Lingerie Friday: The Foam Cup

For most of my early adult life, my knowledge of bra styles began and ended with seamless t-shirt bras. Truth be told, I didn’t like spending money on bras but living in Europe had an effect on my tastes. Now and then I’d get sucked into a candy-colored lingerie boutique or an old-world department store like KaDeWe in Berlin and splurge on something I thought was a bit more exotic. A pretty French lace bra. Back then, even Nordstroms in the U.S. was mostly a sea of seamless bras, except for the occasional lace number by Elle Macpherson–one of the lingerie brands that I think changed the game of somewhat affordable, la-la lingerie.

One thing I learned in my lingerie explorations that “foam bra” didn’t necessarily equal push-up or seamless bra.

Molded Foam Bras

There are bras in which foam is simply a support or modesty lining, and then there are those which use foam as a shaper or extra padding. You are probably familiar with the Wonderbra-style pushup bras, which are a molded foam-cup bra in which the foam has more thickness in the bottom. I call that a “plumper bump” (totally non-technical name I just made up!) The bump is there to push the breast volume upward, and it can sometimes be quite extreme. I recently saw a Wonderbra that had what I swear was a 1″ thick plumper bump in the bottom of the foam cup, and this was a 36G.

This is one of my bras, a Calvin Klein push-up with a plumper bump.

Lingerie Friday: The Foam Cup | Cloth Habit

Hopefully you can see the plumping part by its shadow.

A bra can also add push-up effects with a floating foam cookie. These bras usually have a sheer lining pocket into which you can insert the cookie if you want to add volume to the cup or take it out if you don’t.

This is an example of a Cosabella seamless foam bra with a removable foam cookie.

Lingerie Friday: The Foam Cup | Cloth Habit

I should mention that without the cookie, this particular bra doesn’t really add much “size” or volume. The molded cup is fairly thin.

Cut and Sewn Foam

The previous two examples are bras made with a molded foam cup, but there is yet another type of foam bra. In the bra industry, any kind of bra with a seamed cup is normally called “cut-and-sew” style, and that also includes designs which have a seamed foam lining. Seamed foam bras were popular before the Wonderbra trend of the 90s made molded bras ubiquitous, but they are still quite common especially among mid-range and luxury brands. Are they more expensive to produce than molded bras? I don’t know.

An example of an Elle Macpherson strapless bra with cut-and-sew foam:

Lingerie Friday: The Foam Cup | Cloth Habit

The outside of a Stella McCartney bra with cut foam.

Lingerie Friday: The Foam Cup | Cloth Habit

You can’t even see the foam on the inside, which is completely lined with silk charmeuse. So luxurious!

Lingerie Friday: The Foam Cup | Cloth Habit

If you were take apart any of the above bras, you’d find that the foam thickness and flexibility really vary. My personal favorite seamless t-shirt bra is made from what Chantelle markets as “memory foam” (which I think is probably a lightweight spacer foam with a bit of spandex). I like it because it does feel light and invisible under t-shirts (that and it really fits me well).

One of the common misconceptions about “foam bras” is that they are all push-up or volume-adding bras. Most of the time, foam is really just an extra layer of support, or the entire layer of support. A true push-up bra has a lot of little tricks in it, not just in the thickness of the foam–wire shape, bridge and the mold over which the cup is formed all play a part in pushing your volume around. Bra-makers have been trying to patent these ideas since bras were bras!

Where to Find It

On the bottom of my Bra-making Supplies page, I included a list of stores that offer sheet foam for bras. My favorite comes from Sew Sassy–it’s light, flexible and very soft. Many bra-making suppliers also sell molded cups.

Aside from my one experiment with a molded cup bra, I much prefer making seamed bras. In my experience they have more potential for a totally custom fit. But as you can see from my (worn) examples, there is a place and reason for all sorts of bras in my lingerie drawers.

Next week I’m (finally!) going to share a seamed foam cup tutorial. I think I’ll be breaking this down into three posts, as I wanted to include as many photos as possible. See you then!

♥Amy

26 comments

  1. CGCouture says:

    Man, I wish I knew what Wonderbra that was…push-up bras in the larger cup sizes are nearly impossible to find. It’s as though if you are bigger than a C-cup you are supposed to want to hide your assets in a corner and forget that you have them… 🙁

    I can’t wait to see your posts on seamed foam cups, especially adapting the patterns to use them. I have a Pin-Up Girls pattern I’d like to try it on–especially if you post how to use the foam to get the push-up effect. I need it to keep my girls out of the way of my arms, LOL!

    • Amy says:

      It may not have been “wonderbra” but a lookalike. Whatever it was, I was also surprised to see the range of sizes in a mainstream department store (Sears).

      It’s easy to add foam linings to your Pin-up pattern. However, I won’t be posting about how to use the foam for push-up effect. I just use the foam for coverage. If you wanted push-up you could try experimenting with adding a cookie like I showed above. A lot of getting the girls front and center has to do with the wire shape and strength, and the shapes of the pattern pieces–where they push the apex. Maybe a future post idea ;).

  2. Stephanie says:

    Love seeing all the different options. I think I always associate foam with t-shirt bras, but I’ve learned to know better! 😉

    One additional benefit of the foam cup, no pokey nipple action!

