Bras – they hold us up, they hold us in, and (for most women at least) they’re the first thing we put on in the morning and the last thing we take off at night.
But what exactly are they (apart from the obvious)? More specifically, what are they made of?
Unless you’re from the kind of religious order that still favors horsehair underwear, the answer is… almost anything.
What fabric are bras made of? In years gone by, bras were usually made of a material like linen, cotton broadcloth, and twill weaves. But times have changed and so has our underwear. Bras can now be made from a whole host of materials, including Tricot, Spandex, Spanette, cotton, Latex, microfiber, polyester, satin, Jacquard, foam, mesh, nylon and lace.
But it’s not just the outer fabric that’s to be considered. Most bras sold in the US are made with underwired cups.
Underwire, for larger bosomed ladies at least, makes a vast difference to how much uplift, separation, and support a bra provides… although while it can do great things for how good you look in a tight-fitting shirt, the less said about how comfortable some underwired contraptions are the better.
Underwires can be made from several different types of material, with metal, plastic, or resin being the most popular.
Which type of fabric is best for bra? As with most things, there’s no clear-cut, hard and fast answer. The best fabric for a practical, comfortable, everyday type of bra is likely to be a very different thing to the best fabric for a slinky, special occasion piece of lingerie. And that’s not even to mention sports bras….
If you’re going to bite the bullet and make your own bra, then consider what type you’ll be making before choosing a fabric.
If it’s a Monday-Friday stable, look for a fabric that’ll offer a smooth, comfortable, breathable fit, and that can be easily chucked in the washing machine. If it’s a ‘special occasions’ bra, you can go to town on slinky, silky materials that look as good as they feel (even if they do come with some extra care requirements).
Some of the most popular types of fabrics for bras include:
Cotton - Cotton is a classic, and for good reason. It’s soft against the skin, absorbent, warm, and comfortable to wear. It’s also one of the most affordable and readily available fabrics on the market, with the kind of easy-care requirements that make laundry day a breeze.
Silk - If you want a bra that feels like an angel’s kiss against your skin, there’s a clear-cut winner – silk. With its extreme softness, luxurious glow, and silky touch, silk has luxury connotations that extend well beyond its (often substantial) price tag.
Considering its care requirements (handwashing or dry cleaning only, please), it’s probably not the best choice for everyday, workhouse style bras. But for when you want to feel extra-special, it’s perfect.
Wool - Yep, believe it or not, wool is a popular choice for bras (although in fairness, it’s usually combined with another material to give it a little more stretch than it’d have otherwise).
But forget about the type of chunky, itchy, coarse wool you’re used to. Most wool bras are made from merino wool, an incredibly soft, breathable fabric that’s as comfortable as a second skin. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also supremely effective at regulating body heat, keeping you sweat and odor-free from dawn to dusk.
Synthetics - And then there are your man-made fibers: rayon, viscose, modal, tactel, lycra, Dacron, polyester, polyamides, elastance… the list goes on. All offer the same basic qualities (easy to care for, abundant in supply, affordable) and most offer excellent support and durability.
When you’re weighing up which fabric is the best choice for your bra, consider your own unique needs (and yep, this includes working out just how much support your chest needs – a larger bossed lady might need an altogether different type of fabric than a smaller bosomed one) and how (and when) you’ll be wearing the bra. Finding the right choice of fabric after you’ve done that will be altogether easier.
Bra cups can be made from 101 types of fabric. But not all of them are stable, especially when we’re dealing with stretch fabrics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, but if the cups stretch a little too much, you can end up losing out on uplift and support. But all’s not lost.
Line the bra with the right lining material (which essentially acts a stabilizer fabric) and the bra will maintain its fit without you having to re-think your choice of cup fabric. But what’s the best fabric for bra lining?
In actual fact, we have three contenders for the title of best bra fabric: 15 Denier Nylon, Stretch Mesh, and Sheer Bra Cup Lining. Each is different, and each brings its own unique properties to the party.
As to which one’s best, it’s more a combination of personal preference and bra type than anything else.
Denier Nylon - If you opt for a stretchy fabric for a bra cup, you’ll need to consider a rigid fabric for the lining. In that regard, 15 denier nylon is ideal. As well as being light and sheer enough not to add any unnecessary bulk to your bra, it’s also rigid enough to lend adequate support.
Stretch Mesh - For the uninitiated, stretch mesh is a blend of nylon and spandex. Although it offers significant stretch in a lengthwise direction, its excellent recovery and virtual absence of stretch on the crossgrain makes it a great choice for lining bras made from a stretchy cup material.
As an added advantage, it’s lightweight and sheer enough not to be visibly discernible from the main fabric of the bra.
Sheer Bra Cup Lining - Sheer bra cup lining is made from 100% nylon. Due to its almost complete lack of stretch, it’s excellent for lining stretch fabrics. Despite its rigidity, it’s soft against the skin and adds next to no bulk to the garment.
