Understanding Underwires

As a result of my recent guest post over on Sewcialists blog, I received a number of comments and questions including a few concerning underwires and getting the right fit.

So here then is my low-down on all things underwire to help you make a good choice.

Getting the right wire.

This can be challenging, as many of us have worn bras for the longest time with the wrong wire in them without realising Ready to wear bras only use a handful of sizes, but bra makers have access to 20 different sizes, not to mention lengths, to ensure that you get the right fit.

The right wire for you should fit snugly under your breast without leaving a gap. This photo shows an underwire which sits nicely:

Well fitting wire

This photo also shows another important aspect of underwires - that it should hug the sides of your breast properly. This means it should sit at that point where your breast meets your rib cage, but not sit on your breast. On the above photo you can actually see where my model was wearing an underwire that was too small, leaving an indentation in the breast tissue, evidence of poor fit and discomfort. Here's another illustration of an underwire that is sitting on the breast:

Too small an underwire

You can barely see the wire, it's almost swallowed up by the breast tissue and will feel restrictive and uncomfortable. Not a good idea.

On the other hand, the wire shouldn't sit too far out on your rib cage either. A wire that is too big will look like this:

Underwire too big

Not only can you see where it doesn't nestle snugly underneath the breast, but it's splayed so wide that any bra with this wire will feel like it's poking you in the side or armpit.

At the bridge too, incorrectly sized wires will pose issues. Here's an image of this same too large wire at the bridge:

Too big a wire, at the bridge

You can clearly see that the wire splays into the other breast's wire zone.

When the wire is too small this is what it looks like:

Bridge view, too small a wire

Ouch, that simply doesn't bear thinking about.

The wire that fits snugly under the breast and at the side will also sit very tidily at the bridge, just like this:

Well fitting underwire

Women with a very narrow bridge may still find that the wires overlap, but there is no invasion into the other breast's territory.

So, armed with this information you should be able to recognise a good wire fit, but what about the length of the wire?

Wire lengths

Wires also come in different lengths - Regular, Long, Extra Long and Super Long. Some also have a Short version for the plungier bras. The length of wire required usually depends on the size of the breast to fill the cup and the style of the bra. I can't give you hard and fast rules on which size to choose, but a general indication would be larger breasts equals longer wires. But what does that mean in practice?

Take a look at this photo of a 38 wire in all it's lengths.

You can see that there are three clearly different wire lengths. The shortest wire in the photo is a 38 Regular and is 233mm long, the next length is the 38 Long, which is 250mm. This difference of 17mm is mostly at the bridge end of the wire, and can be all that is needed to provide the increased or decreased coverage that may be required at the bridge. The next size up is is the Extra Long. Extra Long wires are 15mm longer in the front than the Long wire.

Overall the difference in lengths is not huge but can make a huge difference in the finished article.

Vertical Wires

Another type of wire is the vertical wire. Ready to wear bras don't come with vertical wires. If your bras are made by a bra maker, or you make your own, you could consider using a vertical wire. These are often recommended for women with omega shaped breasts, or women who've lost a large amount of weight and whose breast shape may be changed as a result. I don't fall into either of these categories, however I do have a very narrow bridge and larger breasts on a small frame, and I love my vertical wires. But whatever the reason, the more vertical rise on this wire , however slight, makes an enormous difference to the fit and comfort of my bras. So if you are making a bra and it should be a perfect fit, but something is just ever so slightly 'off' consider a vertical, it could be just the thing you are looking for.

Vertical wires

The bra design does not need to be changed to accommodate the vertical wire, it will mould itself nicely in the space allowed.

So if you make bras for yourself, it's really worth investing in all the lengths available and a vertical option so that you can achieve the best results possible.

I hope this little overview of all things underwire has helped you understand how important this little U shaped bit of metal is and how important it is to get it right.

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