    Great post, Amy!

  3. Kathy says:

    I’ve been sewing bras for a couple years or so and I really want to give foam lined ones a try. I’m really interested to see the next post! Thanks for sharing.

  4. maddie says:

    Because I have always had a small chest, I looked to padded bras in college to give me a little more oomph. Plus, my boyfriend had just broken up with me! I wore them up until I discovered soft bras, the kind that Urban Outfitters and Free People sell. My chest looked a lot smaller, but it suited my shape more, and I felt like all the parts of my body went with each other (I wasn’t a boy with boobs). I haven’t incorporated it into my bra making, and I’m hoping that your tutorials can show me how to use it without being ostentatious. Looking forward to next week!

    • Amy says:

      I like how you put that, how your parts all went together. And which I totally understand. I wore a lot of bralettes in college but kept wondering if I was missing something so I started wearing the padded/pushup bras. I have one really padded bra left–the one at the top–which I completely deconstructed after this photo. I always felt so “not-me” every time I wore it. Not to mention my woven tops didn’t fit me right when I did.

  5. Anne says:

    I’m with you – I have tried making seamless foam cup bras before but I just don’t enjoy it. It is hard to get a fabric that stretches enough without collapsing the cup and since I’m not sewing for fit it just makes more sense to go the RTW route. I’m saving my foam cups for making camisoles with built-in bras.

    I don’t think I even owned a seam bra before I started making my own!

    • Amy says:

      I didn’t enjoy it, either. I also bought some molded cups way back when and am thinking of cutting shapes out of them… maybe for a strapless bra, which is on my docket this year. I rarely find a good-fitting strapless.

    • Susan C says:

      I want to make tank tops with built in bras. Do you know where there might be a tutorial on how to do that? Thanks for any info.

  6. Zrinka says:

    HI, thank you for all your posts on bra making. I have been planning on sewing some for months now, and finally this week I bought some fabric and ordered a pattern. I do have one question I could not find an answer to… what about wireless bras? I am one of those gals who are not crazy about wires, but I still like a nice bra (I do have a small cup and I don;t require a ton of support, just basically shaping). If you go wireless are you limited to sport bras or those bralettes. Can you still make a nice bra without under wires? Is it possible a have a foam bra without wires?
    Thanks!

    • Amy says:

      Hi Zrinka, you can make any bra without wires. Some women simply can’t wear them. Any bra without them does fit a bit differently but there are no rules. With patterns that are made for wires, you can stitch in the channeling (which adds some stabilization to the curvy seams) but leave out the wires. And I don’t see why you couldn’t make a foam bra without them… lot of maternity bras are basically t-shirt foam bras (like this one) but without the wires.

  7. LisaB says:

    I’m really looking forward to your tutorials. I have some foam and tried once to make a seamed cup but found that it wasn’t invisible under t-shirts and t-necks. I think the issue was with how I seamed the outer fabric (created bulk). Can’t wait to see your methods and give this another try!

  8. Looking forward to this tutorial – have always preferred the foam cup bras because of a ridiculous hypersensitivity I have – and you really can’t do much about that kind of chafing in public. I’ve found some padded pushups that are fine, but the majority of them make me feel like I’m giving free advertising for the double-decker buses in London or something. I’m with Lisa B – I want to see your methods and try my hand at making my own, too!

  9. Just ordered a huge amount of that foam from Sew Sassy. It came and was perfect for the price. Great post and insight. I love making my own padded bras. They really boost my confidence. And I have a student who swears they provide better fit for even the larger busted size.

    Jnetti.

    • Amy says:

      I do like their foam and I have tried a few. It has a little bit of give, which I like. Fabric Depot Co.’s is also soft as well.

      Perhaps your student is on to something. In the absence of strong cup fabrics, foam makes a nice alternative, and you can use pretty fabrics on the outside (as flimsy as you want!). That’s sorta been my reason for making them, anyway.

  10. Susan C says:

    Really interesting post! You’ve made a seamless bra? I ask because one of the big names in lingerie sewing (can’t remember who) told me that home sewers can’t make seamless bras because it takes a special tool .

    I’m interested in sewing abra but have been afraid to start someday…

    • Amy says:

      We can definitely make seamless bras. All you need are molded cups, which are not difficult to find. And if you want a seamless cover for the cup, you can use a 4-way stretch fabric. They may have been referring to the process itself of manufacturing a molded cup. Which is done with heat-setting machines. (A while back I shared a video of a Maidenform bra design in progress, and it shows one of these machines being used.)

  11. mokosha says:

    personally, i’m a bralette kind of girl (of a strange kind, that don’t even mind pokey nipple situations).. but i’ve made a swimsuit some time ago, and my cups ended up looking really weird, so i think i’ll have to rip some seams and try adding foam cups to correct that (fingers crossed that will do the trick)

  12. Mikee Piper says:

    Hi, Love this post!!!! I have bought 2 bras that r lace and gorgeous,but I need a foam lining because u can see the boys little pink noses!! (I named mine Eric and Lyle because my husband says they r real killers!) I would like to find a molded cup and just sew it in. Problem is I wear a G cup. Any advice?

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