Push Up Bras

Kimmay Caldwell wearing a push up bra
Kim "Kimmay" Caldwell wears a black push up bra with her striped romper. Hurray Kimmay/Becky Yee of Around Digital Media

Push up bras are a common option in many women's bra drawers. They have a reputation for being sexy. That could be because they increase the volume of breasts, and create or accentuate cleavage. And currently, a full, round breast shape is very desirable. But this look was not always in.

If you look back through the decades in American fashion, breast shape changed just as much as hairstyles and skirt lengths.

In the 1950's, a pointy, full coverage shape was popular. In the 1970's, the most desired look was natural, and relaxed. And in 1990's, the "bombshell" look took over, with full cleavage and push up bras taking center stage. 

Today, push up bras still have a place in many women's collection of bras. They are a popular everyday option, or can be worn with certain outfits to enhance your look. 

What is a push up bra?

A push up bra is a type of bra style with an enhancer built into the inside of the cups. This enhancer can be made of foam, a water, air, or oil filled pocket, or any other material. It often sits under or to the side of the breast tissue, and will "push up" the breast to create more volume, and a fuller look. If the bra cup is a plunge or low cut, it may also result in creating or revealing more cleavage. 

Traditionally the enhancer will sit inside the lower outside portion of the cup, pushing the breasts up and slightly toward the middle.

This placement lends itself well to the plunge bra shape. Some push up bras situate the enhancer on the lower portion of the bra, pushing the breasts upward, only. This placement lends itself to a balcony cut. 

There are several kinds of push up bras, and different shapes, materials, and types of push up padding.

There is even removable push ups, which are great for adjusting the level of volume you would like that day, or evening out cleavage if your breasts are different sizes. Most commonly, push up bras have a molded cup, but this isn't always the case. 

Why should I wear a push up bra? 

Push up bras can be worn by most people, but there is usually a strong preference for or against this style. Because they can create more cleavage, they may not be a good option for someone who would like to minimize her breast size. On the other hand, if you would like to enhance or add to your bust, this is the bra for you. 

Keep in mind that the role of a push up bra is to push up breast tissue. For those who have softer breast tissue (either naturally, or because of weight loss or nursing), they may find that a push up bra may not be for them. If, for example, the push up style pushes that breast tissue up and over a deep plunge, the lump or bump created can show through a t-shirt. On the other hand, those with softer breast tissue or shallow breasts may love the extra volume provided by a push up bra. 

It's common for women with a smaller or a moderately sized bust to enjoy the benefits of wearing a push up bra.

They offer a different shape and style option than a full coverage or lace bra, and it can be very enjoyable to change up your style to work with a particular outfit, or just because. It's a myth that a push up bra is only for those with a small bust, though. Some full bust brands also create push up bras, to help those with a full bust have an even fuller bust, or more shape or cleavage. 

Push up bras are great to wear with cleavage showcasing tops like plunges or deep v-neck tops. But they can also look great under high neck t-shirts or turtlenecks or any other top. They can be worn everyday, or for special occasions. Some people fear that push up or padded bras are "false advertisement", meaning that they create a false look that is very far from the true shape or size of the woman's breast.

Keep in mind, the purpose of any bra is to shape, lift, or decorate your breasts to the desired look. If your desired look is achieved with a push up bra, go ahead and wear it. 

One more note: it's common to wear a cup size up (or more, depending on the level of push up) than normal when wearing a push up bra. This is because the push up enhancer takes up some of the volume of the cup, and your bust needs more room to properly fit inside without spilling out. 

Different kinds of push up bras:

  • Molded and T-shirt - this is the most common type of push up bra. A molded push up bra combines the functions of a cup that shapes the breasts into a round shape, with the push up which creates more volume. Many brands sell this kind of push up bra. Browse a few of the best push up bra options by category at Bare Necessities.
  • Non molded- it's less common to find a push up bra that is not molded. One such reasons is because the push up enhancer may cause a bump to show through a non molded bra. Because it's firm, and breast tissue is less firm, the two may not sit very flush without the help of the molded cup to shape them. One brand that has a great removable push up, non molded bra for fuller busts is Tutti Rouge. The "Jessica" style has two levels of removable padding, called boosters. 
  • Wire Free - a wire free bra is a common choice for someone who finds underwires uncomfortable or has a health reason to not wear them. A bra without an underwire often has a reputation for being shapeless, but thanks to current technology, brands like Gossard offer a molded, push up bra that is also wire free. Warner's also offers a few wire free bras with "lift". 
  • Removable push up - if you'd like a more customizable option, try a push up bra with removable padding. These bras are typically molded, and have a small pocket that keeps a removable foam pad or air, oil, or water filled "cookie" in place. Removable push up bras are some of my very favorite, because they serve many functions. For one, if your bust fluctuates during your menstrual cycle, you can accommodate the changing size. For example, if your breasts get fuller leading up to your period, simply take out the push up. When they go down in size or fullness after your cycle, you can put them back in. In addition, these removable pads are great if you have uneven breasts, which is very common. Simply fit the bra to your fuller breast, and put the enhancers into the smaller side. Finally, this is great for women whose bust size may be going down due to weight loss. In preparation, buy the bra to fit without the push ups in. As you lose weight, if your bust size shrinks, simply add in the enhancers. Many brands offer this style. The Delice, from Simone Perele is one such option, and the Calvin Klein Seductive Comfort series is great for this.
  • Petite cup sizes - because a push up bra's role is to push up existing breast tissue, women with very petite or far apart breasts actually struggle to find a push up bra that works for their bust shape. The Little Bra Company has a great selection for petite busts and small bands, including a convertible plunge style, smooth or lace styles, and strapless options. 
  • Full cup sizes - just because you wear a D cup or up doesn't mean you can't wear a push up bra. Push up is not just a style for those with a small chest. In fact, Curvy Couture has an entire collection of smooth, strapless, lace, and other full bust bras available up to a 44H, each with push up padding. 
  • Strapless - because strapless bras tend to be a balcony cut, most with a push up tend to have it placed at the bottom of the cup. This pushes the breasts straight up, creating a fuller look on top. The Little Bra Company makes a popular option for petite busts, while Curvy Couture makes a popular style for full busts. The Wacoal Amazing Assets strapless is a wonderful push up strapless bra for B to DD cups. These are just a few of the many options available in the lingerie world. 
  • Sports - you can even get a push up look at the gym! If wearing a push up bra is part of your everyday look, you don't have to go without it when you work out. The Little Bra Company's Elizabeth bra is one option for petite busts that want a push up sports bra. 
  • Racerback or convertible- having a convertible or racerback bra in your wardrobe is a must. Having one with a push up is a bonus. The style I'm wearing in the photo above is a racerback, plunge push up from Adore Me. Another favorite is the Infinite Possibilities Plunge Bra by Le Mystere.

If you're skeptical about push up bras, I highly suggest you try one that has a small bump pad, or a removable pad to start. There's nothing wrong with trying something out, as long as it fits well and feels great. You may be surprised!