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For other uses, see Bra (disambiguation).
"Brassiere" redirects here. For the restaurant, see Brasserie.
A full-cup bra

A bra (/ˈbrɑː/) (or brassiere UK /ˈbræzɪər/ or US /brəˈzɪər/) is a form-fitting undergarment designed to support a woman's breasts. In the United States, approximately US$16 billion is spent on bras each year. A bras is a complex garment made of many parts, and manufacturers' standards and sizes vary widely worldwide. Changing social trends in some Western cultures allowing bras to be seen and novel materials have increased the variety of available designs. Some garments, such as swimsuits, camisoles, tank tops and backless dresses, have built-in breast support, making a separate bra unnecessary. Some modern bras are designed to be more fashionable than functional. Bras were originally designed with the primary function of supporting breasts but have become a fashion item with cultural significance. When a young girl gets her first bra, it may be seen as a rite of passage and symbolic of her coming of age.[1]

Sizing systems and methods of bra-measurement vary, such that professional fitters can disagree on the correct size for the same woman. Manufacturers mass-produce bras as ready-to-wear garments and size them to fit standard, idealized, female torsos. As a result, it can be difficult for women to find a bra that fits them correctly, and up to 85% of women may wear an incorrectly sized bra.[2] Between five and twenty-five percent of Western women do not wear a bra, either as a matter of preference or for health or comfort reasons. Some feminists consider bras a symbol of the repression of women's bodies.[3] In the developing world, women often can not afford bras due to a lack of manufacturers and retailers.


Support of the bosom by a bodice (French: brassière) from 1900

The term "brassiere" was first used in English in 1893.[notes 1] In 1904, it gained wider acceptance when the DeBevoise Company invoked the fashionable cachet of using the French language by applying the term "brassière" to describe their latest bust supporter in their advertising copy—although the word is actually a Norman French word for a child's undershirt. The French refer to a bra as a soutien-gorge (literally, "breast-supporter").[4] That product and other early versions of the brassiere resembled a camisole stiffened with boning.[5] Vogue magazine first used the term in 1907,[6][7] and by 1911 the word had made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.[8] On 3 November 1914, the newly formed U.S. patent category for "brassieres" was inaugurated with the first patent issued to Mary Phelps Jacob.[9][10] In the 1930s, "brassiere" was gradually shortened to "bra".[4]


Main article: History of brassieres
Bra package from second half of 20th century. From the Museo del Objeto del Objeto collection.

Wearing a specialized garment designed to support a woman's breasts may date back to ancient Greece.[11] Women wore an apodesmos (Greek: ἀπόδεσμος[12]), later stēthodesmē (Gr: στηθοδέσμη[13]), mastodesmos (Gr: μαστόδεσμος[14]) and mastodeton (Gr: μαστόδετον[15]), all meaning "breast-band", a band of wool or linen that was wrapped across the breasts and tied or pinned at the back.[16][17]

In 2008, archaeologists working at the Lengberg Castle in Eastern Tyrol, Austria discovered 2700 fragments of textile, among them four bras. Two of them were modern-looking bras; the other two were undershirts with incorporated cups. All of the bras were made from linen. The two modern-looking bras were somewhat similar to a modern longline brassiere; the cups were made from two pieces of linen sewn with fabric that extended down to the bottom of the torso with a row of six eyelets for fastening with a lace or string. The brassiere also had two shoulder straps and was decorated with lace between the cleavage, one of them possessing needle lace. The radiocarbon dating results showed that the four bras stemmed from the period between 1440 and 1485.[18][19]

An award-winning ad for R & G Corset Company from the back cover of the October 1898 Ladies' Home Journal depicted a proper foundation garment for women.

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 later 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 to the upper torso.[11]

The German Christine Hardt patented the first modern brassiere in 1889.[citation needed] Sigmund Lindauer from Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, Germany, developed a brassiere for mass production in 1912 and patented it in 1913. It was mass-produced by Mechanischen Trikotweberei Ludwig Maier und Cie. in Böblingen, Germany.[4] In the United States, Mary Phelps Jacob received a patent in 1914 for the first bra design that is recognized as the basis for modern brassieres.[20][21] Mass production of bras in the early 20th Century made the garment widely available to women in the United States, England, Western Europe, and other countries influenced by western fashion.[4] With metal shortages, World War I encouraged the end of the corset.

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.[22]:73 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.[citation needed]

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.[5] 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 hook and eye closures in the 1930s.[22][23]:101

Although in popular culture the invention of the bra is frequently attributed to men, women have played a large part in bra design and manufacture, accounting for half of the patents filed.[22] 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.[24]

By the time World War II ended, most fashion-conscious women in Europe and North America were wearing brassieres. From that point forward, women in Asia, Africa, and Latin America adopted the brassiere.[4]

Construction and manufacturing[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Bra size.

