Bras are great for those that enjoy the feminine shapes and designs, and as attractive lingerie to wear for a partner. They also provide practical support for those with larger busts that can’t get away with going braless all the time. But there is a much wider world of undergarments out there and we shouldn’t overlook the potential of a good camisole.
In this guide, we will look at what camisoles are, how they can provide an alternative solution to a bra, and some of the different styles. We will also discuss the difference between tank tops and camisoles, whether you need to wear a bra underneath them, and how to get the best fit. Finally, there are some tips on designing and sewing your own camisole at home.
In simple terms, a camisole is a loose-fitting piece of underwear that drapes over the torso, covering the bust, and is held up by thin straps. They are typically soft to the touch, with more sensual fabrics, and work well as nightwear or layering under other garments.
With that said, there will be camisole wearers that object to this description. The camisole has evolved, especially in more recent times, to cover different situations and styles. There are more shapes and fabrics, as well as more opportunities to use them in day or evening wear. It all comes down to finding the perfect fit and look for you.
Where Does the Word Camisole Originate From?
We have the Europeans to thank for camisoles – which isn’t a big surprise when we consider the impact of their designs on underwear and lingerie over the centuries. The garment itself is most commonly associated with France, where it was popular long before it became a more global hit. However, the origin of the name may not be as French as it sounds. There is the word camisola in Spanish that is almost a perfect match. If you want to take this back even further, it originates from the Latin word camisia. Both refer to nightgowns and shirts used for sleeping.
We may have found new uses for the camisole in modern times, and evolved the form, but the basic idea remains the same. The best camisoles work as undershirts and nightwear, whether casual or alluring. But there are also times when they can work as outerwear with the right outfit.
What Is the Difference Between a Camisole and a Slip?
The terminology for these simple undergarments can depend on their length. A camisole is for the upper body alone. You can get different cuts and lengths, with various types of neckline. But they tend to stop around the hip. It is possible to find shorter pieces that go to the waist and camisole bras act more like crop tops. The slip is more of a full-length item that goes beyond the hips and is worn under a dress.
Another difference that is more noticeable with the modern use of camisoles is that slips always stay beneath clothing for layering and never act as outerwear. This is no longer the case with camisoles, which are increasingly popular without a shirt over the top.
What Is the Difference Between Tank Top and Camisole?
The three options above are the most common when it comes to camisoles. You will notice that I haven’t included the word tank top. Why is that? Aren’t tank tops and camisoles pretty interchangeable terms? There are actually quite a few differences between the two. These include the purpose of the top, the design of the straps, and the materials used, and the embellishments.
What to Use a Camisole For vs a Tank Top
The main purpose of a camisole is as an undergarment. As you will see below, there are times where this isn’t the case, and you can create alternative outfits. But these pieces work great for layering under shirts for modesty. They can also work as nightshirts.
The purpose of the tank top is different. This is more commonly worn as an outer garment and for casual wear. Tank tops are essentially sleeveless shirts that are great for staying a little cooler in the summer. The simple shapes and range of patterns and colors also make them great for various occasions. There is also the fact that a tank top is far more of a unisex and potentially gender-neutral item while a camisole is typically more for those that identify as female.
The Straps of a Tank Top vs a Camisole
A big difference between the two garments is the use of straps. The tank top can have pretty much any kind of straps, and some are much thicker than others. It can depend on the shape of the shirt, the neckline, and the intention for its use. The camisole, on the other hand, almost always has very thin spaghetti straps. This means that there is the bare minimum of material holding the garment in place and this allows for a softer and more feminine look. As you will see below, this can be a problem when deciding what bra to wear.
The Material of a Tank Top vs a Camisole
The material choices for tank tops are pretty safe with basic cotton, polyester, or a blend of the two. This makes them comfortable, easy to wear and wash, and ideal for prints. Camisoles are different because they are lighter and usually sit right next to the skin. You need something that feels nice if you choose not to wear a bra underneath. So, satin and silk are popular choices alongside nylon and cotton for camisoles.
Finally, there are the added embellishments on a camisole. Most tank tops have one material where the appeal comes from the use of color or design. It could be a very basic black tank top to work in during the summer or something with a graphic print related to a fandom. Camisoles don’t have these bold colors and prints so that they don’t stand out underneath other layers. But you can often find them with lace trims or bows. This is where they relate to other pieces of feminine lingerie.
Can You Wear a Camisole Instead of a Bra?
Because a camisole is great as a comfortable and stylish undergarment, you may be tempted to wear one instead of a bra. Is this possible or is it better to have a bra underneath? Also, if you do need a bra, what type should you get?
The need for a bra underneath a camisole will depend on a couple of factors. The first is the style and purpose of the camisole. A camisole underneath other clothing for modesty could be fine on its own, especially if there is a close-fitting shape that is quite supportive. You probably won’t need a bra under a camisole if you are just lounging around at home either. The feel of a camisole in place of a bra can be more freeing and pleasant if you are tired of the constant restriction from a bra. But, if you are making more of a feature of the camisole under a jacket and want to make an impression, you could find that a bra gives you better support and shaping. For example, a push-up bra under a camisole could be better on a date.
