The History of the Bra (an AA Cup Version)

Recently, a small group of Islamic scholars in Pakistan deemed padded bras to be haram (forbidden) because it uplifts a woman’s chest. This edict emerged not because such bras falsely misrepresent the goods. On no, the issue was because Wonder bras made women more sexually enticing. The fiqh scholars (fiqh is Islamic jurisprudence) rallied to come up with sharia-compliant female undergarments, meaning panties and bras that fit within an “Islamic framework.”

If you are laughing at this point, so am I.  Fox News initially ran the story, which is now widely believed to be a hoax.

Yet, it got me thinking about the history of the bra. Many women in the developing world do not wear them at all, particularly older females.  Plus, over the shoulder boulder holders have not always been around. Or, have they?  We have all seen figurines of ancient, rotund goddesses with large, sagging breasts. Such things spoke of power, fertility, and earthiness.

I wondered if the brassiere was merely one more colonialist, Western influenced device that has infiltrated female bodies and the minds of men everywhere.

Here is what I found: breast augmentation via undergarments has been present in many cultures in some form for thousands of years. However, this particular female underclothing is directly connected to male attitudes regarding sexuality (duh) or gendered access to public space. For example, we know how “bra burning” relates to Western feminism. Historically, the clothing (or lack) of the boob related to how much girl power was culturally present at that particular historical moment.

The prototype bra emerged in the late 1800s, and a New York socialite birthed the modern bra in 1914. Caress Crosby devised a support garment to wear under her formal ball gown. She eventually sold the patent to Warner Brothers Corset Company who took the idea and ran with it.

The bra’s role in American society has changed with every war (WWI encouraged the boyish, Flapper look where women bought devices to flatten their chest) and as gender roles have evolved. Based on my quick research, it does appear that American ingenuity helped popularize the bra as well as shored up advancements in design and comfort.

Bra-wearing is now common among women around the world, but there are exceptions. Many females in the developing world, especially those in non-urban areas, may not wear brassieres due to culture, availability and cost. There are actual campaigns to donate undergarments to Third World women, particular for maternity bras and for the large-breasted who suffer from back pain. Click here to get more info.

In short, the bra’s history directly relates to women’s role in society. The Pakistan Islamic Fatwa Against Padded Bras was a hoax. Yet, breasts have always been, well, perky topics in all societies.

Here are some bra facts, courtesy of National Geographic.

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