Mechanical design[edit]

Front of bra illustrating the back wing, cups, and center gore
An adjustable fastener in the bra band allows the wearer to make minor adjustments in band size. When correctly fitted, the band of the bra is positioned horizontally across the back.

A bra is one of the most complicated articles of clothing to make. A typical bra design has between 20 and 48 parts, including the band, hooks, cups, lining, and straps. Bras are built on a square frame model. Lingerie designer Chantal Thomass said,

It’s a highly technical garment, made of lots of tiny pieces of fabric, with so many sizes to consider for the different cups, etc. It’s a garment you wash every day, so the seams and structure need to be extremely robust. It’s very different from a piece of clothing; it’s in direct contact with the skin, it needs to be super solid.[25]

The main components of a bra are a chest band that wraps around the woman's torso, two cups to hold the breasts, and shoulder straps. The chest band is usually closed in the back by a hook and eye fastener, but may be fastened at the front.[26] Some bras, particularly sleep bras or athletic bras, do not have fasteners and are pulled on over the head and breasts. The section between the cups at the front is called a "gore". The section under the armpit where the band joins the cups is called the "back wing".[27]

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 the same time 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 either industrial grade sewing machines or automated machines. Coated metal hooks and eyes are sewn in by machine and heat processed or ironed into the two back ends of the bra band and then a tag or label is attached. Some bras now avoid tags and print the label information onto the bra itself.[27] The completed bras may be transported to another location for packaging, where they are sorted by style and folded (either mechanically or manually), and packaged or readied for shipment.[28]

The chest band and the bra cups, and not the shoulder straps, are designed to support the weight of women's breasts. Some bras, called strapless bras, do not use shoulder straps but rely on underwire and additional seaming and stiffening panels to support the breasts. The shoulder straps of some sports bras cross over at the back to take the pressure off an athlete's shoulders when arms are raised. Manufacturers continually experiment with proprietary frame designs. For example, the Playtex "18-Hour Bra" model utilizes an M-Frame design.[27]


A selection of underwire bras in a retail store

Before the advent of modern fabrics, linen, cotton broadcloth, and twill weaves were used to make bras, and sewn using flat-felled or bias-tape seams. Bras are now made of a wide variety of materials, including Tricot, Spandex, Spanette, Latex, microfiber, satin, Jacquard, foam, mesh, and lace,[27] which are blended to achieve specific purposes.

Spandex, a synthetic fiber with built-in "stretch memory", can be blended with cotton, polyester, or nylon. Mesh is a high-tech synthetic composed of ultra-fine filaments that are tightly knit for smoothness.[27]

Sixty to seventy percent of bras sold in the United Kingdom and the United States use underwire in the cup. The underwire is made of metal, plastic, or resin.[29][30][31][32] Underwire is built into the bra around the perimeter of the cup where it attaches to the band, increasing the rigidity of the bra. The underwire improves support, lift, and separation.[26] Wirefree or softcup bras support breasts using additional seaming and internal reinforcement. Some types of bras, like T-shirt bras, utilize molded cups that eliminate bra seams and hide the woman's nipples. Others use padding or shaping materials to enhance bust size or cleavage. A Harris Poll commissioned by Playtex asked more than 1,000 women what they like in a bra. Among the respondents, 67 percent said they like wearing a bra over going braless, while 85 percent wanted to wear a "shape-enhancing bra that feels like nothing at all." They were split over underwire bras: 49 percent said they prefer underwire bras, the same percentage as those who said they prefer wireless bras.[33]

Manufacturing standards vary[edit]

A seamstress sews a brassiere in a Puerto Rico garment shop

To mass-produce bras, manufacturers size their bras to a the figure of prototypical, idealized woman, assuming she is standing with both arms at her sides. The design also assumes that both breasts are equally sized and symmetrical. Manufacturing a well-fitting bra is a challenge since the garment is supposed to be form-fitting but women's breasts may sag, vary in volume, width, height, shape, and position on the chest.[34][35] Manufacturers make standard bra sizes that provide a "close" fit, however even a woman with accurate measurements can have a difficult time finding a correctly fitted bra because of the variations in sizes between different manufacturers. Some manufacturers create "vanity sizes" and deliberately mis-state the size of their bras in an attempt to persuade women that they are slimmer and more buxom.[36]

Variance in bra sizes[edit]

There are several sizing systems in different countries.[37] 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,[38] but bra labeling systems used around the world are at times misleading and confusing. Cup and band sizes not only vary around the world[39] but between brands in the same country.[34] 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.[39][40] 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 centimetres (2.0 in). Due to these variances, even professional bra fitters in different countries like New Zealand[41] and the United Kingdom[42][43] produce inconsistent measurements of the same person.

