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Boobs are a natural part of the female body; for some, breasts are a part of their identity. And for those people with breasts, there is an undergarment that you can’t go without. That’s right, the bra. For many years, bras have been used for supporting breast tissue throughout the years, from puberty, through pregnancy, and beyond. But with more and more people deciding to go the no bra route, you might be wondering why do women wear bras? What’s the purpose? Are bras really that supportive, or is there a hidden disadvantage to wearing one every single day?
We’re going to answer all of these questions and more today.
What is a Bra?
The bra, which gets its name from brassiere, a French word, an undergarment that is crafted to cover, elevate, and support a woman’s breasts. There are over 30 kinds of bras, including t-shirt bras, bandeaus, seamless bras, beginner bras, strapless bras, balconettes, racerback, and long line. Finding the right kind of bra for your body is important in order to get the health benefits out of the undergarment. When a bra doesn’t fit correctly, you don’t get as much support.
A Brief History of Bras
Let’s learn a bit about the brassiere and why it was developed in the first place. Back in 1889, Herminie Cadolle, a French inventor, submitted the original design for the bra. She had come up with the idea while living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she opened a lingerie shop. The first design was more like a two-piece corset; the bottom half held in the stomach, while the top half supported a woman’s breasts. She thought it was smart to measure out both pieces to make a more customized fit for her clients.
However, while Cadolle is credited with coming up with the first brassiere, it was an American inventor, Mary Phelps Jacob (Caresse Crosby), who was awarded the patent that later became the basis for the modern day bra. Jacob’s patented version was released on November 3, 1914. Bras rose in popularity rapidly during WWI, when the US government requested that women stop purchasing corsets, which needed metal boning.
By 1930, cup sizes were introduced to provide women with more options for a decent fit. 10 years later, in the 1940s, the bullet bra (also known as the “pointy bra”) was introduced and dominated the fashion world for about 15 years, only to resurface in the 1990s when Madonna sported one. In the 1970s, the world was introduced to the first sports bra.
From the 1980s to the modern day, the bra has shifted between an everyday must-have undergarment to a fashion statement to everything in between. Bras come in a variety of styles to suit your needs and body type, and most people own multiple pairs.
Want to delve a little deeper down the undergarment rabbit hole? Here are two incredibly detailed (but succinct) videos on the history of bras:
Why Do Girls and Women Wear Bras?
Let’s be frank. Most women aren’t wearing a bra because it looks nice. Sure, there are plenty of beautifully built bras out there with charming patterns or push-up padding to give breasts even more appeal. But those cute bras are arguably the worst offenders when it comes to giving anyone wearing a bra total discomfort.
So why are girls and women wearing bras anyway?
Well, it turns out that gravity is against breasts. Without a bra, breasts are held up by internal ligaments that provide suspension and then enveloped in supple skin. Breasts come in many different shapes and sizes, but all of them contain some degree of fat and glandular tissue. The amount of glands and fat determines just how heavy the breasts are. The fat there is in a boob, the larger it looks but the less dense it happens to be. However, gravity still works the same way, and it will pull on the breasts, leading to discomfort and sagging.
Women with larger busts often attest to how much of a nuisance all that weight on the front of their chest can be. Carrying such a load can cause postural issues, such as a curved spine and forward-slumped shoulders.
Bras also work to delay—not prevent—sagging…but only if you wear one routinely.
Sagging breasts are a sign of age, and unless you undergo cosmetic surgery, there is not much you can do about the natural process. Over time, the skin and ligaments will lose elasticity, and that can’t be retrained like you would a muscle. You can, however, wear a bra to support the weight of the breasts and delay age-related sagging. Additionally, wearing bras can reduce the drooping and stretching that comes with aging.
Even women with smaller breasts should wear a bra from time to time. Yes, you can get away with going braless when you are young, but as you age, your breasts are still going to be affected by gravity and could sag. Support your small breasts when you can to counteract drooping.
The other reason why women wear bras? Pain prevention.
How Bras Help With Pain Prevention
If the purpose of wearing a bra is for support, then it stands to reason that the way a bra is designed is to distribute weight evenly across the shoulders and waist. When that happens, the chest feels lighter. There is scientific evidence that larger cup sizes can contribute to postural changes and musculoskeletal pain in girls and women.
Wearing a correctly sized bra (which we will discuss later) can effectively reduce the weight you feel and help you stand upright. This prevents neck, shoulder, spine, and back issues from popping up later in life.
When Do Girls and Women Start Wearing Bras?
Most girls begin developing breasts around 10 or 11 years old, though some girls end up with chests earlier or later than the rest. Though puberty plays a large role in when breasts grow, there is no set time for when someone chooses to begin wearing bras.
The main reason someone starts wearing bras is when they become self-conscious about their breasts or when their breasts become uncomfortable without support. A girl might begin to feel their chest bounce while playing sports and start wearing sports bras during practice, for example. Also, if there is a change in posture because of the weight of the breasts, it is best to get fitted for a bra and begin wearing them to save your spine.
