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History of the Bra: A Humorous Examination

Updated on November 1, 2013
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Liz considers herself an amateur comedienne. She loves practical jokes, and also used to perform with an improvisational comedy troupe.


Have You Ever Shopped for a Bra?

Well, if you're a woman, the answer is undoubtedly "yes." Bra shopping is a rather universally hated chore. Yes, a chore. It does not quite fit in the same category as shopping for a new outfit--it is not fun.

Either you go and buy more of the kind you already have and like, or you have to start from scratch, trying on, sorting, trying, fitting, playing guessing games with sizes for hours because some idiot manufacturer has seen fit to discontinue your former favorite style.

Current fashion and general propriety standards in most western countries at least, dictate the wearing of such torture devices. If a woman goes bra-less, everyone knows, but if a man "goes commando," no one can tell. There's that ugly old double-standard again...

So, like it or not, we women are doomed to recurring sessions of bra shopping.

The Historical Evolution of the Bra

Bra is a shortening of the French word, "Brassiere." The actual origin of the garment we would recognize today as a bra is lost in time, but supposedly, the first one was hand-sewn in France back in the late 1700's. It was a simple thing of two handkerchiefs folded into triangles, stitched together, and fitted with ribbon ties.

Long before that, for centuries, women attempted some form of support, and the earliest methods probably looked something like the modern baby slings--long strips of cloth wound around the body and passed over the shoulders and behind the neck. Semi-efficient, but none too comfortable in hot weather.

Fashion has had its way with the garment as well. We've gone from that earliest wrap, to the silly hankies, to the first manufactured brassieres, which were quite...umm..sturdy; I believe today we'd call them 'matronly.'

Then there was the Flapper era of the Roaring Twenties, during which women tried to look like boys, and bound themselves as flat as possible...(ouch!) And from there, the pendulum swung to crazy styles of the type made famous byMadonna.

These days, there are plenty of choices, from matronly to 'why bother?' You can have standard white, pastels, animal prints, crazy patterns and even neon hues.

There are "enhanced" styles, "minimizing" styles, "lightly filled" styles and "nude" styles. Front hooks, back hooks, no hooks, push-ups, slenderizers, and exercise models.

There are mid-lines, long-lines (almost a corset!), and then you can choose underwires, unwired, straps or strapless; even convertibles!

I'm not even going to attempt to discuss specialized brassieres for pregnant and nursing women--that's a whole other set of sizing complications, and assorted features to compare.

Sizing and Fitting

Ah, size. What size bra do you wear? That's the crux of the matter, and determining the correct size is an adventure all of its own. There are any number of methods given as the "correct" way to find out the proper size. The trouble is, they are all different, and each states theirs as the only right way--kind of like religions.

These are not simple measurements. They are complicated formulas made up in a laboratory where no actual human women were present. I believe they are based upon photographic images, drawings and videos now available.

The instructions are nearly impossible to carry out alone, leading me to suspect men were involved..."ahh...let me help you with that measuring tape, honey..." he said, with a sly, wicked grin.

The particular method that always made me laugh, or as a friend of mine put it, " ... a real "HUH?" moment." .. goes like this: "Measure yourself over a well-fitting bra."

Well, now, let's see--if the one I had still fit well, I wouldn't be needing a new one, now, would I?

Want to Know More?

Unmentionables: A Brief History of Underwear
Unmentionables: A Brief History of Underwear

This author is mentioned in several of the online reference sources

The History of Underclothes (Dover Fashion and Costumes)
The History of Underclothes (Dover Fashion and Costumes)

This book takes a look at the history of underthings for both genders

An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality
An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality

Examination of the role of lingerie in a socio-economic setting


Sizing Complications

To add to all this nonsense, somewhere along the line, it was noticed that not only did we women have a measurement around our girth, but also a measurement of ... uhhh... protrusion. Enter the cup size. Early bras were much simpler, and did not take into account such differences, and that is where the measuring formulas get complicated.

You've got everything from AA to DD in standard sizes, and then there are the custom sizes that can be made for special needs. AA? That's probably what most folks call a "training bra," for the young pre-teen who doesn't really need one yet, but feels the pull of the peer pressure--and that's a whole other topic.

We women change sizes over our lifetimes. Sometimes we shrink, sometimes we grow--although I know we'd rather blame the fabric or the laundry equipment when formerly well-fitting undergarments suddenly pinch and ride up, or else want to fall off. Each such shift requires another shopping expedition.

