A Guide to Bra Styles, Seams and Shapes

How much uplift does a quarter cup bra really give you? What’s more supportive, a triangle-cupped bralet or a bandeau? And what difference do seams really make on a bra? Welcome to my bra style guide, which will hopefully answer all of these questions for you!

Before I start, I want to point out that this is not at all an exhaustive list of bra styles, and the ones I have covered are somewhat generalised – things like padded triangle bras exist for example, and different strap styles or band widths can all affect the support the bra gives.

Kiss Me Deadly has done a great post showing what bralets, quarter cup bras and cupless bras look like on the same person, which I recommend you check out if you’re interested in those styles, but this guide is more about what shapes bras will give you under clothing.


Part-seamed bra


Pictured bra: Dentelle Onyx, £45.99

When the seams only come part-way up the cup on a bra (typically one seam at the centre-bottom), they’re more for shaping than for any kind of support. The bra cup is made from a single piece of fabric and this seam allows the bottom of the cup to be deeper.

Depending on where exactly the seam ends, this style of bra can have quite a rounded shape or a more pointed one. It will provide lightweight support and lift, but nothing heavy-duty!


Bra with vertical seams


Pictured bra: Freya Starlet, £35

Unlike part-seamed bras, on vertically-seamed ones the seams go all the way from the base to the top of the cup – there may be just one central seam or a few of them. The cups are made from 2 or more pieces of fabric which are folded or overlaid where they join at the seam, and this strip of thicker fabric is stronger than the single-layer fabric around it.

That makes vertically-seamed bras very supportive, particularly if they have multiple vertical seams. The straight up-and-down seams are also very uplifting as you can see if you compare this photo to the one above.


Three-part cup bra


Pictured bra: Miss Mandalay Mia, ~£12.40

As the name suggests, this cup style is made from 3 pieces of fabric – two at the bottom and one at the top. The bottom section has a vertical seam which provides support and uplift.

However, there is also a horizontal or diagonal seam that goes across the breast. The more horizontal that this seam is, the more rounded a shape the bra will have. A three-part cup offers a lot of support but slightly less uplift than a purely vertically-seamed one.


Moulded bra


Pictured bra: Pour Moi Treasure, £26

A moulded-cup bra (or contour-cupped bra) has a layer of pre-shaped padding sandwiched between the front and back layers of the cup, usually some sort of foam. It’s a very structured bra, as you can see when it holds its rounded shape when not worn!

If you want a very smooth, rounded shape, moulded cup bras are the style for you! None of the other bras on this list give quite the same shape. However, because the cup is pre-shaped rather than moulding to your own breast shape, you are more likely to have fit issues than with many other bra styles.


Bullet bra


Pictured bra: Stockings and Romance Marilyn, £34.96

A bullet bra usually has ‘whirlpool’ round seams that go all around the top and bottom of the breast and gradually get smaller, coming to a point. The bra may also have straight seams all around the cup that converge in the centre, adding to the pointy-ness. Because this pointed shape is so unlike a natural breast shape, it’s likely that you won’t fill it out completely in which case you can buy special bullet-bra pads to help the bra keep its shape.

You can also get bras that only have the straight seams, often with a horizontal seam, which have a rounder shape and slightly less exaggerated point. I believe these are called cone bras but don’t quote me on that! (Any vintage lingerie experts want to clarify?)

Although a bullet bra will always look pointed, it’s much less exaggerated if you’re wearing something looser than this stretch-jersey top.


Quarter-cupped bra


Pictured bra: Lola Luna Gaia, £31.99

A 1/4 cup bra is exactly that – a bra with only about a quarter of the fabric of a full-coverage bra. The fabric stops below the nipple, and may or may not be moulded.

You might think that a bra like this couldn’t possibly be supportive, but as the picture above shows it actually gives more uplift than the triangle and bandeau styles below. In fact, this quarter-cupped bra gave a more projected shape than the part-seamed bra at the top of the list!

This is because the majority of the support in a brand comes from the band and the underwires. Adding a sling of fabric to that (rather than a cupless bra, which has no cup fabric whatsoever) means there’s something there to physically support the weight of your breasts and lift them up.


Triangle-cupped bralet


Pictured bra: Miss Crofton Violet, £29.99

A triangle-shaped bralet has cups made from a single piece of fabric and doesn’t usually have any underwires. Typically, the cups will have a part-seam to allow for a more projected shape, though the bra in this example is seamless.

As I just mentioned, a lot of the support in a bra comes from the band, so look for a triangle-cupped bra that has a wide, firm band if you want more support.

This particular one has a very narrow band and is the closest thing I’ve found to a natural, bra-free shape.


Bandeau bra


Pictured bra: Bjorn Borg Love All Lace, £11

A bandeau is, essentially, a tube of fabric. It might have a fastening at the back or it may not. Many bandeaus are strapless. As with a triangle bra, you can find bandeau bras with a band of firmer material just under the bust which can help them to stay in place better. You can even find bandeau bra styles that have underwires, though the vast majority don’t.

Probably what most separates a bandeau from the other bra styles on this list is that it doesn’t have separate cups, so rather than supporting, lifting and shaping specific areas, it just provides all-over compression. For that reason, this bra style typically givess a flatter shape than anything else.



If you’re interested in trying new bra styles, or are looking for one that will give you a particular shape and level of support, I hope you’ve found this comparison useful!

Are there any other bra styles you’d like to see compared? What style do you wear most often?