A bra consists of cups for the breasts, a center panel, and a band running around the body under the bust; unless it is a strapless bra it will also have a shoulder strap at each side. It is typically made of a fabric such as cotton or lace, with the cups for the breasts given shape by underwires or plastic reinforcements.
The bra is usually fastened with a hook fastener on the band, typically at the back, but in some bras the fastener is situated at the front, in between the cups. Some bras contain padding, designed to improve comfort and provide a more flattering shape – this is sometimes in the form of silicone gel packs.
Push-up bras, designed to enhance cleavage, usually contain padding. Breast pads or “falsies” are sometimes worn underneath the bra to give the appearance of larger breasts – this requires that the wearer wear a larger size of bra than actually required by her breasts.
It is a common misconception that the shoulder straps should bear the weight of the breasts. In fact the strap around the body should provide most of the support; it should be firm but comfortable.
* When viewed from the side, the strap that runs around the body should be horizontal and should not ride up at the back at all.
* The underwires at the front should lie flat against the rib cage and should not dig in, rub or poke out at the front.
* The breasts should be enclosed by the cups and there should be a smooth line where the fabric at the top of the cup ends.
* There should not be a ridge or bulging over the top or sides of the cups, even with a ‘balconette’ style or lower cut shape.
It is important that a woman’s bra fits correctly if for no other reason than to avoid discomfort. Back pain is particularly common amongst large breasted women who wear bras which offer insufficient support. In extreme cases, such discomfort can lead to a woman seeking breast reduction surgery.