Anyone, (including men), who has ever shopped for any article of clothing, has run across the maddening issue of non-standard sizing. No two manufacturer's supposedly identical pieces of clothing of the same stated size will fit the same way. No two brands of jeans; no two brands of t-shirts; no two brands of dress shirts, blouses or skirts. It is no different in the bra department. One maker's 34-B is another's 36-A. This adds to the frustration of finding the right size.

Pamper the Bra Shopper

Libbey Vina Round Red Wine Goblets, 18-1/4-Ounce, Set of 6
Libbey Vina Round Red Wine Goblets, 18-1/4-Ounce, Set of 6

just the right glass for that wine in the bath

Conair Foot / Pedicure Spa with Bubbles
Conair Foot / Pedicure Spa with Bubbles

foot massager bath thingee--just the ticket


A Word to the Wise

No, bra shopping is not a fun thing to do. So, fellows, if your woman has been out on such an errand, she probably is not going to come home in the greatest of moods, especially if she couldn't find what she wanted, or had to settle for something less than ideal. So whatever you do, don't greet her with "Hi, honey! Have fun shopping?"

No--a nice glass of wine, a foot rub, back rub, bubble bath and dinner out would be the right course of action.

Weigh In...

How do you feel about bra-shopping?

See results


Submit a Comment

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, sheilamarie78!

    So glad you enjoyed this article. Thanks much for stopping by and commenting. Yes, we do have lots of company in this distasteful shopping chore.!

  • sheilamarie78 profile image

    sheilamarie78 2 years ago

    That was a fun read. It's encouraging to know that bra panic runs rampant.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Catherine...

    LOL I rarely even wear the fool things any more. I go instead for the sturdy tank tops with a built-in support. I'm not into getting dressed up; it's jeans and t-shirts for me. I'm retired, and have nowhere to be except the grocery store or doctor appointments, so I aim for comfort first, last, and in the middle! ;-) Thanks very much for stopping by and your informative comment.

  • CatherineGiordano profile image

    Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

    I like bra shopping. It is fun to buy something pretty for "the girls." Several years back, a department store in my area had bra fittings. I was surprised to learn that I was wearing the wrong size. If a store near you has a "fitter", be sure to make use of her services. And get some utilitarian bras and at least one that is just sexy and fun.

  • Akriti Mattu profile image

    Akriti Mattu 2 years ago from Shimla, India

    I'll be reading more. Keep writing :)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Akriti Mattu,

    Thank you very much for your kind comment. I'm pleased you enjoyed this article.

  • Akriti Mattu profile image

    Akriti Mattu 2 years ago from Shimla, India

    Not many people would take a topic like this and write about it. You made it interesting. Good post :)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello Beth37,

    That's not a bad idea at all...or forgo the rotten devices altogether! Thanks for your comment!

  • profile image

    Beth37 4 years ago

    Im all for going back to the handkerchiefs and ribbons!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Angie Jardine--

    Nice to "meet" you! Your input is much appreciated--thank you very much.

    LOL @ the 'trawling' metaphor--reminds me of a bra discussion between my mom and my aunt..the latter praising the virtues of the (then new) "Playtex living bra." My uncle, without looking up from his newspaper casually inquired, "What do you feed it?"

    I'm glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks much as well for the vote! ;-)

  • Angie Jardine profile image

    Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

    Y'know, DzyMsLizzy ... I don't think I have ever seen a piece written about the treachery of brassieres and I cannot now understand why no-one ever has. So, thank you for bringing this important issue to light!

    Bra's are beastly things but necessary if you are idiotically endowed like me with a 36F (at least) chest. I do so hate it when my 'equipment' knocks against my knees and I know that another bra has died and I have to trawl round the shops trying to find something pretty but robust (forgive the pun). Sadly at my size there are usually only the two hessian sack styles that fit. :(

    That is why I cannot for the life of me think why young women undergo surgery to make themselves top heavy. Don't they realise that big boobs make you look matronly?

    Rant over ... fun hub. Voted up!

  • profile image

    gchicnotes 5 years ago

    You're welcome.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ Crescentmoon2007--

    Thank you very much for the kind praise and the vote!

    @ 6hotfingers3--

    I'm pleased that you found the article enjoyable. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    @ gchinotes--

    Thank you so much. I know what you mean about size struggles. My mother had an odd size--a 38-A .. just try and find that one--very few manufacturers believe that measurement is "only" an "A" cup...they usually begin at "B" she, too had a terrible time. I'm glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks so much for the votes!

  • profile image

    gchicnotes 5 years ago

    Very engaging and funny to read. I myself have major difficulties as my "sisters" are rather full. So finding a pretty bra in my size is challenging. Voted up funny and awesome. NF.

