Woman wearing a white lace bra

A brassiere (pronounced UK: /ˈbræzɪər/, US: /brəˈzɪər/; commonly referred to as a bra /ˈbrɑː/) is an undergarment that covers, supports, and elevates the breasts. Since the late 19th century, it has replaced the corset as the most widely accepted method for supporting breasts.

Manufacturers produce an extremely wide variety of bras today that serve a variety of purposes. Bras can enhance the perceived shape of a woman's breasts, minimize or enlarge her perceived breast size, restrain breast movement during an activity such as exercise, enhance her cleavage, conceal her nipples, overcome sagging, serve prosthetic purposes, or facilitate nursing. In certain circumstances, like the work place, employers may require a woman to wear a bra. In most Western countries, the majority of women wear bras, although a minority choose to go without, sometimes for health or comfort reasons. Breast support is built into some garments like camisoles, tank-tops and backless dresses, alleviating the need to wear a separate bra.

Most bras are designed to be form-fitting, to lift the breasts off the chest wall if they sag, and to restrain their movement. Bra designers and manufacturers originally produced bras that were purely functional and gradually added elements to improve the design, but they have now largely shifted from functionality to fashion. Manufacturers' standards and sizes vary widely, making it difficult for women to find a bra that fits. Bra-measurement procedures conflict with one another. Even professional bra fitters disagree on the correct size for the same woman. Women's breasts vary widely in size and shape; most are asymmetric to a degree and can change from month to month depending on the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or weight gain or loss. As a result, from 75–85% of women wear the incorrect bra size.[1]

The bra has become a garment with erotic significance and a feminine icon or symbol with political and cultural significance beyond its primary function. Some feminists consider the brassiere a symbol of the repression of women's bodies.[2] Culturally, when a young girl gets her first bra, it may be seen as a rite of passage and symbolic of her coming of age.[3]



Support of the bosom by a bodice (French: brassiere) from 1900

The French word brassière refers to a child's undershirt, underbodice or harness.[4] The word brassière derives from bracière, an Old French word meaning "arm protector" and referring to military uniforms (bras in French means "arm"). This later became used for a military breast plate, and later for a type of woman's corset. The current French term for brassière is soutien-gorge, literally "throat-support". In French, gorge (throat) was a common euphemism for the breast.[5] This dates back to the garment developed by Herminie Cadolle in 1905.

The term "brassiere" was first used in the English language in 1893.[notes 1] It gained wider acceptance when the DeBevoise Company invoked the cachet of the French word “brassiere” in 1904 in its advertising to describe their latest bust supporter.[4] That product and other early versions of the brassiere resembled a camisole stiffened with boning.[6] Vogue magazine first used the term in 1907,[7][dead link] and by 1911 the word had made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.[5] On 13 November 1914, the newly formed U.S. patent category for "brassieres" was inaugurated[8] with a patent issued to Mary Phelps Jacob.[9] In the 1930s, "brassiere" was gradually shortened to "bra." In the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, both soutien-gorge and brassière are used interchangeably, while the French continue to use soutien-gorge.


Elastic brassiere from 1907

During recorded history, women have used a variety of garments and devices to cover, restrain, or elevate their breasts. Brassiere or bikini-like garments are depicted on some female athletes in the 14th century BC during the Minoan civilization era. Similar functionality was achieved by both outerwear and underwear. In China during the Ming Dynasty a form of foundation cloth complete with cups and straps drawn over shoulders and tied to the girth seam at the lower back called a dudou was in vogue among rich women.[10] Popularity continued into the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). In English they were known as "stomach protectors" or "tummy covers".[11]

From the 16th century onwards, the undergarments of wealthier women in the Western world were dominated by the corset, which pushed the breasts upwards. In the latter part of the 19th century, clothing designers began experimenting with various alternatives to the corset, trying things like splitting the corset into multiple parts: a girdle-like restraining device for the lower torso, and devices that suspended the breasts from the shoulder for the upper torso.

By the early 20th century, garments more closely resembling contemporary bras emerged, although large-scale commercial production did not occur until the 1930s. With metal shortages, World War II encouraged the end of the corset. By the time the war ended, most fashion-conscious women in Europe and North America were wearing brassieres. From there the brassiere was adopted by consumers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.[4]

Like other clothing, brassieres were initially sewn by small production companies and supplied to various retailers. The term “cup” was not used to describe bras until 1916, and manufacturers relied on stretchable cups to accommodate different sized breasts.[12]:73 Women with larger or pendulous breasts had the choice of long-line bras, built-up backs, wedge-shaped inserts between the cups, wider straps, power Lastex, firm bands under the cup, and even light boning.

In October 1932, the S.H. Camp and Company correlated the size and pendulousness of a woman's breasts to letters of the alphabet, A through D. Camp's advertising featured letter-labeled profiles of breasts in the February 1933 issue of Corset and Underwear Review.[13] In 1937, Warner began to feature cup sizing in its products. Adjustable bands were introduced using multiple eye and hook positions in the 1930s.[12][14][15]:101

Fresco detail from Pompeii between 62AD & 79AD, showing a woman wearing bra-like clothing.

