The Bra Museum

I hate Philadelphia. Well, maybe that's a bit too harsh. I hated living in Philadelphia. I took a job that made me move to Philadelphia once and lasted precisely one and a half weeks before I ran screaming back to my rural home and continued unemployment. But perhaps I was a bit hasty, for now it seems the enlightened curators of the Museum of Art there have declared my favorite fetish to be a legitimate subject of cultural study.

They now have an exhibit of brassieres in their costume and textiles section. Not only that but they have one Kristina Haughland as resident lingerie expert, who has made an anthropological study of female undergarments. How do people get jobs like this? I'm unemployed right now, why won't someone pay me to fondle feminine fashions?

It seems that currently the bra biz is booming. On one hand (breast?) there is a growing market for the reinforced, action oriented "sports bra," and at the other end of the spectrum sales of lacy nothings trailing ribbons and bows are going through the roof. I can just see it now, some poor woman goes shopping and spends hours choosing the right combinations of sneakers, pardon me - that's canvas foot support systems, so she is properly shod for every conceivable occasion, and then has to spend another day and a half purchasing the proper brassiere to go with each foot support system. If American industry can pull this one off we'll be out of the recession before you can snap the hooks on your own personal breast support system. Now if I can only find a way to market special occasion panties I'll be rich!

"It's confusion over women's roles." says Ms. Haughland. "Women are expected to be everything - athlete in the morning, business woman by day and sex goddess at night. And there's a bra for every occasion."

How true that is. I've been confused over women's roles for years, and I'm glad I'm not alone. Why, the Intimate Apparel Council of NY, NY (I'll bet you never knew they existed - did you?) says that sports bras account for 9 percent of bra sales and underwires take 38 percent of the tally. There was, sadly, no accounting of how many of those bras were sold for use by men, so we may never know how large our share of the Intimate Apparel market is.

There have been an interesting evolution of the brassiere over the years.

The bra as we know it first appeared around the turn of the century as hoop skirts, super tight corsets and such began to lose popularity. Oddly enough, woman considered the long-line boned and reinforced brassieres liberating when compared to their predecessors. By the '20s designers were advising fashionable women to throw away their bras and adopt the boyish look of simple breastbands. (Glad I wasn't around then!) The '30s saw the breasts part company, and women, or at least bra wearers of whatever sex, could be discerned to have two distinct globes instead of a single rounded mass mounted on the chest. The '40s and '50s saw the advent of the "torpedo" or "snow cone" bra, with it's myriad stitched circles, the kind I first snitched from my mother and filled with washcloths.

The sixties were trying times for the manufacturers of bras, what with the bra burners and free lovers who had no use for intimate apparel, as they were cavorting naked in fields of flowers and doing things that scandalized their parents. But American Ingenuity was up to the challenge, and the no-bra look became the standard in bras. Padded, seamless cups enhanced the figure without those lines on the shear blouse. And someone discovered color. Of course you had to have the right color bra under your clothes or you were terribly out of fashion. And don't forget patterns of delicate pink roses on the fabric of the cup and the blue rose where the cups join. The Intimate Apparel Council says American women (how can they prove their sex, I ask you?) bought 292 million bras last year.

So what's in the future? A spokesman for Maidenform, which has it's own bra museum in NY City, predicts bras in lush fabrics like satin, and bold patterns in deeper hues. Maybe even paisley or mosaic prints. We face a bright future under our blouses, no doubt about it.

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