We’ve seen tailors sew up clothes, but have you ever seen a bra being made? Considering it’s a garment that women around the world use every single day, not too many people understand the process that goes into making these pieces. Curious cats that we are, we decided to find out, and we’d like to share the information with you! Once upon a time, bras were made by sewing two handkerchiefs together with ribbon. Today, the design and manufacturing process is a little more complicated, but once you find out how much work goes into every bra, you’ll appreciate it even more!
Derived from the french word meaning upper arm, the ‘brassiere’ is a now mass-produced support undergarment worn by women that consists of two fabric cups attached to two side panels, a back panel, and shoulder straps -unless it’s a strapless bra- that fits snugly. They are sized according to a universal grading system that was first introduced by Ida Rosenthal, the founder of the company Maidenform, in 1928. Two measurements are crucial to determining bra size; the chest circumference below the underarm and the fullest part of the breast. The cup size is calculated from the difference between the two measurements; the greater the difference, the larger the cup size. The number that precedes the cup size is the length of the band, i.e the circumference.
These undergarments are made of many different materials that include cotton, rayon, silk, spandex, polyester, and lace. They are available in many styles; from cups that come without any padding to those that help you increase the size of your bust, you’ve now got a wide variety of options. We now live in an age where a woman can alter her silhouette by simply purchasing a different kind of bra. If that isn’t technology, I don’t know what is! But it wasn’t always this easy, nor this accessible.
Early in the twentieth century, the need for a less obtrusive undergarment became the need of the hour as the fashions changed. In 1913, the modern brassiere was born out of necessity when New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacobs’ decided that the whalebone corset that she was wearing poked up above her low cut gown, rendering the whole outfit a little pointless. Armed with a needle, thread, a couple of silk handkerchiefs and ribbons, Phelps- with the help of her maid- designed the first precursor to the modern bra. Her invention was greatly admired and proved extremely useful. So much so that Jacobs filed the first patent for a brassiere and began producing the same under the name Caress Crosby. However, due to lack of marketing, her idea did not take off particularly well, leaving her with no option but to sell the patent and business, which she eventually did, to Warner Brothers Corset Company for $1,500, who then designed and distributed bras around America.
We have come a long way since the days of silk handkerchiefs and ribbons; some of the bras that are manufactured these days are nothing short of an engineering marvel. The raw materials gathered for the production of bras vary tremendously depending on the product and the brand. Some are all cotton, some are all polyester, some are combinations of natural and synthetics, and so forth. Most bras include an elastic material of some sort on the back panel that allows some expansion and movement of back muscles, and spandex is the material that is used to accomplish this- it is a modern synthetic fiber that is extensively processed from Malaysian tree sap. This material must be processed prior to the assembling of the bras because it is, in some products, the most important material. In most cases, a closure of some sort -most often in the form of metal hooks and eyes- is included on the bra unless it is of an elastic or sports brassiere variety. There are different components to a bra and those that are used vary not only from manufacturer to manufacturer but also by style. The various steps of the process are as follows:
Before a bra can be made, it has to be designed. As bra styles range from a simple training to a deep plunge, the design process obviously will vary. In the interest of keeping it simple and standard, we’ll focus on a simple full cup bra, as it is a style that almost every woman owns.
Most bras are mass-produced, and they are generally designed to fit a woman whose breasts are average in size and shape. A bra can have anywhere between 20 and 50 parts, which includes the four main sections of a bra: band, clasp, straps and cups. Each of these has a special function:
The bra band is the most important section of the bra, sitting tight against the body. Its function is to carry the majority of the weight of the breasts and is comprised of the wings and center section.
The clasp of the bra includes the hook and eye and functions as a mechanism to close the band at the back (or the front).
Many women believe that the straps of the bra carry the weight of the breasts, when in reality it is the band that does most of the work. As a result, these women generally end up with shoulder or back pain because they don’t choose their bras wisely; straps should function as a stabilising element, instead of a supporting element, enabling the fit of the bra to be enhanced.
Think of them as holsters for your breasts, and depending on the style, they can vary in shape. Cup sizes differ from brand to brand and are denoted by an alphabetical hierarchy, where AAA is the smallest and K the largest commercially available sizes.
After the garment is designed, the sections are cut to size. These sections are then gathered by workers and sewn together by hand with industrial sewing machines or assembled mechanically. The clasp is also sewn into the garment using the sewing machine or automated process. The brand label is then attached and the garment is ready to be packaged. Bras are some of the most well worn and washed articles of clothing that a woman owns, hence the seams and structure of the garment needs to be designed to be durable, and there are checks that are carried out at multiple levels to ensure quality control.
You might be thinking ‘If all bras are made the same way, why should I bother spending so much more on specific models?’ Well, you should understand that the steps and precautions that each individual company takes with their bra manufacturing are where the details lie. Higher quality bras are produced after hours of research and development during each stage of the process, whereas cheaper bras forego this and focus on high volume production, which are generally the ones that you will find in your corner lingerie store. So spend the money, your breasts are worth it, but hopefully this will help you understand where you’re spending the few extra bucks!