  • 6hotfingers3 profile image

    6hotfingers3 5 years ago

    Thank you for bringing to light an under garment issue that few women talk about. You presented it in such an entertaining way that I could not stop reading until after I was finished reading the hub. Great information and great presentation!

  • Cresentmoon2007 profile image

    Cresentmoon2007 5 years ago from Caledonia, MI

    Truly one interesting hub here! :) Voted up.

  • Casandra21 profile image

    Casandra21 5 years ago from Delaware

    Your welcome and thank you for responding back soo quickley!!!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Cassandra21--

    Thanks so much for adding a comment. I kind of know what you mean about 'just getting out of the house' sometimes. You add an excellent point (no pun intended LOL), about the expense! And if you find a cheap one at a discount store--you know how that goes--you get what you pay for, and the thing doesn't last the week.

  • Casandra21 profile image

    Casandra21 5 years ago from Delaware

    I like this one, I agree on the whole bra shopping thing. However with my life as it is now I'm just so glad to get out of the house and have fun even if I have to spend time trying on the right bra. This is definitley a chore you find tons of bras in your size and the brand carries a size smaller so it doesn't fit. The bra is to little to big to revealing and has to much wire or gives you the horrible pointy boob!!! Last time I checked a push up bra wasn't supposed to hurt and last time I checked not every woman needs push up just a great sturdy comfortable bra. Yeah bra's are made by men thats why and lots of them love stupid perky boobs all the time. Yea and bras are not cheap!!! Even some of the somewhat expensive bras have cheap stuffing in them anyways.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ Loi-Renee -- Thank you so much for the comment and the votes! I'm glad you enjoyed this piece. I agree--I put bra-shopping off until mine are "lacey" when they did not start as lace bras... LOL on the fitting tip!


    @ homesteadbound -- Sounds like you lucked out! No clasps is definitely a plus--and step-in--wow! That's the next evolution in under-fashions, I guess. Thank you so much for adding that information.

  • homesteadbound profile image

    Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

    I hate it also, but I purchased a bra off of the TV and love it. The Genie. It provides the support I need and it is comfortable. It doesn't have any clasps and in fact believe it or not I can step into it and pull it up. It's great.

  • Loi-Renee profile image

    Loi-Renee 5 years ago from Jamaica

    Another great one DzyMsLizzy. I hate shopping for bras and usually put off the chore for as long as possible.

    Some people think the best way to find the right size bra is to have someone cup your breast then cup the bra! LOL

    Voted up and funny.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ Sunshine625--Hi there!

    Thanks so much--got your bonfire ready? LOL I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

    @ Seeker7--I'm pleased I was able to provide a giggle or few. No, it's not just you! I'm just glad we don't have to wear corsets and 16 layers of petticoats anymore. Thanks much for the comment and the vote!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    LOL!! Great Hub! It's great to know that the problem of 'bra shopping' is universal and not just me being a dumbo! I shop for the dam things on-line as it's easier just to send them back if they don't fit. But you're spot on about a particular size being different depending on the manufactuer's way of measuring. I also hate the bras that I get and the straps are too short! I look like a hunchback while I'm trying to lengthen them, and then if you go too much you end up being droopy!!

    I think us women should all get together and invent something better! LOL! Loved this hub + voted up!!

  • Sunshine625 profile image

    Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

    Hi DzyMsLizzy, I think we should just burn the bra again. Done. Great hub and lots of info!! :)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ plussize-lingerie--Hello, there, and thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you got a chuckle out of this article. And yes, the right frame of mind helps somewhat, but it is definitely a go-shopping-alone trip. "Helpful" suggestions from a spouse or significant other are not actually helpful....

    @carol3san--Hi there. Thanks much for your comment. I can definitely relate. Thanks, too, vor the vote!

    @Just Ask Susan--Howdy! So, I guess your Grandma was a Flapper Girl. How funny. That sure does sound bizzare and not the least bit comfy. I say we go back to bra-burning! Hee hee hee.... Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    As I started reading this I was thinking about my Grandmother who had told me about when she was a young girl. She used to bind herself so to make herself flat. I thought of course that was totally bizarre. Shopping for Bra's is not my favorite thing to do :)

  • carol3san profile image

    Carolyn Sands 5 years ago from Hollywood Florida

    Hi DzyMsLizzy, Nice hub. I never like bra shopping. The last bra I brought for myself was about 2 sizes too small....LOL. Voted up.

  • plussize-lingerie profile image

    David Taylor 5 years ago from UK

    That's pretty funny. I wrote a guide a while back which included how to size yourself correctly, and no, it's not easy. Not everyone hates bra shopping though, but it is better if you're in the right frame of mind.