The bra has been stereotyped as an object of seduction, glamour and even oppression. In “Uplift: The Bra in America,” Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau use this clothing item to illuminate the effect the brassiere has had on women—their fashions, health and economic opportunity—and to understand the business history of fashion.
The precursor to the bra, the corset, weakened the muscles, compressed the lungs and interfered with digestion and pregnancy. In the mid-nineteenth century forward-thinking individuals led the transition toward the more functional brassiere. Unsurprisingly, no inventor or company could solve the complex problems of designing and producing truly comfortable breast support for the endless variety of women who demanded it. But in spite of the varied approaches, designers and business experts in the field shared one goal: to offer women an uplifting experience.
Brassieres designed for pregnancy and the special needs of breast cancer patients reflected the changing notions of modesty and health care in modern society.
The coming of the brassiere also broadened the scope of women’s economic achievement: from early patents for the device in the 1870s to the multibillion-dollar industry of today, women have held positions of power and importance in the business, as designers, financial managers, promotional specialists and production managers.
Rich in examples from advertising, movies and other areas of popular culture, “Uplift” moves beyond feather-bones and fiberfill to provide a sense of the dynamic relationship of the bra to wider societal issues.
—University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on November 8, 2001