Since then, bras have replaced corsets and bra manufacture and sale has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Over time, the emphasis on bras has largely shifted from functionality to fashion.[16]:33

There is an urban legend that the brassiere was invented by a man named Otto Titzling ("tit sling") who lost a lawsuit with Phillip de Brassiere ("fill up the brassiere"). This originated with the 1971 book Bust-Up: The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling and the Development of the Bra and was propagated in a comedic song from the movie Beaches.[17]

Primitive iterations of a brassiere are depicted in early Roman art in the ruins of Pompeii. These depictions date back to as early as 62 AD.[18]

Material and styles

Bras are typically made of a fabric including cotton, nylon, Spandex and lace. The cups may be supported by underwires made of metal and sometimes coated in plastic. Strapless bras usually use underwire to support the breasts. The underwire offers better lift and separation. The band offers 90% of the support while the straps should only offer 10%.[19]

Wirefree bras support breasts using seaming and internal reinforcing. The bra is usually fastened with a hook fastener on the band, typically at the back. In some bras the fastener is in the front, between the cups. Others are pulled on over the head and have no fasteners. Some bras contain molding to improve comfort, conceal the nipples, or enhance bust size. Bust size and cleavage are also enhanced with breast pads inside the cups and by wearing push-up bras.

Construction and fit

Bras are built on a frame. The frame is supported by a band the wraps around the woman's torso, usually closed in the back by a hook and eye closure. Some models close in the front with a hook and eye closure or a simple clasp. Two cups are attached to the band to support the woman's breasts. The cups are joined at the center by a "gore" and held in place by "shoulder straps". The section where the band joins the cups is called the "back wing".[20] The weight of the breasts is supported by the band and the cups, not the shoulder straps.

Standard, well-fitting bras are constructed in the form of a "square frame", anchored by a chest band, with all dimensions fitted (i.e., adjusted) for each prototypical wearer, assuming they are standing with both arms at their sides. The design also assumes that both breasts are equally sized and positioned. Some bras are strapless. Prior to 1900, fabrics like linen, cotton broadcloth, and twill weaves that could be sewn using flat-felled or bias-tape seams were used to make early brassieres. Some manufacturers like Playtex have developed proprietary frame designs. The Playtex "18 Hour Bra" utilizes an M-Frame design.[20]

Bra components, including the cup top and bottom (if seamed), the central, side and back panels, and the straps are cut based on manufacturer's specifications. Many layers of fabrics are usually cut at once using a computer-controlled laser or a bandsaw shearing device. The pieces may be assembled by piece workers on site or at various locations using industrial grade sewing machines, or by automated machines. Coated metal hooks and eyes are sewn in by machine and heat processed or ironed into the two back ends of the bra band and a tag or label is attached. Some bras now avoid tags and print the label information onto the bra itself.[20] The completed bras are transported to another location for packaging, where they are sorted by style and folded (either mechanically or manually), and packaged or readied for shipment.[21]


Bras are made of a wide variety of fabrics, including Tricot, Spandex, Spanette (a trademark of of Playtex), Latex, microfiber, satin or Sateen, lace, foam, mesh, Jacquard, and many other fabrics.[20] Spandex is a synthetic fiber with built-in "stretch memory." It's usually blended with another fabric, such as cotton, polyester, or nylon. Spanette is a woven fabric that provides 360-degree stretch support and custom fit. It is usually used on the side or back panels of the bra.[20] Mesh is a high-tech synthetic composed of ultra-fine filaments, tightly knit for smoothness.[20]

No manufacturing standards

Manufacturing a well-fitting bra is a major challenge for companies, since the garment is supposed to be form-fitting, but the size and shape of women's bodies and breasts vary widely.[22] Manufacturers make standard bra sizes that provide a "close" fit, however even a women with accurate measurements can have a difficult time finding a correctly fitted bra because of the variations in sizes between different manufacturers.

Variance in bra sizes

Front of bra.
Adjustable hooks permit adjustment for in-between sizes and the vertical position of the breasts. The band of a correctly fitted bra should ride horizontally across the back.

There are several sizing systems in different countries.[23] Most use the chest circumferences measurement system and cup sizes A-B-C+, but there are some significant differences. Most bras available usually come in 36 sizes,[24] but bra labeling systems used around the world are at times misleading and confusing. Cup and band sizes vary around the world.[25] For example, most women assume that a B cup on a 34 band is the same size as a B cup on a 36 band. In fact, bra cup size is relative to the band size, as the actual volume of a woman's breast changes with the dimension of her chest.[25][26] In countries that have adopted the European EN 13402 dress-size standard, the torso is measured in centimetres and rounded to the nearest multiple of 5 cm.

A number of reports state the 80–85% of women are wearing the wrong bra size.[1][27][28][29] A correctly fitted bra is determined by accurately calculating the chest size (or band size) and breast volume (the cup size). The band size can be adjusted slightly using the two or three alternate sets of fastening hooks and eyes in the clasp. The bra straps (over the shoulders) can usually also be adjusted slightly.

