I'm a guy, so I don't spend a lot of time thinking about bras. They are just articles of underclothing that, while symbolic, are still not high on my list of interesting subjects. When I was a teenager, bras were a challenge. When I was in my 20's, bras were being burned, and I was cheering. In my 30's I was married and didn't need to worry about them any more. Then I got divorced.
Being single again, bras took on a new, although short-lived, significance as I contemplated reentering the dating scene. I worried that I might have forgotten the one-handed technique for unfastening them or that the design had changed. I shouldn't have worried. Women over 40 seemed much more willing to remove their own bras than they did when they were 20. Perhaps it was a cultural change. However, their eagerness to do so declines steadily in direct proportion to the detrimental effects of gravity. It's probably just as well.
A good friend of mine just had a baby and, like most women who have babies, her bra needs changed in the process. She had a catalog of bras, and I happened to see her looking through it. "This is the one I need," she said, pointing to a blue bra. The ad said it was 'The Frog Bra so you can leap without bouncing.'
I couldn't recall my friend doing any leaping, and the name of the bra certainly didn't sound appealing. I started looking through the catalog. They had a 'Tadpole Bra for those who want lots of compression and breathability,' a 'FUNdamental Bra,' the 'Elite Empower Bra,' the 'You-Can-Have-It-All Bra,' the 'Not-A-Bomber Bra,' the 'Wired and Ready for Action Bra,' the "Superman Bra," and my favorite, 'The Answer-To-All-Your-Prayers Bra,' although I'm sure it wasn't my prayers they had in mind. One bra fastened in front with a zipper. Where were these when I was in high school?
My bra curiosity led me to the Internet where I did a search using the word 'Bra' and got 95 hits. It became immediately obvious that for years I have been overlooking the importance of bras. WWW.ahbras.com advertised 248 sizes. I tried to imagine what they might be but could only come up with four or five. Another web site advertised bras as large as HH cup size. Yikes! The 'H' must stand for humongous. WWW.brashop.com says they custom fit bras, and I briefly considered a career change. There is even a Bra Strap Fan Club. They were looking for amateur bra models from Michigan but you had to be at least eighteen years of age. They said nothing about gender.
The invention of the bra (I had to find out) is not well documented. The first patent for a bra was granted to Mary Phelps Jacob in 1913 the year my mother was born. I guess Mary had big boobs. Prior to that the primary means of support appears to have been the corset, first made popular by the wife of King Henri II of France (1550's) who banned thick waists at court attendances. Corsets dominated the female undergarment industry for the next 367 years. Then in 1917, during World War One, the U.S. War Industries Board asked women to stop buying corsets because it needed the metal for the war. Women did, and it provided an additional 28,000 tons of metal for the war effort, which just goes to prove that the bra has supported more than breasts.
Bra is, of course, a shortened version of the word brassiere, which was derived from an old French word meaning 'upper arm.' Why 'upper arm,' you ask? At first I had no idea, and could find no logical reason for this. But then recently I had the pleasure of hugging a female friend from behind. She was not wearing a bra, so it was my arms that ended up supporting her boobs. Perhaps the first person to conceive of the idea of a bra did so after hugging a slender woman from behind. Had the woman been large, we might call bras something else like the old French word for hands. This is just my theory however. I also have a theory about jock straps, but you don't want to know.