Difference Between a Bra & a Bikini Top

A bikini top won't ever be see-through in water, which is one way it differs from a bra.

Photo: Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images

Maybe it's laundry day, so you're wearing one of your bikini tops as a bra. Or maybe you just bought the cutest bra, and you're wondering if it's really that different from swimwear because you'd love to show it off. A bit of advice: Don't try to pass your bra off for a bikini top at the beach. They're not interchangeable. You may be mortified if people realize you're sunbathing in your undies. But then maybe you're going for the "underwear as outerwear" look. In any case, there are definite differences in fabric types and closure styles between bras and bikini tops -- and a time and place for each.

Style Differences

Ever hear your mama (or anyone's mama) say there's much more to a book than its cover? A bra and bikini top may seem similar at first glance, but beyond their good looks you'll find so many obvious differences in their style and construction. Feel the fabric and you'll be able to tell the difference; if it's thick, it's a swimsuit. If both are brightly colored and you're still not completely sure, the type of straps and back band closure will reveal if a bra is posing as a bikini. Bra straps are almost always adjustable, and they usually have those metal hook-and-eye closures in the back -- the type the boys say are hard to get undone. Bikini tops, including string bikini styles, sometimes tie around the neck or at the back. Or, they'll have a plastic hook on the back band that fits into a loop on the other side of the band.

Bikini Top Fabrics

Bikini tops feel stretchy because they're made from Lycra, Spandex and other high-tech fabrics that are designed to dry quickly. They're made to hug your curves, making sure everything stays in its proper place -- without wiggle room. An inner lining is probably the most important part of a bikini top -- and the number one reason not to wear an unlined bra to the beach, especially if it's light-colored. (Unless you're going for the porn star look). The lining keeps you from baring all to everyone on the beach when the top gets wet. It also provides an extra layer of fabric against your skin, keeping a bikini top classy, not clingy. Swimsuit fabrics are also designed to be durable, and the colors are fade-resistant -- so they hold their own against the sun and salt water.

Bra Fabrics

Bras are often designed to be see-through -- especially if they get wet. It's always more sexy to leave something to the imagination -- unless you plan on sunbathing where tops are optional. Bras are designed for comfort and support, not durability. Bra fabrics include delicate lace, mesh, cotton and other breathable fibers that tend to rip if not handled -- and worn -- with care. They're usually not able to withstand the regular spin cycle of a washing machine, let alone swimming and a beach volleyball game.

Support Issues

Bras have more cup sizes to choose from for a better fit -- which equals more support. And more support now will make your future self happy -- and less saggy. Many bikini top styles just "contain and compress," stretching to fit multiple sizes and shapes. Whenever you wear a bikini top instead of a bra, your girls aren't getting the support they need -- so show them some love. Don't be fooled by bikini tops that have underwires and other supportive features, because they can't compare to a well-fitted bra that's tailored to your cup shape.

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