Types of bras[edit]

There is an increasingly wide range of brassiere styles available, designed to match different body types, situations, and outerwear. Bras are designed to enhance or minimize the size of breasts, to emphasize a woman's cleavage, for comfort, athletic support, nursing, and a variety of other reasons.[11] Bras are built into some garments like one-piece swimsuits, camisoles, backless dresses, and tank tops, eliminating the need to wear a separate bra.[44][45]

The degree of shaping and coverage of the breasts varies between styles, as do functionality, fashion, fit, fabric, and color. Common types include backless, balconette, convertible, shelf, full cup, demi-cup, minimizing, padded, plunge, posture, push-up, racerback, sheer, strapless, T-shirt, underwire, unlined, soft cup, and sports bra.[46] Many designs combine one or more of these styles.

Economic impact[edit]

Consumer purchasing[edit]

Consumers spend around $16 billion a year worldwide on bras.[47] In the United States during 2012, women owned an average of 9 bras and wore six of them on a regular basis.[47] That is an increase from 2006, when the average American woman owned six bras, one of which was a strapless bra, and one in a color other than white.[48] British women in a 2009 survey reported that they owned an average of 16 bras.[49]

The average bra size among North American women has increased from 34B in 1983 to a 34DD during 2012 - 2013,[50] and from 36C last year to 36DD in the United Kingdom during 2014 - 2015.[51]

The growth in bra size has been linked to growing obesity rates, increased number of breast implants, increased birth control usage, estrogen mimicking pollutants, the growing availability of a larger selection of bras, and to women wearing better fitting bras.[50][52]

Exports and imports[edit]

Bras are primarily made in various Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, India, and China. While there has been some social pressure from the anti-sweatshop and anti-globalization movements on manufacturers to reduce use of sweatshop labor, most major apparel manufacturers still rely on them directly and indirectly. Prior to 2005, a trade agreement limited textile imports to the European Union and the United States. China was at the time exporting US$33.9 billion in textiles and clothing each year to the EU and the US. When those quotas expired on 1 January 2005, the so-called "Bra Wars" began. Within six months, China shipped 30 million additional bras to these two markets: 33% more to the US and 63% more to the EU.[53] As of 2014, an average bra cost GBP29.8.[54] As of 2012, Africa imported USD$107 million worth of bras, with South Africa accounting for 40% of that amount. Morocco was second and Nigeria was third, while Mauritius topped purchasing on a per capita basis.[55]

Third-world costs[edit]

In some third-world countries, however, bras may cost up to 10–30 hours of a woman's wages, which makes them unaffordable.[56] As of 2011, women in Fiji were required to pay up to a week's wages for a new bra.[57] In countries where labor costs are low, bras that cost US$5–7 apiece to manufacture sell for US$50 or more in American retail stores. As of 2006, female garment workers in Sri Lanka earned about US$2.20 per day.[53] Similarly, Honduran garment factory workers in 2003 were paid US$0.24 for each $50 Sean John sweatshirt they made, less than one-half of one percent of the retail price.[58] In 2009, residents of the city of textile manufacturing city of Gurao in the Guangdong province of China made more than 200 million bras. Children are employed in assembling bras. They are paid 0.30 yuan for every 100 bra straps that they help assemble. In one day they can earn 20 to 30 yuan each.[59]

Second-hand bras donor programs[edit]

In the U.S. state of Colorado, Emmy-award winning television producer Kimba Langas and social entrepreneur Dave Terpstra left their careers to found Free the Girls, a non-profit non-governmental organization. It's dedicated to helping survivors of sex trafficking in third-world countries to create economic independence by providing them with second-hand bras and other used clothing they can resell. The organization provides bras at less than wholesale prices to the new businesses. In February 2012, after their efforts were featured on CNN, they shipped over 30,000 bras to Mozambique for resale.[60]

In May 2011, Rotary International sent used bras to several countries, including 1,000 bras to Papua New Guinea. But the Alola Foundation in East Timor, a women's development organisation, criticized the program as an example of a donor-driven project that does not really understand local needs in developing communities. They believe that these kinds of programs create dependency and undermine local business rather than foster independence. The Uplift national coordinator in Fiji replied that women in remote communities asked for bras. She said that that some second-hand clothing is available in Fiji, but shipments rarely include second-hand bras large enough for the typically substantial Fiji women, who often need D to E cup bras.[57]

Uganda used to have a textile business sector that employed 500,000 people that produced USD$100 million in exports, but the used clothing industry has dramatically impacted that portion of their economy. As of 2004, the used-clothing market was 85% of the textile market. The government implemented a program to screen clothing for diseases. A government-run newspaper, The New Vision, wrote that new bras are expensive, so that banning imports of used bras might require women to go without.[61]

Zimbabwe used to have about 20,000 textile and clothing-related jobs, but due to the used clothing business, most of these have disappeared. Similarly, South Africa lost 20,000 and Senegal 7,000 jobs, and other African countries including Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Togo, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana have been hard hit.[61]


