bra cups only cover half of your boobs (like in a demi-cup or demi-bust bra), then chances are, your bra won’t give you as much support as a full-coverage bra– regardless of whether there is or isn’t an underwire.  This also means that a bra with a stretchier fabric on the cups will support your breasts less than a bra made with a sturdier, less extensible fabric.

So that’s part of understanding what underwire can do for you.  Before I continue, I want to make something clear.  Just because you may prefer to wear non-underwire bras does NOT mean you are getting less support than a woman who wears underwire.  Many non-underwire bras are equipped with a supportive elasticated band around the torso and have seams that are stitched internally in such a way as to provide shape and support.  Full support bras DO exist without underwire and their support can be comparable to that of an underwire bra.  The major difference is that the shape of your breasts will sometimes be different in either type of bra.  You see, underwire works to envelop the entirety of your breast tissue, from beneath your arms and below your breast, bringing their weight closer to the front and slightly lifted upwards.  Some non-underwire bras may constrain the breast tissue nearer to your body, but this may make your breasts seem smaller, especially since your breasts will seem less separated from each other than if there was an underwire contouring each breast.

The Vintage Touch wire-free bra by Warner’s offers a naturally rounded fit and unparallelled comfort. Available at Now That’s Lingerie.com

So what have you learned?  Properly fitted, underwire bras help give you a more precise fit while supporting your breasts, but what more fully determines the support level are the fabric (and stitching) of your bra cups (more on this in a subsequent blog!).  All these aspects (and more, like the strap’s width) work together to provide support.  For women who do not like underwire bras and find them uncomfortable, don’t fret– there is still a wide range of non-underwired bras available for your comfort and convenience.

For all your bra fitting questions… contact me at celinethebradoctor@nowthatslingerie.com!  I hear from dozens of women every week with a wide range of bra fitting issues, and I respond to them personally.  So don’t hesitate or wait to feel comfortable in your bras.

See you next time!
Your Bra Doctor
bradoctor@nowthatslingerie.com

After 25 years in the lingerie industry, I've helped thousands of women feel confident and look fantastic in their lingerie. I'm the resident Bra Doctor for Now That's Lingerie.com, which I founded over ten years ago as a way to help cater to the needs of as many women possible! I receive dozens of e-mails from women who can't seem to feel comfortable in their bras. I'm here to show that you CAN find a bra that works for you. Sometimes all you need are little tips! I hope you enjoy my bra fitting advice, experiences and thoughts. I'll also be sharing news about lingerie giveaways and deals that can't be missed. Contact me personally for personalized help finding your perfect fit: bradoctor@nowthatslingerie.com.

8 Comments

  1. Cindy

    February 24, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Dear Celine,

    I’ve had lifelong challenges finding styles and fits of lingerie that suit me due to my odd height, shape and size. You have solved some long standing fit issues that had haunted me for years when I described my size issues to you. I was so surprised that a virtual fitting room could work better than the last 20 years of the real life store shopping I experienced before. In your case cyber shopping works well for me.

    Most of my lingerie choices prior to shopping at this cyber store did not quite work due to not fitting, suiting, or being boring. Now I look great in lingerie according to my partner. I feel great anyway, and my lingerie is comfortable to wear! Before some of the pieces hurt due to not fitting! You listened to my descriptions of my fit issues and figured out style solutions that work for my size and shape, not some model in a lingerie ad.

    Consultants usually charge handsomely for their services, yet you have provided me with your expertise as part of every order. The Bra Doctor knows her stuff!

    Sorry to embarrass you in public like this Celine, but you deserve it!

    Cindy

  2. Cassie Hargett

    December 1, 2014 at 7:10 am

    I’ve been avoiding under wire bras for the fact that my friends said it hurts at times. It goes to show that some of them are not even wearing the right bra sizes they’re supposed to wear. The under wire leaves marks on the lower part of their breast which is caused by having the band size too small for them. I might want to explore bras with underwire and see if I feel comfortable with them.

  3. admin

    December 1, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Hi Cassie, Underwire can be comfortable if sized properly, you are right about that! Sometimes the underwire leaving marks under your breasts can also be caused by the wrong cup size or wrong shaped underwire. I am here to help! Email me anytime at bradoctor@nowthatslingerie.com!

  4. Lydia

    December 12, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Nice Post. I Like “Aviana Smooth Underwired Minimiser Bra” and use it most of the time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Meredith

    May 2, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    My problem with underwire is that the few different types of bras I have tried with the wire have caused a lot of pain and not just under my breast but I have had wire cut into the sides of my breast and I bled through a shirt. I have also had wire that has stuck through the fabric and my shirt and cut into the underside of my arms. Is this caused by my body shape or were the bras I had just wrong for me?

  6. admin

    May 3, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Hello Meredith,
    Thank you for contacting us.

    This has nothing to do with you whatsoever. It may however have something to do with the sizing. Would you be able to let me know what size you are currently wearing?

    In the meantime, you can try bending the underwires outwards, retry the bra and see if this helps.

    Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions.

    Have a great day.

    Celine

  7. Jenny

    July 26, 2017 at 11:37 pm

    Why would a designer construct a swim suit with underwire? And would there be less support in the swimsuit top if the underwire was removed.

  8. admin

    July 27, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Hello Jenny,
    Thank you for contacting us.
    The presence of underwires does not mean that there is more support, it just means that both breasts are being seperated by the wires. If you remove the underwires the support will be the same but the look will change slightly. You can try removing the wires and trying the swim suit and if you prefer the underwires you can put them back and sew the edges of the casing that hold the wires.
    I hope this helps otherwise please feel free to ask me questions.
    Have a great day.

    Celine

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