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Bralette vs bra: The Difference And What One You Should Choose

Last Updated: May 2, 2022

In the fashion industry, there are very few things that are consistent across brands. It’s hard enough going shopping when every store has a different idea of what a size 10 is, plus half the time they can’t agree on what the styles are called either! Keep reading to finally learn more about Bralette vs bra.

With something like undergarments especially, a lack of clarity means you often end up with the wrong style, ruining the foundation of your outfit and resulting in yet another return.

To save you some of the hassle, we’re going to give you some general guidelines that differentiate classic bras from the increasingly popular bralette and point you in the direction of which might be best suited for you.

Bralette vs Bra

Because it can be kinda hard to distinguish the two from each other, ahead we break down the main differences between the bra and bralette. We’ll also help you decide when you should wear each one. 

Difference Between a Bra and Bralette

Bras come with a variety of styles, ranging from full coverage to demi and open styles, but they always have separated cups. Even bras that don’t have underwire generally use padding or lining to create two distinct cups.

Bralettes on the other hand don’t usually have distinct cups even if they use padding or lining. If you look closely, you’ll notice that even underwired bralettes have one wire in a single line, not a separate wire on each side separated by an apex.

A lot of people think the main difference between bras and bralettes is that bralettes can’t be made with underwire, but that’s not the case. While they are typically wire-free, you can find both wire-free and underwire bralettes. You can also find pullover bras and bralettes with hooks, so that’s not what makes the distinction between the two. 

Even more, bralettes usually offer less structure than a bra, and are typically worn peeking out beneath clothing for a trendy look. For some major bralette outfit inspo, check out our guide on how to wear a bralette

Bra vs. Bralette: Which One Should I Choose?

The answer to this depends on whether you want shaping or support, so we’re going to give you a bit of advice on both.


Bras are best for shaping and heavy support, if that’s what you’re looking for. If you want more shaping, a bra with separate cups is going to be better for you than a bralette, even if it doesn’t have a wire. 

A lot of women want shaping to help their breasts look even and smooth, even if they have plenty of lift on their own. Even if your chest size is on the smaller side, your breasts might be asymmetrical in size or placement, and shaping can help reduce the appearance of that asymmetry.

Distinct cups give your breasts somewhere to sit so they don’t move around as much, even if you’re not getting as much lift as you would from something with an underwire.

You can obviously get more shape with a structured, wired cup, but the right fabric and padding can provide some more subtle shaping on its own if you would rather go wire-free.

If you need both shaping and support, your best bet is to go with an underwire bra. You get basic shaping from something with separated cups, but the underwire is going to give you a more definite shape than padding on its own, plus the lift and support that you need. 


Bralettes typically provide lighter support than bras, and often feel less restricting as well if you want to let your boobs breathe a little.

Plus, this style is totally not reserved for small boobs only! If you have larger breasts that are fairly even or smaller breasts without much natural lift that tend to point downward, you probably need support more than shaping. 

If that sounds like you, something with underwire is probably going to be best even if it doesn’t have separated cups. 

You’re not going to get the same lift or shape from a wired bralette as you would with a bra, but that style will work if you need light to medium support. For heavier support, an underwire bra is probably a safer bet.

If you really don’t want to get something with a wire, it’s important to know that the most basic level of support in bras comes from the band, not the straps. If you need more support than most but have your heart set on a wireless bra or bralette, make sure it has a secure band. 

If you’re looking for a supportive bralette, we recommend Pour Moi’s underwire styles. If you want a wire free bralette but need support at a larger size, Aerie provides extra support in their XL and XXL sizes.

Bottom Line

Contrary to popular belief, the difference between bras and bralettes is not the underwire, but whether or not the item has cups. 

While it’s true that most brands only put underwire in their bras and leave it out of their bralettes, you can find bralettes with underwire and bras without.  For some of the best bras and bralettes, find them here on our guide to Aerie’s best products!

What’s important to remember is that both cups and underwire have their own benefits, so make sure to choose a style that’s compatible with the level of support and shaping that you need. If you need a couple of brands to start with, here are some of our favorites.


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