Mechanical design

Bra designers liken designing a bra to building a bridge, because similar forces are at work. Just as a bridge is affected vertically by gravity and horizontally by earth movement and wind, forces affecting a bra's design include gravity and sometimes tangential forces created when a woman runs or turns her body.[30] "In many respects, the challenge of enclosing and supporting a semi-solid mass of variable volume and shape, plus its adjacent mirror image—together they equal the female bosom—involves a design effort comparable to that of building a bridge or a cantilevered skyscraper."[30]

Commenting about brassiere design, British Chiropractic Association representative Tim Hutchful said, "Bras are like suspension bridges. You need a well-engineered bra so your shoulders don't end up doing all the work. Bras that don't fit will affect the shoulders and chest, and will almost certainly cause back pain as you get older."[31]

Types of bras

A Canadian Wonderbra Model 1300 plunge push-up bra circa 1975.

There is a wide range of brassiere styles available, designed to match different body types, situations, and outer garments. The degree of shaping and coverage of the breasts varies between styles, as do functionality, fashion, fit, fabric, and color. Common types include backless, balconette, convertible, shelf, full cup, balconette, demi-cup, front-closure, minimizing, padded, plunge, posture, push-up, racerback, sheer, strapless, t-shirt, underwire, soft cup, and sports bra.[32] Many designs combine one or more these styles. Bras are built-in to some garments like camisoles, single-piece swimsuits, and tank tops, eliminating the need to wear a separate bra.[33][34]

Culture and fashion

Woman wearing a designer demi-cup bra

Bras are a relatively recent invention and are by no means universally worn around the world. The majority of Western women choose to wear bras to conform to what they feel are appropriate societal norms and to improve their physical appearance. Wearing a bra can boost a woman's self confidence.[35][36] Many Western women place a great deal of importance on their physical appearance, especially their breast shape and body image. Western media, especially advertising, emphasize a woman's body shape, especially her breasts.

Women choose to wear a particular style of bra for a variety of reasons. Her choices are consciously or unconsciously affected by social perceptions of the ideal female figure reflecting her bust, waist, and hip measurement. Fashion historian Jill Fields wrote that the bra "plays a critical part in the history of the twentieth-century American women's clothing, since the shaping of women's breasts is an important component of the changing contours of the fashion silhouette." Bras and breast presentation follow the cycle of fashion.[37]

Each fall, Victoria's Secret commissions the creation of a bra containing gems and precious metals. In 2010, it hired designer Damiani, the jeweler who created Brad Pitt's and Jennifer Aniston's wedding rings, to create a US$2 million Fantasy Bra. It includes more than 3,000 brilliant cut white diamonds, totaling 60 carats, and 82 carats of sapphires and topazes.[38]

Bras and youth

Firm, upright breasts are typical of youth.[39] As such, they do not need the support of a bra. A pencil test, developed by Ann Landers, has sometimes been promoted as a criterion to determine whether a girl should begin wearing a bra: a pencil is placed under the breast, and if it stays in place by itself, then wearing a bra is recommended; if it falls to the ground, it is not.[40][41]

When the Flapper era ended, the media substituted teen for Flapper. Olga manufactured a teen bra that was skimpy and sheer. Other manufacturers responded in kind. Oleg Cassini made a provocative "Room at the Top Bra" in nylon and Lycra spandex for Peter Pan. In the early 1960s, bra makers marketed to girls 13-19, and later in '60s they targeted pre-teen girls age 10 -12. New labels like Teenform, Teencharm, and Heaventeen catered to their market. Some company's advertisements showed waist up wearing only a bra. Mercy Dobell, editor of Corset and Underwear Review, wrote that "the bra has joined lipstick and 'heels' in becoming one of the beloved symbols of growing up.[12]:151

In the early 1960s, 96.3% of female college freshman bought bras as part of their back to school wardrobe. At the tail end of the 1960s when bralessness increased as a trend, the number had slipped to 85%. Only 77% of high school girls bought bras as they prepared to returned to school.[12]:151

Training bras

When a girl receives her first bra, it may be seen as a long-awaited rite of passage in her life[42] signifying her coming of age. [3] [43] [44] A training bra designed for pubescent or teen girls who have begun to develop breasts during early puberty. They are available in sizes 30AA to 38B.[45] Training bras are usually designed with a soft, elastic bra band and wireless bra cups. Prior to the marketing of training bras, a pre-teen or young teen girl in Western countries usually wore a one-piece "waist" or camisole without cups or darts. Bras for pre-teen and girls entering puberty were first marketed during the 1950s.

Bra shape

Pin-up photo of Jane Russell in a bullet bra for the 21 September 1945 issue of Yank, the Army Weekly, a weekly U.S. Army magazine fully staffed by enlisted men.

The culturally desirable figure for woman in Western culture has changed over time. In the United States during the 1920s, the fashion for breasts was to flatten them as typified by the Flapper era. During the 1940s and 1950s, the sweater girl became fashionable, supported by a bullet bra (known also as a torpedo or cone bra) like that worn by Jane Russell.[46]

During the 1960s, bra designers and manufacturers began introducing padded bras and bras with underwire. Women's perception of undergarments changed, and in the 1970s, they began to seek more comfortable and natural looking bras.[46] In response to the feminist era, many bra manufacturers' marketing claimed that wearing their bra was like "not wearing a bra".[47] Women usually purchase a bra because they recognize they need to replace an existing bra or because they purchased new outwear requiring a new type of bra.[48] Although in popular culture the invention of the bra is frequently attributed to men, in fact women have played a large part in bra design and manufacture, accounting for half of the patents filed.[12]

