Women spend a lot of time and money trying to look their best, and the right bra provides an essential foundation for building that image. Bras range in price from about $10 to as much as $200 (unless you count one-of-a-kind, diamond-encrusted designs that cost millions). We focused our attention at the low end, seeking out cheap bras between $10 and $25.
Cheap Bras Buying Guide
No single bra type fits all women and all occasions -- Redbook magazine reports that women own an average of nine bras -- so we researched many different types of cheap bras to come up with our recommendations. These included standard or everyday bras, push-up bras, strapless bras, and sports bras. Within these four main bra types, there are demi bras that cover the lower half of the breast, full coverage bras that contain the entire breast, minimizer bras that reduce the bust line to create a slimming look, plunge bras for wearing underneath low-cut shirts, padded bras that add a little extra to your natural bust, seamless bras for a smooth look underneath clothes, underwire bras for added support, wireless bras for added comfort, and countless combinations of the above.
Our top everyday bra is the Barely There Invisible Look Underwire (starting at $18). This standard bra offers full coverage; seamless, lightly padded cups; and a plunge neckline that dips low in the middle. The best cheap push-up bra we found, the Maidenform The Dream Bra Push-Up Bra (starting at $24), uses graduated padding to create more cleavage. In the strapless category, our top choice is the Lilyette Tailored Strapless Minimizer Bra (starting at $17). It's convertible, so you can wear it with straps or without, and it helps give full-figured women a smaller silhouette. Our favorite sports bra, the Moving Comfort Fiona (starting at $24), features molded, seamless cups; wide, adjustable straps; and a thick band secured with three hook closures.
The Playtex 18-Hour Original Comfort Strap (starting at $17) is a good cheap comfort bra, offering wireless support, a higher neckline, and supportive cups with no padding. One cheap bra that didn't make our cut is the Elita Les Essentiels Crossover Cami (starting at $16). There's no way to adjust either the straps or the back band, and numerous women complain about the overall fit. Consumers also aren't impressed with the fit of the Carnival Seamless Push-Up Bra (starting at $17), and several say the underwire pops out the side.
Various experts estimate that anywhere from 70 percent to 85 percent of women wear the wrong size bra, which undoubtedly accounts for some of the complaints about fit. When you try on a cheap bra, make sure the band lies flat and doesn't ride up in the back, the cups contain your breasts, and any underwire doesn't dig in. Likewise, the straps shouldn't cut into your shoulders. If they do, you're probably relying on them too much to provide support; that's supposed to be the role of the band. The fabric on the best cheap bras is typically a combination of stretchy spandex or Lycra and soft yet supportive polyester or nylon.
In a field of dozens of lingerie manufacturers, the top bra brands include Bali, Playtex, Maidenform, Olga, Lilyette, and Jockey, a few of which appear on our list. Victoria's Secret owns more than a third of the intimate apparel market, according to one analyst, but almost all its bras start at $30 or more.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
No matter what type of bra you're looking for, bra reviews from both experts and consumers indicate that several features are essential. First up: comfort and support. Most user reviews we researched indicate that women prize a bra that comfortably supports their breasts. Fit and durability are also vital. Bra reviews often mention whether or not a consumer finds a bra "true to size," although fit varies from brand to brand. Consumers seem to expect a bra to last at least six months, and the longer the better. Other key qualities shoppers take into account are fabric and construction.
Best-Fitting Bras.With so many women allegedly wearing the wrong size bra, it's important to have a professional size you up. If you're ordering online, Good Housekeeping provides a guide to taking your own measurements. Once you know your bra size, it's a good idea to try on several different styles to find the best-fitting bra.Because consumers commenting online may not have purchased the correct size, we took all the bra reviews we read with a grain of salt. That said, some bras earn far more praise for comfort and fit than others, and usually the more adjustable the straps and band, the better the fit. That's why we like the Moving Comfort Fiona (starting at $24) -- it's one sports bra that's completely adjustable, where many options in the category aren't. According to consumers posting bra reviews on Amazon, the bra is comfortable for any type of workout. Those with larger cup sizes especially appreciate the adjustability and how well the bra keeps their chests contained.
The Barely There Invisible Look Underwire (starting at $18) is the most comfortable and best-fitting bra some women have ever found, according to bra reviews at Kohl's. Consumers posting comments at online outlet One Hanes Place like the bra so much that they stock up just in case it's ever discontinued. The Playtex 18-Hour Original Comfort Strap (starting at $17) also gets many compliments on fit at Freshpair. Women appreciate the lift and support the bra provides and confirm that it actually is comfortable enough to wear for a full 18 hours.
Women posting bra reviews at online lingerie retailer Her Room likewise find the Maidenform The Dream Bra Push-Up Bra (starting at $24) extremely comfortable. They say it gives small busts a boost without looking unnatural or showing through clothing.
