Here at D Cup or Bigger, my unofficial mantra may as well be, ‘supportive bras for big busts.’ I’m such a plain Jane, and all about practicality, and supportiveness is more or less my raison d’être. There is a whole wide world of lingerie out there where practicality isn’t the name of the game, sexiness is. The goal of a good piece of lingerie is to present the body in a tantalizing manner. What comes next after the tantalization is up to the wearer and their beholders.
There are an ever-increasing number of lingerie lines that now cater to all shapes and sizes, both full-figured and plus size. One of the pieces of lingerie that still remains elusive for most of us the quarter cup bra.
You can understand why. It’s a very delicate garment, whose hallmark is that it has very little supporting material. If you search hard, you’ll be able to find a few brands out there offering quarter cup bras up to the D or maybe DD range, but anything higher? No dice. The big brands of the lingerie world are apparently not yet ready to take on the feat of the full figure shelf bra.
In my quest for my own quarter cup bra, I’ve put together a list of things people generally want to know about this type of bra. Without further ado, here is everything you’ve ever wanted to know about shelf bras.
What is a quarter cup bra and what is it good for?
A quarter cup bra is a kind of shelf bra, sometimes also referred to as a chopper. While there are subtle differences between styles, the hallmark of a shelf bra is that it props up the breast from below to some degree, with a cup that covers less than half of the breast. Related styles include the cupless and open-cup bra, which expose the top part of the breast to various degrees.
Quarter cup bras typically have an underwire to provide underbust support, and a cup that does not cover the nipple. The main purpose of the bra is aesthetic, with support being secondary.
The quarter cup bra is a more risqué version of the demi bra, and some styles of balconettes. If you’ve ever put on a demi bra and thought, ‘I could do with 25% less fabric,” then you’d be in the market for a quarter cup bra.
Both the quarter and the demi cup bra are cut low along the entire cup, revealing a lot of the breast. While the demi cup still has enough material to make it a practical option under clothes or when you want to show off a revealing neckline, the quarter cup is more for recreational wear. These bras are generally worn in a setting where the wearer wants to show off the bra and breasts. (I’ll let you fill in the blanks here)
Though the quarter cup was not designed for practical purposes, it could come in handy if you are smaller busted and in a situation where you might want to go braless underneath a garment, but don’t necessarily want to be 100% unsupported.
Wait, but isn’t a shelf bra that thing that keeps my boobs in place in a cami?
Yes, that’s also correct. Somehow along the way, built-in bras also became colloquially known as shelf bras. They both essentially do the same thing in the sense that both types of shelf bras do all their supporting from the bottom. You can find those types of shelf bras in tank tops, swimsuits and workout wear. Coincidentally, it’s also hard to find that type of shelf bra in DD+ too!
What does a quarter cup or shelf bra actually look like?
There are basically two options when it comes to the ‘main’ components to the design of a shelf cup bra. They can be mixed and matched to create a multitude of stylings:
- Soft cup – A soft quarter cup bra will usually have a cup fabricated of some sort of light material, such as lace. The cups often have some level of boning in order to support the breast from below, but not always.
- Rigid cup – A rigid cup is usually made of the same material used to form the cups of a molded or a t-shirt bra. Sometimes extra boning is added to rigid cups as well.
Both soft and rigid cups are sometimes paired with an overlay of lace or another sheer or light material for aesthetic purposes. This overlay generally does not lend any support to the breast. Overlays can be sewn both over the cup structure, or underneath it.
What are quarter cup bras usually made from?
All the same things that a full cup bra is made from—lace, synthetic fabrics such as nylon and satin, and natural materials such as cotton and silk, as well as foam for supporting layers. Shelf bras can also be found in some less common materials, such as PVC and leather.
How do I know my size?
Shelf bras are generally sized by cup and band, just the way bras with more coverage are sized. Some bras, however, only list the band size. Others come in very generic S-XL sizing.
Can I get a shelf bra in my size?
Certainly, but if you’re looking for a full figure shelf bra, you might have trouble. Quarter cup bras are readily available in sizes A-C, and increasingly even D cups. Plus size women will be pleased to know that manufacturers are also starting to make quarter cup bras in wider band sizes.
Shelf bras for DD cups or higher are still really tough to find, and your mileage will certainly vary when it comes to support and aesthetics. You might be able to get away with a shelf bra and a bigger bust if your breasts are self-supporting or augmented and full on top, but it’ll be tough otherwise.
If you are going to chance it, look for the same things you do in a regular bra when it comes to support—a wide band and sturdy straps.
But I really want a shelf bra! What can I do?
Write to manufacturers, let your voice be heard! This might not do anything in the short run, but maybe if people know there’s enough interest in it, they’ll consider making one.
It looks as if Lane Bryant used to make shelf bras, with sizing all the way up to a 44DD, which is great! Having a look at their old product page, the bra below seemed to be well-liked, with an average rating of 4 out of 5. When I contacted them though, they advised that they would no longer be carrying any quarter cup styles.
Looking through all the different styles of shelf bras that I did, I feel like there is a case to be made for trying to build a shelf bras for large breasts that have stronger boning/supporting material than your standard plastic or thin metal. This would allow you to create more projection to be able support a larger bust. Combine this with a cage-type bra and you might be able to create enough support. In my mind it could work, although it would certainly cost a pretty penny.
Bra fantasies aside, there are plenty of alternatives for full-figured women who are looking for a bra that exposes the breast and makes you feel sexy.
Try out a strappy bra.
A great example below is the Olivia Strappy Lace Bra by Hips and Curves. It’s got some great strappy detailing paired with a demi cup for support all the way up to a band size 46/G cup.
Go for a cut out bra.
Any style of bra where a portion of your breast (usually including the nipple) is exposed. While they are not as showy as the quarter cup bra, they are still certainly attention-grabbing. Because they can be found in many different cup styles, this is a great option for DD-G cupped women. One I absolutely love is Peel & Beau Faye Lilac Peek Cup Bra, available at Playful Promises.
Another great option that shows even less skin, but is just as sexy is the Miranda Black and Ivory Peep-Hole Bra, also from Playful Promises.
Go for a two-part cup with sheer, unlined fabric
Another pick from Hips and Curves that I quite like is the Oh La La Cheri Eyelash Lace Strappy Bra. It’s got the strappy cut-out look going for it as well. The molded part of the bra provides about as much coverage as a quarter cup bra would, however extra support and shaping is provided by the addition of lace that goes above the nipple line. While this bra doesn’t expose the nipple completely, it does expose a lot of skin. This one only goes up to a DD though.
Playful Promises’ Emerald Strappy Curve bra is another gorgeous pick that offers more coverage and goes up to HH.
Opt for a demi-cup bra
Although it still comes up higher than a quarter cup bra, it does provide that shelf look, and exposes the entire upper breast. Below is the half cup Isabella bra from Hips and Curves.
Go completely cupless!
There is no support to speak of on this design and it’s more of a harness than anything, but it’s got a bondage-y look that is certain to turn heads. Below is the Jelinda Alluring Women Harness Bra Elastic Strappy Hollow Out Cupless Bra.
For a more ‘traditional’ style of cupless bra, have a look at the VX Intimates Floral Burnout Open Cup Bra from Playful Promises.