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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. A wide variety of bras are manufactured today.
Depending on her desire to conform to or rebel against cultural norms, a woman can choose from a wide assortment of bras for a variety of purposes: to enhance the perceived shape of her breasts, to minimize or to enlarge the perceived breast size, to restrain breast movement during an activity such as exercise, to enhance her cleavage, to conceal her nipples, to overcome sagging, for prosthetic purposes, or to 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 and 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.
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. 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.
The French word brassière refers to a child's undershirt, underbodice or harness. 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. This dates back to the garment developed by Herminie Cadolle in 1905.
The term "brassiere" was first used in the English language in 1893. 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. That product and other early versions of the brassiere resembled a camisole stiffened with boning. Vogue magazine first used the term in 1907, and by 1911 the word had made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary. On November 13, 1914, the newly formed U.S. patent category for "brassieres" was inaugurated with a patent issued to Mary Phelps Jacob. 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.
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. Popularity continued into the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). In English they were known as "stomach protectors" or "tummy covers".
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.
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. 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. In 1937, Warner began to feature cup sizing in its products. Adjustable bands were introduced using multiple eye and hook positions in the 1930s.
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.
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.
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.
Material and styles
Bras are typically made of a fabric including cotton, polyester, 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 shares the breast weight with the shoulder straps.
Wirefree bras support breasts using strengthened, larger cups and wider bands. These bras are sometimes referred to as softcup bras. 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 padding 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
A brassiere usually consists of a cup for each breast, a center panel (gore), a band running around the torso under the bust, and 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.
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 attached are sewn in by machine and heat processed or ironed into the two back ends of the bra band and a label is attached. 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.
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. 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
There are several sizing systems in different countries. 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, but bra labeling systems used around the world are at times misleading and confusing. Cup and band sizes vary around the world. 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. 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. 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.
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. "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."
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."
Types of bras
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, fabric, and color. Common types include backless, balconette, convertible, cupless, custom-fit, demi cup, front-fastening, full coverage, halter, longline, minimizing, padded, plunge, posture, push-up, racerback, sports/athletic, sheer, strapless, strapless-backless, support, t-shirt, underwire, wireless, sports bra, and invisible. Many designs combine one or more these styles. Breast support is built into some garments like camisoles, single-piece swimsuits, and tank tops, eliminating the need to wear a separate bra.
Culture and fashion
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. 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.
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.
Bras and youth
Firm, upright breasts are typical of youth. 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.
Young pubescent girls may have ambivalent feelings around the experience of buying and wearing their first bra. When a girl receives her first bra, it may be seen as a long-awaited rite of passage in her life signifying her coming of age. A young girl may be anxious to acquire her first bra before she actually needs support, if only for decorative purposes. She then is faced with the challenge of keeping current and wearing the latest, fashionable bra. Some young girls avoid wearing a bra, fearing an end to their childhood freedoms, including going topless or behaving boyishly. They resist the idea of conforming to typically feminine roles and behaviors. Girls who develop breasts earlier than their peers may be sensitive to comments and teasing. Because bras are built to manufacturers' standards, if the girl's body does not conform to the shape and size of the bra, she may blame herself.
Teenage females have a higher rate of body image issues than any other female age group. Girls who are unhappy with their breast size are driving an increase in the number of breast augmentation surgeries. The number of women under the age of 18 who received breast implants more than tripled between 1992 and 2002, increasing by 24 percent of the population. Teens who undergo breast augmentation are at risk for a higher number of risks and complications and may require additional surgery sooner than older women.
Within Western cultures that place great value upon youth, bras are marketed to emphasize their ability to preserve a youthful appearance. The design of fashionable rather than solely functional bras has been influenced by changing fashions in outerwear and undergarments. The bra is sometimes viewed as an icon of popular culture that eroticizes female breasts as sexual objects.
Tween market for bras
Marketing executives have invented the concept of Tweeners, girls from under the age of about nine to girls of 13 or 14 who have reached puberty, as a new niche for selling bras. The tween market has been defined by media like MTV, brand globalization, the increased amount of money controlled by children, peer pressure, and more separated families with guilt-ridden parents playing off against each other. Paparazzi coverage of celebrities of all ages have included reports of teen star Miley Cyrus going braless.
In 2006, Target stores began stocking a range of bras for three- to four-year-olds, Bratz bras for three- to four-year-olds, Saddle Club bras for four- to six-year-olds, and a lightly padded Target brand bra for eight- to 10-year-olds. Australian retailer Big W's added a Just Girls padded bra for eight- to 10-year-olds and a My Little Pony bandeau bra for two- to three-year-olds, and Bonds is now marketing My First T-Shirt Bra, for ages eight and up. In 2010, Primark stores withdrew a bikini featuring a padded bikini top targeted at seven-year-olds after protests by local consumers who described the marketing program as "premature sexualisation".