If you’re the type of person who can never have too much choice, you’re going to love just how many fabrics can be used for bra cups.
Typically, bra cups are made from nylon, polyester, cotton, and Spandex. Silk and silk stretch silk charmeuse (silk with Spandex), meanwhile, are common choices for luxury lingerie.
But the world really is your oyster here. If you prefer the soft, cozy touch of merino wool, go for it. If the superb breathability of bamboo floats your boat, jump right on board. If you’d rather get fancy with lace, then why not?
Providing it suits the style of bra and meets your requirements in terms of support and comfort, then no fabric is off-limits.
Regardless of the type of bra you’re making, the fabric that goes into its construction is important. But it becomes even more important when we’re talking about nursing bras.
Nursing bras should be ultra-comfortable, that’s a given. They also need to make your feel supported without constricted – a rigid nursing bra stuffed with underwiring is the last thing anyone wants. So, what kind of fabric is best?
Ultimately, the best type of fabric for nursing bras in one that’s got:
Wicking Properties: Unless you want to feel uncomfortably sweaty, look for a fabric that’ll wick moisture away from your skin.
Easy-Care Requirements: If you’re nursing, you’ve probably got enough to do without worrying about handwashing your bras every night. Look for a fabric that can be popped in the washing machine and doesn’t come with a long list of care requirements.
Strech: A good nursing bra is one that moves as you move. Look for a fabric with four-way stretch that will adapt to your body as it changes.
No Chemicals: The last thing you want when you’re nursing is to have any nasty chemicals hugging your skin. While this doesn’t mean you have to stick to all-natural, 100% organic fabrics, it pays to avoid ones made from potentially harmful chemicals.
The number of fabric options that satisfy the above criteria is quite considerable, but cotton or nylon and spandex blends tend to be two of the most popular choices.
We’ve spoken about the fabric for bra cups and the fabric for bra lining… but what about the fabric for bra padding? What’s the mysterious material lurking in your bra cup actually made from?
It depends. There’s several different bra padding materials available, with a limited amount to choose between them.
Silicon and rubber are two of the most common types of fabric used to make the padded bra cups, while foam-covered air or gel inserts are also popular, albeit slightly less common, forms.
When it comes to workout gear, comfort combined with function is key. And that doesn’t stop with your t-shirt and leggings, A comfortable bra that wicks away moisture is what you want – and fortunately, there’s plenty of fabrics that match that exact description, including:
CoolMax Polyester/Lycra Spandex: Combing the stretch and shape retention of Lycra with the excellent temperature regulating qualities of Coolmax, CoolMax Polyester/Lycra Spandex is a high-performance fabric that does exactly what it says on the can.
Cotton/Lycra Spandex: Cotton/Lycra Spandex offers excellent shape retention and the optimal amount of support. It’s also soft and moisture-wicking – perfect for a sports bra.
Supplex Nylon/Lycra Spandex: Soft, and with exactly the kind of fit, support, and shape retention you want from a sports bra, Supplex Nylon/Lycra Spandex will help keep you cool and comfortable no matter how killer the workout.
Polyester/Cotton/Lycra Spandex: soft and with excellent shape retention and support, Polyester/Cotton/Lycra Spandex makes a good option for sports bras.
If you’re making your own sports bra, you’ll need to make sure you buy enough fabric. After all, there’s nothing worse than finding yourself short on the most crucial element of a project halfway through it.
The actual amount of fabric will depend on the pattern you're using and the size you’re making, but most people will find that 0.5 meters will be plenty.
When you’re making a bra, you’re going to need more than a pattern and a hope to get you anywhere. Patterns do vary, as do sizes, so always check the pattern before you make any rash purchasing decisions.
As a rough guide, you can expect to need the following things in the following amounts (with plenty leftover in case you want to make a spare):
Cup Fabric: 0.5 meter
Band Fabric: 0.5 meter
Bottom Band Elastic: 1 meter
Top Band Elastic: 1 meter
Strap Elastic: 0.5 meters
Depending on the pattern, you might also need to consider:
Sliders and Rings: 2
Wire Casing: 1
Hooks and Eyes: 1 set
Choosing the right thread is just as key to bra-making success as choosing the right fabric. Polyester thread is generally recommended if you’re working with a synthetic fabric but keep to cotton if your bra fabric is 100% cotton.
If you’re using a sewing machine, always use a Strech needle if your bra fabric includes a stretch fabric like spandex. A Duoplex or ballpoint 70 is fine if you’re using a knitted fabric without spandex.
As for the best stitch? In fact, there are two that are recommended: the zig-zag stitch and the 3 step zig-zag stitch.
Both stitch types are strong enough to lock the raw edges in place, but the 3 step zig-zag stitch (which has the same form as the standard zig-zag but incorporates three straight stitches between each point of the zig-zag) just pips the standard version to the post when it comes to power, making it the preferred choice for lingerie.