I’ll never forget the moment I realized I had boobs. I was 23, new to New York City, and shopping in a friend’s closet. We were both similar sizes—about 5’1 with size-2 waists—and I threw one of her button-down shirts that I swore fit me just one year prior, back when I was totally flat-chested. This time around, I could get it buttoned just fine, but even the faintest of movements sent it the third button from the top out of its quarter-inch-long closure. Suddenly, there they were.
If that sentiment sounds insane, it’s because it is: I didn’t fully finish puberty until my mid-twenties, and for the better part of the last six years, I’ve battled with finding the right bra. It’s been so annoying, in fact, that I’ve taken to wearing a not-so-sexy sports bra beneath all my t-shirts, as well as a series of ill-filling bathing suit tops that often give me reverse shelf boobs—you know, that weird thing that happens when you bra isn’t supportive enough, and instead of looking like you have two separate breasts, they blend into a uniboob with a gape of fabric underneath. (Here’s a photo of me posing hard before I knew better.)
I eventually stopped wearing tight-fitting clothes all together, but as thin woman with a size C chest, I often got no sympathy. Anytime I’d go into a store asking for a minimizer, or something that would play down their size, the retail associate would playfully ask me why I would *ever* want to do such a thing and didn’t my boyfriend love them? I even walked out of one store in protest for looking at my boyfriend for his reaction before asking me what I thought about the way one bra fit. Yea, no.
With that said, I set out to finally find *the* perfect bra: One that I could wear under sweaters and tees and dresses and—yep—even a tight top. For the lazy among us, I was hoping to find one that I could get away with machine washing, but no luck: Just about everyone recommends you hand-wash. Hmph. Anyway, here’s how it went.
Bra 1: Miel Nana Bra, $39; available at Miel
This spandex and microfiber style is more of a supportive sports bra than a sexy pick. In fact, when a friend who recently got implants showed me her surgical bra, we joked about how similar they looked. That said, it does a solid job of keeping my boobs in place sans jiggle, and it looks great underneath baggy sweaters, tees, and tight-fitting shirts, too. The only instance where it doesn’t work is under something relatively see-through, since it’s not exactly cute. When it came to washing it—I’m super lazy and never, ever hand-wash my bras, but for this experiment, I both hand-washed and threw them in the delicate cycle and then hung them dry for comparison—this wire-free bra held up great with the hand-wash, and just okay with the latter: It started to pill a bit with subsequent wears.
Bra 2: Thirdlove Classic T-Shirt Bra, $68; at Thirdlove
This underwire-free bra came on strong recommendation from a co-worker who walked up to my desk one morning, appropos of nothing, to tell me she finally found the one: the bra that went with everything. Later that week, in what seemed like an elaborate scheme to get me to buy this bra, a few friends even dang its praises on Facebook. Anyway, even though it comes in a range of nudes, I got mine in black, and though it’s bit more full-coverage than I usually wear, I really enjoyed the half-cup sizing element. I *hate* underwire so I was excited to see a thicker strap of fabric in its place, but said strap sometimes folded weirdly, almost like a soft-cup bathing suit. Still, the soft, memory foam-like fabric feels like nothing against my skin (major win), and though the customer service rep warned me not to put it in the wash, I threw it in, just like the others: To my surprise, it came out of the wash feeling almost dry, and held its shape as it fully hang-dried—zero pilling, tugging, or creasing.
Bra 3: Cosabella Soire Demi Cup Bra, $90; at Cosabella
One of the more expensive options, this demi-cup bra is super lightweight (which matters, trust) but I couldn’t get the padded inserts out fast enough. Still, it ended up fitting decently: I went for a 32C, which is my normal size, but found there was a little gaping right at the center of each boob at the end of the day. The microfiber fabric—very popular these days—does a great job of keeping the underwire from being a pain, but as someone who usually enjoys sleeping in bras, this one felt good to take off. Still, it looked great under both a t-shirt and a sweater, and with sheer paneling on the wings, the bra actually made me feel pretty sexy. Had I gone in-store for a fitting, perhaps the gaping could have been alleviated. It earned bonus points for washing well both times, despite me forgetting it was in the washer for about four hours. Oops.
Bra 4: Gap T-Shirt Bra, $29; at Gap
Gap’s T-Shirt Bra sizes are pretty consistently sold out online—and finding one in-store was a huge pain, but alas, that’s NYC for you. Still, I managed to nab a light pink one in my size and it arrived quickly. I wore it for a few days straight—under a t-shirt, a silk blouse, and again under a sweater, and found that while it looked great under the first two, the fabric would sometimes grip onto the sweater in a weird way. I had to pull the sweater away from my body a couple of times, and that’s only when I was being cognizant of it. And even though the site directs you to put it in the wash, the cups of the bra puckered on the first launder. No bueno.
Bra 5: Lonely Lexi Softcup Bra Flint, $59.03; at Lonely
I decided to deviate from the usual T-shirt bra thing for a moment and try on this adorable bralette my boyfriend bought me. It’s been sitting in my drawer, mostly unworn, for lord-knows-how-long, and even though I love wearing it, I often forget I even own it. First thing’s first: This bra is sexy as hell: It’s made from pleated mesh and has super delicate straps and makes me feel downright amazing. I wore it first with a chunky sweater—which is usually a recipe for my boobs to go rogue and slip out if I so much as think of bending over to pick up something—and they stayed pretty secure. Then, I went with a sheer blouse (this was during Fashion Week, when you could practically walk outside topless and nobody would bat an eye) and I got tons of compliments from friends, but when I wore it under a t-shirt, I realized why I probably buried it in my underwear drawer: It made my boobs look saggy, like I’m not even wearing a bra at all. I can’t even tell you how it washed because I threw it back in my drawer and vowed never to wear it with a tee ever again.
Bra 6: Natori Reflex Bra, $56; at Natori
I’m just going to say it: This is the bra my mom wears. We’re similar sizes and she swears by it, so despite the underwire and the unfortunate connotation it now bears, I figured I’d give it a go: The mostly-polyester cups are super soft and feel pretty lightweight, and though I could get past the shiny satin trim, the front band—that part of the bra between the two cups—was itchy. I took it off twice one day to see if a thread was bare or something was sticking out, and nothing. Even after almost a week’s worth of wears, I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me. Still, even though I felt not-so-sexy wearing it, this bra looked great under everything I wore, and I accidentally threw it in the wash with my gym clothes and it came out completely unfazed. If you’re looking for a bra that can take a beating (and can stand the possibility of an uncomfortable front band), this is the one for you.
Bra 7: Lively The T-Shirt Bra, $35; Lively
I’ve been wearing Lively’s bralettes for about a year now, and though I generally like them—they’re really cute and pretty full-coverage—they don’t always look great under a t-shirt. So I decided to venture back to familiar territory with Lively and order one of its aptly named T-Shirt bras. For a brand that’s known for its bralettes, the bras come in a good range of sizes (32A to 38DD) at a pretty affordable price-point—a rarity these days—and there’s a truly helpful bra-sizing chart with instructions on the site. Back to the bra: Its lacy, front-adjusting straps are a game-changer (why don’t all bras have these again?) and there’s a J-hook in the back that can turn it into a racerback style without having to MacGyver it—though be prepared for a little gaping near the bottom of the bra, along the side. The bra itself is super comfy, and it looked great under everything I wore. Plus, it washed like a dream—not even a hint of pilling. Though it comes in three solid hues—soft pink, toasted almond, and black—I could see someone with a darker skin-tone annoyed that it only comes in black, light, and lighter.