Social pressures and trends

Bra fence in New Zealand

The average American woman today owns six bras, one of which is a strapless bra, and one in a color other than white.[49] Consumers spend around $16 billion a year on bras. In the last 15 years alone, the average bust among North America women has increased from 34B to 36C. A number of sources state that about 90% of Western women wear bras, although no authoritative source for this fact is available.[50][51][52] Some wear bras because of feelings of modesty or because it is a cultural norm and they fear criticism or unwanted attention. Some wear bras because they believe it improves their appearance, while a minority prefer to go without because they find it more comfortable.[53]

In a cross-cultural study of bra size and cancer in 9,000 women during the 1960s, a Harvard group found 93% wore bras (from 88% in the UK to 99% in Greece), but could not find enough women in Japan who wore bras to complete their study.[54] In a number of cultures, including Europe and other Westernized countries outside the United States, there are fewer social restrictions against sunbathing or swimming topless.[55] A Harris Survey commissioned by Playboy asked more than 1000 women what they like in a bra. Among the respondents, 67% said they like wearing a bra over going braless, while 85% wanted to wear a "Shape-enhancing bra that feels like nothing at all." They were split over underwire bras, 49% said they prefer underwire bras while 49% said they prefer wireless bras.[56]

A Calvin Klein model wearing a bra during a fashion show.

The prevalence of the bra, and perceived social expectation to wear one, does not imply that openly displaying it is encouraged. On the contrary, it is often not considered suitable to expose one's brassiere in public in western cultures, even partially, despite the fact that it is similar in appearance to the upper part of a bikini; to do so may be considered sexually provocative.[57]

Even considering this relative cultural taboo, being seen in one's bra is still more socially acceptable than exposing the bare breasts. Indeed, women may choose to be seen in just a bra may make a specific point. For instance, bras have recently been used by organisations like breast cancer charities to raise money, either by sponsored walks[58] or to sell bras owned or decorated by celebrities.

Groundbreaking Wonderbra campaign

Landmark ad for Wonderbra featuring Czech model Eva Herzigova.

In 1994, a significant shift in advertising lingerie occurred. Advertising executive Trevor Beattie, working for TBWA/London, developed an ad for Sara Lee's "Hello Boys" Wonderbra campaign. It featured a close-up image of Czech model Eva Herzigova in a black Wonderbra with ample cleavage and the title, "Hello boys." Looking down at her breasts, it is not clear whether she is addressing male admirers or her breasts. The ground-breaking, racy ad campaign resulted in many imitations along with a few complaints that the photograph demeaned women.[59][60] The influential poster was featured in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London[61] and it was voted in at number 10 in a "Poster of the Century" contest.[62] The Canada-based lingerie fashion label wanted the ad campaign to motivate women to see the Wonderbra "as a cosmetic and as a beauty enhancer rather than a functional garment". The billboard was voted in 2011 as the most iconic outdoor ad during the past five decades by the Outdoor Media Centre.[63]

Push-up bras got significant attention in 2000 when actress Julia Roberts in the film Erin Brockovich enhanced her bust with an Ultimo push-up bra containing liquid silicone gel.[64]


Brassieres are worn by the great majority of women in Western society. Estimates about what proportion of Western women wear bras varies, but most surveys report from 75% to 95%.[65] About 90% of Australia women wear a bra as of 2006.[66] Some fashion writers and medical authorities emphasize that wearing a bras is a matter of choice and not necessity. Women can choose types of clothing that don't require bras or to go braless.[67][68]

There is no medical reason to wear a bra, so the decision is yours, based on your own personal comfort and aesthetics. Whether you have always worn a bra or always gone braless, age and breastfeeding will naturally cause your breasts to sag.[67]

Some outer garments like sundresses, tank tops, and formal evening wear are designed to be worn without bras or are designed with built-in support.[69] Some women feel uncomfortable wearing a bra and take off their bras when they return home.[4]

It is increasingly commonplace to see public figures, especially celebrities, actresses and members of the fashion industry, who have chosen not to wear a bra, at least on some occasions.[69] Celebrities noted for going braless in public include Britney Spears,[70] Clare Danes,[71] Lindsay Lohan,[72] Nadine Coyle,[73] Mischa Barton,[74] Meg Ryan,[75] Paris Hilton,[76] Miley Cyrus,[77] Lady Gaga,[78] fashion executive Tamara Mellon,[79] and former model and France's first lady Carla Bruni, who welcomed Russian president Dmitry Medvedev at a state dinner in tight dress that revealed she was braless.[80][81]

Unhappy bra owners have donated thousands of bras to the Braball Sculpture, a collection of 18,085 bras.[82] The organizer, Emily Duffy, wears a 42B and switched to stretch undershirts with built-in bras because standard bras cut into her mid-section.[4]

Brassieres and security

The United States Transportation Security Administration recommends that women do not wear underwire bras because they can set off the metal detectors,[83] though some travelers say they wear them and they do not set off the detector every time. On Sunday, 24 August 2008, big-busted passenger and film maker Nancy Kates set off a metal detector during security screening. She objected when the agent attempted to pat-down her breasts. She said she told the agent, "'You can't treat me as a criminal for wearing a bra." A TSA supervisor told her she had to either submit to the pat-down search in a private room or not fly. Kates offered to take off her bra, which the TSA accepted. She went to the restroom, removed her bra, and walked through the airport and security screening braless. She said that a supervisor told her that underwire bras were the leading cause of metal detector false alarms.[84][85]

