Like mattresses, glasses, bedding, and cookware, bras have become one of the most competitive products in the direct-to-consumer, start-up world, with several new brands popping up in recent years. Predominantly led by female founders, these companies are chipping away at the longtime dominance of certain hypersexualized lingerie brands (it’s no Secret what they are) by offering what they claim to be comfortable and better-fitting bras. Scrolling through social media, you’ve probably seen ads from at least one of these newcomers — like ThirdLove, True & Co., or Lively, to name a few — and, in turn, probably wondered if they’re actually any good.
To answer that question, I asked seven of the brands I’ve seen and heard about most often to send me samples of what each considers their basic T-shirt bra. Comparing how each made a staple, everyday bra that should be comfortable and invisible under a simple top, I reasoned, would be a good first step in deciding whether or not to delve deeper into the brands’ lines. So I judged each bra on a scale from 1–3 (3 being the best) on the following criteria:
Fit: I ordered all seven bras in my usual size for a fair comparison on how each brand fits. I also wore each on the loosest hook (which bra fitters recommend doing with new bras, and then making it tighter as the bra stretches out) and looked to see if the band is flush against my skin, or does it ride up or feel restrictive? Can I adjust the straps for a comfortable fit? Is there any gaping or spillover in the cups?
Comfort: Probably most importantly, how does the bra feel through a full day of wear? Does the underwire poke into my skin, or do I barely realize it’s there? Do I feel the need to immediately take it off when I get home at the end of the day, or is it comfortable enough to wear while lounging around?
Support: None of these are sports bras, so I’m not looking for something to keep my breasts in place during a HIIT workout, but how do they handle everyday walking around or going up and down stairs?
Invisibility: When paired with a fitted, medium-weight white T-shirt, does the bra disappear, or can I see the hooks, straps, or band? Is there enough nipple coverage if it’s chilly out? Is there any spillover on the sides or in the back?
After testing them out, I was pleasantly surprised that all seven bras were, overall, comfortable, well-fitting styles that I’d be happy to wear any day. There was no runaway winner or loser, but the brands differ in small ways — I’ve broken down the pros and cons of each below — that might make you prefer one over the others. Like many bra-wearers, I’m often in the mood for different bras on different days, so I broke down the bras I tested into three categories: the comfy ones (for those days when a bra seems like too much work); the pretty ones (for date nights or times you’re just feeling yourself); and the workhorses (reliable everyday bras that you never have to think about).
The comfy ones
Fit: 2 | Comfort: 3 | Support: 2 | Invisibility: 3
One of the first bra start-ups, True & Co. was founded in 2012 and quickly made a name for itself with its online fit quiz (now a staple on most brands’ websites) that uses an algorithm to determine your correct size and body type. True & Co. has since been acquired by PVH (the parent company of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and other apparel brands) but still relies on the quiz to predict your best fit. When I tried it out, it correctly identified the size I’m most comfortable in (along with a few other sizes that might work) and labeled my shape as “Shallow Bottom Happy,” accurately describing my smaller breasts that could use a little lift.
Their wireless T-shirt bra quickly became one of my favorites of the bunch, and one I found myself reaching for on days when I wanted something easy to wear. It’s very comfortable thanks to its soft, microfiber fabric, stretchy band, and full coverage cups with seamless front straps. The smooth band and lightly lined cups totally disappear under a T-shirt. I found that it had enough support for me, but if you have larger breasts, you might want something with more structure. The straps convert to a cross-back or halter, but because only about half of each strap is adjustable (since the front part is an extension of the cup), I wasn’t able to tighten them as much as I would like, and I suspect they might start to slip as they stretch out. For something a little sexier, I also tried and liked the brand’s Madison bra, which has lacy accents and a deep front plunge.
Fit: 2 | Comfort: 3 | Support: 3 | Invisibility: 2
Tommy John started out making men’s undershirts but soon expanded its line to include underwear and loungewear for both women and men. And this year, it launched a small collection of bras. Since its underwear is known for how soft it is (our editors are fans), it’s not surprising that Tommy John bras are some of the most comfortable, with styles and materials reminiscent of sports bras.
Surprisingly supportive for a wireless bra, this one has a tight-fitting band (even on the loosest of four hooks) that helps hold everything up. Since the band is thick on the sides and in the back, there’s little room for spillover. The full, lightly molded cups are lined with a perforated material that helps with regulating temperature and staying dry. I tried these out during the fall, but I imagine this would wick away the dreaded underboob sweat on a hot summer day. One limitation of Tommy John bras is the sizing. Two of their four styles are sized XS-XL, and the two with cup sizes aren’t as inclusive as some of the other brands on the smaller and larger ends of the spectrum. Because this bra doesn’t come in my usual 34A, I had to get a 32B (technically a “sister size”). But I found that with the larger cup, I had more gaping (space between my chest and the bra) that could be seen through a shirt.
