The bra is an abbreviation for ‘brassiere’. It is piece of clothing that covers the breasts of women. The Bra replaced the corset in the late 19th and early 20the centuries. Recently camisoles and chemises are eating into its popularity but the bra remains a hot fashion statement.
The main purpose of the bra is to give the breasts support so that it does not become a cumbersome pendulum, hindering free body movement. Another popular conception is that the bra will prevent the breasts from sagging. As yet medical does not say that bras stop the natural laws of ageing. Even bra manufacturers admit that bras shape the female figure only while it is being worn. When women are performing strenuous exercise the bra can give comfort. The sports bra is exclusively designed for this. While running, large and even small breasts can cause pain from the continuous bounces and jolts. Bras prevent the skin surfaces from rubbing against each other and causing abrasions. Without a bra there is likelihood of maceration (loss of skin) and intertrigo (rash) linked with fungal infections. Contrary views however opine however that the use of bra will promote atrophy of the ligament and hasten drooping
The bra is worn for the observance of modesty. Some wear it to lift the breasts and give the figure a sharp contour. It gives a more youthful appearance and sharply sketches the cleavage. Designers try to blend the practical with the attractive. Bras are very important during pregnancy when the breasts become enlarged and sensitive. There are special nursing bras for new mothers.
There is a strong view gaining ground especially in Europe that the bra is not an essential item of clothing – rather it hampers free movement and causes harm to the physique. The anti-bra lobby thinks that it is a denigrating symbol of repression of women. Feminists have strongly come forward with the argument that the bra is a kind of instrument of torture like the Chinese practice of keeping the feet bound. This attitude often led to bra-burning ceremonies to make the point. Traditionally the bra is taken to symbolize the coming of womanhood – one of the clear signs that the maid has become a woman. Taken together there is a storm raging round the bra – it is being given more importance than is reasonable. After all it is just a wisp of clothing.
The origin of the word ‘bra’ is French. Brassiere means a baby’s vest or undershirt. It also referred to lifebelt, harness or under-bodice. In military parlance it means the arm of the uniform. This later came to connote a breastplate and then later on a kind of corset worn by women. The word ‘brassiere’ blended into the English language sometime around 1893. Vogue magazine was the first to use it in 1907 and in 1911 it got itself entrenched in the Oxford English Dictionary. By the 1930’s the lengthy word ‘brassiere’ had come to be shortened to ‘bra’. In French it is known as soutien-gorge.
Herminie Cadolle kicked off the garment in 1905. A law suit waged around this tiny object, called the bra, when Otto Titzling got into a legal brawl with Phillip de Brassier claiming to be the inventor of this undergarment. Digging up the past there are records that female athletes used these breast uplifters in 7th century BC during the Minoan Civilization. In India it was common from ancient times and still is to tie a piece of cloth firmly round the breasts. This was called the choli. Later the choli has become an adaptation of the westernized ‘blouse’. It is of interest to note that until the coming of the Muslims, Indians did not wear stitched clothes. Even today stitched clothes are banned for orthodox ceremonies.
The corset made its appearance in 16th century Europe. Its purpose was to push the breasts upwards. Designers continued to experiment, dividing the function into two. There was a girdle like device for the lower and another to suspend the breasts with straps from the shoulders. By the 1930’s commercial production of bras began on a large scale. It became an industry running into billions of dollars.
A bra has two cups for the breasts joined by a centre panel that is a band around the body and under the bust, supported by two shoulder straps on each side of the neck. Bras are made from cotton or polyester fabric. Plastic with lace has replaced wires for supporting the cups. A hook fastener is used at the back to keep the garment in place. Some have fasteners in the front between the cups. Others are just stretched over the head dispensing with fasteners altogether. Padding is sometimes used for comfort and an appearance of fullness.
Breasts may weigh up to many kilograms. These are given the lift by a bra, which acts as a pulley transferring the weight from the chest to the back, neck and shoulders. This might cause pain and in the long run injure the physique, particularly in the case of those with extra large pendulous parts.
The comfort factor comes from the proper size and feeling of fitness. There are as many sizes as there are types of breasts. The size depends on the cups of the breasts and the length around the body known as the cup size and the band size respectively.
Today there are not just many sizes of bras but also many varieties and types to match innumerable kinds of outer garments. The strapless, backless and multiway stays invisible underneath skimpy clothes. The push-up and plunge type of bras focus on the shape and cleavage of the female form. In the West bras are coming out from the curtains of the interior to peep outside to stimulate sexual attraction.
The bra story includes raising charity funds by auctioning celebrity bras. The bra no longer remains the sole prerogative of women. Good news for manufacturers is that some obese men with heaving bulging chests have taken to wearing bras!