Most of the time it is a mindless action I do every morning and night. It has just become incorporated into my daily routine -- putting on my bra and taking it off. Recently, a few close male friends asked me about what it's like having to wear a bra everyday after seeing a sizing guide for bras: What does it feel like to wear a bra? How many do you need to own? How much are they? This really got me pondering, and I think it would be good for every woman to stop and really examine this garment that holds so much history and meaning in society.
It seems that having something to protect and promote boobs has been around for centuries. Certain ways of folding fabric to shield the breasts and nipples have dated back to ancient Egyptian and Roman times, among other civilizations. From then, through the Middle Ages, and to the present, women have been wearing some kind of garment on their chest.
The bra we are familiar with today had its beginnings in 1913 with its inventor Mary Phelps Jacob. After getting frustrated with the corset, both the fit and look with her evening dress, she fashioned a bra out of two handkerchiefs and a ribbon. Her friends then wanted a bra too, soon followed by a stranger who wanted to pay Jacob for a bar. This was when the brassiere became patented. Jacob knew she was on to something.
As time progressed into the 1920s, the preferred silhouette for women became more boy-like requiring a flatter-chested look. Corsets were out the window and bras took center stage, which provided women with a more comfortable option. 1940s and 1950s fashion called for breasts to be more cone-shaped, enter the bullet bra. The next trend was the Wonder Bra that came out in 1964 to give the ultimate push-up, but lost favor until the 1990s when this bra had a come back.
Later in the 1960s was when the concept of bra-burning came into existence. Bra-burning was an action to be done in protest where women would set their brassieres on fire. The protest against the Miss America pageant in 1968, while no bras were actually burned, this is where the legend started of bra-burning. Although many women during this time did not actually burn their bras, it was a symbolic notion on the politics of the time. While bra-burning took on many different meaning then and now, it stands that bras embody so much more than just fabric and underwire.
Bras have gone through a lot of transformations -- different fabrics, cup shapes, and support - which are usually the result of shifts in American society that impacts women's roles.
American society and the over-the-shoulder boulder-holder
Bras have long had a deeper, sometimes emotional meaning in American society. How a woman's breasts look tend to be a much bigger deal to other people than to the woman herself. In my younger years I would wear push-up and padded bras because I was a late bloomer. I wanted my boobs to look like the other girls'. One day I wore a padded bra instead of a push-up -- it gave me a slightly flatter look than the push-up -- and I was harassed by many of the boys at school, openly and to my face. A similar occurrence has happened to many of my female friends and family. This phenomenon also seems to affect women outside of my circle -- even women in positions of power. Actress turned writer/director Lake Bell expressed this in an interview that if you're a woman in a position of authority should you still wear a push-up bra? Because if you do wear one that could that send the wrong message to those you are managing or to those who are above you in the hierarchy in the workplace. It's funny how a garment that is worn under our clothing has such an impact on those around us outwardly.
Personally, I love bras. I think they can make a woman feel sexy and beautiful. I buy lingerie more for myself than for the person I am with. I also understand that bras can have a deeper meaning, that they come with some extra baggage that most of the time I honestly don't even think about. The more I have spoken with a variety of women the more I believe this to be true for them as well.
I spoke with a previous Victoria Secret sales associate about bras and it was a fantastic conversation about what bras really imply in today's society, both the pros and cons.
"It seems that a woman will buy that same type of bra over and over, not get any variety. If she is interested in push-up bras she will buy all push-up bras. Actually, push-up bras are the most common style women buy. It's because it gives the look of larger, perkier breasts. Our actual boob size isn't good enough."
Bras are a necessary, wonderful evil, I suppose. It is not acceptable to go out in public without one on, and I really wouldn't want to because of possible physical pain (nipples chaffing). I don't like being judged on the size of my breasts, but I do like feeling sexy in a gorgeous bra. It's a daily battle that will continue on for women. There is so much meaning and history in such a small piece of clothing for but then again, isn't that how many articles of women's clothing are?