Alternatives to Bras: What to Wear When Your Bra Hurts
If you ask women what the most uncomfortable item of clothing they wear is, the majority of them would say their bra. Bras can hurt the back, ribs, and neck, chafe the skin, and can even cause the cartilage of the ribcage to become inflamed. Still, most women feel better with some support and prefer the shaping a bra gives.
But there are ways to get the support without the discomfort. Below are some bra alternatives and hijacks, with tips for how to get the look of a bra without wearing anything underneath your top. Below, you'll find
- things you can wear instead of a traditional bra
- tips for making bras more comfortable, and
- ways to go braless more comfortably (including how to wrap your breasts instead).
Stop living in bra-induced discomfort. Throw those annoying bras in the trash and find a more comfortable way to support yourself.
What to Wear Instead of a Bra
Bras With No Underwire
For some people, the problem with bras is the underwire. As you move, it can poke and dig into your sides, but a bra that has no underwire can be a lot more comfortable. There are lots of bras without underwire that offer good support. Typically, the thin, skimpy ones aren't as supportive or comfortable as the fuller ones made with lots of material. Look for no-underwire bras with comfortable material around the bottom, as elastic can dig into your torso as much as underwire can. Bras with wider bands around the bottom are usually more comfortable.
Sports bras offer plenty of support, without underwires. They are typically made of stretchy material that will "give" as you move rather than digging into your sides. Some even have thinner spaghetti straps, like regular bras.
The drawback of sports bras is that they aren't the most attractive undergarments, especially underneath fitted or dressy clothes. With most, the uniboob phenomenon usually happens, and most aren't very sleek under clothes, but there are sports bras that offer comfortable support with a bit more shape.
For the most comfort, look for ones with separate cups or stitching down the middle to separate the breasts more and those with wider bands around the bottom, since thin bands tend to dig and chafe.
Camis and Tank Tops
Camis and tank tops are another comfortable option. They may be the best choice if having anything tight around your ribs irritates you.
Many camisoles come with built in shelf bras. Or you can find them without a built in bra if you prefer.
The tighter the tank top or cami is, the more support and the less sagging there will be. Nylon or spandex material will offer the most support.
The drawbacks of wearing camis are that they can be hot in the summer. It adds an extra layer over your whole torso.
If you are wearing bottoms with waists that fit low on your hips, the cami can come untucked and be annoying. And unless it is really tight, it still won't have the shaping and lifting effect of bras.
But it is a better choice than a bra for a lot of women. If you are smaller chested, it may be the way to go. Camis can offer a bit of protection and support without discomfort.
Tube bras give support and coverage without wires or other parts that dig or poke.
They are basically like short tube tops. They are just material made to fit around your chest area. Since there are no straps, they can be a good choice for some dressy tops.
The downside to tube bras is that they are more prone to shifting because there isn't as much to hold them in place.
If you have sensitive ribs, the bands may still aggravate you depending on how tight you buy them. Look for wide bands. They are usually more comfortable than a narrow band that will dig into your chest.
Corsets and Torsolettes
There are tons of comfortable corset options that will provide support and give the lifted look of bras without the discomfort. Torsolettes and bustier bras are similar to corsets but look more like undergarments.
Corsets and other similar garments can be the best option for dressier clothes. They offer more support and shaping than other bra alternatives. And since the support is spread over the whole torso, they can be more comfortable than bras with underwires or elastic that can pinch.
Some corsets can even be worn as tops without anything over them or as part of an ensemble.
Just try options. You might find a corset or bustier bra that works well for you. Some corsets can be uncomfortable, especially if they are really tight or have boning. But some are very flexible as you move and have adjustable ribbons to loosen and tighten it.
Nipple covers (breast petals/pasties) can keep your nipples from showing underneath form fitted clothing. It's a way to go without a bra without being completely exposed.
Most people find them to be really comfortable. You may have to shop around to find a kind that fits you well and that looks natural on your breast under clothing.
