Lingerie Nerd Time: What Happens When You Compare Bra Trends and Shapes Across Countries?

I wrote this post because I wanted to explore the different shapes that I see as customary to countries with different lingerie traditions. Of course, these are not universal, as oftentimes designs travel globally, but given my lingerie immersion, I thought I would identify some trends.

One reason that I think that lingerie is so distinctive by country is the fact that bra pattern drafting seems to be a skill disseminated in very narrow, specific ways– there are very few books on how to draft bra patterns, but it’s clear there are a wealth of ways that are passed down though schools and companies that aren’t available to consumers. Of course, plenty of companies imitate each other, even across state borders, but any themes by nation are interesting to note.

Another interesting piece of this puzzle is that American brands do not seem to have the same strong tradition of bra drafting that some of these other countries have and often pick and choose the aesthetic they embody, based on access to materials, where the product is manufactured and their own knowledge.

A good follow up would be someone with a lot of technical knowledge discussing the construction techniques that are customary in these different countries, but for now you just have me and my observations! Enjoy.

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France

I often find French lingerie easy to identify because they have a distinctive tilt to the underwires. It’s hard to describe exactly how to identify this tilt, but whenever I talk to other bra enthusiasts, they know exactly what I’m talking about.

Part of this difference is the overwhelming preference for a divided or very narrow cradle, which decreases the ability of the bra to keep both cups in place. Additionally, many French brands (such as Chantelle, Princesse Tam-Tam or Huit) frequently use stretch-lace for the wings, which creates a more delicate and less sturdy garment.

With French bras, I primarily see sheer, darted cups or push ups with small removable pads. Many French brands also make molded cups, usually adorned with stretch lace.

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From left to right: Enweis, Aimer, Sunflora

China

Given that China is so often the place where bras designed all over the world are made, I find it fascinating that China has such a distinctive bra style of its own. Of all the bras from different countries, I find bras constructed with a Chinese style to be the easiest to identify.

The characteristics I see in Chinese bras all contribute to the goal of creating the most cleavage possible. Usually, they have a thick cradle and wing, with 4 or 5 hooks and eyes in the back. Construction is solid and durable, with molded or cut and sewn cups that sometimes even have boning in the sides in order to encourage breasts to nestle even more closely together. Strapping breasts in tightly and a balance of powerful stretch and non-stretch fabrics are key to creating what I think of as the typical ‘Chinese’ shape.

As Faye notes on Fashion, Beauty, etc. (where I also got these images of Chinese brands), the Chinese consumer prefers brighter colors and styles and you can see that reflected in the brightness of the lingerie, which often incorporates lace overlay, embroidery and patterns.

American brands such as Ampere and Poison Lingerie both use what I see as the ‘typical’ Chinese style.

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From left to right: Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein, Eberjey

United States

The mainstream American lingerie market must be seen through the lens of Victoria’s Secret. One interesting thing about Victoria’s Secret is the emphasis on fabric and shape innovation to improve push-up, which is something I don’t see anywhere else. Although the UK has some companies who tout their comfort innovations for bras, Victoria’s Secret is the only one for whom the pursuit of push-up is seen as a valid reason to continually introduce new fabrics and shapes.

Victoria’s Secret enthusiasm for the molded, padded push-up makes it the default shape for American bras. The emphasis on a ‘T-shirt bra’ is also seen throughout mainstream designs, with lace only used as an overlay to a molded cup. Victoria’s Secret did use sheer, darted cups in the French style for their ‘Designer Collection’ but the failure of those bras suggests that it’s a style we will be unlikely to see again soon.

Another thing to consider about the US is the popularity of the unwired bralet, such as those by Eberjey. These are basically the opposite of Victoria’s Secret in terms of shape, but it seems like it can be difficult to find something outside of these two extremes, especially for smaller busted women who have to choose between extreme padding and no padding. The only available options for full-busted women from US brands is Parfait by Affinitas or a plus size brand like Cacique.

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Japan

Japanese bras also feature much padding, but it seems to be a hybrid between the French and American styles, with cleavage still being a main focus, but fewer ‘t-shirt’ options. I’ve recently been extremely into Japanese lingerie because of the gorgeous frills and girly colors. Although there is clearly a Japanese style when it comes to embellishment and coloring, there doesn’t appear to be a distinctive cup shape. I will say that I have seen a few popular cup shapes from the Japanese brand Ravijour that I have never seen before, including the push up with a round cups and a wide center gore to create a central line of cleavage between the breasts, as well as a myriad of embellished, adhesive strapless/backless bras.

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United Kingdom

The UK has one of the most diverse lingerie communities that I’ve seen, but the bra shape that I find most particular and characteristic is the very rounded 3-piece cup. Freya, Claudette, Miss Mandalay and Cleo by Panache all use this very particular shape and it is very popular for full-bust bras in particular.

Although brands from other countries (namely Poland) use this cup shape, I have seen the most variations in the UK market.  Who came up with it first I do not know, but I’d love to find out.

Both Myla and Agent Provocateur are prominent luxury UK brands, but neither has a distinctive cup construction ‘style’ that I can identify, but they seem to take after their French counterparts more closely than the more affordable brands.

—–

There are many more countries and styles I could talk about—but I think this is long enough for now. Poland is one that I definitely want to get to in an update, but I am still learning about their lingerie and don’t have quite the knowledge to pinpoint a particular style. Miss Underpinnings’ reports from her trip to Poland really help though!

Please let me know if you find this interesting or helpful or just plain crazy—I’d love to hear what you think!

