Today’s post is written by Melissa Hathaway. Having graduated in design and Journalism a few years ago, Missi has been studying everything from global fashion trends to local designers, brand economics, sustainability clothing and a lot in between. When she proposed me this article, I was very interested in finding out more about bra fabrics. I have the habit to read the bra labels closely when I purchase new lingerie, but I haven’t been curious enough to study these fabrics in detail. All I know is what I feel comfortable in and what doesn’t work for me at all. I’m very curious to know what your favorite fabrics are from those listed below.
As with most things in life, when it comes to lingerie you get what you pay for. The proliferation of extremely cheap underwear in the major fashion stores means lingerie can be purchased for very little but often at the expense of quality. Mass-produced bras and panties sold for a few dollars a time may look pretty but they are often manufactured using cheap fabrics which don’t hold up as well as more expensive materials. Whether you’re buying bespoke lingerie or off-the-peg, knowing a little about the most frequently used fabrics and their various advantages and disadvantages can help you choose the right bras for every occasion.
Cotton is the natural fiber most commonly used in bras and provides all the benefits one would expect. It’s soft against the skin, is very breathable and is a good choice for everyday wear, particularly if you live in or are travelling to a hot climate. It’s also hard-wearing and very resistant to tears and snags. Cotton holds up well to machine washing and there’s usually no need to handwash cotton bras, meaning they require minimal care and attention.
One disadvantage of cotton on its own is that it doesn’t always offer adequate support. Many cotton bras use a blend of natural and synthetic fibers to maintain breathability and comfort while providing greater support. 100% cotton bras are also available. These tend to be extremely soft and comfortable and are excellent for those with very sensitive skin or allergies to synthetics. Much of the lace used in bras is made from cotton, although lace can also be manufactured from synthetic fibers.
The other most popular natural fiber is silk. Comfortable, lightweight and durable, silk feels great against the skin and wicks moisture from the skin. Silk underwear, especially when cared for properly, can last for a long time so makes it a good choice of fabric if you’re planning on buying an expensive piece of lingerie. Silk bras are an excellent choice for those with sensitive skin as silk is less likely to provoke an allergic reaction than many other fibers and the naturally occurring amino acids can actually soothe the skin.
Rayon is a semi-natural material made from cellulose fiber and is widely used in bra manufacture, usually in combination with other synthetic or natural fabrics. It is prized for its smooth, soft feel and can mimic natural fibers such as silk or cotton, depending on how it’s manufactured. Modal is a popular type of rayon and is known for its soft, luxurious feel against the skin. It is often used as a substitute for cotton as it has many of the same properties. Frequently used in bras, it is usually combined with synthetics such as spandex or polyester to add elasticity. Modal is machine washable and exceptionally resistant to shrinkage and fading, making it perfect for easy-care underwear. It is prone to stretching but this can be addressed by combining it with stretchy fibers.
Another type of rayon widely used in lingerie production is lyocell, most commonly known by the brand name Tencel. Extremely soft to the touch and with excellent draping qualities, lyocell is a durable and easy-care fabric. The soft, smooth fabric of a lyocell bra makes this a great choice for those with sensitive skin. The manufacturing process is environmentally-friendly when compared with other semi-natural fibers, making lyocell a popular choice in eco lingerie lines. The fine, lightweight netting used in bras and known as tulle is often manufactured from rayon.
Most bras will contain at least some synthetic fibers. Synthetic materials add stretch and flexibility which natural fibers on their own can’t always provide. Spandex, also known as elastane, is particularly popular in bras as it has excellent elastic properties. Often used in small quantities in conjunction with cotton, it provides comfort and flexibility while allowing the bra to retain the breathability and durability of the main fabric. Spandex has excellent “memory” and can regain its shape after being stretched. The main disadvantage of spandex is that it can cause skin irritation in those allergic to it. As it’s very widely used in bra manufacture, it can be difficult for those who can’t wear spandex to find alternatives.
Polyester is very widely used by the lingerie industry and, despite having a reputation for being cheap, is now used by many high-end bra manufacturers. The relatively recent innovation of microfibers has seen luxuriously soft, lightweight polyesters become popular in lingerie manufacture. As with spandex, it’s possible to be allergic to polyester and its popularity means it can be difficult to avoid. The traditional notion of polyester underwear looking and feeling unpleasant has been largely overcome by advances in technology but there is still a lot of very cheap lingerie out there manufactured with poor quality polyester fabric.
Nylon, or polyamide, is one of the synthetic fibers with the longest history and has been widely used in lingerie manufacture for decades. Nylon has very low absorbency, is strong, durable and can provide excellent support. It is widely used in sports bras, especially those designed for high-impact activities, and is great at keeping the skin cool. It can also be made into tulle, the pretty netting fabric popular in bras. Synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester are often woven into satin fabric, a popular choice for lingerie manufacture. Satin can also be made from cotton or silk, but in most bras, synthetics will be used.
With bras, possibly more than with any other garment, it’s essential to try them on before you buy. The type of fabric you prefer will depend on many factors such as bust size, the style of bra you like and the outfits you intend to wear your bra with. Although there is always the option of returning your bra for an exchange or refund, carefully trying it on in the store will avoid the hassle. Often trying on a bra is the best way of determining whether the size is right for you as some styles even in the right size don’t necessarily provide the best support. Most department stores and lingerie boutiques will have a professionally trained bra-fitter on hand to measure you and help you select the right size, fabric type and style for your needs. If you’re unable to visit a bra-fitter, there are many online resources to help you gauge whether or not you’re wearing the right size bra.