|A woman in a bra. Perhaps the easiest caption I've ever written.|
(photo by David Yu)
Noun. Also brassiere. Early 20th century.
[French = child's reins, camisole, etc.]
A woman's undergarment worn to support the breasts.
We all know who invented the bra, right? I know this because I got the question in Trivial Pursuit once and got it right: it's Otto Titzling, of course. Except being an underhanded type of fellow, he supposedly stole the idea from Phillip de Brassière who subsequently sued, won, and that's why a bra is called a brassière and not a titzling. Except I didn't get it right. And neither did Trivial Pursuit. Otto Titzling, being a fictional character from the 1972 book Bust Up: The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling, didn't invent anything. Rather, his name is simply a crude pun (a two-tit sling) that has somehow captured the public imagination (as anything to do with boobs is wont to do). Even his more refined sounding counterpart, Phillip de Brassière, is nothing more than a transparent pun (fill up the brassière). Shame on all of us for being so gullible.
In actual fact, the concept of bras and breast support predates Titzling (who supposedly lived in the early 20th century) by several thousand years. Female athletes in ancient Greece and Rome are depicted as wearing tight bindings to secure their breasts during sport, and startlingly modern looking bras have been discovered in Austria and dated to the 15th century. This indicates that what to do with breasts - whether to hide them, flaunt them, flatten them, accentuate them, etc - has long been a preoccupation for women (and men), probably for as long as humans have been wearing clothes.
|Roman women playing sport - mosaic at the Villa Romana del Casale|
(photo by Kenton Greening)
So bras are good for women, right? They offer support, comfort and (crucially) prevent their breasts from sagging in later life (a condition that's properly called breast ptosis). Well, a body of research is rapidly growing that indicates no, bras are not good for women and no, they do not prevent breasts from sagging or drooping as one ages. Regarding health matters, badly fitted bras have been linked to all manner of health problems - from bad backs to migraines, skin abrasions and restricted breathing. "Ah!" you say, "but that's just women with badly fitted bras!" True, but as some estimates suggest that 80% of women have ill-fitting bras, it's certainly a considerable problem, and one that gets worse for women with larger breasts.
|Permalift ad from 1951|
What about ptosis, the problem of sagging breasts? Well, again, it would seems that our ideas about bras are misplaced. A 15-year French study concluded that no, bras do not prevent sagging, and in actual fact wearing a brassière might accelerate sagging as it weakens the connective structures that hold the breasts in place. Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon of Besançon University states: "Medically, physiologically, anatomically - breasts gain no benefit from being denied gravity. On the contrary, they get saggier with a bra." While times are changing, the pressures of fashion and cultural norms still dictate that most Western women wear bras regardless of the health implications. As research gathers pace, however, perhaps the days of the brassière are numbered, as essential items at least. If they are, as Professor Rouillon states, "a false necessity," maybe one day we'll look back on bras and their era with the same curiosity with which we regard corsets: "Women strapped themselves into those? How odd. And yet aesthetically pleasing." Now wouldn't that be something?
Do you see the bra as an essential component of one's wardrobe, or purely a fashion item?
Were you expecting more puns in this piece?
Don't you find it odd that the etymology of brassière is 'a child's reins'?
Do please leave your most uplif ... umm ... just leave your comments below.