Benefits of Wearing a Bra
What is the point of bras? Well, there are many points, to be honest. We’ve already discussed some of the finer points of wearing a bra, but let’s focus on all the advantages this mighty, boob-cradling contraption offers anyone with breasts.
Benefits of Wearing a Bra:
- Breast support
- Delaying breast sagging
- Enhanced shape
- Better self-esteem
- Sweat control
Now let’s have a look at each of those points more closely:
- Breast support. Wearing a bra is all about gaining support so that you can move about the day without experiencing pain and discomfort. If you are presently wearing bras that aren’t doing anything for your shoulder pain, consider getting a bra fitting. You might be wearing the wrong size.
- Delaying breast sagging. It’s unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you have to deal with it in your 20s or 30s. Wearing a bra supports the breasts, keeping them uplifted for longer.
- Enhanced shape. A great quality bra can give you the same appealing lift and shape as breast augmentation—but without the cost of having to go under the knife.
- Better self-esteem. Although you don’t need to wear a bra to be self-confident, the lift and support from a great bra is undeniable. It’s no wonder lingerie is so popular throughout the world.
- More comfort. There are sports bras, nursing bras, t-shirt bras, push-ups, strapless, bralettes, and triangle bras, all of which are designed to be as comfortable as possible for certain scenarios. For example, when wearing a sports bra, you can work out more intensely, because the weight of your breasts is compressed. When pregnant or nursing, a specially designed bra will accommodate the extra weight and make breastfeeding easier.
- Sweat control. Do you struggle with boob sweat? Women with larger breasts find that wearing bras helps wick away the moisture that builds under the breasts, preventing chafing. Wearing a comfortable cotton bralette during the summer can help you stay cool, even when it’s scorching outside.
- Posture. The weight of breasts might cause your back to round, which will affect your posture negatively. Bras help keep the chest lifted, shoulders back, and spine long, so you aren’t hunched over and tense.
Disadvantages of Wearing a Bra
As with most things, wearing a bra has pros and cons that need to be addressed. One thing that most people will agree on is that certain kinds of bras can be utterly infuriating (we’re looking at you, underwire bras). The straps might be too tight one day than loose the next. Unhooking a bra is annoying at best. Finding the right size is even worse. And to top it off, if you’re wearing the wrong sized bra, you’re doing a lot more harm than good!
Yeah, you read that right.
It’s been estimated that 80 percent of women aren’t wearing the right sized bra. And 70 percent of that group is wearing bras that are way too small for them. Another 10 percent are wearing a bra that is too big.
You might be wondering how that could be an issue, but here’s the thing: Musculoskeletal pain leads to many other problems. Wearing a bra that is too tight could lead to restricted breathing, tension and pain in the spine and shoulders, and even a lack of circulation. Furthermore, you might develop skin conditions, like dermatitis, heat rash, folliculitis, and hives.
Does That Mean Buying Only Sports Bras?
You might think that ditching regular bras and wearing only sports bras is the right move. This has worked for many women (the writer of this article included), but only if you are using light or medium intensity bras. High intensity bras with compression are too tight to use for extended periods of time. This brings us to the other disadvantage with bras: that it’s easy to choose the wrong type for your body and activity.
Pair the wrong type of bra with the wrong size, and you’ve got problems. There is nothing detrimental in purchasing a sexy, lacy bra, but many of the appealing or fashionable options lack support. A large breasted woman wearing a tiny bandeau, for instance, isn’t going to be getting adequate support. If you want to get the most benefit from a bra, it’s going to have to have thick straps and a wide band to evenly distribute weight.
But that sounds horrid, doesn’t it?
However, you should have a few in your wardrobe. When all you wear is a daintier bra, the small band and tiny straps can’t hold up the weight. This might lead to bone spurs, back pain, and other musculoskeletal issues. Some of those injuries are even seen where the band moves across the back. Bra grooves are common where the straps are straining to hold up the breasts. Those indentations in the neck or shoulder may cause tension and neck pain.
What About Going Braless?
An ongoing discussion of late is the point of bras and whether foregoing the bra is a healthy choice. There are some societal concerns, some personal ones, and even some health-related issues that are being raised about going braless.
But the truth is that going braless is up to you. It’s not wise to go from wearing bras all the time to burning your underwires and letting the boobs hang free, simply because your body’s not used to it. Yet, sleeping without a bra on is a fabulous idea, as is resting, relaxing, and stretching without a bra. Working from home without a bra and going to the grocer’s without a bra is also fine.
It depends on you and your comfort level.
If you don’t think going completely braless right yet is ideal for you, there are some alternatives you can try. Consider it the toe dip into the pool before taking a dive. For example, you can try breast tape. Most boob tape can support breasts sized A through D. It is a slightly less uncomfortable way to get support; breast tape also makes it easier to wear plunging necklines and deep V-cut blouses. Another option is pasties for those who are worried about their nipples showing.
