Have you noticed how you no longer can just say “milk” anymore? These days it must be preceded with a modifier – soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, skim milk… Well, the same holds true when talking about the straps on a bra – center pull straps, wide set straps, fully adjustable straps, convertible straps… And, like with milk, you will find many benefits in knowing which strap styles and features will work best for you.
Wide Set & Center Pull Straps
Bra straps placed closer to your shoulders are called wide set straps. Demi and balconette bra styles usually have this strap design. Their wide positioning provides a very attractive open neckline.
Wide set straps get unfair claims of always falling off shoulders. This is not true unless you have considerable sloping or narrow shoulders. Strap slippage is more about being in a band size too big. My image below shows the same bra, but in two different band sizes on the same mannequin. Note the larger band’s strap placement further out on the shoulders. If this is a consistent problem for you, try going down a band size and up a cup size and see if your strap slipping problem goes away – see my video to learn more.
Clever bra designers have also figured out that wide set straps stay put better with a “kicked-in” back strap placement. This allows most women, regardless of their shoulder type, to wear wide set straps without worrying about straps slipping off shoulders.
If you do not want your straps to show under sleeveless tops, wear a bra designed with center pull straps. Positioned more directly above your breast apex, center pull straps give the best breast uplift and pretty much ensure your straps won’t slip. The characteristics of a bra with center pull straps include a more triangular cup shape and greater upper breast coverage (see earlier image).
Fully Adjustable, Partially Adjustable & Non-Adjustable Straps
If you are tall or short, long waisted or short waisted, you are probably more tuned in to checking out a bra’s strap adjustability. A bra designer must make some assumptions in their designing. Traditionally, they select strap lengths based on someone who is around 5’3” to 5’9” tall. Strap length is also a bit tricky due to the math – a strap with 10″ worth of adjustability will only give the wearer up to 5″ of adjustability due to the doubling of the strap as it adjusts.
Straps that can adjust from the base of the bra back all the way to the top of the cup in front are fully adjustable straps. Anyone tall or short should look for these because they have the most adjustability to work with. The bras with absolutely the longest strap adjustability will be fully adjustable straps that are also convertible, meaning capable of disassembling from the back or front of the bra and made long enough to allow crisscrossing.
Partially Adjustable Straps
More and more, bras are now ascending their lace and details up the front of their bra straps and this makes the straps partially adjustable – only the back half of the strap can be adjusted. These bras are beautiful, but can be problematic for women who do not fall within the height range determined in their design.
Bra designers also like to vary the shape of their bra straps. For example, start them wide and then taper down in the back, or flare out wider along the top of the shoulder. These are just a few reasons a strap would become partially adjustable.
The popularity of comfort bras that include wide straps or simple designs without back closures or strap hardware are examples of non-adjustable straps. Wide straps simply do not adjust well due to their added bulk. And, again, this lack of adjustability means women of outlier heights will possibly have fit issues.
Bras with racerback styling and bras with interesting back designs primarily have non-adjustable straps.
Elastic, Restricted Stretch & Non-Stretch Straps
The elasticity of your bra straps can greatly impact your strap comfort.
Traditional elastic straps are very comfortable for women with small to average bra sizes. Their ability to stretch as you move makes the bra comfortable to wear. But, not so with larger cup sizes. Constant breast bounce in larger cups creates shoulder pain.
Restricted Stretch Straps
The name of this strap style says it all. Restricted stretch straps exist primarily on large cup-sized bras. They significantly reduce breast bounce, which in turn makes them more comfortable for the wearer. They do provide just a little stretch, so when the wearer is reaching for something or makes other arm movements, there is some give.
A 34C breast weighs roughly 1 pound or 2 pounds for the pair. Contrast this to a 38DD breast which has been reported as weighing around 8 pounds, so roughly 16 pounds for the pair. It becomes clear that reducing/preventing everyday breast bounce will help the wearer be more comfortable. Many women, therefore, prefer a strap with zero stretch, and these straps are mostly found in the much larger bra sizes.
As mentioned earlier, convertible straps have one end, or both, which can be removed from the base of a bra and moved to work under a halter, racerback, one-shoulder, or other challenging necklines. If the straps can be completely removed, this bra many times can become a strapless bra – but not always, so read our details. A somewhat recent addition to many convertible bra straps is having added tabs for more placement options.
Adding a J-hook to back straps has become very popular. It allows traditionally configured straps to come together and create a sort of racerback style. Thus, they are considered a convertible bra, even though their straps do not have a release mechanism at either end. J-hooks come in two styles: slider and hook & loop.
Additional Bra Strap This & That
• Strap widths change – It is not uncommon for a bra style to have straps with a wider width in its larger cup and band sizes, similar to varying hook count in larger sizes. We note these on our size charts. • Straps with brushed/plush undersides – More bra manufacturers (especially those making larger cup sizes) are using straps with a brushed surface on the side facing the body. This makes the elastic straps softer and feel more comfortable. • Front vs. back strap adjusters – Why are most strap adjusters in the back rather than the front? Four answers: aesthetics, front strap details, no show-through, and prevents the hardware from landing on top of your shoulders. The Robin Bra, and a few other sports bras, have front adjusting straps. • Ring vs. slider adjusters – You may not have paid much attention, but manufacturers use either a ring or slider when designing their strap adjusters. Threading a strap through a ring allows the strap to change angles at the intersection, whereas a slider commands non-movement and anchors the angle of the strap. If you have a bra where the straps keep slipping, look to see if it also has a ring attachment. If there is a J-hook there are probably rings so the straps can change angles when attached. Sliders, when pulled too tight, can suddenly rotate 90° and bunch up the straps. This is why designers are very thoughtful with their adjuster choices.
A Final Thought…
I was recently on Long Island for a wedding and a little shopping. We stopped into a super cute dress shop where one friend, with dresses in hand, headed for the dressing room. Another friend and I followed and sat on a large ottoman just outside several curtained alcoves. While waiting, this gorgeous woman walked out from behind her curtain, saw the two of us, so, casually asked “What do you think?” My friend said, “It looks fabulous!” I said, “You need to tighten your bra straps.” And, with her permission, I adjusted them. She looked at least 5 lbs. lighter.
The point of this story is twofold: when you first buy a new bra and then after each washing, check your bra straps to see if they need adjusting. It’s a simple check. Put your bra on, then pinch with your thumbs and index fingers at the location where your cups and straps meet. Tug upwards. If your breasts easily bounce, your straps need tightening. The second point of this story is: you are now forewarned and forearmed should you ever run into me near a dressing room.
Tomima Founder & CEO HerRoom.com
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