Main article: Bra size

Because manufacturing standards vary widely, finding a correctly fitting bra can be very difficult for many women.[22][62][63] Medical studies have also attested to the difficulty of getting a correct fit.[64] Women tend to find a bra that appears to fit and stay with that size for a long period of time even though they may lose and gain weight.[34] In a survey in the United Kingdom, 60% of the more than 2000 women between the ages of 16 to 75 who responded indicated they had had a bra fitting, and 99% stated that fit was the least important factor when selecting a bra.[65] Increased publicity about the issue of poorly-fitted bras has increased the number of women seeking a fitting. The UK retailer Marks & Spencer stated that about 8,000 women are fitted for bras in their stores weekly.[49] But about 80–85% of women still wear the wrong bra size.[2][66][67][68]

Band fit[edit]

Symptoms of a badly fitted bra band include the band riding up the woman's back,[34] indicating that the band is too loose. Experts recommend that the woman reduce the band size. If the band digs into the flesh, causing the flesh to spill over the edges of the band, the band is too small.[69] A woman can test whether a bra band is too tight or too loose by reversing the bra on her torso so that the cups are in the back and then check for fit and comfort.[70] Experts suggest that women choose a bra band size that fits using the outermost set of hooks. This allows the wearer to use the tighter hooks on the bra strap as it stretches during its lifetime of about eight months.[71]

Cup fit[edit]

If a woman's breast tissue bulges out the side of the cup under the arm, under the cup, or over the cup, women should increase their cup size. If the cup fabric is loose, the cup is too large, and women should choose a smaller cup size.[34] If the shoulder straps dig into the woman's skin, the woman should first attempt to adjust the shoulder straps. If that does not reduce discomfort, then she should consider a larger cup size. If the straps slide off her shoulder, she should again first attempt to adjust the shoulder straps. If that does not help, the woman should consider a smaller cup size. If the underwire does not sit on the woman's chest or the gore does not lie flat between the breasts, this indicates the woman should buy a bra with a bigger cup size.[34]

Bra experts recommend that women, especially those whose cup sizes are D or larger, get a professional bra fitting from the lingerie department of a clothing store or a specialty lingerie store.[38] Generally, anytime a woman experiences a significant weight change, or if a woman has to continually adjust her bra or experiences general discomfort, the woman should get a new fitting.[38] An average woman in the United Kingdom will change her bra size six times over her lifetime.[72]

Sagging of breasts[edit]

Women sometimes mistakenly wear bras during the day and at night[73] believing they will prevent or lessen how much their breasts will sag as they age. John Dixey, at the time CEO of Playtex, stated, "We have no medical evidence that wearing a bra could prevent sagging, because the breast itself is not muscle so keeping it toned up is an impossibility."[74] Dixey told interviewers. "There's no permanent effect on the breast from wearing a particular bra. The bra will give you the shape the bra's been designed to give while you're wearing it."[75] Bras only affect the shape of breasts while they are being worn.[75]

Robert Mansell, a professor of surgery at the University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff, reported that, "Bras don't prevent breasts from sagging, with regard to stretching of the breast ligaments and drooping in later life, that occurs very regularly anyway, and that's a function of the weight, often of heavy breasts, and these women are wearing bras and it doesn't prevent it."

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."[26][76]

Franklin interviewed Dr. Christine Haycock a surgeon at the New Jersey Medical School and an expert in sports medicine.[77] Dr. Haycock said that "Cooper's ligaments have nothing to do with supporting breast tissue... They just serve to divide the breast into compartments."[77] 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.

Some women believe wearing a bra to bed will help prevent sagging or flatten their breasts, but this has not been proven to be true.[73] Research has shown that the four key factors influencing sagging breasts are a history of cigarette smoking, the number of pregnancies the woman has had,[78] significant weight gain or loss (greater than 50 pounds (23 kg)),[78] and gravity. Other significant factors are higher body mass index and larger bra cup size.[79]

Health issues[edit]

A badly fitted bra can also contribute to health problems.[80]

Large breasts and bra fitting[edit]

When purchasing bras, larger-breasted women usually have difficulty selecting a well-fitting bra. Buxom women are more likely than smaller-breasted women to wear an incorrectly sized bra. They tend to buy bras that are too small, while smaller-breasted women tend to purchase bras that are too large.[2]

Asymmetrical breasts[edit]

For more details on this topic, see breast.

In addition to the difficulties already described, up to 25% of women's breasts are persistently and visibly asymmetrical.[81] Manufacturer's standard brassiere sizes cannot accommodate these inconsistencies, and this makes it more difficult for women to find a well-fitting bra.[citation needed] When asymmetry occurs (one side is larger than the other ) the bra in question should always fit to the larger breast so as to ensure that the whole of the bust is sufficiently supported and that the wearer is comfortable.

