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How does a Push-Up Bra Work?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated May 21, 2024
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The push-up bra is designed to make the breasts look larger, fuller, and higher, with the added bonus of creating cleavage where none previously existed. The mechanics of this type of bra rely on overflow. The breasts are squeezed into two cups that are actually a bit contrary to natural breast placement. Normally, breasts tend to swing out a bit toward the armpit, but a push-up bra forces the breasts closer together, which makes them look fuller and plumper. Stiff underwire and excess padding are built into the bottom of the cups, which force the breasts upward.

Women who are looking to purchase a push-up bra will have many choices available. In addition to having many styles to choose from, the push-up bra is manufactured to include most any size or color. The bra typically fastens in the front because putting one on is sometimes difficult, and having the fastener in front makes it easier to push the breasts together as it is being fastened.

One of the primary features of the push-up bra is the padding that fills the underside of the cups. The padding usually consists of foam, though in some bras, the pads are silicone or water-filled. Liquid padding is believed to give the breasts a more natural appearance, and tends to mimic the movement of real breast tissue. Some women choose to amplify the overall effect by inserting additional padding into the bottom or sides of the bra.

Some fashion historians credit Howard Hughes with the invention of the first push-up bra. It is said that he designed one for the actress Jane Russell in 1943. Russell was starring in a movie produced by Hughes, and rumor has it that he was not happy with the way her breasts looked on film. His answer to the problem was a bra that was designed to plump and lift her breasts.

Many women believe that their desirability is directly linked to the size and shape of their breasts, and in some instances, that could be true. Many people find large breasts very attractive while others may prefer smaller breasts, or are not particularly focused on the breasts at all. For instance, some people are attracted by facial features, shapely legs, or hips. Many experts believe that women who worry over their breast size may be the victim of psychological insecurities that are brought about by media advertising, which typically promotes beautiful women with large breasts.

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Discussion Comments
By Agni3 — On Jul 12, 2011

I love a good pushup bra, man. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little lift every once in a while!

But I make sure that if I am going to wear something (say a button up shirt) with a pushup that I make allowances in the size when I purchase it.

The reason is that a shirt may fit perfectly fine with a regular bra, but when you put that baby on over a pushup you are going to be looking at a much tighter fit.

But don’t go throw out all of your button ups just because you now have sizable gap in the front. Just pair it with a cute tank or camisole and leave the front unbuttoned part or even all of the way.

This with a nice fitting pair of jeans is a definite winner for casual days. A nice pair of slacks and some cute pumps make it work for more professional endeavors.

By poppyseed — On Jul 11, 2011

@JessiC - I have heard that using a lingerie bag in the washer is actually a really great help, and making sure that you only wash delicates together. (They are called delicates for a reason…)

However, if you find that this still doesn’t do what you want try washing your bras in the sink with a mild soap. This is what I do, actually. Something like baby soap would be fine, or a good smelling soap that you use yourself.

Only wash the parts that are touching your skin, unless something has gotten on your bra somehow. By doing so, you get rid of the stinky where your body contacts the garment but also keep the mold of the places that don’t.

And you’re spot on with not tossing any underwire bra in the dryer. I learned this the hard way when my underwires actually escaped my bra! It was ruined.

Sure hope this helps!

By JessiC — On Jul 10, 2011

I have several pushup bras even though they are not super comfortable. They are more for the times when I need to really look my best, and not when I’m just lounging around the house.

However, I have a major issue with my pushups! I can’t wash them without them becoming deformed. I don’t put them in the dryer at all, but I can’t wear bras that aren’t clean. It is so frustrating, because a good bra does not come cheaply.

Does anyone have any good tips or tricks to keeping these babies in tact better during washing? I’ve even tried washing them by hand in the shower, and they still aren’t exactly right.

By mutsy — On Jul 09, 2011

@Bhutan - I like push up bras too, but the best push up bra is one that fits you. I say this because I read that most women wear the wrong size bra and as a result don’t look as good as they could.

A lot of department stores have an associate that is called a fit specialist that can measure your bust size accurately to see what size you should wear. I did this, and was surprised at how wrong the size I was buying was.

With the new size, I feel more confident and have developed better posture as a result. I think that getting your bra size right can really have you make the best use of a push up bra. You can also get some glittering powder that they sell for your cleavage in order to enhance the look of the push up bra.

By Bhutan — On Jul 09, 2011

I think that a strapless push up bra is flattering especially if you are wearing a dress that is a little low cut that has spaghetti straps or is completely strapless. I don’t care for the sheer push up bras or even the cupless push up bras because I would like more coverage than what these bras offer which is why I only buy opaque bras.

I also like having a few different strapless bras in white and beige. I try to stay away from the darker colors like black because if I wear a top or a dress that is on the light side the darker bra will show through and I would not like that. I think that looks a little tacky.

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