This is one of the most popular bras on the internet—but is it worth it?
We tried the $35 Lively T-shirt bra to see if it lives up to the hype.
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Many have embarked on a journey to find the perfect bra. Few have succeeded. Bras can be expensive, uncomfortable, ugly, bulky, tough to size correctly—and, frequently, all of the above. But in the past few years, a spate of mostly-online-only lingerie brands have popped up, often on Instagram, promising to disrupt Big-Brand Bras with their own (allegedly) affordable, comfortable, supportive, and better-fitting versions. Among them is Lively, a brand that offers up $35 bras that it claims are just as good if not better than the others. I tried the brand’s All Day T-shirt bra to find out.
What is Lively?
Lively was founded in 2016 by Michelle Cordeiro Grant, a former merchandiser at Victoria’s Secret. She left the lingerie juggernaut because she wanted to start a brand that was more “relatable” to consumers. Since then, Lively claims to have created a “new category” of undergarments called “Leisurée,” and sells bras, underwear, loungewear, and swimwear at standardized prices: $35 for bras, $10 for underwear, $45 for sweatpants, and $65 for one-piece bathing suits, with package discounts for buying in bulk. Even with that eyeroll-inducing “Leisurée” title, it’s proved an effective strategy: Lively grew at a 300 percent rate in 2017 and was (gasp!) acquired by Wacoal for $85 million in August 2019.
My checkered past with Lively
A brief disclosure: Before starting this review, I already had some opinions on Lively bras. This is because I had tried out two already: One, a bralette I got as a gift from a friend a few years back, which I like quite a bit and still wear often—it’s comfortable, if not quite as supportive as bras with underwire or much different from any bralette I could have gotten at, say, Urban Outfitters. The other, a nude T-shirt bra, I received shortly after Lively’s launch in 2016, when I went to an event hosted by the brand and got a sample to try out for free.
Reader, I hated it. I got my correct size, 32D, but everything that could go wrong with an undergarment—short of busting open in front of several thousand people while performing at Coachella—went wrong: The underwire dug into the flesh on my chest, leaving bright red marks on my sternum that stayed for hours after I took it off, the straps fell off my shoulders no matter how much I tightened them, and it had a weird mesh overlay on the top portion of the cup that looked nice in isolation but appeared bumpy and uneven beneath my clothes.
For some reason, I kept it in my bra rotation for three more years. (Hoping that it would grow on me? I’m not sure.) Finally, a move from Brooklyn to Boston in 2019 enabled me to make the oh-so-freeing decision to toss it—not knowing I would be assigned a review on the brand a few months later.
Now, this was the brand’s original T-shirt bra, which Lively no longer appears to sell. But now, Lively has an updated version of the T-shirt bra, called the All Day Bra, which it says is the “2.0” version of the original, with a sleeker fit and (supposedly) less fussy straps. In the spirit of fresh starts and second chances (and because it’s my job), I decided to give that one a go.
How do you find your right size in Lively bras?
Most of Lively’s bras come in sizes 32A to 38DD—a good range, but not as expansive as the offerings at Victoria's Secret, Aerie, or ThirdLove (our ThirdLove reviewer couldn't take the Lively assignment because the bras don't come in her size). I was measured for a bra a few years ago, and since then, my bra size has remained the same: 32D. But to make sure I got the correct Lively size, I followed the instructions on the brand’s website, which say to wrap a measuring tape around your bust to find your cup size and below the bust for the band size. This got me the size I was expecting, so I ordered an All Day T-shirt bra in a 32D.
What do Lively bras cost?
Lively lingerie sets itself in the mid-range of affordability, as far as decent quality foundation garments go. And the prices are standardized: One bra is $35, two are $60, and three are $80. There is one thing I found irksome about the price model, aside from the lack of sales: Every bra on Lively’s site is $35, but to get free shipping, you have to spend $40. Shipping costs about $8. Even with this, a single bra for $42 is still cheaper than the offerings from Thirdlove (about $68) and on par or less than Victoria’s Secret (from $40 to $70). But I, like most people, feel literal (well, figurative) pain whenever I have to pay a shipping cost for something, which means I’ll add on a small item just to get the free shipping. I bet Lively knows this, so setting the price of the brand’s main product just under the amount required for free shipping comes across as a shady way to get people to buy more stuff (such as the brand’s $10 underwear), even if they only planned on getting one bra. Lively offers free returns, so you could order a few things and return the ones you don’t want, but if you’re the kind of person who thinks they’re going to mail their returns back but never gets around to it (ahem, me), that wouldn’t be the best course of action.
Are Lively bras comfortable?
First, the good news: The All Day bra is much, much better than the cursed, terrible, should-have-been-burned-on-arrival bra I tried a few years ago. The mesh overlay on the cups is gone, replaced by a smooth uniform nylon and spandex blend covering a light padding befitting of an everyday bra. It also has a see-through mesh panel on the back bands, which makes it look a little more interesting, and a J-hook clip to turn it into a racerback bra.
That said, it’s not perfect. My gold standard of bra comfort is a bra I don’t notice I’m wearing. This is tough to achieve with underwire, and over the course of the two months I wore it, this Lively bra didn’t deliver. It’s more comfortable than the other Lively bra I tried (a low bar, yes), but still leaves something to be desired. It didn’t impart the same vicious red marks as before, but the underwire still put too much pressure on my sternum. I wasn’t in agony when I wore it, but I always made a beeline to my room to take it off when I got home.
Are Lively bras good quality?
In general, the quality of the bra is OK, but not great. Lively recommends washing it by hand, but because that’s not always possible for everyone (or for me), I tossed it in the washing machine inside a mesh bag, then air-dried it, which was fine. If I’m being nitpicky, the nylon over the padding seems like it could get pilly over time, but if you were to hand-wash it, I think it would fare better. I’d say it’s better quality than a Target bra, not quite as good quality as Calvin Klein bras (that I, a classy lady, have only ever gotten at TJ Maxx or when they go on sale at Nordstrom), and on par with Aerie bras, which start out at about the same price but are always on sale.
Are Lively bras worth it?
Overall, Lively’s bras average out at being fine. The T-shirt bra has a slightly wonky fit and comfort, and the bralette I already owned is nice but nothing special. Both are basic bras that are sturdy enough to last several years with proper care. I wouldn’t get mad at anyone for ordering a Lively bra, but if one of my friends were considering one, I’d probably direct them elsewhere, like TJ Maxx, Aerie, or the sale section at Nordstrom, where you can get a bra of similar or better quality for about the same price with the ability to try them on or make in-store returns or exchanges of online orders.
If you’re set on Lively, it may be a good idea to go to an IRL location to try them on in person. Lively bras are available at some Nordstrom stores or, if you live in New York City, Boston, Austin, or Chicago, check out one of Lively’s shops. When I went to the one in Boston, I tried on a couple other styles—the no-wire strapless bra and the plunge mesh bra—both of which I found cute and comfortable, at least in the changing room.
Basically? You get what you pay for when it comes to Lively bras. They’re not perfection, but they won’t ruin your life (most likely).