What Is a Shelf Bra (And How Do I Wear One?)

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There are many types and styles of bras on the market: Push up bras, full coverage bras, bralettes… the list goes on and on. The name of the bra style usually gives you a clue as to what the bra does but sometimes you are left wondering what they could possibly be.

For example: Shelf bras. What is a shelf bra? There are actually different types of this bra, which we’ll get into below. Once you know the basics, it’s very easy to tell them apart!

​What Is a Shelf Bra?

There are 2 types of shelf bras: built-in and platform. These bras are very different from each other. Built-in bras can be found within camisoles and tank tops, and oftentimes, this can be a girl’s first bra. On the other hand, platform shelf bras are more risque, only cover a small portion of your breast, and are typically worn as lingerie.

​Built-In Shelf Bras

Tired of putting so many layers on just to wear a simple tank top because you don’t want your nipples to show through the shirt? Shirts with built-in shelf bras are your answer.

Built-in shelf bras are the extra piece of fabric found within whatever outwear it may be attached to (i.e. camisoles or swimsuits), usually as a singlet. The shelf bra’s support system consists of an elastic band that replaces the underwire.

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A built-in shelf bra employs compression and sometimes padding to stay in place and support your breasts. Most of them are extremely comfortable, which makes this a great option to wear regularly.

You will want to make sure the elastic band is thick enough to stay in place throughout the day. If it’s too thin, it may roll up under your breasts after a couple of hours of wear.

The back band is a small piece of fabric, and has one or two cups stacked on each other, and has no underwire are the things you look for in a shelf bra

​Padding Options

There is a high possibility that your nipples may show through a top with a built-in shelf bra due to the thin fabric. To avoid this, it is best to make sure that your built-in shelf bra has some type of padding. Most pads are removable, so you can pop them in and out whenever it suits you.

If you come across a camisole without padding in the shelf bra, it is relatively easy to fix this dilemma. Buy some bra pad inserts online or in-store,  and add them in yourself.

​​​Our favorite ​built-in shelf bra ​is​​​ the Hanes Women’s Stretch Cotton Cami with Built-in Shelf Bra. ​​​

​​This shelf bra camisole combo is comfortable, has adjustable straps, and pairs well with pretty much everything. It’s very affordable and comes highly recommended. 

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Platform Shelf Bras

Unlike built-in shelf bras, platform shelf bras (also known as the quarter cup, open cup, half cup, or split cup bras), cover less of your breasts.

Platform shelf bras are usually composed of lace fabric that only covers the lower part of your breast with an elastic band serving as the underwire, and thin shoulder straps. These bras are definitely more for looks than function.

Rather than being built-in to a top like the first shelf bra we discussed, this bra stands alone, like a normal bra. It closely resembles an open cup bra due to the amount of breast it exposes. The main difference is that not all shelf bras expose the nipple as open cup bras do.

Let’s break down the anatomy of a platform shelf bra:

Platform and built-in bras are examples of the different types of shelf bras

​Bra Band Structure

The band of the bra can be either thin elastic straps, or have a hook and eye closure. More often than not, the back part of the band is a small piece of fabric.

​Cup Structure

This bra can either come with one or two cups stacked on top of one another. When shelf bras are composed of two cups, one is for support and the other is for decoration.

The main cup is usually molded to the quarter half of the breast. The second cup usually is a rigid fabric such as lace, or nylon. It is used to prevent any spillage while still providing a seductive appearance.

​​​Our favorite ​​platform shelf bra ​is​​​ the Rosme Women’s Balconette Bra, which has a supportive underwire with gorgeous lace details.

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Advantages of Each Shelf Bra Type

The two types of shelf bras are very distinct from each other. They differ a lot in terms of the advantages they offer.

Advantages of the Built-In Shelf Bra

Choosing a built-in shelf bra is choosing comfort. These bras are also a part of your clothing, since they are attached to camisoles.