Bras and physical activity[edit]

German pole vaulter Floé Kühnert wearing an athletic support bra (usually called a sports bra)

Some occupations require women to repeatedly raise their arms above the shoulders. Volleyball, high jump, or long jump athletes must continually lift their arms above their shoulders. This can cause the shoulder straps to dig in, putting the athletes at risk for shoulder pain. Even smaller-busted women who repeatedly lift their arms while wearing poorly designed or badly fitted bras can experience shoulder pain.[62][75]

To compensate, female athletes can wear athletic or sports bras.[82] 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."[82]

Culture and fashion[edit]

Modern bras were invented at the beginning of the 19th century but are not universally worn around the world,[83] especially in third-world countries where the cost of the garment may equal 10–30 hours of a woman's wages, making them unaffordable.[56] Bras are not anatomically or physiologically required to support breasts, but are worn in response to fashion and cultural influences.[4]

Breast shape[edit]

Women's choices about what kind of bra to wear or whether to wear a bra are consciously and unconsciously affected by social perceptions of the ideal shape of the female breast and figure reflecting her bust, waist, and hip measurements.[84] The culturally desirable figure for woman in Western culture has changed over time. 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. Iris Young described preferences in the United States for breast shape and size: "There is one perfect shape and proportion for breasts: round, sitting high on the chest, large but not bulbous, with the look of firmness."[84]:28–32

Bra fashion[edit]

Singer and sweater girl Patti Page wearing a bullet bra in 1955.

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 those worn by Jane Russell and Patti Page.[85] in the early 1960s, smaller breasts gained popularity and in the late 1990s larger boobs became more appealing again.[49]

After the feminist protest during the Miss America pageant on 7 September 1968, bra manufacturers were concerned that women would stop wearing bras. In response, many bra manufacturers' altered their marketing and began claiming that wearing their bra was like "not wearing a bra".[86] During the 1960s, bra designers and manufacturers introduced padded bras and underwire bras. Women's perception of undergarments changed, and in the 1970s, they began to seek more comfortable and natural looking bras.[85]

Each fall, Victoria's Secret commissions the creation of a Fantasy Bra containing gems and precious metals. In 2003, it hired the jeweller Mouawad to design a bra containing more than 2,500 carats of diamonds and sapphires, taking over 370 man-hours to complete. German supermodel Heidi Klum later posed in the bra, which at the time was the world's most valuable, at USD$10 million.[87] In 2010, Victoria's Secret hired designer Damiani 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.[88]

Visible bra and straps[edit]

Model Alyssa Nicole Pallett wears a halter top that purposefully reveals her bra.

During the 1990s, it became fashionable for women in Europe, America and in some parts of Asia to show their bra-straps.[89] Until that time,[90] it was usually considered a faux pas for women to show their bra or bra straps in public.[91] In some social circles, that is still true, putting women at risk as being seen as sloppy, slutty,[92] trashy or immodest.[93] Madonna was famously one of the first entertainers to break convention when she wore a cone brassiere as outerwear during her 1990 Blond Ambition tour. (Her brassiere from the tour sold for USD$52,000 at the Christie's Pop Culture auction in London on 29 November 2012.[94])

It is increasingly common in popular culture to see women wearing clothing in certain social situations that purposefully exposes a portion of their bra or bra straps.[95] Actress Julia Roberts as the title character in the film Erin Brockovich frequently wore tops that revealed her Ultimo push-up bra and cleavage.[96] In the television series Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw, the character played by Sarah Jessica Parker, wore a top that revealed a lace bra.[97] Demi Lovato's appearance on Cosmopolitan's August 2013 cover in a plunging orange dress that revealed the underwire-buttressed center of an ornate teal bra was cited by New York magazine as a sign that exposed center-bra was becoming a surging fashion trend. The Fall 2013 Couture collection introduced by Versace prominently featured fashions that were open in the front, revealing underwire bras.[98] It is increasingly popular for underwear to be seen as outerwear, and in keeping with the increased measurements among the public, fashion houses have begun in some instances to featured models with curves. Fashion house Louis Vuitton featured as catwalk models recent mothers Adriana Lima and Karolina Kurkova in 2010.[49]

Other women have exposed their bras in public to draw attention and raise funds for charities like breast cancer research.[99] Wearing clothing that reveals the wearer's bra or bra straps has become so common that Cosmopolitan and Seventeen created guidelines for women describing how to expose their bra straps or bras in an acceptable manner. The guidelines include avoiding flesh-toned, smooth-cup bras, so that the exposure looks deliberate and not accidental. They also recommend making sure the women's bra is in good condition and to wear a style that provides ample coverage.[100] Other advice includes wearing a flesh-colored bra or a bra that matches the color of the sheer garment worn [101][102] and don't wear a bra that shows through the garment's armholes.[103]

Bras and youth[edit]

Main article: Training bra
A model in bra and panty, 2008

When the Flapper era ended, the media substituted teen for "Flapper". Olga manufactured a teen bra that was skimpy and sheer. Other manufacturers responded in kind. Since the end of World War II in Western cultures, society has given a great deal of attention to the time when a girl receives her first bra. Purchasing a girl's first bra may be seen as a long-awaited rite of passage into womanhood,[83][84]:36 signifying her coming of age.[1][1][104]

Girls often look forward to beginning to wear a bra "because it makes them feel feminine and grown up" although as adults women admit they had a difficult time adjusting to wearing bras.[84]:30–32 Teen girls in early puberty who are beginning to develop breasts often choose to begin wearing a training bra which is usually a lightweight, unlined, soft-cup cotton bralet design. They are available in sizes 30AA to 38B.[105] But retailers are increasingly marketing adult-style bras to the tween and teen market, although the effort is criticized by some as an attempt to sexualize girls early in life.