Bra shape magazine
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.
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. In response to the feminist era, many bra manufacturers' marketing claimed that wearing their bra was like "not wearing a bra". 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. 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.
Social pressures and trends
The average American woman today owns six bras, one of which is a strapless bra, and one in a color other than white. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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 or to sell bras owned or decorated by celebrities.
In 1994, a significant shift in advertising lingerie occurred when advertising executive Trevor Beattie working for TBWA/London featured Eva Herzigova in a close-up of her black Wonderbra and cleavage with 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. The influential poster was featured in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and it was voted in at number 10 in a "Poster of the Century" contest. Push-up bras got significant attention in 2000 when actress Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich wore an Ultimo bra containing liquid silicone gel to enhance her bust.
It is increasingly commonplace to see public figures, especially celebrities, actresses and members of the fashion industry have chosen not to wear bras. A well-known example is a member of the BBC Gardening's Ground Force, Charlie Dimmock. Other celebrities noted for public bralessness include Britney Spears, Clare Danes, Lindsay Lohan, Nadine Coyle, Mischa Barton, Meg Ryan, Paris Hilton, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, fashion executive Tamara Mellon, 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.
Many outer garments like sundresses and formal evening wear are designed to be worn without bras, or are designed with built-in support. Fashion writers continue to suggest alternatives to bras or ways of dressing without bras, emphasising that wearing a bra or not is a matter of choice, as opposed to necessity. Given the discomfort women experience with ill-fitting bras, an increasing number of women, once they are home, are switching to undershirts, jogbras, or nothing at all. Unhappy bra owners have donated thousands of bras to the Braball Sculpture, a collection of 18,085 bras. The organizer, Emily Duffy, wears a 42B and switched to stretch undershirts with built-in bras because standard bras cut her mid-section.
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, though some travelers say they wear them and they do not set off the detector every time. On Sunday, August 24, 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 alarms.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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." 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."
Some people question the medical or social necessity of bras. An informal movement advocates breast freedom, top freedom, bra freedom, or simply going braless.
Bra opponents believe training bras are used to indoctrinate girls into thinking about their breasts as sexual objects. In their view, bras are not functional undergarments but simply exist to make the body more sexy and appealing. 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..." 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."
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.
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.
Poor fit and 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. Medical studies have also attested to the difficulty of getting a correct fit. Scientific studies show that the current system of bra sizing is quite inadequate.
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. 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. Finally, up to 25% of women's breasts display a persistent, visible breast asymmetry, which is defined as differing in size by at least one cup size. Ten percent are severely different, with the left breast being larger in 62% of cases. 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." 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). 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.
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) 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.
Bra impact on sagging
Although the exact mechanisms that determine breast shape and size are largely unknown, it is commonly accepted that sagging occurs because a breast's normal anatomical support is inadequate, especially in women with larger breasts. The bra is worn to provide artificial lift, based on the presumption that the breasts cannot support themselves. Health professionals have, however, found no evidence to suggest that wearing a bra for any amount of time slows ptosis of breasts. Bra manufacturers have also stated that bras only affect the shape of breasts while they are being worn.
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."
Franklin interviewed Dr. Christine Haycock a surgeon at the New Jersey Medical School and an expert in sports medicine. 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.
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."
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. 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.
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."
Fibrocystic disease and breast pain
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. 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. However, the need for wearing a bra at all during exercise has been questioned after extensive studies on athletes.
Numerous websites and publications dealing with fibrocystic disease and breast pain state that a well-fitting bra is recommended for treatment of these conditions.
For fibrocystic disease there are no studies to support these statements. 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. However, this rests solely on two short, uncontrolled studies.
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. 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%) 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.
An informal survey conducted by Dr. Gregory Heigh, who practices traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathy in Tampa, Florida as a licensed acupuncturist, recommended that patients with breast pain take off their bras. "We did a bra and breast impact study, sending out questionnaires to the patients," Heigh says. "We've received 70 or 80 of them back so far, and the percentage of women who have said [taking off their bras] has helped is almost 100 percent." There is some anecdotal evidence to support the idea that not wearing a bra alleviates breast pain.
Large-breasted women who wear an improperly-fitted bra may experience maceration (loss of skin), chafing, intertrigo (rash), and fungal infections.
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. 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.
Strapless bras put all the weight of the breasts onto the chest band, and extra strain onto the rib cage and back. 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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. The plaintiff refused to submit to a simple patch test to determine the precise cause of her reaction and her case was later withdrawn. The Formaldehyde Council issued a statement that formaldehyde quickly dissipates in air, water and sunlight.
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.
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.