The Difference Between a Bra and Bralette

Three lacey bralettes are laid on top of a while duvet

In 2015, the lingerie industry in the US garnered $13.2 billion in sales. That was a distant time when bralettes were just being introduced in the market. It wouldn't be shocking if that figure has skyrocketed since then.

Thanks to the upgraded intimate collections of big brands like Forever 21 (the cult favorite), H&M, and Zara, the bralette has fully taken its place in the mainstream market. Now that women have more options, we're left to wonder what the difference between a bra and bralette is.

Difference Between a Bra and Bralette

Comfort, support, cups, wires, size, and even fabric are the most common indicators of the differences seen between these two. While that's telling of their physical composition, the depth of their differences boils down to language and the underlying meanings implied to the words we use.

This is apparent in the difference between the American and French approaches to undergarments. In the US, we refer to it as underwear, In France, they call it lingerie. Though they may seem similar, the bra is considered underwear while the bralette (also referred to as "bralet" in the French culture) can be more associated as lingerie.

Close up of a woman's torso wearing a soft pink lacey bra with a red ribbon in the middle

​Difference Between Lingerie and Underwear

​Have you ever wondered why it's accepted in society for women to be seen wearing their bikinis out in public but not in their bra and panties? The latter is deemed inappropriate, even though the two are conceptually the same.

It's a similar case with lingerie and underwear. As Amaella would describe, “underwear focuses on functionality and performance whilst lingerie focuses on aesthetics and design.”

From lingerie you may wear at night such as ​one of those great push up bras for a night out, to the lacy, sheer, strappy bralettes and lingerie outfits seen on runways such as Victoria's Secret's fashion shows, this intimate apparel has been seen as the wearable undergarment, especially with the introduction of the bralette.

​Characteristics of the Bra

​Bra shopping, especially if it's the first time,​​​ could be regarded as a frustrating experience for women. For one, there are too many styles and types to choose from. There are several types of bras, including the normal padded, demi-cup, balconette, push-up, and plunge bras, among many others.

They were descended from corsets, but ditched the extra structure in the waist which sucked in the stomach and retained the bra part. In terms of function, they serve the same purpose of lifting and enhancing the look of the breasts.

For the most part, the bra's main difference would be that it's more focused on the support and shape it provides for your chest.

​Link to American Culture

As a pre-teen, it's almost like a rite of passage when you start wearing training bras. You may have begged your mom to have her buy you one as every girl in your school started wearing those lightweight ​bralettes​ for support. This is the usual introduction to bras of most American girls. And after that, you switch to the real thing.

Growing up, it's been a product of necessity. It's considered sexual when bra straps are exposed on your shoulders or the band can be seen at the side. Size is a big deal and its enhancing ability for your clothes is a defining factor if it's suitable or not.

Teal and cream lace bras are laid on a white duvet

​Characteristics of the Bralette

The key characteristics of the bralette are comfort and style. Since they don't always have much structure to them and are made with diverse fabrics, they're more associated to fashion than function. Instead of enhancing the breasts, bralettes shape their natural form.

Even though they're considered the bra's little sister, the industry has evolved enough to cater to all types of women. This ​includes women with big busts as there are now supportive bralettes for plus sized or full figured women​. Sometimes, women with larger assets may even prefer them because of how lightweight the undergarment is. It places less pressure on them.

Bralettes, most especially the longline ones can be substitutes for bras and sometimes tops. They also serve a bigger purpose in bridging the gap between underwear and lingerie for American women. It enables women to see the bra(lette) as something that's not sexual. It enables them to perceive it as French women would.

​Link to French Culture

​In France, little girls are intentionally brought by their own mothers to lingerie shops for a personal fitting. They're taught that a bra isn't just underwear, but a huge part of an outfit. It is often more important than the outer clothes themselves. It expresses their sensuality, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they're sexual.

That's what bralettes do for most women even in other parts of the world. It finally opens women's perspectives on the bra and how it could be more than just a thing to wear underneath clothes.

​Related: Wearing Bralettes Instead of Bras: ​Make this Transition

Three lacey bralettes are laid on top of a while duvet


Many things could be said of the differences between bras and bralettes. Beyond the physical comparisons and differences in comfort, their bigger differences can be rooted in the way people think about intimates in general. It resolves the issue between sensuality and sexuality.

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