Firm, upright breasts are typical of youth.[106] As such, they may not physically require 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.[107][108]

In the early 1960s, 96.3% of female college freshmen bought bras as part of their back to school wardrobe. At the tail end of the 1960s when bralessness increased as a trend, the number had slipped to 85%. Only 77% of high school girls bought bras as they prepared to return to school.[22]:151

Social issues and trends[edit]

Bra fence in New Zealand

Percentage wearing bras[edit]

Various surveys have reported that from 5-25% of Western women do not wear a bra.[87][109][110] In an online survey for All You magazine in April 2013, 25% of women who responded reported that they do not wear a bra every day.[111] In another online survey conducted by a lingerie and swimwear retailer, of over 2000 women who responded, more than half reported they like to go without a bra every once in a while.[65]

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 bra-wearing women wear underwire bras.[112]

Third-world usage[edit]

Bras are much less common in third-world countries where both manufacturing technology and retailers are scarce or non-existent.[113][114] TMS Ruge, co-founder of a money transfer platform in Uganda, says that "Bras are alien to African culture..."[115] In Senegal, Oxfam says that “few businesses have the complex technology needed to make good-quality bras.” A local credit analyst who has helped women in rural areas develop business projects, said that "Chinese traders sell it in a large quantity [of bras] but with a very bad quality. We can say good-quality bras are rare and very expensive in Senegal."[115]

According to the Uplift Project, which is dedicated to providing recycled brassieres to third-world women, for "women in disadvantaged communities a bra is often unobtainable or unaffordable."[116] Since 2005, they have shipped about 330,000 bras to women in third-world countries including Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga and Cambodia.[56]

The non-profit Free the Girls reports that in less economically developed countries, "Bras are sought after items."[60] At markets selling second-hand clothing in West Africa, bras are highly prized.[115] The non-governmental organization Oxfam set up a business "Frip Ethique" (meaning "ethical second hand clothing") in Dakar, Senegal to enable local women to sell second-hand bras and other clothing.[113][114]

Social norms[edit]

A survey found that many women recognize they chose to begin wearing a bra because they felt a desire to be fashionable, to conform to social or maternal pressure, or for physical support. Women sometimes wear bras because they mistakenly believe they prevent sagging breasts.[75] Very few cited comfort as the reason. While many Western women recognize they've been socialized to wear bras, they do not want to abandon them. Some report feeling "naked" or "exposed" if they go braless and feel that bras improve their appearance.[80][84]:30–32 Some wear bras because they believe others might consider their behavior—the unrestrained movement of their breasts or the readily discerned appearance of their nipples under their clothing—as "lewd".[117] If a woman's nipples or areola can be seen through clothing, others may perceive this as "indecent" or inappropriate.[118] Some women wear bras because they want to conceal the natural shape of their breasts and nipples, responding to cultural standards of modesty, or because they fear criticism or unwanted attention.[117] Women's nipples may become erect when stimulated by environmental factors like cold, so women wear bras because they fear that their erect nipples will draw undue or unwanted attention.[117]

Despite these social pressures, it is common to see public figures, especially celebrities, actresses and members of the fashion industry who obviously do not wear a bra, at least on some occasions.[119] At the 2013 Emmy Awards, which were televised to a wide audience, a number of women including Gwyneth Paltrow, Cara Delevingne, Miranda Kerr, and Kim Kardashian were obviously braless. At the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards in June 2014, Rihanna was presented the Fashion Icon Award by Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Rihanna deliberately wore a sheer gown that exposed her breasts and nipples.[120] Street-fashion photographer Mr. Newston captured Eleonora Carisi, a well-known Italian fashion blogger, going to lunch in mid-town Manhattan in a sheer top that revealed her bare breasts.[121] It's legal for women in New York City to bare their breasts.[122] While it's not unusual for celebrities to go braless, it's generally considered unacceptable to go braless at work.[123]


In prior generations in Western society, if a woman wore a corset, it was a positive reflection on her morality and her social standing. Only prostitutes or working class women allowed themselves to be seen not wearing a corset. Wearing a corset became a way for a woman to communicate that she was a worthy female member of polite society.[124] In the modern world, bralessness is not acceptable in some social or business circumstances,[125] and some people may judge a woman's social status depending on whether she is wearing a bra or not.[124]

A survey of women found that most recognize that they have been socially conditioned to wear a bra, but that did not lessen their desire to wear the garment. Some admit that they would feel uncomfortable, naked, or undressed if they did not wear a bra.[84]:31–32 When a woman chooses to go braless, others may assume she's making a political statement or that she wants sexual attention.[118][124] On the contrary, women who go braless may simply desire to feel more comfortable.[126] Some women, especially those with smaller busts, prefer to go braless and can get away with it more easily than larger-busted women.[127] Women may wear bras because their work dress code requires it, but actually prefer going braless.[117] Some women feel uncomfortable wearing a bra and take off their bras when they return home[4] or are on vacation.

