As women, we hail from different places, ages, religions & races, but there is one thing that at least 90% of us have in common – we wear bras. For most of us, everyday. Some argue that bras are not a necessity, while others contend that bras are essential for breast health & comfort. In today’s world, the majority of us do not leave the house without a bra. It’s been said that bras are a women’s best friend – they give us support and are close to our hearts!
We are also now spoilt with a large variety of different bra types to choose from. How did we get here? It wasn’t always like this for our fellow women in the past. In fact, we have been experimenting with breast support for centuries! Let’s take a modern perspective on a few versions of “best friends” that our ancestors have had to live with.
1.The Dudou, 13th Century
A traditional dudou was used by Chinese women as an undergarment in ancient times and can be considered China’s most original underwear. The dudou was worn by women to flatten their breasts as a way to appear more graceful in the eyes of their society. This was because busty women were considered to be a temptation to men. If women had to wear
the dudou today, the lack of support at the bustline will make running for the bus very painful! It must have also not been the most secure thing to wear, if it is only held up to your body by means of thin straps tied together. Yes, there is always the option to do a double knot, but imagine the time taken to undo that knot at the end of every day! It definitely will not be practical undergarment for the women of today.
2.The Corset, 16th – 18th Century
To achieve the “perfect” inverted cone-shaped figure, women in France started to embrace the corset in the early 1500s. The tighter it is, the better the results. Health professionals had concerns about the constraining effects when women started suffering from nausea, breathlessness, bowel disturbances, flushing and even fainting. Imagine spending the whole day running errands or doing housework in that! Hearty sessions of stuffing our tummies with our favourite foods will also be nearly impossible. Not to mention, the difficulty & time consumed in even getting a corset on and having it laced up. In the Victorian days, wealthy women had maids to do it for them, but we don’t all have maids willing to put up with that everyday, don’t we?
3.The First Sports Bra, 1977
Sick and tired of the pain of breast bounce while jogging in 1977, an American woman named Lisa Lindahl, together with her friend Polly Smith, a theatre costume designer, stitched two jockstraps together – one for each breast. It held their breasts together better than regular bras, without any metal components or stifling padding! It was named the “Jockstrap” but later on changed to a more palatable name – the “Jogbra”. Before the invention of the jogbra, women were forced to do sports in normal bras. Today, the jogbras has been advanced into the sports bra that we all know today. It has stronger hold and material, giving us the freedom of movement. However, many women today avoid wearing a sports bra when not actually exercising due to the flattening effect that it has on a woman’s chest. Many find it unflattering. While a practical option for women today, it does not fulfil the aesthetic requirements that we have placed importance on in this age.
4.The Wonderbra , 1990s
Although first invented by a Canadian named Louise Poirier in 1964, it didn’t cause a global wave until the 1990s. The Wonderbra pushed the breasts together and upwards to create an illusion of a fuller chest. While they do provide good support, there are other issues we still face with bras that come with metal underwires. Things like, dipping straps, slipping straps, chafing, peeping wires and back bulge to name a few. Spending a whole day in a bra like that often results in shoulder and back aches. Not to mention, the undesirable red marks left on our underboobs. It also doesn’t feel very great spending a whole day in it. This is especially so for women in job fields that require them to be on the move a lot – doctors, nurses, teachers and even stay-home mothers need to go out and run errands very often! While a push-up bra can give us a great picture from the front, it is not the best option for women who need functional support & freedom all day!
5.New Technology , 2000s Onwards
Today, we are fortunate enough to have many different kinds of ways to provide our breasts with support. We have innovated further and now have bras to suit our every need – Strapless bras, stick-on bras, wireless bras, demi bras, deep-plunge bras, you name it. A quick search on the internet will instantly give you a list of options you could obtain according to your requirements. What is even greater, is that we also have the freedom to choose comfort over conforming to the beauty expectations of our society. Of course, a lot of women today still wear bras that are not the most comfortable for the sake of maintaining their level of attractiveness and social status. However, there is still a difference between wearing a type of bra out of fear, and actually wanting to wear it for ourselves.
We have come a long way from the days of extreme discomfort and lack of proper support. Technology has evolved and so has our societies. Let’s take this time to appreciate something we often take for granted these days – our freedom to choose. Compared to what our ancestors have had to endure, what we have is a wonderful privilege.
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Article by Rachel Wan for NOC’s Spotlight.