According to underwire manufacturer S & S Industries of New York, who supply bras to Victoria's Secret, Bali, Warner's, Playtex, Vanity Fair and other bra labels, about 70 percent of women wear steel underwire bras.[86]

In response, Triumph International, a Swiss company, launched what it called a "Frequent Flyer Bra" in late 2001. The bra uses metal-free clasps and underwires made of resin instead of metal that are guaranteed to not set off metal detectors.[86]

Opposition to bras

During the Miss America contest in 1968, about 400 women from the New York Radical Women protested the event by symbolically trashing a number of feminine products. These included false eyelashes, high-heeled shoes, curlers, hairspray, makeup, girdles, corsets, and bras.[87] Someone suggested burning the contents of a trash can, but a permit could not be obtained. The media seized on an analogy between draft resisters burning their draft cards and the women burning their bras. In fact, there was no bra burning, nor did anyone take off her bra.[88]:4

Some feminist writers have considered the bra as an example of how women's clothing has shaped and even deformed women's bodies to historically aesthetic ideals, or shaped them to conform to male expectations of what is desirable. Professor Lisa Jardine observed feminist Germaine Greer talking about bras at a formal college dinner:

At the graduates' table, Germaine was explaining that there could be no liberation for women, no matter how highly educated, as long as we were required to cram our breasts into bras constructed like mini-Vesuviuses, two stitched white cantilevered cones which bore no resemblance to the female anatomy. The willingly suffered discomfort of the Sixties bra, she opined vigorously, was a hideous symbol of female oppression.[89]

Germaine Greer's book The Female Eunuch has been associated with the 'bra burning movement' because she pointed out how restrictive and uncomfortable a bra in that time period could be. "Bras are a ludicrous invention," she wrote, "but if you make bralessness a rule, you're just subjecting yourself to yet another repression."[90] For some, the bra remains a symbol of restrictions imposed by society on women: "...the classic burning of the bras...represented liberation from the oppression of the male patriarchy, right down to unbinding yourself from the constrictions of your smooth silhouette."[91]

Some people question the medical or social necessity of bras.[92] An informal movement advocates breast freedom, top freedom, bra freedom, or simply going braless.[93][94][95][96][97]

Bra opponents believe training bras are used to indoctrinate girls into thinking about their breasts as sexual objects. In their view, bras for very young girls whose breasts do not yet need support are not functional undergarments and are only intended to accentuate the girl's sexuality. Feminist author Iris Young wrote that the bra "serves as a barrier to touch" and that a braless woman is "deobjectified", eliminating the "hard, pointy look that phallic culture posits as the norm." Without a bra, women's breasts are not consistently shaped objects but change as the woman moves, reflecting the natural body. Unbound breasts mock the ideal of the perfect breast. "Most scandalous of all, without a bra, the nipples show. Nipples are indecent. Cleavage is good—the more, the better..."[98] Susan Brownmiller in her book Femininity took the position that women without bras shock and anger men because men "implicitly think that they own breasts and that only they should remove bras."[98]

In October 2009, Somalia’s hard-line Islamic group Al-Shabaab forced women in public to shake their breasts at gunpoint to see if they wore bras, which they called "un-Islamic". Those found to be wearing a bra were publicly whipped because bras are seen as "deceptive" and to violate their interpretation of Sharia law.[99][100]

Health issues

The British Chiropractic Association warned that wearing the wrong bra size can lead to a number of problems, including back pain, restricted breathing, abrasions, breast pain and poor posture.[101]

Poor fit and health

The wide variety of women's breast sizes and placement on the chest make finding a correct fit very difficult and contribute to health issues.
Up to 25% of women have a persistent, visible breast asymmetry, contributing to the difficulty in finding a well-fitting bra.
Large, sagging breasts can make it especially difficult for women to find bras that don't negatively impact health.

Many of the health problems associated with bras are due to fitting problems. Finding a correct fit can be very difficult for many women which has affected sales.[12][102][103] Medical studies have also attested to the difficulty of getting a correct fit.[104] Scientific studies show that the current system of bra sizing is quite inadequate.[105]

Larger-breasted women tend to wear bras that are too small, and conversely, smaller-breasted women bras that are too large. Larger women are more likely to have an incorrect bra fit.[1] This may be partly due to a lack of understanding of how to correctly determine bra size. It may also be due to unusual or unexpectedly rapid growth in size brought on by pregnancy, weight gain, or medical conditions including virginal breast hypertrophy. As breasts become larger, their shape and the distribution of the tissues within them changes, becoming ptotic and bulbous rather than conical. This makes measurements increasingly unreliable, especially for large breasted women. The heavier a woman's build, the more difficult it is to obtain accurate measurements, as measuring tape sinks into the flesh more easily.[106] Finally, up to 25% of women's breasts display a persistent, visible breast asymmetry,[107] which is defined as differing in size by at least one cup size.[108][109] Ten percent are severely different, with the left breast being larger in 62% of cases.[110] Manufacturer's standard brassiere sizes do not take these inconsistencies into consideration.