To avoid unwanted attention, women who want to go braless can choose clothing such as camisoles to conceal their breasts and nipples,[128][129] or adhesive silicone nipple covers.[130] Depending on the social context, women may wear different kinds of clothing to hide or reveal the fact that they're not wearing a bra.[131] Some outer garments like sundresses, tank tops, and formal evening wear are designed to be worn without bras or are designed with built-in support.[119] In some social circumstances, a woman may choose to go braless even when it is obvious to the casual observer.[132] Unhappy bra owners have donated thousands of bras to the Braball Sculpture, a collection of 18,085 bras.[133] The organizer, Emily Duffy, wears a 42B and switched to stretch undershirts with built-in bras because standard bras cut into her midsection.[62]

No Bra Day[edit]

A "No Bra Day" has been observed with increasing popularity in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom since 2011.[vague] The initial emphasis was largely on encouraging women to experiment with going braless for a day. Notices of the event also reminded women to get screened for breast cancer and suggested giving money to support cancer research. The origins of the day are uncertain,[134] although the first web site and Facebook page about the event was created in 2011 by an anonymous 19-year-old woman from California, who goes by the username "Anastasia Doughnuts".[135] In 2012, the Facebook page drew 400,000 people.[citation needed] She set 9 July as the event date until 2015, when she moved the event date 13 October, during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.[136]

Family members of breast cancer survivors and those who lost family and friends to the illness described the event as "slightly creepy and exploitative" and of sexualizing breasts.[137][138] Women are encouraged to submit photographs online of themselves without bras.[139] The event was advertised by a marketing agency on a United Kingdom web Awareness Days web site.[140] The text used by the web sites, Facebook pages, and advertisements since 2011 has used exactly the same text, including "Ladies, free your breasts for 24 hours by removing those dreadful (but at times oh-so-helpful) bras."[141][140] During 2015, the event was renamed the International No Bra Day on Facebook and was attended by 44,000 men and women, according to the official Facebook page.[142]

Opposition to bras[edit]

Some people question the medical or social necessity of bras.[118] Some researchers have found health benefits for going braless. (See health issues above.) An informal movement advocates breast freedom, top freedom, bra freedom, or simply going braless.[143][144][145][146]

Bra opponents believe training bras are used to indoctrinate girls into thinking about their breasts as sexual objects. In their view, bras for very young girls whose breasts do not yet need support are not functional undergarments and are only intended to accentuate the girl's sexuality. 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".[147] 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."[147]

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". They told women that wearing a bra was deceptive and against Islamic teaching.[148] Girls and women found wearing a bra were publicly whipped because bras are seen as "deceptive" and to violate their interpretation of Sharia law.[149][150] A resident of Mogadishu whose daughters were whipped said, "The Islamists say a woman's chest should be firm naturally, or flat."[148]

Individuals in the United States organized a "National No-Bra Day", first observed on 9 July in 2011.[151] The group encouraged women to go without a bra for the entire day. Women posted on Twitter comments about the relief they feel when taking off their bra. The lingerie firm Victoria's Secret commented that the day was not good for their business.[152] More than 250,000 people expressed an interest in "attending" the special day on a Facebook page dedicated to the event.[153]

Miss America protest[edit]

Main article: Miss America protest

During the Miss America contest on 7 September 1968, about 400 women were drawn together from across the United States by a small group, the New York Radical Women, in a protest outside the event. They symbolically threw a number of feminine products into a large trash can. These included mops, pots and pans, Cosmopolitan and Playboy magazines,[154] false eyelashes, high-heeled shoes, curlers, hairspray, makeup, girdles, corsets, and bras,[155] items the protestors called "instruments of female torture". Carol Hanisch, one of the protest organizers, said "We had intended to burn it, but the police department, since we were on the boardwalk, wouldn't let us do the burning." A New York Post story by Lindsy Van Gelder[156] about the protest drew an analogy between the feminist protest and Vietnam War protesters who burned their draft cards. In fact, there was no bra burning, nor did anyone take off their bra.[157]:4

Hanisch said, "Up until this time, we hadn't done a lot of actions yet. We were a very small movement. It was kind of a gutsy thing to do. Miss America was this 'American pie' icon. Who would dare criticize this?" Along with tossing the items into the trash can, they marched with signs, passed out pamphlets, and crowned a live sheep, comparing the beauty pageant to livestock competitions at county fairs.[154] "The media picked up on the bra part," Hanisch said later. "I often say that if they had called us 'girdle burners,' every woman in America would have run to join us."[154]

