A brassiere or bra is an item of women's underwear consisting of two cups totally or partially covering the breasts for support and modesty. In addition to the connection of the cups it has usually four bands, two on the sides that are fastened to each other at the back or anterior part and two over the shoulders, joining the other two at the back. A demi-bra (or semibra) is a bra with cups covering only the lower part of the breast, showing the nipples.
Shelf-bras are designed to help support the breast while leaving most of it uncovered. The upper part of a bikini is similar, but with the social difference that it is part of a swimsuit and not underwear, i.e. in western cultures it is considered suitable for exposure in a swimming pool, on the beach, and other recreational situations. In French, brassière now refers to a baby's vest, although it is now sometimes used for the 'bra-top' without formed cups. The word brassière derives from bracière, an Old French word meaning "arm protector" and referring to military uniform (bras in French means "arm"). This later became used for a military breast plate, and later for a type of woman's corset. (The modern French word for a bra is soutien-gorge.)
The size of breasts is often expressed in terms of the size of the bra. This is measured as follows: Two measurements are taken, the first is a circumference of the body with the tape being placed under the breasts. 5 or 6 inches is added to this measurement in order to get to an even number. This provides the "band size."
An alternative method for the first measurement is to measure under the arms and across the top of the breasts, rounding up to an even number, if necessary. The second measurement is similar, but includes the breasts. The first result is then subtracted from the second. A difference of 1 inch requires an A cup size; 2 inches, a B cup; 3 inches, a C cup; and 4 inches, a D cup. Therefore, a woman who has a band size of 36 inches, and a measurement over her breasts of 39 inches, would be best served by a bra size of 36C.
Larger cup sizes can be confusing, but the following will outline these unusual sizes. A 5 inch difference is either a DD or an E cup. There is essentially no difference between them, but some manufacturers are hesitant to use the "E" size fearing that it sounds too large, and therefore use "DD" because it sounds less imposing.
A 6 inch difference is either a DDD, a EE or an F, while a 7 inch difference is a EEE, an FF or a G (again, depending on manufacturer's preference). An 8 inch difference is an H cup.
After that, the sizes proceed through the alphabet with a letter and a double letter for each inch difference. For example, a 9 inch difference is an HH, a 10 inch difference is an I, an 11 inch difference is an II, a 12 inch difference is a J, a 13 inch difference is a JJ, and so on.
Bras and pregnancy Due to the increase in size of the breasts during pregnancy it is recommended that under-wired bras are avoided. A nursing bra may be used when a woman chooses to breastfeed, allowing easy access to the nipple when the infant is to be fed.
Brassieres and breast sagging
Breasts naturally sag as women grow older. Traditionally, the idea that a brassiere will help preserve the youthful shape of the breasts has been assumed and promoted by brassiere manufacturers. More recently this has been disputed, and some researchers are finding that breast movement stimulates the lymphatic system and helps removes toxins from the body. See below for an external link promoting this view in depth.
A woman may choose to wear a bra for social or reasons of comfort, but there is no proven medical reason compelling women to wear a brassiere. No evidence has been found to sustain the notion that women's breasts will sag lower over her lifetime without a bra than with one.
"…wearing a bra…has no medical necessity whatsoever... Except for the women who find bras especially comfortable or uncomfortable, the decision to wear or not wear one is purely aesthetic--or emotional... If you don't enjoy it, and job or social pressures don't force you into it, don't bother."
-- Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, by Dr. Susan Love
Some medical professionals believe that wearing a bra can actually increase breast sagging later in life. This is because the chest muscles that support breasts are used less and atrophy from lack of use, just as our leg muscles are weaker if we do not run regularly. Health benefits of breast sagging have also been suggested but not substantiated.
The concept of covering or restraining the breasts dates back to 6,500 years in Greece. Minoan women on the island of Crete 4,500 years ago wore brassieres that revealed their bare breasts. A binding known as an apodesmos or mastodeton was worn by Greek women for exercise. It is said that brassieres were invented by men so that women's breasts would be smaller, more like a man's.
A bra-like device to give a symmetrical rotundity to the breasts was patented (nr 24,033) in 1859 by Henry S. Lesher of Brooklyn, New York; although it is recognisably a bra, the design looks uncomfortable by current standards.
In 1889 Herminie Cadolle of France invented the first modern bra, a two-piece undergarment called le bien-être (the wellbeing). The lower part was a corset for the waist, the upper supporting the breasts by means of shoulder straps. By 1905 the upper half was being sold separately as a soutien-gorge (breast support), the name by which bras are still known in France. Cadolle's business (http://www.cadolle.com) is still going strong. In America, Mary Phelps Jacob was granted the first U.S. patent for the brassiere (nr 1,115,674), in 1913. She was aided in this work by her French maid, Marie. Her invention is most widely recognized as the predecessor to the modern bra. She sold the patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for $1,500 (or over $25,600 in today's money). Warner eventually made an estimated $15 million off Caresse's patent.
In 1922, Ida Rosenthal, a seamstress at the small New York City dress shop, Enid Frocks, along with shop owner Enid Bissett and husband William Rosenthal, changed the look of women's fashion. The "boyish figure" then in style downplayed women's natural curves through the use of a bandeaux brassiere. Their innovation, designed to make their dresses look better on the wearer, consisted of modifying the bandeaux bra to enhance and support women's breasts. Hence, the name "Maidenform". A later innovation is the development of sized brassieres. The company they founded became Maidenform manufacturing company.
In 1960's, many women publicly discarded their bras as a symbol of female liberation as a form of protest; however, "burning the bra" was not a widespread practice. The oft-repeated story that the brassiere was invented by a man named Otto Titzling is false.