…is a question I’ve been getting with some frequency, and it’s high time I answered it. It’s true, I love seamed bras with all my heart. Seams are the best. Seams make my boobs go round. Seams will never give you up, let you down, run around, desert you, make you cry, etc.
Okay, that might be a little much, even for me. There are absolutely times when a molded cup bra is also your friend. For newbies, a “molded cup” refers to a bra cup that is made of a single piece of material that has been molded into a round shape. Sometimes you’ll see molded cups made of single, flexible pieces of fabric (like Fantasie’s Smoothing Full Cup Bra); more frequently (in the US, at least) molded cup bras are made of a slightly thicker material like foam or spacer fabric, to provide a little more coverage (like Freya’s Deco or Cleo’s Maddie).
Some people strongly prefer molded cup bras for wearing under uniforms or tee shirts, or because they feel self-conscious if their bra seams (or nipples) are showing. I don’t care as much about seams showing, because for whatever reason I have very few tops where that’s a problem, but I do prefer molded cup bras in two particular styles: sports bras and strapless bras. Molded cup bras like the Panache Sports Bra or the Freya Active Underwire Sports Bra provide smooth, sturdy support with no seams inside the cup to chafe against tender skin. Strapless bras don’t have straps (duh, thanks for that, Sweets) to help lift and smooth the cup, so a molded cup (like the Freya Deco Shape collection) helps keep your boobs lifted and wrangled.
Apart from those two instances, you’ll pry my seamed bras from my cold, dead hands.
Seams generally affect:
With a molded bra, the shape you see on the hanger is generally the shape it will give your boobs. With a seamed bra, the seams are like a road map: the direction of the seams tells you a little more about what the final shape will look like, but you usually have to try the bra on to see how it works with your individual body. If you’re at the beginning of your lingerie-wardrobe-building journey, it’s a good idea, once you have a collection of at least 2-3 bras that you like, to pay attention to the seam patterns and see if there’s a pattern in particular that really seems to work for you. There are a few classic shapes:
Single vertical seam:
More often than not, if you have a seamed full-bust or full-figure bra, you’ll have a vertical seam. The reason is this: seams sort of “direct” your breast tissue and dictate the shape the bra will give you, and a vertical seam tells your breast tissue to “go up”. These seams help lift breast tissue up and off the ribcage, which many full-bust women find cooler more comfortable. That lift also helps create cleavage in bras with lower cups and shorter center gores.
Single horizontal seam:
Many vintage and vintage-inspired bras use this classic shape, but it’s more common in small-bust and core sizes rather than full-bust sizes (especially G+ sizes). Bras with single horizontal seams tend to offer depth (since the seam tells your breast tissue “go out”), but they don’t always offer the same centered shape as a bra with vertical seams or side panels.
Multiple vertical seams:
This seam pattern is very common in half-cup bras or demi bras, and bras with this construction usually offer lots and lots of lift (remember, vertical seams tell your breast tissue to go up) with beautifully rounded cleavage.
Vertical seam + diagonal seam:
This is one of the most common contemporary bra shapes: the three-part balconette bra. It also happens to be one of my favorites: the vertical seam in the bottom of the cup is there to provide vertical lift, and the diagonal seam means that the bottom section of the cup attaches directly to the strap, which helps to draw breast tissue in from the sides of the body for a centered profile.
Vertical seam + horizontal seam:
This is one of the other more common contemporary bra shapes, a slightly different three part balconette or full-cup bra. Rather than drawing up to the strap, the seam cuts straight across the bra horizontally for lots of outward projection.
Side panel/side sling:
This feature has become increasingly common in full-bust sizes, since it really pulls breast tissue in from the sides of the body to the front. This helps to ensure that all breast tissue is contained in the cup as well as creating a narrower profile when viewed from the front. Having a fourth cup section adds another dimension to help to create a deeper, more projected shape, which helps the gore tack in fuller cup sizes.
Concentric seam/conical bra:
Calling vintage fashion enthusiasts/Madonna-circa-Blond-Ambition, concentric seams are the ones for you! These create that cone-like/super-pointy retro shape like nothing else.
In addition to shape, seams also affect the following fit factors:
I’ve been asked a few times why molded cup bras generally stop at a G cup, or in some cases an H cup. The reason is simple: a single molded cup can only achieve so much projection before the shape gets distorted or support is compromised. Imagine trying to hold water in your cupped hand. You can gradually deepen the curve of your hand to hold more water, but you’ll reach a point where, if you want to add even more water, your hand can’t curve any more: your hand itself would have to grow bigger to hold more volume. Now picture that concept applied to bras: at a certain point, you won’t be able to make the cup deeper; to achieve a larger cup volume, the cup will get wider and taller, which would spread breast tissue up and out on the chest, rather than lifting vertically and projecting breast tissue away from the ribcage.
Now, if you join TWO curved hands, you’ll be able to hold a greater volume of water more easily, with a deeper, more projected shape. The same goes for bras: at a certain size, one single piece of material won’t be able to hold the same volume and depth of breast tissue without seriously compromising on fit or support. Using multiple pieces to create a cup lets you build a more tailored, engineered shape to provide the best fit.
Speaking of support, when you look at a bra, you can think to yourself “Seams = strength”. Many full-bust and full-figure bras have to walk a line between offering support and offering comfort. Using only non-stretch materials would give you rock-solid support and a great deal of discomfort, and using super-stretchy fabrics would feel nice and soft, but wouldn’t do much for you if you were looking for lift or stability. So most full-bust bras look for a happy medium: they use fabrics with at least some stretch in parts of the bra (band, straps, occasionally certain sections of the cup), while using firmer non-stretch fabrics in other parts (most often the lower and side sections of the cup). While seams are there to create specific shapes, they also stabilize the materials and help prevent stretch or distortion in the fabric.
For further reading, I STRONGLY recommend checking out this excellent post/vlog from Claire at Butterfly Collection: How Bra Seams Change Your Breast Shape. Her understanding of how bra seams work with different breast shapes is unparalleled, and her fit advice is so warm and friendly. Plus, she talks you through some of the same bras pictured in this post, so you can see them “in action”, if you will.
Are you a fan of seamed bras? Any particular seam patterns that really work for you? What are your favorites?