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History of the Bra: A Humorous Examination

Updated on February 13, 2018
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An amateur comedienne, Liz loves humor and practical jokes, including funny songs. All hail April 1st & Oct. 31st! ;-)

They Haven't Always Looked Like This

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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: 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 by popular singer, Madonna.

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, without wheels, of course!

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.

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

Let me ponder that for a moment. Yes, now, if the one I had still fit well, I wouldn't be needing a new one, would I?

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.

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?

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