going bra-free

A little over a year ago, I shared my experiment with adding a layer to a t-shirt so that I didn’t have to wear a bra. I decided that fusing an image onto the front makes the fabric too stiff.

Since then, I’ve been trying a some different ways to do it. It’s been a lot of trial and error, but I’m not a perfectionist, and I found an easy way that works for me. Someone has asked me about how I do it, so I’m sharing my process here.

Although I am pretty much a size 12/14, I buy t-shirts in an X-large or even a 1X. If you’re not going to wear a bra and you don’t want to look like you’re not wearing a bra, then you really need a roomy knit top to work with. And the knit needs to be substantial — not the sheer or flimsy jersey kind you find at places like Old Navy. You don’t want the fabric to cling to you.

I have found that the best and least expensive t-shirts to use are made by Croft and Barrow (Kohls), Cabin Creek (JCP), White Stag and Just My Size (Walmart). Make sure that they are not the “fitted” style but are more boxy. A longer tunic works well too.

T-shirts with stripes or graphics also work best because they makes it easier to figure out where to do the top-stitching on the front. You can just follow along one or more stripes or you can incorporate top stitching into the graphic.

You can use any kind of knit fabric for the liner. I recycle old t-shirts for that purpose because the fabric doesn’t run. I don’t even bother hemming the edges. You can also buy really cheap t-shirts to cut up at CVS or Walgreens. I buy the largest size they have so that I can make several liners out of one t-shirt.

Here, for example, is tie-dyed tunic onto which I sewed a lining so that I could wear it without a bra.


I measured a rectangle shape that would be large enough to cover my breasts and cut out a double layer from an old grey t-shirt. I pinned and then hand-basted the rectangular double layer onto the inside of the front of the shirt, positioning it so that I could top-stitch along the front design. I used a decorative stitch, but a zig-zag would do just as well.

This is what it looks like on the inside.


This is what the top stitching looks like.

You can make the liner go all the way down to your waist if you want to. Since it’s not attached at the sides, if it’s longer, you can tuck it into your pants or skirt, leaving the shirt itself loose. You can also use several layers of the knit for the liner if you feel more comfortable with more coverage.

It’s best not to use a ribbed knit t-shirt because top stitching is harder to do; the ribbing stretches out and pulls the shirt out of shape. It can be done, however.

Here’s a ribbed tank top that I lined.

outside front

outside front

inside front

inside front

Here’s what the front of a solid navy t-shirt looks like with decorative top-stitching that looks a little like trapunto quilting.


Here’s what it looks like on the inside.


As I said, I’m not a perfectionist, so I don’t worry how the liner looks on the inside. Someone who is more meticulous, however, can adapt my method to work for them. If anyone reads this and tries it, I would love to see what you did and how you were able to improve on my idea.

I wish that some clothing designer would create ready-to-wear roomy t-shirts with nicely designed trapunto or quilted or appliqued fronts that camouflage the lining and adequately disguise a jiggling bare breast. (And I don’t mean appliques of cats or dogs or Christmas trees; art reproductions or original fabric art would be perfect, I think.)

12 thoughts on “going bra-free

  1. Your shirts look good. I only sew when I have to and since I’m only a B cup,
    I’ve found another solution. I wear a stretchy cami under a tee. It works well
    for all clothes. I really hate the binding feeling of a bra, even the hookless
    sport bras.

  2. I really like this idea, Elaine. Especially the trapunto looking plain shirt. I’m going to ask the talented seamstress in town to make me one. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Great thinking and doing!!! My 82 yr old body has large boobs that
    dangle and swing without something to hold them in place. A bra is
    AWFUL! How about a kinda bag to stuff them in….nothing around
    the body, no elastic….just a bag sewn onto the panel that is attached
    inside the shirt? Or a bag that can be transferred to attach with Velcro
    to whatever the choice of shirts?

  4. I wear tanks and layers in colder weather, but my issue is when it’s hot. I like it airy under my clothes in summer, and tanks and camis under a shirt are too uncomfortable for me. That’s why I came up with a stitched on lining. Even if you don’t have a sewing machine, you can hand stitch it along the top and just let it hang down the front. That’s usually what I do. Sharyn, I really would like to see how a professional seamstress might improve on the idea.

  5. Great Idea! I don’t sew, though, so I may see if the hemming tape will work, and how long that holds up. If I do so, I will let you know. Thanks!

  6. I too hate wearing bras so when I am in the house I put these foam rubber pads (old shoulder pads) under my perky sisters to keep them up and perky and absorb the sweat. I love your idea – as well and might try it. I have been redesigning my clothes – ala crochet…so to have fun in my “youth.”

  7. Patty Lee — ah, sorry, I really like that shirt. I got it here: http://www.womanwithin.com/Plus-Size-Tunics.aspx?DeptId=11134
    but they don’t seem to have that one any more. It’s a plus-size site, so I buy either a small or medium in tops. They have others out now that are similar. Check it out.

    Sheila — I’ve been using crochet to redesign also. My next experiment is to crochet sleeves for sleeveless tops that I have — using light weight microfiber yarn and using an open stitch for the summer.

    Kate — hemming tape will work but make sure to put it straight across the top beneath the neckline because it probably will be detectable on a solid colored shirt. If it’s a striped shirt, you can line it up with a stripe. There are some nice ones on that Woman Within site.

  8. Very creative. However, I have too much “on the balcony” for this to work for me. A friend gave me a very nice 100% cotton short-sleeved black t-shirt, size 3X (!), with some words printed on the front on a white background (make love, not horcruxes). Even a 1X is a little big for me, so it’s quite roomy. The fabric is somewhat heavy, of excellent quality and very soft. There is still a bit of “sway” when I move, but it’s not as obvious because of the weight of the fabric, the dark color and the distraction supplied by the words. The fact that it’s so roomy means it’s still comfortable even when the weather is hot. However, I would not wear this much far beyond my house and immediate neighborhood, or for very quick errands. As another tactic, I sometimes wear large or x-large inexpensive mostly-cotton camisoles with a shelf bra — Costco has a good selection — underneath a large t-shirt or a loose lightweight blouse. I have some old (and dear) Bluefish cotton jersey tops; nice thing about those is that the sizes are pretty much “generic,” meaning intentionally roomy. All of them (including most of the new ones now available) have a design on the front that distracts, so I wear them all year round, mostly without any kind of undergarment, much less a BRA! Aaagh. I HATE BRAS! I’ve been rebelling against them since I was in my 30s. At my current age, I really don’t believe anyone cares to look at my chest. Too bad, younger women. Your day will come — or is NOW the time to take control of your chest? 😉


  10. love the idea. I hate bras, they always make me itch under the girls. In the summer here its too hot to wear a cami under a blouse, So I’ve been cutting the front half off of a XXL cami or tank. Then sewing it at the side seam and shoulder seams into a blouse. ( like the mock vests they sew into coats for winter) Another thing for when its REALLY hot, is silicone nipple petals, they hide the bumps in the shirt and stop gawkers. + they are reusable. LET THE GIRLS SWING LADIES!

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