A built in shelf bra has the following advantages:

  • Comfort Some built-in shelf bras may have padding, but generally, they are not built like a normal bra. There may be less support but there’s also no poking, chafing, and painful tightness that can happen with a normal bra.
  • Compression
    Built-in shelf bras support your breasts through compression.  This style of bra doesn’t have separate cups as regular bras do, so it compresses and holds your breasts closer to your chest to keep them in place.
  • Economy
    We all love the convenience and economy of an all-in-one outfit. A built-in shelf bra might not be a whole outfit, but it’s basically a top with a built-in bra. It combines two layers into one. That’s one less piece of clothing to worry about!
  • Widely Available
    Built-in bra camisoles can be found at almost all places where bras and clothing are available. They can be bought from your neighborhood general store, high-end department stores, and even online.
sample image of a shelf bra quarter cup

Advantages of the Platform Bra

When on the hunt for a new bra, keep in mind what this seductive garment can offer you, such as:

  • Fuller Breast Appearance
    Smaller cup sizes could benefit from the full-breast look that quarter-cup shelf bras can provide, especially when you buy one with the two-cup system. The molded main cup pushes it up, and then the second quarter cup rounds it all off. This ensures a smooth, supple look under your clothes.

Bust Sizes Good for Each Type of Shelf Bra

Built-in shelf bras and platform shelf bras offer different advantages, and are also used differently. Below we discuss what bust sizes are best for each style of shelf bra.

Built-In Shelf Bras for Small Breasts

Small cup sizes that don’t need copious amounts of support usually find the built-in bra to be perfect for them . This type of bra offers the wearer a break from the traditional constrictive, poky underwire, tight strapped support systems found in standard bras. The built-in shelf bra is great for those with smaller breast sizes to wear this item in low-impact situations.

Built-In Shelf Bras for Large Breasts

Bigger chested women will need to be more selective in the type of built-in shelf bra they choose. Women with larger cup sizes should look for shelf bras with padding and a thicker band. Some shelf bras are even designed with structured cups inside, and these can help in keeping your breasts well-supported.

Click here to see the price on our favorite built-in shelf bra for larger breasts!

Platform Bras for Small Breasts

This type of shelf bra is great for women with smaller breasts since it can give your breasts a fuller appearance. This type of bra is not recommended for larger cups.

Platform bras focus more on the bottom of the breasts, so they don’t compress and flatten your chest like a regular bra or a built-in shelf bra.

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When and How to Wear Shelf Bras

There’s a time, occasion, and matching garment for every bra. Shelf bras are no exception, however versatile they may be.

Know when to wear a shelf bra

How to Wear a Built-In Shelf Bra

These built-in bras are meant for everyday wear or low-impact activity. Don’t expect it to withstand an hour-long session at the gym, but it will be perfect for your walk in the park, or lounging around your house. 

Try pairing a scoop neck camisole underneath a light-weight cardigan for errand running, or wear it under a knit sweater.

How to Wear Platform Bras

With three-quarters of the standard bra cup missing, this bra can be a challenge to wear under clothing in public. Quarter cup shelf bras were likely created solely for lingerie purposes.

Fit is almost everything when it comes to a great bra! When attempting a quarter-cup shelf bra for the first time, don’t be afraid to grab sizes outside your range.

Due to the intricate lace cup, you may need a smaller band with a larger cup to ensure a tight fit.

When a platform shelf bra is worn underneath a V-neck or low cut shirt, the delicate lace of the bra can be seen at the neckline like you would see when wearing a bralette.

Most women prefer to keep this bra solely for their lingerie collection due to the amount of skin it exposes, and the lack of support.

Related Questions

What Is a Camisole Bra?

A camisole bra is a full-length camisole with a bra covering the cleavage. While it doesn’t provide full coverage, the seamless and flexible cups make it comfortable to wear. Camisole bras are usually ideal for tops with low necklines.


As you can see, the 2 types of shelf bras are pretty different. The built-in shelf bra is comfortable and easily worn on a daily basis. The platform shelf bra is meant for more seductive occasions, with way less coverage than the built-in shelf bra. Most women reserve the platform shelf bra for their lingerie collection.


Hi there, I’m Allena, Founder and Editor of The Better Fit. I’ve always had a passion for finding ways to help women improve various areas of their lives. I have researched and worked to create this website so women would have a place to come and be informed about an article of clothing they literally wear every day.