Bra fit and breast reduction surgery

In a study conducted in the United Kingdom of 103 women seeking mammoplasty, researchers found a strong link between obesity and inaccurate back measurement. They concluded that "obesity, breast hypertrophy, fashion and bra-fitting practices combine to make those women who most need supportive bras the least likely to get accurately fitted bras."[106] This led women in the study to choose too large a cup size (by a mean of three sizes) and too small a band size (by a mean of four inches).[106] Other studies found that the most common mistake made by women when selecting a bra was to choose too large a back band and too small a cup, for example, 38C instead of 34E, or 34B instead of 30D.[26][28][111][112]

Ptosis (sagging)

Anatomically, the breasts are composed of soft, glandular tissue, with few support structures, such as connective tissue. Breasts are composed of the mammary glands, which remain relatively constant throughout life, as well as the adipose tissue or fat tissue that surrounds the mammary glands. It is the amount and distribution of adipose tissue and, to a lesser extent, glandular tissue that leads to variations in breast size. In addition, the breasts contain ligaments, although their exact function as related to breast support has not been agreed upon by experts. These ligaments, and the overlying skin (referred to as the dermal brassiere)[113][114] help determine the resulting breast shape.

As the breasts mature, they fold over the lower attachment to the chest wall (infra-mammary fold), and their lower (inferior) surface lies against the chest wall when vertical. In popular culture, this maturation is referred to as "sagging" or "drooping", although plastic surgeons refer to it as ptosis. The surgical procedure to lift the breast is called mastopexy.[115][116]

Bra impact on sagging

Although the exact mechanisms that determine breast shape and size are largely unknown,[117] it is commonly accepted that sagging occurs because of the proportion of fat and tissue in breasts, especially in women with larger breasts. The bra is worn to provide artificial lift, based on the presumption that the breasts cannot support themselves.[118] Health professionals have, however, found no evidence to suggest that wearing a bra for any amount of time slows ptosis of breasts.[119] Bra manufacturers have also stated that bras only affect the shape of breasts while they are being worn.[120]

Deborah Franklin, a senior writer in science and medicine, wrote in Health magazine that, "Still, the myth that daily, lifelong bra wearing is crucial to preserving curves persists, along with other misguided notions about that fetching bit of binding left over from the days when a wasp waist defined the contours of a woman’s power."[19][121]

Franklin interviewed Dr. Christine Haycock a surgeon at the New Jersey Medical School and an expert in sports medicine.[122] Dr. Haycock said that "Cooper's ligaments have nothing to do with supporting breast tissue... They just serve to divide the breast into compartments." She noted that most women's breasts begin to droop with age and that extremely large-breasted women are generally more affected. However, sagging is not related to ligaments or dependent on breast size.

Pare away the fiction and fears, and the pros and cons of the bra come down to this: If a woman chooses to wear one because it makes her feel good-more supported, more under control or just prettier-more power to her... Haycock suggests that women let pain be their guide when deciding whether to wear a bra during exercise, and when choosing a particular style.[121]

While large-breasted women may be uncomfortable exercising without a bra, Dr. Haycock said that “It’s not doing any lasting damage to chest muscles or breast tissue.” Her research found that “those who wore an A cup were frequently most comfortable with no bra at all."[121]

There are some indications that wearing a bra may have an effect opposite to that which was intended. In a Japanese study, 11 women were measured wearing a standardised fitted bra for three months. They found that breasts became larger and lower, with the underbust measurement decreasing and the overbust increasing, while the lowest point of the breast moved downwards and outwards. The effect was more pronounced in larger-breasted women. This may be related to the particular bra chosen for the experiment, as there was some improvement after changing to a different model.[123] These findings were confirmed in a much larger French study of 250 women who exercised regularly and were followed by questionnaires and biometric measurements for a year after agreeing not to wear a bra. While there was some initial discomfort at the first evaluation, this gradually disappeared and by the end of the year nearly all the women had improved comfort compared to before the study. The measurements showed firmer, and more elevated and youthful breasts. One example is given of a woman who had breasts that were uncomfortably large, and who had improvement after two years of being without a bra.[124][125]

Breasts naturally change in shape and size as women age. There are conflicting opinions but no known studies to show whether bras actually delay or reverse the natural process. Health ethicists are concerned that plastic surgery and implants have altered our concept of what is "normal" and medicalised women's bodies by making the normal aging process a "disease."[126]

Fibrocystic disease and breast pain

Two women exercising and wearing sports bras on Cayucos State Beach, Cayucos, California

Some women experience breast pain (mastodynia or mastalgia), particularly when performing strenuous physical activity or exercise. A properly fitted bra reduces such pain and the sports bra has been specifically designed for this purpose.[106][127] Sports bras which compress or encapsulate the breasts have been shown to be more effective than ordinary bras at reducing breast pain caused by exercise.[128] However, the need for wearing a bra at all during exercise has been questioned after extensive studies on athletes.[124]

Numerous websites and publications dealing with fibrocystic disease and breast pain state that a well-fitting bra is recommended for treatment of these conditions.[129][130] A 2006 clinical practice guideline stated, "The use of a well-fitting bra that provides good support should be considered for the relief of cyclical and noncyclical mastalgia." The study rated the statement as being supported by level II-3 evidence and as a grade B recommendation.[131] However, this rests solely on two short, uncontrolled studies.[127][132]

