The bra market is a bit of a racket, we know. Retailers charge you upward of $60 for a bra that they instruct you not to wear every day and that you should pitch and buy anew every six months. And, aside from that, it seems that every time you go in to buy a bra, there"s some new bell or fancier whistle that renders all your other undergarments obsolete.
Well, we"re not suggesting you take up bra burning, but after some underwire reporting (get it?), we concluded that there are only eight bras you"ll ever really need. And chances are, you don"t have them all. Here, the intel on each one — what it"s actually supposed to do, when you should wear it, and how often you should replace it.
A Basic Bralette
What it does: If all of your bras are acquaintances, the basic bralette is your bestie. Typically unpadded, seamless, and either made of cotton or spandex, it"s one of those everyday bras you always turn to because it"s supportive yet still comfortable.
When to wear it: The question with this bra isn"t when to wear it but when not to. Resist the urge to wear the same one every day. It"s true that bras should have at least a day off between wearings as body heat tends to relax the fabric.
When to replace it: This is the one you actually need to replace most often. If you wear it several times a week, you might get four to five months out of it before it loses its fit. Luckily, you can get these on the cheap side, so stocking up often won"t be so frustrating.
Uye Surana Opaque Bralette ($12)
Araks Beatrice Bralette ($115)
Wacoal B-Smooth Seamless Bralette ($20)
Honeydew Intimates Bri Lace Trim Bralette ($28)
A Contoured T-Shirt Bra
What it does: As unpleasing as a panty line, seeing the texture of a lacy bra (or even the outline of a nipple) can ruin an otherwise seamless look. As its name promises, this bra has smooth, contoured cups made of thin foam to give you a predetermined shape to wear under thin fabrics like t-shirt material.
When to wear it: You"ll know. As much as you love that frilly bra with the tiny beaded embellishments, the minute you toss on that silk blouse or slinky dress, you"ll know you have to go with something smoother.
When to replace it: Next to the bralette, you might find this to be your go-to undergarment, so plan to replace it every six months after regular wear.
Calida Sensitive Tanga T-Shirt Bra ($40)
Perfectly Fit Modern T-Shirt Bra ($46)
Victoria"s Secret Perfect Shape T-Shirt Bra ($40)
DKNY Perfect Demi T-Shirt Bra ($40)
A Push-Up Bra
What it does: Designed with additional padding — in the form of foam, gel, water, or air — at the bottom portion of the cup to lift the breast, it gives the illusion of a fuller bust and can create cleavage where none existed. It"s typically a must have for women with smaller chests, but for those with fuller figures, a good push-up can lift without necessarily adding volume.
When to wear it: It"s most frequently used for eveningwear or with outfits that benefit from a more filled-out bodice.
When to replace it: You"re likely not wearing these very often, unless the club is a nightly stopping point, so if cared for properly, this bra should last at least nine months.
H&M Super Push-Up Bra ($18)
Natori Pure Luxe Underwire Push-Up Bra ($70)
Topshop Pink Lace Push-Up Bra ($15)
Calvin Klein Sexy Signature Underwire Push-Up Bra ($39)
A Strapless Bra
What it does: This trusty bra — with wide sides and sewn-in silicone stitching along the edges to keep it in place on your skin — is essential to avoid pesky bra straps peeking out underneath your clothes. Some are even made with a plunging front, for more versatility with skin-baring pieces, or a corseted bottom to provide added support.
When to wear it: You might not wear strapless tops very often, but even for those pieces with thin straps, a strapless bra is essential.
When to replace it: Although it depends on frequency of wear, it"s a good idea to pick up a new one at the start of every Summer, when you are sure to start wearing it a lot more often and will need one poised to perform at its best.
Stella McCartney Stella Smooth Strapless Bra ($65)
Victoria"s Secret Sexy Strapless Bra ($33)
Va Bien Basque Strapless Bra ($80)
Nordstrom Intimates Uplunge Underwire Strapless Bra ($36)
A Convertible Bra
What it does: Of all the bras you don"t have, it"s likely you"ve avoided purchasing this one. It"s definitely the most complicated one to figure out, but that"s because it"s the most versatile. Its modifiable straps can transform into a halter, racer-back, one-shoulder, or strapless style. Owning one of these keeps you from having to own a handful of other rarely used bras.
When to wear it: Whenever you need a quick solution for a complicated outfit without the time or cash to buy a specially made bra.
When to replace it: As versatile as these are, you likely aren"t wearing one-shoulder cocktail dresses too often, so consider this backup-plan bra one you can keep in the back of your closet for years before upgrading.
H&M Microfiber Convertible Bra ($18)
Le Mystere Nude Dos Nu Convertible Bra ($65)
Maidenform Pure Genius Convertible Bra ($56)
Sun-Kissed Longline Convertible Underwire Bra ($29)
A Demi Bra
What it does: Consider this the ultimate date-night bra. This ultraflattering underwire option, which comes with or without padding and is often made with lace elements, has cups that are angled to expose the top of the breast.
When to wear it: It"s perfect for low-cut tops or those with wide scoop or square necklines where an everyday bra would show. And, if there"s ever a chance your bra will be seen by a lucky partner, this is the style that is a true crowd-pleaser.
When to replace it: You won"t wear it more than once a week, but because it is more delicate, this bra should still be replaced every year to 18 months if it"s starting to lose its hold.
L"Agent by Agent Provocateur Vanesa Demi Bra ($92)
L Perl Ricamato Tulle Lace Demi Bra ($318)
L"Agent Valentino Red Padded Danita Demi Bra ($70)
Cosabella Dolce Underwire Demi Bra ($68)
A Sports Bra
What it does: Even if you aren"t athletic, you need to own a supportive sports bra to help prevent breast tissue damage. Even light walking can stretch and break down the ligaments that support your breasts, which leads to sagging, which leads to the need for more bras.
When to wear it: Often categorized by the level of impact and exercise intensity, you might need a different sports bra for different activities.
When to replace it: It"s crucial that the efficacy of the sports bra is intact, so if you think it"s not performing as it did when you first bought it, it"s time to toss it. If you aren"t sure, get a new one every six to eight months.
H&M Medium-Support Sports Bra ($25)
Champion Medium-Control Wire-Free Sports Bra ($25)
Lucas Hugh Azure Core Performance Sports Bra ($145)
Nike Dri-Fit Pro Combat Sports Bra ($30)
A Statement Bra
What it does: Normally you want your bra to be unobtrusive, but there are those moments when a gorgeous bra is just meant to be seen. For those occasions, it"s smart to have a gorgeous, eye-catching bra, whether it"s with sexy straps, beautiful lace, or a pattern that really pops.
When to wear it: Underneath sheer tops where the idea is that your bra is visible. Or depending on the venue, it can even be worn on its own as a bustier or bikini top.
When to replace it: This bra, even if inexpensive, can be seen as an investment and should ideally be one you can keep your whole lifetime, just as you do the clothes you wear on top of it.
H&M Soft Microfiber Floral Lace Bra ($18)
Rehab Clothing Convergence of Chic Bra ($25)
Agent Provocateur Kimmi Bikini Bra ($290)
Underprotection Floral Bra ($64)