Bras are the handy, sometimes annoying or uncomfortable devices that women wear to support their breasts. Bras are also often used to give an attractive shape to a woman's chest. Either way, the brassiere is a clothing accessory that every woman is familiar with, even if they choose not to use one.

While most people already know what a bra is, and what bras are used for, some may be curious about how these devices came to be. They may also wonder what they orgin of the word "bra" (really, the origin of the word "brassiere") is. Thus, here is a brief history of the bra, how bras came to be, and how the brassiere got its name.

Brief History of the Bra

Before there were bras, women often used a span of fabric to support their breasts. Often this was achieved by either binding their breast with the cloth wrapped soley around the chest. Another method was to take the cloth and support the from under the breasts and over the shoulders as well as having the the breast bound with the cloth around the chest.

Around the 16th century, woman began to wear corsets to support their breasts. This was a garment that covered most of a womans torso, giving support and lift to her breasts while giving a smooth, curved, and thin shape to her waist and hips. These were often strengthend with bone (originally made from actual bone). The downside of this garment was that it was difficult to put on and take off, as well as being highly restrictive to breathing, and quite uncomfortable. The bra would evolve out of this garment when people speculated about whether it would be possible to divide the corset into multiple pieces.

An elastic bra from 1907
An early elastic bra from 1907
By the start of the 1900s, the beginnings of what would be known as brassieres — or bras for short — emerged. The bras did not yet make use of cups to support each breast, but rather was an wide elastic clothe across the chest with shoulder support. This would evolve into bras which supported each breast individually, using elastic fabric to cup each breast.

In 1932, SH Camp and Company created a system by which they related breast size to a size of a bra cup (using an alphabetic letter to refer to each size). By the end of the 1930s other companies began to adopt SH Camp and Company's usage of fixed cup sizes and the alphabetic system of naming each bra cup size. The system quickly became standard after this, and the sizing of bras this way has persisted to this day.

In the process of bras being adopted, the uncomfortable corsets quickly fell out of popularity between the 1910s and the beginning of the 1920s. Bras are now the standard breast support accessory, while corsets are now left to special unusual uses by certain people and groups.

A modern bra
A basic modern bra
Another form that bras have taken in past few decades is the sports bra. These brassieres resemble (in some ways) the early bras of the 20th century. However, this kind of bra is much more well built, and is designed so that it may also be worn as an outer garment, not strictly an undergarment like most common bras are. The main function of a sports bra is to give plenty of support and comfort to a woman while being athletic; an activity that often involves plenty of bouncing which can be quite uncomfortable on the chest for well endowed woman. The sports bra provides stability making vigorous activity a little more comfortable. Thus, for activities like dancing, running/jogging, or using a stair climbing excercise machine, a sports bra is often recommended.

Brassieres continue to evolve, and improve. No longer exclusively a never-to-be-seen undergarment, they now come in elegant designs and colors. The bra's functional support continues to improve as new methods and materials of supporting woman's breasts are discovered. Although they have been around for decades, one thing that still strongly remains in need of improvement is their fit. However, as woman's breasts are as unique in shape as the woman who bare them, developing a simple economical series of bras that fit well remains a huge challenge.

Where Does The Bra Get Its Name?

The bra gets its name from the French word "brassière" which came from the older word "bracière" which meant "arm protector." A bracière was a type of military armour worn over a soldier's chest, but this would eventually be applied to a kind of corset worn by women. The brassière, on the other hand, usually referred to a type of shirt that a little child would wear, but could also refer to an underbodice as well as to a harness. This word would later be used to describe a type of undershirt that used boning to support the breasts, and then later, to what would generally known as a modern brassiere (bra).

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