What is a Bra?
Brassière, which is also known as a Bra in simpler terms, is a piece of undergarment that is worn on the upper body of a person to support breasts and the connected delicate tissues. That description sounds so prosaic for one of the most decorative and even frivolous but at the same time extremely functional garment in a women’s wardrobe.
In actuality, a bra is one of the most functional of all types of clothing, one which millions of women wear day in and day out, come what may outside of it.
Learning about the different parts of the bra never even occurred to me, though for the last 3 decades or so I have been using it every single day.
I feel regret and a tinge of guilt for taking these things for granted because after knowing these terms now I feel empowered – some of these terms that describe a bra are as unfamiliar as parts of my own car – like knowing the use of thermoplasticity to mould the cup to the shape of a woman’s curves and the underwiring that adjust enough to give support to the connective tissues of the breasts – I feel as if I have revisited the science class I abandoned years ago.
The simple looking bra is one of the most complex creations of man – not an exaggeration. Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit was made by a bra manufacturer – Playtex. Read more about this here.
Parts of the bra
1 Cups of a bra
This is the most important part of a bra. It is that part of the bra which covers and supports the breasts and keeps them in place /shape. The cup can fully cover the breast or be 1/2 or 3/4 covering. It can be padded or non padded.
It is the size of the cups (cup size is the official term used) that you have to get right when you buy the bra, as the first priority. The cup size is determined by calculating the difference between the bust size and the band size. There are entire theories to getting the cup size right. Even I have one on this website – Find your correct bra size. Cup size is indicated by alphabets in the bra size and there are around 8 cup sizes to cover the majority of breast sizes starting from A ( maybe even more because I read somewhere there is even an L size).
The cup of a bra gives all the support and comfort needed for your breast. The cup may be lined to give the support it needs. A foam is inserted between the lining and outer fabric in the case of padded cups, which gives it an extra size and dimension.
On a perfect bra, the cup will contain and fit the breasts fully without any bulges or gapes
1.1 Upper cup
This is the section of the cup that covers the bust in the upper area. It is usually of a stretchy fabric like stretch lace, which gives a very decorative look to the bra.
1.2 Lower cup
As you may already have guessed this is the lower portion of the cup – it serves as lifting support.
2 Cup seams & special finish
The cup seams give the desired shape to the cups. Non-moulded cups or moulded cups – these are the two options you have regarding the shape of the cups making for a pointy-shaped or round cup.
A non moulded cup can have seams and the seam stitching will be available in different types and goes in different directions depending on the shape the designer has in mind.
The moulded cup will have no seams. Here the cups are pre-formed thermoplastically to hold their shape permanently.
The term Decollete finish is used to describe the flat finish used in the cups and other parts of the bra so that it is smooth against the skin and appears seamless
3 Side panels/ Wings
This is the part that gives side support
This is the center section between the right and left cups. In some bras this part is negligible but in some others the link is large enough and changes the shape of the bra.
The size and height of the center gore or link can affect the placement and shape of the cups. A proper fitting bra will have the center gore touching the body at the center and cups fitting perfectly on either side of it, symmetrically.
5 Bra Band
Also called Underband/chest band.
This is the band that runs around the rib cage of the wearer that secures the bra.
It is the most important strength of the bra as it supports almost all the weight of the breasts. The chest band is different for the front and the back. The back band is there in all the bras whereas the front band is optional. The center gore may be called a part of the bra band.
Band sizes range from 28 to around 50 inches (71 cm to 127 cm).
4.1 Underband at the front
This is the band seen on the lower edge of the front of the bra. There are variations in the width of this band. Some bras have no underband altogether.
5 Back Underband
This is the band that is around the back, attached to the cups, sitting horizontally level across the back holding the fasteners and the straps
The Backband holds the whole bra together. It gives support from below. A wider back band understandably provides more support than a narrow one. The real test of the fitness of the underband is to insert two fingers comfortably inside the band when you are wearing the bra- not too tight or too loose
The back band will have an elastic strip at the end which ensures comfortable fit. Narrow elastic strips may also be placed along the edges of the band for elasticity.
The strap of the bra, connecting the front and back of the bra going over the shoulders, plays a very important function in supporting the bra. It may be of wider dimensions for extra support in larger size bras. In smaller size, the straps may be thinner.
In strapless bras the straps are absent.
Straps of most bras can be adjusted to the length of the body of the wearer. Some of the bras come with detachable straps. You will get transparent straps as extras to wear with strapless or thin strap dresses.
7 Apex point
This is the highest point of a bra’s cups where the shoulder straps are attached to at the front.
These are metal or plastic rings that connect the straps to the band. These are needed as part of adjusting the length of the strap
The bra may have its closure either at the front or at the back, except for sports bras. Usually, the closure is present at the back and it is placed so that the bra band can be tightened or loosened for a comfortable and secure fit.
Hooks and eyes are the usual fasteners used for bras. Usually, there will be 2 or more side by side hooks and many rows of eyes (3 usually so that you can adjust the tightness of the band) to comfortably fasten the hooks. When the bra is of a large size (cup size of C or above) more hooks gives more support.
On front open bras instead of hook and eye a clasp is used in the front as a fastener.
11 Strap adjusters
These sliders allow adjusting the length of the straps according to the length of the body of the wearer. The strap is shortened or lengthened as required by moving the slider/adjusters.
12 Back strap joint
This is the part where the straps attach to the bra band in the back. This is not the same in all bras.
There are two ways that the back strap is joined. One is where the back band is joined to the strap at a right angle, giving a square shape in the back and the other is where the strap connected to the band at a more oblique angle ( curved).
The oblique shape is preferred by most as it gives a more supportive bra. In this type, the weight of the breast is distributed evenly throughout the band and reduces strain on the shoulders.
This is the part that gives some additional support in bras without an underwire. These also prevent the side section from riding up.
Only some bras are equipped with the support known as underwires, fitted at the bottom edge of the cups. The main purpose of the underwire is to lift up the breasts for a more uplifted look. This is used to counter breast sag
With an underwired bra there is a sew-in channel with U shaped wire (made of metal or plastic) inside that encloses the bust from below, flat against the ribcage from the middle of the chest to under the arms.
The underwiring offers additional support and shapes the bust and lifts it up and for all this, the underwire part should lie under the breasts and not on it. If the underwire lays on the breasts or the breasts poke out of the wire channel, this indicates that the bra is not your size.
Bows/flowers placed at the middle center of the top of the bra.
And then all of these parts should work congruently to provide adequate support, lift up nature’s inevitable sag on the assets, stretch just enough and not more or not less to fit correctly, made with a fabric comfortable enough to be worn all day/night, and at the same time look extremely good. Tough call from a simple small piece of clothing but it does all this with great elan.
Read some Interesting things to know about bras here.