Guide to Choosing the Right Bra
The idea for this Hub came about while watching the 1933 movie "Dinner at Eight" starring Jean Harlow. At one point during the movie, my ever-observant husband turned to me and commented, "None of these women look like they are wearing bras." I replied, “Hmm, I guess they weren't in style at the time." I wasn’t really sure about my answer, so I took it upon myself to find out more about the advent of the modern brassiere and ended up learning a great deal more. I’ll share some history, useful information and titillating (sorry!) tidbits about this indispensable undergarment.
A Glance Back
The modern brassiere, originally known as a "soutien-gorge", was a French invention that came on the scene in the early 1900s. It was born out of a desire to move away from the confining, rigid corsets of the day. Corsets were used to shape the torso and bust, keeping everything in place with coarse fabrics fitted with whalebones. Ouch! In 1914, Mary Phelps Jacobs was awarded the first U.S. patent for the brassiere, a simple design she created from handkerchiefs and ribbon (homemade bras were common prior to the patent and subsequent mass production.)
During the 1920s, flat chests and narrow hips were in vogue. Gone was the need for the curvy corset and in its place was a lightweight cotton bra, which in most cases, was no more than a bodice or camisole without support. Large busted women, desperately seeking to create the coveted boyish figure of the Flapper, wrapped their breasts to their bodies in order to fit into fashionable sheath dresses.
In the 1930s, designers re-embraced the feminine form. Flowing gowns of silks and satins graced the bodies of Hollywood’s leading ladies, leaving little to the imagination. The bosom was again in style. This decade saw the introduction of bras with fitted cups made from newly invented synthetic fabrics. These bras featured little in the way of ornamentation and were designed to appear invisible under body-clinging fabrics — hence the bra-less illusion (although I don't think Ms. Harlow is wearing a bra in this publicity photo.)
Types of Bras
There are almost as many types of bras as there are women who wear them. Here are descriptions of seven popular styles:
Seamless bras are your best bet to wear under clingy fabrics. Just as the name implies, seamless bras have no seams on the cup providing for a smooth appearance under knit fabrics. In many cases, seamless bras are marketed as T-shirt bras.
Strapless bras are great for the summer with barely there fashions and work well under off the shoulder or strapless evening dresses. Many strapless bras have incorporated strips of silicone on the inside lining against the skin to keep the bra in place for a confident fit.
Looking for extra support for your workout? A sports bra will maintain order while you run, walk, jump and cycle your way to a toned body. These body-hugging, stretchy bras reduce bounce and feature breathable fabrics that wick moisture away from your body. You can find a sports bra fashioned like basic shelf bras, however manufacturers now make active bras that separate and lift for a more flattering appearance – especially for women with larger bust measurements. Ladies, say goodbye to the uniboob!
Why buy a bra for every outfit when you can own one convertible bra that adapts to many different tops and dresses. Convertible bras allow you to detach and reconfigure the straps to accommodate a variety of back, neck and armhole styles. It’s like owning a wardrobe of bras in one!
Need a lift and more fullness? Try a push-up bra. Push-up bras are designed to lift and push the breast together to enhance your cleavage and give the illusion of a larger cup size. Many push-up brands, like Wonderbra, include foam or gel inserts that add to your “va va voom” factor!
Minimizer bras have quite the opposite effect. Large busted women looking to downplay their assets, choose these bras that gently compress and redistribute the breasts to give the illusion of a smaller cup size. In some cases, minimizer bras can reduce your bust measurement by 1 1/2 inches.
Demi bras offer an ultra feminine look while still providing moderate support for most bust sizes. They can be worn with low cut or square necklines. The delicate demi bra is cut lower than the standard full bra. Women looking for a bra to tame the “jiggles” may want to avoid this style of bra.
Get the Fit
As you know, quality bras can be a serious financial investment, so fitting a bra properly is critical. If your bra is too big, you will notice gaping within the cups and looseness around your torso; totally negating the support your bra is supposed to provide. Too small, and you will experience overflow of skin in the front and back, tight straps and general discomfort from an overly tight fit. Here is a quick tutorial on how to measure for a bra:
1. Wear your most comfortable, unpadded bra when measuring for bra size. Use a cloth measuring tape to calculate your band size. Take the measurement under your arms, around your back and across the upper portion of your chest. If this measurement is an even number, use it as your band size. Add 1-inch to an odd number to establish your band size. Common band sizes are 32, 34, 36 and 38.
2. Measure around the fullest part of your bust line. Take that number and subtract it from the first measurement or band size. This number will indicate your cup size. If the difference is 1-inch, your cup size is an A; 2-inches is a B cup, 3-inches is a C cup, etc.
How Many Bras Are Enough?
There’s only so much room in your lingerie drawer, so knowing “when to say when” is probably sound advice as far as bra buying is concerned. Most industry experts suggest owning four comfortable, everyday bras. This can be your favorite style in multiple colors for rexample: two white, one black and at least one nude.
It is always a good idea to have a couple of specialty bras on hand. I would recommend a convertible and a strapless for occasions when your everyday bras just won’t do. Another staple is what I call the “girlie” or “frou frou” bra. A delicate lace demi with floral or pearl embellishments will definitely get the attention of your special someone!
Fun Bra Facts
Victoria’s Secret recently premiered its latest Fantasy Bombshell Bra. The jewel-laden Damiani designed bra is the showpiece of the lingerie maker’s annual runway show. This over-the-top bra is worth a reported $2 million…and for good reason. It features over 1500 carats of white diamonds, blue topaz and blue sapphires in a tasteful setting of 18-carat white gold!
According to bra maker Wacoal America, 36DD was on track to replace 36D as the most purchased bra size in 2009. Internet bra retailer Bare Necessities also noticed an increase of DD sales. Could it be the body mass increase of American women? Surely, the popularity of breast enhancements has something to do with it as well. Whatever the reason, it should make American men extremely happy.
The French word “brassiere” has been around for several hundred years. Originally, it was used to describe a combat arm shield. Then it became known as a military breastplate and then as a corset for women. Today “brassiere” in France refers to a baby’s undershirt or arm float. A U.S. company adopted the word “brassiere” early in the 20th century to describe their newest breast-supporting garments and the word quickly became part of English vernacular. The word “brassiere” was shortened to the slang word “bra” in the 1930s.
Test Your Bra Knowledge!
Take this True or False quiz to find out how much you learned from this fascinating Hub. This may never be a Trivial Pursuit category, but you will surely impress the heck out of your friends at the next cocktail party!
© 2010 lindacee
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