Feminist opinions[edit]

Some feminist writers have considered the bra 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. Professor Lisa Jardine listened to 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.[158]

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."[159] 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."[160] While women did not literally burn their bras, some women stopped wearing bras as a form of rebellion or protest. By refusing to follow generally accepted norms, they intended to communicate their rejection of how society stratifies men's and women's roles.[161]

Professor and feminist Iris Marion Young wrote that in U.S. culture breasts are subject to "Capitalist, patriarchal American media-dominated culture [that] objectifies breasts before such a distancing glance that freezes and masters."[84]:31 Some feminists suggest that when a young girl begins wearing a bra, it symbolically changes her breasts into sexual objects.[83]

Legal issues[edit]

Transportation security[edit]

The United States Transportation Security Administration began recommending in 2007 that women do not wear underwire bras because they can set off the metal detectors.[162] 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, guaranteed to not set off metal detectors.[112]

Prison security[edit]

In June 2010, attorney Brittney Horstman was prevented from meeting a client at the Federal Detention Center, Miami when her underwire bra set off a metal detector. She removed the bra in a bathroom and was then barred from entering the prison because she was now braless, a violation of the detention center's dress code.[163] The federal public defender's office contacted Warden Linda McGrew, who conducted an inquiry. Prison guards had received a memo allowing women wearing underwire bras to enter the prison, but the guards on duty during Horstman's visit were unaware of the modified policy.[164] The warden concluded the incident was "an aberration" and promised it would not happen again.[165]

In schools[edit]

In November 2009, parents and school officials complained about girls wearing sports bras 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) no matter how hot it is. The policy applies to all events and training sessions.[166]

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 is accepted throughout the running and triathlon community, just as wearing swimsuits and tight-fitting volleyball uniforms are for those sports.[166]

During 2012, Memphis, Tennessee Democrat Joe Towns attempted but failed to pass legislation that required female student athletes to wear shirts over their sports bras. Knoxville Republican Bill Dunn was shocked at the way the girl athletes dress.[167]

... having several children who play sports, it's pretty shocking to me that you go to practices and games and young ladies are walking around in sports bras ... would that be considered underwear?

In employment[edit]

In January 2011, a German court ruled that employers can require female employees to wear bras or undershirts at work. An airport security firm argued that requiring bras was essential "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.[168]

In August 2011, Wendy Anderson of Utah sued her employer for sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In her suit, she claimed that Derek Wright, her employer, attempted to require her to adhere to a dress code that included a "No Bra Thursday". She alleged that he regularly discussed Anderson's breast size with her in front of other employees.[169][170]

Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Rail in Britain, caused a row among his female train attendants when he introduced new uniforms in May 2013. A number of them complained that the new blouses they are required to wear are too revealing and expose their bras to the public. Virgin Rail offered a voucher worth £20 to allow the unhappy employees to purchase a top to wear underneath the new blouses.[171]

See also[edit]


Explanatory notes[edit]

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  • Yu W, Fan JT, Ng SP, Harlock SC (2006). Innovation and technology of women's intimate apparel. Boca Raton: CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-9105-7. OCLC 71139537. 
  • Ewing, Elizabeth (1971). Fashion in underwear. London: Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-0857-X. 
  • Gau, Colleen; Farrell-Beck, Jane (2002). Uplift: the Bra in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-3643-2.  (for reviews, see next section)
  • Greer, Germaine (2001). The female eunuch. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-52762-8. 
  • Lindsey, Karen; Love, Susan M. (2000). Dr. Susan Love's breast book (3rd ed.). Cambridge, Mass: Perseus Publishing. ISBN 0-7382-0235-5. 
  • Pedersen, Stephanie (2004). Bra: a thousand years of style, support and seduction. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-2067-X. 
  • Steele, Valerie (2001). The corset: a cultural history. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09953-3. 
  • Stoppard, Miriam (1996). The Breast Book. New York: DK Pub. ISBN 0-7894-0420-6. 
  • Leigh Summers (2001). Bound to please: a history of the Victorian corset. Oxford: Berg. ISBN 1-85973-510-X. 
  • Warner LC (1948). Always starting things. Bridgeport, Connecticut: Warner Brothers. 

Book reviews[edit]

  • Fischer, Gayle V; Farrell-Beck, Jane; Gau, Colleen (2003). "Uplift: The Bra in America". Journal of American History 89 (4): 1539–40. doi:10.2307/3092606. JSTOR 3092606. 
  • Murphy, Michael (2003). "Book Reviews". Winterthur Portfolio 38 (2/3): 151–9. doi:10.1086/421426. 



  • "Bras: The Bare Facts". Dispatches. Series 14. Episode 16 or 17. 2 November 2000. Channel 4 (UK). 

External links[edit]