Remember to Give it Time
If you decide to go braless for comfort and freedom, then know this: At first, it’s not going to be that great. So maybe you already unhook your bra the moment you come home from work, but spending an entire braless might yet be a foreign concept. For women with a larger cup size, going without a bra may even seem like more of a hassle if you have been wearing bras for many years.
As mentioned earlier, wearing a bra all the time could reduce the muscles of the chest that are used to support breast tissue. Therefore, that’s going to have to build up again.
Once your muscles gain a bit more strength, going braless will feel like a dream. Just remember that there will always be some activities where sporting a bra is going to be much more comfortable, so don’t throw away all your bras just yet!
Finding the Right Bra Size
Now that you understand why women wear bras, let’s talk about how to find the right one, as it’s important. Getting a properly sized bra might take some effort. Here is how to get the measurements:
1. Band Size
Using a measuring tape, take a measurement around your ribcage. Make the measuring tape as snug around the ribcage as possible. Make sure the tape is directly under the bust line and is even on all sides.
2. Bust Size
Over the fullest part of the bust, wrap the measuring tape. Make it a bit loose. Do so by taking a deep breath then releasing. If it’s comfortable and not too tight, you can proceed to write down your bust size.
3. Cup Size
Now, subtract the band size from the bust size. The difference is going to be the cup size. So, for example, if your bust measurement is 40 inches and your band is 34 inches, that is 40-34=6. A 6-inch difference equals a DDD/F cup in US-sized bras.
Too much work? There’s a bra size calculator for that, straight from Victoria’s Secret.
4. Ensure The Right Fit
A supportive bra is going to check off five boxes:
- The straps stay in place without digging into the shoulders. If they slip, the cups are too big.
- The band is level and straight, not riding up or sagging. It should be snug but not too loose or too restrictive. Can’t breathe normally? Your bra is too small.
- Your breasts fill the cups without spilling out on either side.
- If the bra is underwire, the wire should surround the bottom of the breast without any pinching.
- The center gore doesn’t lift away from the chest but lays flat between the breasts.
5. Know Your Sister Size
This is an unknown tip that will help you refine your search for the perfect bra. Interestingly, bra sizes vary, just like jean sizes. Now, this can be downright traumatizing to new and old shoppers alike, especially if you’re unprepared for it.
But the good news is that once you know your sister size, finding a bra or even a bathing suit top becomes infinitely easier. Finding the sister size works like this: Go up in the band size and down in the cup size or vice versa. For instance, someone with a 32C bra could fit in a 34B or a 30D, while someone with a 36C could wear a 38B or a 34D.
This is a great tip if you’re in between sizes or struggle to pinpoint your real bra size.
Why do women wear bras? For support. That is the bottom line when it comes to bras, be they a sports bra, t-shirt bra, or bralette. Some bras offer more support than others, but the goal is always the same. So, if you are considering ditching bras because they are uncomfortable or too restrictive, remember our tips about finding the proper size and try again. Or you can go braless, too. There is nothing wrong with either choice! Do what is best for your body.
Frequently Asked Questions
The purpose of the bra was, first, to distribute the weight of the breasts evenly so that the shoulders are unaffected. Secondly, bras enhance the shape and lift of cleavage. Also, depending on the style of bra you’re wearing, bounce is reduced for more comfort. Some women will also choose to wear a bra to help with under the bust sweat or for keeping the chest warm in the winter.
There are advantages and disadvantages to going without a bra. Women who opt to go braless after wearing a bra find that their breasts adjust and become firmer and rounder, because the muscles of the chest develop to better support the weight. Circulation may also improve, and the overall health of the breasts improves.
Now, these benefits of going braless do depend on the size of your breasts. For women with larger breasts, not wearing a bra could mean more shoulder pain and stiffness throughout the day, especially in the beginning. Women with smaller breasts do have less to worry about in that regard.
That said, the amount of discomfort you feel when going braless will reduce overtime as you become more used to the freedom.
No, it isn’t necessary to wear a bra, especially when you aren’t doing any strenuous activities. Bras were invented to help support a woman’s breasts, but the body also holds up the breasts with suspensory ligaments and skin. Regardless of size, wearing a bra is completely optional. Wear a bra when you feel that you need the extra support or are developing back and shoulder pain. Otherwise, you can forgo the brassiere.
Of course, it is OK to never wear a bra. In most cases, bras are optional. Do what is comfortable to you. If you feel that you can go without a bra and do not require extra support throughout the day, that is fine and you should do it. On the other hand, if you’re uncomfortable going without a bra, wear one.
Do keep in mind that in western civilization, wearing a bra is seen as more formal and professional. While this is changing, there are still some places where going without a bra could be problematic.