26 Comments
  1. This was interesting to read. It’s interesting that the U.S. is the only country with the bralette. As a small chested girl, this is my favorite style.

  2. Now THIS is an original blog post about lingerie! Love it! When I was in France there was such a feeling of ‘French lingerie’ but I couldn’t pin down what it was until you articulated it!

  3. Brilliant post!! I love the UK lingerie market and, sorry to say it, I find American lingerie utterly boring (on the whole that this – there are of course nice designs in every country). And, well, French lingerie is French lingerie – beautiful stuff! Plus I’m a massive fan of anything made from sheer lace :)

  4. I hate that UK style so, so much. I complain about it all the time, because it’s one of the few options available to me, and it’s just horrid. Nothing good about it. The Japan style, on the other hand, I adore. But of course, being above a UK G cup, the availability of that style for me is almost zero, if not exactly zero.

    • What? I love the 3-piece cup style, it’s one of my favorite! I guess everyone has different preferences :). I feel like the Polish brand Ewa Michalak’s PL bras are similar in shape to the second two Japanese bras, but doesn’t have the frilly layers of the girly Japanese style. Maybe someone will design those for you soon!

    • But of course, being above a UK G cup…

      Reading through the comments here, it occurred to me: I definitely like the UK bras more than other bras — but it’s because they’re the ones I can wear. Aesthetically, I’m not sure if I like the shape or design or not. I’ve never really thought about it from sheer aesthetics; I’ve always been overjoyed just to find something utilitarian.

      And there’s something a little off about a response that goes, “Whoo-hoo! I am ecstatic! This is adequate!”

      Huh.

      • Being excited that something is merely adequate does not really seem super awesome. At the same time, I have to say that I admire a garment that works well because of its shaping! I find the seam lines aesthetically pleasing, but that might also be because, as a 34B, I don’t feel forced into wearing that shape.

  5. I’ve enjoyed your lingerie around the world series immensely! It’s so interesting to see how our cultures impact what we buy. Even in the US world of lingerie, there’s so much diversity. In my shop (located in the southern US where temps are warm), we see a great emphasis on beige t-shirt bras because the clothing is lighter and thinner here. It doesn’t mean those bras can’t still be pretty or sexy, but women are looking more for that versatile look. When it comes to sexier items, women still crave something that’s versatile or, at the very least, has a bit of padding to it. It’s fascinating!

    • Thanks for your input! I think that here people go for more stretchy/thin clothing (especially in warmer areas), rather than tailored pieces that might allow for more textured lingerie. I think the fear of any nipple visible is also huge!

  6. Interesting reading, especially after Miss Underpinnings’ wrote about the difference between Russian and American preferences. One question–isn’t Claudette a U.S. brand? But their designer is from the UK, so maybe it doesn’t matter. :)

    • I guess Claudette is a US brand? I have always seen it as UK as it got its start there and that’s where it was first available– maybe it’s just a US/UK hybrid, like me! Thanks for your comment! Miss Underpinnings’ post is definitely a good one to think of with this one, we should collaborate to do try and cover the world with our knowledge!

  7. Bras around the world: very interesting!
    I love a demi-cup/balconette; I find it gives me the prettiest shape and there’s less chance of the the dreaded four-bosoms issue you get with other bras when the cups are either too far apart or the wrong shape. I used to buy them in British shops as unassuming as M&S but it is virtually impossible to find something like this in the mainstream shops where I stay in the US. All the cups are vast and broad with coverage practically up to the armpit.
    What you call the UK style gives a great shape but can be hard to fit and the seams are so visible under clothes.
    It’s increasingly awkward to find an unpadded cup anywhere it seems.

    • Actually, Huit is a French brand based in Rennes that was acquired by Eveden in 2010. Eveden being UK based doesn’t change the fact that the company, it’s staff and the aesthetic are all French.

  8. Don’t have much to add beyond what others have already said here, just wanted to thank you for the time and effort you put into publishing such an interesting, unique, well written and researched lingerie blog!

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  10. Thank you for including my series in this post, Caro! I’m tremendously flattered to appear on the LL.

    I was elated when I finished your post, I relate to these ideas so deeply. When I arrived in Poland, I assumed their lingerie would be just like the British stuff I was familiar with. I needed a little adjustment period in the first few dressing rooms! I also knew many people would be curious about how to “convert” their size from the English system to the European one which most Polish brands use. I asked the first store owner I interviewed and she replied, “Oh, you can’t do that. It’s impossible.” I think that will always stick with me because it’s so true, we can’t impose one lingerie universe onto another. And thank god for that.

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  12. Most of my lingerie comes from UK brands because they actually make pretty styles in the size I wear! (GG lol) Also I find the cup shape and the use of mesh to be the most comfortable for me. Cool post :)

  13. Can you recommend some brands with wider gores to try? I have a broad back/shoulders but actually take a relatively small back size (32) and DD cup size but really struggle to find a good fit, and I think a wide gore would help. Underwired balconette styles start off fitting okay but soon get uncomfortable a few weeks down the line. And I can’t wear the three piece shapes – Fantasie etc is much too pointy a shape for me :-), I like seamless stretchy cups and they’ve become really hard to find.

    Great blog, thanks!

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  15. Really great post- I really enjoy your blog, but this post blew me away!

    I travel a lot, and I’ve noticed just this sort of diffusion of trends. It was great to read it articulated this way, so interesting.

    You should definitely check out the Middle Eastern and North African lingerie trends if this is something that interests you (clearly it is). Syria, if I am remembering correctly, has a particularly interesting lingerie culture.

    Looking forward to more fabulous posts!

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