A bra, short for brassiere or brassiere, is a form-fitting undergarment that is primarily used to support and cover women's breasts. A typical bra consists of a chest band that wraps around the torso, supporting two breast cups that are held in place by shoulder straps. A bra usually fastens in the back, using a hook and eye fastener, although bras are available in a large range of styles and sizes, including front-fastening and backless designs. Some bras are designed for specific functions, such as nursing bras to facilitate breastfeeding or sports bras to minimize discomfort during exercise.
Although women in ancient Greece and Rome wore garments to support their breasts, the first modern bra is attributed to 19-year-old Mary Phelps Jacob (later and better known as the New York publisher and activist Caresse Crosby) who created the garment in 1913 by using two handkerchiefs and some ribbon. After patenting her design in 1914, she briefly manufactured bras at a two-woman factory in Boston before selling her patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company, which began mass-producing the garment. The bra gained widespread adoption during the first half of the twentieth century, when it largely replaced the corset. The majority of Western women today wear bras, with a minority choosing to go braless. Bra manufacturing and retailing are key components of the multi-billion-dollar global lingerie industry.
The term brassiere, from French brassiere, was used by the Evening Herald in Syracuse, New York, in 1893. It gained wider acceptance in 1904 when the DeBevoise Company used it in their advertising copy although the word is actually French for a child's undershirt. In French, it is called a soutien-gorge (literally, "throat-supporter"). It and other early versions resembled a camisole stiffened with boning.
Vogue magazine first used the term brassiere in 1907, and by 1911 the word had entered the Oxford English Dictionary. On 3 November 1914, the newly formed US patent category for "brassieres" was inaugurated with the first patent issued to Mary Phelps Jacob, later and better known as Caresse Crosby. In the 1930s, brassiere/brassiere was gradually shortened to bra.
Several lingerie and shapewear manufacturers, among them Wonderbra, Frederick's of Hollywood, Agent Provocateur and Victoria's Secret, produce bras that enhance cleavage. As many as 30 kinds of bras are available, including push-up, strapless, bandeau, demicup, sports bra, the minimiser, padded, a T-shirt bra, multiway, plunge, wireless, maternity, seamless, silicone, and stick-on. The history of the brassiere is full of myths in which people like Caresse Crosby, Howard Hughes, Herminie Cadolle and Otto Titzling command center stage.
Before the spread of brassieres, the female bust was encased in corsets and structured garments called "bust improvers", made of boning and lace. The history of corsets indicates they started to go out of fashion by 1917, when metal was needed to make tanks and munitions for World War I, and when 1920s fashions emphasized boyish figures.
IWhen corsets became unfashionable, brassieres and padding helped to project, display and emphasize the breasts. In 1893, New Yorker Marie Tucek was granted a patent for a "breast supporter", described as a modification of the corset, and was very similar to a modern push-up bra designed to support the breasts. It consisted of a plate made of metal, cardboard or other stiff material shaped to fit against the torso under the breasts, following the contour of the breasts. It was covered with silk, canvas or other cloth, which extended above the plate to form a pocket for each breast. The plate curved around the torso and ended near the armpits.
Wearing a garment to support the breasts may date back to ancient Greece. Women wore an apodesmos, later stēthodesmē, mastodesmos and mastodeton, all meaning "breast-band", a band of wool or linen that was wrapped across the breasts and tied or pinned at the back. Roman women wore breast-bands during sport, such as those shown on the Coronation of the Winner mosaic
Fragments of linen textiles found at Lengberg Castle in East Tyrol in Austria dated to between 1440 and 1485 are believed to have been bras. Two of them had cups made from two pieces of linen sewn with fabric that extended to the bottom of the torso with a row of six eyelets for fastening with a lace or string. One had two shoulder straps and was decorated with lace in the cleavage.
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Development of the underwire bra started in the 1930s, though it did not gain widespread popularity until the 1950s, when the end of World War II freed metal for domestic use. Aviator and filmmaker Howard Hughes designed a prototype for an aerodynamic underwire bra for Jane Russell when filming The Outlaw in 1941. According to Hughes, the resultant amount was "the length of the actual cleavage is five and one-quarter inches." Bras in 1940s left a substantial amount of fabric in the center, thus creating a separation of breasts instead of the pushed-together cleavage of today. Frederick Mellinger of Frederick's of Hollywood created the first padded bra in 1947, followed by an early push-up bra a year later (dubbed "The Rising Star"
A padded bra adds material (foam, silicone, gel, air, or fluid) to the cups to help the breasts look fuller. There are different designs, from a slight lift to a highly pushed-up effect, that provide coverage and support, hides nipples, add shape to breasts that are far apart and adds comfort. Graduated padding uses more padding at the bottom of the cups that gradually tapers off towards the top. There also are semi-padded bras that suits deep neck dresses. With the advent of padded bras, sales of removable pads took a plunge, though some padded bras also have removable inserts. Actress Julia Roberts was required to wear a custom made silicone gel filled bra for the movie Erin Brockovich in order to increase her cleavage.
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