The Lilyette Tailored Strapless Minimizer Bra (starting at $17) impresses women posting bra reviews at Macy's, who say it holds the bust in place without spillage over the sides and top (a common problem with strapless bras that fit poorly). Consumers posting at Amazon agree, saying the bra is unbelievably comfortable and even calling it the best-fitting bra they've ever worn. One woman living in Central America went on an unplanned hike up a mountain in this strapless bra and had no problems. She relies on it now over a sports bra when she knows she'll be traveling on bumpy roads.
But not all cheap bras deliver the comfort of the best-fitting bras on our list. The fit of the Elita Les Essentiels Crossover Cami (starting at $16) seems to be all wrong, according to bra reviews. Women posting comments on Her Room report that the bra runs small and the lack of adjustability in the straps and band makes it very hard to wear properly. One woman reports that the band is tight and doesn't smooth out any "back fat." Consumers commenting on the Carnival Seamless Push-Up Bra (starting at $17) at Her Room find the fit and comfort lacking. Some bra reviews report that the cup sizes seem to run small, the straps are uncomfortable, and the bra rides up or gaps a bit where the cups meet the straps. One reviewer who ordered two Carnival bras in the exact same size says one fits and the other is too small.
Cheap Push-Up Bras, Padded Bras, Underwire Bras
Cheap push-up bras are similar to standard, everyday bras; the only difference is that they have gel or foam padding strategically placed on the underside of the cup to lift and push the bust up and out. More often than not, they incorporate underwire for an added boost. They also tend to have plunging necklines so they can be paired with a low-cut top that shows off the enhanced cleavage. The comfortable and supportive Maidenform The Dream Bra Push-Up Bra earns the title of best cheap push-up bra. It uses graduating padding to create a natural push-up effect.
Another cheap push-up bra we researched, the Carnival Seamless, gets very poor reviews from the few consumers who have posted comments on it at Amazon; they say the underwire doesn't hold up at all. One woman who bought three of these bras noticed the underwire poking out of all three by the end of the first day she wore them. Women posting on Amazon and elsewhere also seem to find this cheap push-up bra generally ill-fitting.
We looked into the Victoria's Secret Very Sexy line as well, but those are decidedly not cheap push-up bras, ranging from $48 to $78 depending on the fabric you choose. Many reviewers find the Maidenform Push-Up Bra an attractive and attractively priced alternative.
Padded Bras.While the other bras on our list aren't classified as push-up bras, many are padded bras that use extra material or gel to add fullness and provide some lift. The Barely There Invisible Look Underwire has molded foam padding. Women posting comments on One Hanes Place like this padded bra because it's light and naturally shaped, without too much push-up. The other padded bra on our list is the Moving Comfort Fiona sports bra, which has molded, padded cups. The Lilyette Tailored Strapless Minimizer Bra has molded cups but no padding -- not a problem for many full-figured women commenting on this bra at Her Room.
Underwire Bras.While the cups do the heavy lifting when it comes to pushing up and supporting the breasts, underwire bras have additional support built in. The Carnival Seamless Push-Up Bra and Maidenform the Dream Bra Push-Up Bra, as well as the Barely There Invisible Look Underwire and the Lilyette Tailored Strapless Minimizer Bra, are underwire bras. The underwire on the Maidenform bra is encased in soft material, and reviewers posting on several sites declare it uncommonly comfortable. For those who are nonetheless skeptical of underwire bras, the Playtex 18-Hour Original Comfort Strap earns rave reviews from consumers posting on Amazon. Even women with bigger cup sizes find the bra completely supportive despite the lack of underwire.The Playtex 18-Hour Original Comfort Strap is also the only bra we researched that doesn't have seamless cups. Although seamless cups are more popular because they show no lines, cups that are cut and sewn provide extra structure and support, and the seams help define the shape while restricting how much the bra can stretch. This is especially important for women who have D cups or larger. Several women with larger chests who have posted reviews at Freshpair note how well the cups fit and how much better their clothes fit when they wear this bra.
Cheap Strapless Bras
Strapless bras are designed to be worn under tube tops, strapless cocktail dresses, and the like. The band on a cheap strapless bra should be wide, with two to four hook closures, to provide adequate support and stay securely in place. Our pick for the best cheap strapless bra, the Lilyette Tailored Strapless Minimizer Bra, has four hook-and-eye closures on the back, along with optional convertible straps.
Bra Band.The band is a critical yet often overlooked aspect of any bra, not just a cheap strapless bra, because it's the band -- not the straps -- that bears most of the weight. A flimsy or extremely stretchy band will only loosen over time and not provide a proper fit for very long, if at all. Generally the more hook closures a band has, the more support it provides. Full-busted women should aim for three or more hooks to get the support they need. Three of the bras on our list meet this benchmark: the Lilyette Tailored Strapless Minimizer Bra, with its four hooks, and the Playtex 18-Hour Original Comfort Strap bra and Moving Comfort Fiona sports bra, with three.The Barely There Invisible Look Underwire, Maidenform The Dream Bra Push-Up Bra, and Carnival Seamless Push-Up Bra each have two hooks on the back. However, their slimmer bands don't generate any negative comments that we could find. The Elita Les Essentiels Crossover Cami has no hooks at all; you pull it over your head to get it on, and there's no way to adjust the back strap. Several women who have posted reviews of this bra at Her Room don't like the design.