Regarding breast pain, a 1976 study of 114 women in the United Kingdom complaining of breast pain were professionally fitted with a special, custom-fitted bra. Twenty-six percent of women who completed the study and wore the bra properly experienced pain relief, 49% improved somewhat, 21% received no relief, and 4% experienced more pain. There were a lot of dropouts from the study. In a 2000 Saudi Arabia study, 200 women were randomly allocated to receive either (danazole), a synthetic steroid ethisterone whose off-label uses include management fibrocystic breast disease and breast pain, or a sports bra. Fifty-eight percent of the danazole group improved compared to 85% in the sports bra group.[127] No details of what the women wore before the study was given. Neither study used an untreated control or implemented double-blind controls. Breast pain has a very high placebo response (85%)[131] so a response to any intervention can be expected. It is not clear whether the interventions described can be generalized to a large population.

Breast pain and brassieres

A poorly-fitting bra can aggravate mastalagia (breast pain) in some women, while a well-fitted bra, especially a sports bra, can alleviate symptoms. Physicians recommend women seek a better-fitting support bra that provides better support.[133]

Skin irritation

Large-breasted women who wear an improperly-fitted bra may experience maceration (loss of skin), chafing, intertrigo (rash), and fungal infections.[106]

Shoulder pain

German pole vaulter Floé Kühnert wearing an athletic support bra

When a woman performs an activity which requires her to lift her arms above her shoulders, the bra's frame is strained and weight is transferred from the chest band to the shoulder straps, putting direct pressure on the trapezius muscles.

Female volleyball, high jump, or long jump athletes who must continually raise their arms during competition, causing the shoulder straps to dig in, are also at risk for shoulder pain. Some occupations also require repeatedly raising the arms above the shoulders. Even smaller-busted women may experience shoulder pain if they repeatedly lift their arms while wearing a poorly designed or badly-fitted bras.[102][134] Raising the arms can cause the bra's shoulder straps to concentrates pressure on the trapezius muscle, which may result in neck and shoulder pain, numbness and tingling in the arm, and headaches.[135]

Strapless bras put all the weight of the breasts onto the chest band, and extra strain onto the rib cage and back.[136] To compensate, female athletes can wear athletic or sports bras that offer improved support. Sports bras may not meet some larger-busted women's needs. Judy Mahle Lutter, president of the Melpomene Institute, a Minnesota-based research organization devoted to women's health and physical activity, reports that "Larger-breasted women, and women who are breast-feeding, often have trouble finding a sports bra that fits, feels comfortable and provides sufficient motion control."[137]

Bra-free relief

According to a study published in the Clinical Study of Pain, large-breasted women can reduce back pain by going braless. Of the women participating in the study, 79% decided to stop wearing bras completely.[138]

In a five-year study, 100 women who experienced shoulder pain were given the option to alleviate the weight on their shoulders by not wearing a bra for two weeks. In that two-week period, a majority experienced relief from pain. Relief was complete among 84% of women who did not elevate their arms. However, their pain symptoms returned within an hour of resuming bra use. Three years later, 79% of the patients had stopped wearing a bra "to remove breast weight from the shoulder permanently because it rendered them symptom free." Sixteen percent worked in occupations requiring them to elevate their arms daily, and this group only achieved partial improvement. Of these, 13 of the 16 ceased to wear a bra, and by six months all were without pain.[136]

Legal issues

In June 2009, attorney Britney Horstman was barred from visiting her client in the federal detention center in Miami, Florida, when her underwire bra set off the metal detector. Although she reminded guards of a detention center memo that permitted female attorneys visiting clients to wear an underwire bra, the guard refused her entry. That memo existed as a result of an agreement negotiated by the Federal Public Defender's Office, which represents inmates held at the institution before trial. That agreement allows female lawyers entry if her underwire bra is detected by a metal-detecting wand. In Horstman's situation, she entered a bathroom and removed her bra, but was then prevented from seeing her client because entering the facility braless was a violation of prison dress code guidelines. Horstman had previously worn an underwire bra into the facility without problems. Warden Linda McGrew later promised the incident would not happen again.[139]

In November 2009, parents and school officials complained about girls wearing sports bras and boys running shirtless before and after the Hillsborough County (Tampa area of Florida) Cross Country Championship track event. County athletic director Lanness Robinson informed the athletic directors of all of the Hillsborough County's public schools of a school board policy that even though sports bras are designed as outer garments, they must be covered with at minimum a singlet (sleeveless T-shirt) and boys cannot go topless, no matter how hot it is. The policy applies to all events and training sessions.[140]

Plant High (Tampa) girls cross country coach Roy Harrison reported that out of concern for his student's safety, he would not follow the mandate. "We train all through August and September, when the heat index is 103 °F (39 °C), 105 °F (41 °C), 107 °F (42 °C) outside even in the evening and to me, it's a safety issue not letting boys run without their shirts and girls in sports bras." Coaches and athletes pointed out that sports bras, form-fitting compression shorts and running shirtless are common, as is wearing swimsuits and tight-fitting volleyball uniforms.[140]