The pretty ones
Fit: 3 | Comfort: 3 | Support: 2 | Invisibility: 2
A relative newcomer on the scene, Cuup was founded in 2018 by former Free People employees, who built the company around the idea of more inclusive sizing (cup sizes go up to H). With a tastefully curated Instagram presence and millennial-friendly colors like dusty sage and red clay, Cuup makes some of the most aesthetically pleasing bras among the start-ups I tried. You can get virtually fitted online via video chat or, as I did, in person at the company’s Soho office.
The silky, smooth Scoop is very comfortable for a bra that’s also rather sexy. Like most of Cuup’s bras, it has no padding or lining, so there is some nipple visibility when paired with a tight T-shirt (the bra is also semi-sheer on its own). The blush color is soft and dainty, and the gold-toned hardware makes it feel more high-end. You’ll get support from the underwire and relatively thick band, but those with larger breasts will probably want more coverage than the thin cups offer.
Fit: 2 | Comfort: 2 | Support: 2 | Invisibility: 3
Like True & Co., ThirdLove was one of the first direct-to-consumer bra companies to hit the scene with a fit quiz (that I found accurate) and lots of targeted social media ads. Of all the companies here, ThirdLove has the widest size range, with cups from AA–I (including half-sizes) and bands from 28–48. It also stands out for having more skin-tone shades, compared to other brands that only offer beige, black, or bright colors.
Fans of ThirdLove bras note how the innovative, pleated strap design keeps the straps from slipping down your shoulders. I definitely appreciated this feature (as I usually experience some strap slippage) and also thought the straps were just nicer-looking than more regular ones. Like the Cuup bra, this one has elegant gold hardware. Although it’s sold as an all-day, T-shirt bra (and it’s definitely invisible under clothing), to me it felt a little more like a fashion-y demi bra. The cups are lower cut than some of the others I tried, pushing my breasts up and creating more cleavage. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing — not like I was spilling over or anything — but just like there was less material holding me in.
Fit: 3 | Comfort: 2 | Support: 3 | Invisibility: 2
At first glance, two-year-old Harper Wilde seems like just another company hopping on the start-up-bra bandwagon. It’s got a fit quiz, a robust social media presence, and a curated selection of just six bra styles (including a nursing bra). The size range isn’t quite as inclusive (cups go up to an F) as some of the others, but there is a bit more variety in terms of skin-toned bras. Where the brand really differentiates itself is price: While most of the other bras on this list will set you back $60–$80, Harper Wilde’s styles start at just $40.
Even at this lower price point, the Harper Wilde Base bra is thoughtfully designed and feels very solid. It has underwire, softly molded cups, and the ability to easily convert to a racerback. There’s a crossover detail in between the cups that adds visual interest. Interestingly, the adjustable part of the straps is in the front (not the back as usual). The brand says this is a selling point since you can more easily tinker with them on your own, but I didn’t like having the hard plastic pieces against the skin of my upper chest. Overall, though, it’s a solid, affordable bra that you can go all day without thinking much about. Tip: For an extremely cozy weekend bra for lounging around, try Harper Wilde’s wireless bralette, the Bliss. The brand sent me a sample, and it is, in fact, blissful.
Fit: 3 | Comfort: 2 | Support: 2 | Invisibility: 2
While it offers more variety than Harper Wilde (and probably most of the companies here), Lively is another affordable brand (all bras are $35) making dependable, everyday styles as well as lacy bralettes and push-up bras. It was acquired by Wacoal (makers of this writer’s favorite strapless bra) earlier this year.
The bra itself is similar to the Harper Wilde Base bra in a few other ways: The straps adjust in the front (not my favorite comfort-wise), the cups are very soft and lightly lined, and there’s a convenient hook in the back for converting it to a racerback. The Lively’s main point of difference is its very unique band. It’s thick and stretchy (almost like a sports bra) and the sides have a mesh insert, which also lends a sporty feel. I tried the bra in a heather-gray color that, while very nice in a lived-in T-shirt sort of way, was slightly visible underneath a white shirt.
Fit: 3 | Comfort: 3 | Support: 2 | Invisibility: 3
Founded by a pair of friends in 2014, Negative isn’t the oldest or newest start-up bra brand, but it has carved out a niche among stylish women seeking high-quality bras without unnecessary frills. Instead of adding new features to the game, Negative prides itself on stripping away things like extreme padding and over-the-top lace to create functional, yet beautiful, bras.
We once called Negative’s underwear “attractive, in a modern minimalist way,” and its bras fit in the same category. This style is unadorned except for semi-sheer nylon along the sides and a kind of cool-looking metal staple — like detail on the band (it’s only on the outside, so there’s no metal against your skin). Otherwise, it’s a simple, comfortable bra that doesn’t pinch, squeeze, or distract in any way. Although it’s called a demi bra, I thought the cups were comfortably full-coverage and didn’t create any lines under a shirt.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.