A bra band should be wide enough to create a smooth, slim look underneath clothes. Skinny bands need to be fastened tightly to provide enough support, which can cause the band to cut into your skin and make your back look lumpy. One woman who posted a review at Kohl's notes that the band on the Barely There Invisible Look Underwire is wide enough to smooth her back better than the skinny band on a previous bra.
Bra Straps.Although the Lilyette Tailored Strapless Minimizer Bra is a cheap strapless bra, it does come with straps that can be worn in the traditional style or crisscrossed in the back. The purpose of bra straps is not to support the breasts but to balance out the weight between your shoulders and your back. Straps should lie flat against your chest and neither fall off nor cut into your shoulders. One woman who posted a review of the Lilyette bra at Kohl's notes that the straps stay in place even after many washings, unlike the straps on other bras she's owned.Bra straps come in a variety of widths and configurations, but the two most common are camisole and leotard straps. Camisole straps are sewn into the band at right angles. This design works well for most bras, especially in larger sizes, because the band can accommodate as many hook closings as needed, offering more support and making the bra easily adjustable. Leotard straps are thicker than camisole straps and create a U shape in the back (similar to the back of a leotard).
Most consumers seem to like the leotard design of the Playtex 18-Hour Original Comfort Strap; one woman who posted a review at Freshpair points to it as a crucial aspect of the bra's comfortable fit. The Barely There Invisible Look Underwire and Maidenform The Dream Bra Push-Up bras are traditional camisole bras; however, the straps are convertible and can be crisscrossed in the back to accommodate certain shirts.
With sports bras, the strap design helps define the activity level the bra can accommodate, especially for women with larger cup sizes. In general, camisole straps are best for low-impact activities such as walking or weight training. Leotard straps, like those on the Moving Comfort Fiona Bra, are best for more vigorous activities such as hiking, and racer-back straps that cross in the back are designed for high-impact activities such as running and aerobics.
Cheap Sports Bras
Cheap sports bras are designed specifically for physical activity, with complete coverage and wide straps. Any underwire should be very flexible and move with your body, say experts at REI, and the bra fabric should wick sweat off the body. Sports bras general fall into three categories. Compression bras, which flatten the breasts against the body, are best for women with A and B cup sizes. Encapsulation bras surround and support each breast to minimize movement and are best for women with D cups or bigger. Women with C or D cups should look for a combination of the two. The Moving Comfort Fiona is a good example of a cheap combination sports bra.
Bra Fabric.The fabric of a bra has a direct impact on its comfort, durability, and support. For a cheap sports bra, you want a moisture-wicking fabric that isn't too stiff. The Moving Comfort Fiona is 88 percent DriLayer X-Support polyester (a fabric patented by Moving Comfort) and 12 percent Lycra. One woman who posted a comment on the Moving Comfort website appreciates that the materials used in this bra are very comfortable on her extra-sensitive skin -- so much so that at times it feels like the bra's not even there.Cotton is a good bra fabric choice because it's breathable and soft, but it may not provide adequate support on its own. The Elita Les Essentiels Crossover Cami, for instance, is 92 percent cotton and doesn't have any underwire, and women posting reviews at Her Room note that it doesn't offer enough support if you have a larger bust. Nylon or polyester can be found in a soft weave that provides more support. These bra fabrics are often combined with something stretchy such as spandex or Lycra, as in the Moving Comfort Fiona. The Barely There Invisible Look Underwire is 85 percent nylon and 15 percent spandex. One woman who posted a review at Kohl's notes that the bra's soft fabric feels smooth against her skin.
The Lilyette Tailored Strapless Minimizer Bra is 88 percent nylon and 12 percent Lycra, and the Maidenform The Dream Bra Push-Up Bra is 78 percent nylon and 28 percent elastane. One consumer notes that this blend doesn't breathe terribly well and makes her sweat, but she joins a chorus of women posting at Macy’s who marvel at how comfortable the bra is -- comfortable enough to sleep in, one woman declares. Another consumer likes that the Maidenform, unlike many other push-up bras, has solid sides instead of lace, which is apt to rip. Our choice for a good comfort bra, the Playtex 18-Hour Original Comfort Strap, is a blend of four different fabrics: polyester, nylon, spandex, and cotton. One woman who posted a bra review at Freshpair says the Playtex is comfortable enough to wear every day.
Mesh and lace are two other common bra fabrics, but they're not the most durable and can irritate the skin. Satin is soft and comfortable and also used in many designs but usually requires special care. Don't completely discount these bra fabrics, however -- they're suitable for sexy bras that you don't intend to wear on a day-to-day basis.