Victoria's Secret was sued several times during 2009. The suits alleged that defective underwear contained formaldehyde that caused severe rashes on women who wore them. Six cases were filed in Ohio and two in Florida. At least 17 other suits were filed in six other states after January 2008.[141][142][143] The plaintiff refused to submit to a simple patch test to determine the precise cause of her reaction and her case was later withdrawn.[144] The Formaldehyde Council issued a statement that formaldehyde quickly dissipates in air, water and sunlight.[145]

In Singapore, students at a secondary school who were discovered during a physical education class to be wearing coloured bras to school were forced to go braless, according to a report in the China Press. The school permitted girls to wear only white, beige and light grey bras. The girls were forced to remove the bras in the bathroom, which were then confiscated. Some schools in Singapore have begun to sell white bras to students.[146]

In January 2011, a German court ruled that employers can require female employees to wear bras at work. An airport security firm argued that requiring bras was essential to "to preserve the orderly appearance of employer-provided uniforms." The court also agreed that the company could require employees to keep their hair clean and male employees to be clean shaven or maintain a well-trimmed beard.[147]

See also


Explanatory notes
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  • Yu W, Fan JT, Ng SP, Harlock SC (2006). Innovation and technology of women's intimate apparel. Boca Raton: CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-9105-7. OCLC 71139537. 
  • Ewing, Elizabeth (1971). Fashion in underwear. London: Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-0857-X. 
  • Gau, Colleen; Farrell-Beck, Jane (2002). Uplift: the Bra in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-3643-2.  (for reviews, see next section)
  • Greer, Germaine (2001). The female eunuch. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-52762-8. 
  • Lindsey, Karen; Love, Susan M. (2000). Dr. Susan Love's breast book (3rd ed.). Cambridge, Mass: Perseus Publishing. ISBN 0-7382-0235-5. 
  • Pedersen, Stephanie (2004). Bra: a thousand years of style, support and seduction. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-2067-X. 
  • Steele, Valerie (2001). The corset: a cultural history. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09953-3. 
  • Stoppard, Miriam (1996). The Breast Book. New York: DK Pub. ISBN 0-7894-0420-6. 
  • Leigh Summers (2001). Bound to please: a history of the Victorian corset. Oxford: Berg. ISBN 1-85973-510-X. 
  • Warner LC (1948). Always starting things. Bridgeport, Connecticut: Warner Brothers. 
Book reviews
  • Fischer, Gayle V; Farrell-Beck, Jane; Gau, Colleen (2003). "Uplift: The Bra in America". Journal of American History 89 (4): 1539–40. doi:10.2307/3092606. JSTOR 3092606. 
  • Murphy, Michael (2003). "Book Reviews". Winterthur Portfolio 38 (2/3): 151–9. doi:10.1086/421426. 
Journal articles
Research papers
  • Bras, the Bare Facts. Channel 4 (UK), November 2000
Relevant articles

External links


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  • brassière — [ brasjɛr ] n. f. • XIIIe; de bras ♦ Vx Chemise de femme très ajustée. ♢ (1843) Mod. Petite chemise de bébé, courte, à manches longues, en toile fine ou en laine, qui se ferme dans le dos. ♢ Mar. Gilet de sauvetage. ● brassière nom féminin …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Brassiere — Brassière Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Le mot brassière peut désigner : brassière, un sous vêtement féminin, Brassière de sauvetage, un autre nom du gilet de sauvetage, Ce… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Brassière — (f.; französisch Mieder) bezeichnet ursprünglich die im 19. Jahrhundert aufkommenden Vorläufer des Büstenhalters. Seit Ende der 1970er bezeichnet Brassière auch ein figurbetonendes ärmel und trägerloses Damenoberteil, das im Gegensatz zur Korsage …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Brassiere — Bras siere Brassiere Bras si[ e]re (br[.a]*z[=e]r ), n. [F.] A form of woman s undergarment, often stiffened with wire or whalebones, or the like, and worn to cover and support the breasts; also called {bra}. It usually has straps which support… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Brassiere — Bras siere Brassiere Bras si[ e]re (br[.a]*z[=e]r ), n. [F.] A form of woman s undergarment, often stiffened with wire or whalebones, or the like, and worn to cover and support the breasts; also called {bra}. It usually has straps which support… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • brassiere — (n.) 18c., woman s underbodice, from Fr. brassière child s chemise; shoulder strap (17c.), from O.Fr. braciere arm guard (14c.), from bras an arm, from L. bracchium (see BRACE (Cf. brace) (n.)). Modern use is a euphemistic borrowing in use in the …   Etymology dictionary

  • brassiere — or brassière [brə zir′] n. [Fr, child s chemise, shoulder strap, orig., arm guard < bras, an arm < L brachium: see BRACE1] BRA …   English World dictionary

  • Brassière — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Le mot brassière peut désigner : brassière, un sous vêtement féminin, Brassière de sauvetage, un autre nom du gilet de sauvetage, Catégorie :… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • brassiere — /breuh zear /, n. a woman s undergarment for supporting the breasts. Also, brassière. Also called bra. [1910 15; < F brassière bodice worn as an undergarment to support the breasts (now obs. in this sense), MF bracieres camisole, OF: armor for… …   Universalium

  • brassiere — UK [ˈbræzɪə(r)] / US [brəˈzɪr] noun [countable] Word forms brassiere : singular brassiere plural brassieres formal a bra …   English dictionary

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