The other consideration is your bust size and need for support. If you have a small cup size and very little need for shaping or support from a typical bra, you could get away with not wearing one under a camisole. Those with larger breasts or that prefer a fuller shape created by a bra may struggle to get comfortable with a camisole alone.
What Bra Should You Wear Under a Camisole?
Some bras work a lot better than others under camisole – typically those that you won’t notice that easily. Again, your choice will depend on your need for support and shaping. The most discrete bras for camisole are those with no padding or underwires that could show through the form of the camisole. Padded push-up bras can help you create a better shape when wearing a camisole under a jacket but watch out for textures and embellishments that could detract from the style. You could also try a strapless bra if you want it to be completely invisible. Even if you have a bra in the same color as your camisole, those thicker bra straps will show.
There are alternative options out there if you aren’t keen on wearing two undergarments but need some form of support. Camisole-based shapewear could be enough to hold everything in place and improve your figure. Or, you might want to try a camisole bra.
What Is a Camisole Bra?
A camisole bra is a combination item where you get the best features of a bra and cami in one product. You get the cups and some padding inside for support but without the underwires of a normal bra. Instead, you could enjoy the benefits of a supportive band a little like a sports bra. There is then material over the top that conceals the cups and looks like a cropped version of a camisole. This design means that you could wear the item without a shirt if you wanted to. The two pieces are stitched together, and you just attach the hooks at the back as normal to put it on.
This sort of product is great for those that can’t wear camisoles on their own, but also those that don’t like overly feminine designs for bras. It is a great gender-neutral solution with no lace or bows.
Camisoles Come in Different Shapes and Styles
The evolution of the camisole means that you can find lots of different types around. A lot of camisoles have a looser feel, especially those that are more old-fashioned in their design and made for use under shirts and tops. But there is a growing trend for a more body-hugging camisole. This is where we start to see sexier items that can hold a figure in place and prove to be more practical as both underwear and outerwear. They should provide clean lines under other layers without becoming a distraction.
Camisole Outfit Ideas
With all of this talk about the different styles of camisole and the choice of how to wear them, we should consider some camisole outfit ideas. There is nothing wrong with wearing a camisole and having it on show if there is a good fit and you have the support you need underneath. These camisoles can work nicely as alternatives to blouses when you don’t want a heavy button-down look. You can pair a nice silky or rayon form-hugging camisole with a jacket and matching pants or a skirt and turn plenty of heads.
One thing to consider here is the use of lace and bows. This could make the cami look too much like underwear. It all depends on the message you want to convey and the situation. Are you wearing this on a date or at a business meeting?
How To Select Your Camisole Size
Whatever style of camisole you want, and whatever your outfit, you need to make sure that you get a good fit. The first thing to do is measure Your bust size. This will allow for the best coverage and fit from your camisole. You should already have this if you wear a bra, but it doesn’t hurt to measure again. Remember that the bust size is the measurement around the fullest part of the bust. You then need your hip measurement to know how the garment will fit over the body. This isn’t necessary for shorter garments but is essential for longer camisoles and slips. These figures should then help you find the best size when shopping online or in-store.
There is also advice to go for a size up if you want a more loosely-fitting cami, such as for nightwear, and to go a size down if you want something more figure-hugging. However, this approach isn’t foolproof and you could end up with something too saggy or too tight.
How To Sew a Camisole
If you are worried about getting the perfect fit in the style you want, you could always try making your own camisole at home. A camisole shouldn’t be too difficult to make because it won’t require too much complicated sewing or pattern pieces. A loose-fitting piece as an undergarment just needs to drape and provide the right coverage and length. As long as you get the right measurements, add the spaghetti straps, and finish it off nicely, it should be a garment to wear with pride.
The first thing to do is to find a pattern, either online or in a sewing store. Take your time to look at the different shapes and styles for the best fit. Next, pick out your material. You can use cotton if you prefer to it is easier to sew, or you can test your skills with silk or satin. Choosing your material means you can find colors and patterns that aren’t readily available in store-bought camisoles.
When you cut out your pattern pieces, make sure to focus on the bust measurement, hip measurement, and the required length for the best fit. This should allow for a more flattering item if you struggle to find items in-store. Then take your time with the sewing and shaping to make sure it is even and comfortable. Try it on a few times before moving on to hemming and final touches.
The other benefit of making your own camisole at home is that you can add any embellishments that you want. You could keep things simple with a nice complementary binding around the arms and straps or work in a lot of contrasting lace and bows. Have fun with it!
Why Should You Add a Camisole to Your Wardrobe?
You may have dismissed the simple camisole as something that is too feminine, too loose-fitting, too much for couples, or a combination of all three. However, this doesn’t have to be the case at all! You don’t have to just wear a camisole around a partner or as a piece of nightwear. They are great undergarments for anyone and could even be great outerwear in business meetings, or for a date night with the right outfit. Not all camisoles are loose and flowing as you can get some great pieces of shapewear and practical camisole bras too. As for the femininity, you don’t have to have soft tones, lace, and bows. There are also more neutral and empowering designs out there.
The important starting point with camisoles is to browse options online and be aware of your size. Then you can think about how to wear them and if you need to add a bra into the equation. If you still struggle to find what you want, consider making your own on a sewing machine and have fun playing with styles and designs.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.