The Art & Science of the Bra
Next time you’re bra shopping and gasp at the price of a mid- to high-end bra, stop and consider what you’re getting for your money, using two principals—you get what you pay for and return on investment.
It’s a wonder bra designers don’t need architecture or engineering degrees. Have you ever really studied a bra? Not just to see if it’s clean or in good shape or whether it works with your outfit. Every bra, whether a dainty lacy balconette or the mother of all support bras, is a marvel of design and engineering.
We all understand why a beautiful pair of shoes is expensive—exquisite design, superb craftsmanship and superior materials. Think of a bra the same way. Designers must take what are essentially dozens of parts and create a thing of function and beauty.
Bra construction has been likened to building a bridge, maybe because of the interplay of support, strength and form. We tend to think of our bras as merely cups, a band, straps and a closure, but bras have many more distinct parts. There are side wings, back wings, a cradle, a bridge, strap platform, strap rings and sliders, eyelets and more. That might be as many working parts as a Porsche.
And, each part may be a different fabric. There may be both fabric and/or lace as the main component. Then there are the facing elastic, binding underwire casing, possibly padding or molding, wires, elastic for straps and a host of little piece of hardware.
Now figure out how to put all those pieces together. Not only must the pieces ‘fit,’ but they must have specific shapes, structure and performance in order to support somewhere between 1.1-4 pounds of weight per breast. There are specific stitching methods for various pieces, too. For example, most of the pieces are sewn with a zigzag stitch instead of a straight seam. Why, you ask? Think of how often and in how many different directions our torsos move each day. Stitches need to have some give. You get the idea…bras are complicated to make. Once individual components are cut from a pattern (for EACH size), some bras are still sewn by hand or by a combination of automated machinery and hand.
If other things we buy had as many size variables as a bra, we’d probably crawl under the covers and give up. Unlike anything else we wear, bras have a complex sizing formula. For almost every band size, there may be between 5-12 cup sizes and vice versa. So, manufacturers must offer dozens of options for every product and, since none of us are perfectly proportioned mannequins, even then sizing may be a little hit or miss.
So much is asked from such a little garment. It has to fit comfortably; it has to support our breasts; the materials have to feel good; hardware must function correctly and not give way over time; the elastic parts have to stretch, but not too much. Unlike other wardrobe pieces, bras are worn very often, usually several times a week and we expect them to last awhile. As if that’s not enough, we’d also prefer they look great and make us feel great.
As with most things in life, the better the construction and quality of materials, the more likely the bra will fit beautifully and last longer. Next time you’re shopping for a bra and balk at the price, think about everything we just learned. Examine the seams, the stitching, strap construction and cup details. Now think about how often you’ll wear it and how long you expect it to last. Here’s a little formula to play with:
Cost of item ÷ times of wear= true cost. So, a $75.00 bra, worn even once a week for a year (52 times) is costing you less than $1.50 a wear. Compare that to those $300.00 shoes you bought to wear with one outfit. Even if you wear that outfit once a month, your true cost is $25.00.
Fabulous bras are an everyday necessity, not an indulgence. And, if it does everything it’s supposed to, it’s worth every cent.