Nipple covers don't provide any support or lifting, but they will offer a layer in between your nipples and your clothing. It will make it less obvious that you aren't wearing a bra.
There are a wide variety of types. Some are just round. Others are shaped. There are even reusable nipple covers available for people who wear them frequently.
How to Avoid Bra Pain
Get Properly Sized
If you have never been sized for a bra by a professional, it's time. If your bras hurt, it's likely that your bra size is actually different than you think it is. Getting the right size is the first step to avoiding discomfort. How to Find Your Real Bra Size has pro tips for measuring properly.
Use a Bra Back Extender
Sometimes the problem is simply that the bra fits too tight around your torso. If this is your issue, a bra extender might be the solution. If your bra is the right cup size but the band is too small around your ribcage, simply clip a back extender onto the hooks to extend the band and make the bra less tight by adding a few inches.
Extenders come in multiple hook styles and come in most standard bra colors.
Make Your Own Custom Bra
It never occurs to most women to make their own bra, but making a custom bra could be the solution for those who can't find one that fits correctly.
There are many bra sewing patterns available online or in fabric stores. If you know how to sew, making a bra should be a relatively easy project. If you don't know how to sew, see ask a friend or a tailor or alterations shop that might make one for you.
Do not use ace bandages or other very constrictive material to bind your breasts. That form of breast binding has been linked to causing blood clots, broken ribs, breathing problems, and other dangers.
That being said, there are non-constrictive ways to wrap the chest. It is just another method of support without the discomfort of a bra.
In some cultures before bras were invented, women would wrap cloth around their chest for support among other reasons.
This is especially true in Japanese culture. Chest wrapping was worn under kimonos. Wrapping has gained a resurgence in recent years because of its use by female anime characters, many of whom are samurai or other types of fighters.
Normal, non-constrictive cloth will work, but traditionally chest wrapping is done with a special type of supportive cloth called "sarashi." It is a really long piece of cloth that is wound around the chest (or whatever area you want to support). Most sarashi available today is about 1 foot wide by 10-15 feet long.
Basically you will wind the cloth and wrap it around you like a mummy. Be careful not to get it too tight. You don't want it to cause problems like trouble breathing. And like any type of chest support, you shouldn't wear it all the time to give your chest a chance to relax.
Chest wrapping isn't always practical. It would look strange under any tightly-fitted clothes because it is a bit bulky. It also gives a flatter look to the chest.
But there are times when it might be the right choice. If you can't wear sports bras or anything similar, chest wrapping may be good when you are going to be active.
Why do bras bother you?
If it doesn't make you too uncomfortable, you could go without a bra or anything else.
Studies have not found any benefit to wearing bras other than for appearance and comfort while moving. Going without bras does not lead to saggier breasts later in life. Gravity alone is responsible for that.
The natural look of the breasts isn't anything to be ashamed of. Our society is just used to seeing breasts shaped and lifted by bras. It is like shaving the legs. There is nothing wrong with hairy legs on women, it is just a beauty trend to prefer them smooth.
So feel free to go braless, but be aware that this may not look very attractive according to modern standards (see picture to the right). Watch reruns of Dharma and Greg and pay attention to Dharma's chest to get the idea.
But there are ways to make it less obvious that you aren't wearing a bra. In general, smaller chested women can get away with it more than bigger chested women. The top you are wearing can also make a difference with how this looks.
If you are wearing a loose and baggy shirt or a floral or other busy print top, it won't be as obvious. Avoid white and other light colored and see-through materials if you aren't wearing anything underneath. Solid colored and form-fitting shirts will make the breasts and the lack of a bra more noticeable. In the end, it is worth the search for tops that looks good on you without a bra.
You will feel more breeze and chill without a bra. Being without a bra can feel freeing, but at the same time you may feel more vulnerable without anything to cover you up. You may feel more exposed to the world, but you will eventually get more used to it the more you go without a bra.
Being comfortable and feeling good about your appearance can happen at the same time. There are lots of options and alternatives when it comes to bras. Find what works for you and stop living in pain.