A brassiere or
an item of women's
underwear consisting of
two cups totally or partially covering the breasts for support
and modesty. In addition to the connection of the cups it
has usually four bands, two on the sides that are fastened
to each other at the back or anterior part and two over
the shoulders, joining the other two at the back. A
demi-bra (or semibra) is a bra with cups covering only
the lower part of the breast, showing the nipples.
Shelf-bras are designed to help support the breast while
leaving most of it uncovered.
The upper part of a
bikini is similar, but
with the social difference that it is part of a
swimsuit and not underwear,
i.e. in western cultures it is considered suitable for exposure
in a swimming pool, on the beach, and other recreational
In French, brassiere now refers to a baby's vest, although
it is now sometimes used for the 'bra-top' without formed
cups. The word brassiére derives from bracire,
an Old French word meaning "arm protector" and
referring to military uniform (bras in French means "arm").
This later became used for a military breast plate, and
later for a type of woman's corset. (The modern French word
for a bra is soutien-gorge.)
The size of breasts is often expressed in terms of the
size of the bra. This is measured as follows: Two measurements
are taken, the first is a circumference of the body with
the tape being placed under the breasts.
5 or 6 inches is added to this measurement in order to
get to an even number. This provides the "band size."
An alternative method for the first measurement is to measure
under the arms and across the top of the breasts, rounding
up to an even number, if necessary. The second measurement
is similar, but includes the breasts. The first result is
then subtracted from the second. A difference of 1 inch
requires an A cup size; 2 inches, a B cup; 3 inches, a C
cup; and 4 inches, a D cup. Therefore, a woman who has a
band size of 36 inches, and a measurement over her breasts
of 39 inches, would be best served by a bra size of 36C.
Larger cup sizes can be confusing, but the following
will outline these unusual sizes. A 5 inch difference is
either a DD or an E cup. There is essentially no difference
between them, but some manufacturers are hesitant to use
the "E" size fearing that it sounds too large,
and therefore use "DD" because it sounds less
A 6 inch difference is either a DDD, a EE or an F, while
a 7 inch difference is a EEE, an FF or a G (again, depending
on manufacturer's preference). An 8 inch difference is an
After that, the sizes proceed through the alphabet with
a letter and a double letter for each inch difference. For
example, a 9 inch difference is an HH, a 10 inch difference
is an I, an 11 inch difference is an II, a 12 inch difference
is a J, a 13 inch difference is a JJ, and so on.
Bras and pregnancy
Due to the increase in size of the breasts
during pregnancy it is recommended that
under-wired bras are avoided. A
nursing bra may be used when a
woman chooses to breastfeed, allowing easy
access to the nipple when the infant is
to be fed.
Brassieres and breast sagging
Breasts naturally sag as women grow older.
Traditionally, the idea that a brassiere
will help preserve the youthful shape of
the breasts has been assumed and promoted
by brassiere manufacturers. More recently
this has been disputed, and some researchers
are finding that breast movement stimulates
the lymphatic system and helps removes toxins
from the body. See below for an external
link promoting this view in depth.
A woman may choose to wear a bra for
social or reasons of comfort, but there
is no proven medical reason compelling women
to wear a brassiere. No evidence has been
found to sustain the notion that women's
breasts will sag lower over her lifetime
without a bra than with one.
wearing a bra
has no medical necessity whatsoever...
Except for the women who find bras especially
comfortable or uncomfortable, the decision
to wear or not wear one is purely aesthetic--or
emotional... If you don't enjoy it,
and job or social pressures don't force
you into it, don't bother."
Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book,
by Dr. Susan Love
Some medical professionals believe that
wearing a bra can actually increase breast
sagging later in life. This is because the
chest muscles that support breasts are used
less and atrophy from lack of use, just
as our leg muscles are weaker if we do not
run regularly. Health benefits of breast
sagging have also been suggested but not