Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 10 August 2016

The Bra is a Feminist Issue

And I'm not talking about members of the Women's Liberation Movement of the '70s burning their undergarments, although I can't help thinking they had the right idea.

I was having a conversation the other day with a very lovely man that I’ve known for upwards of two decades. He’s also a friend of the husband, and almost exactly my age.

This man, we’ll call him Jon, knows bodies… It’s his job to know bodies.

I don’t remember what led to the conversation, but it might have been that I was talking about sewing. Lately, I’ve been sewing and baking quite a lot.

I have been drafting bras to sew that will fit me and be comfortable.

For me, the bra is a feminist issue as much as it is an engineering problem.

It surprises me a little to realise this, because half of patents for bras have been registered by women. Of course, that means that the other half have been registered by men, but the ratio is still better than for many products.

Have you ever put on a bra?

If not, this is how it’s done, although some women might approach the problem differently from the general norm.

Put arms through bra straps.
Shamnabanu wrote a blog about women's underwear,
 including this post about 10 common mistakes women make when buying a bra
Lean forward and drop breasts into cups.
Reach around back to fasten bra.

Have you ever taken a bra off, and I do mean of your own body?

If not, this is how it’s done, with the exception of those women who find alternative methods.

Reach around your back with both hands.
Unhook bra.
Lean forward and release breasts.

It doesn’t sound too terrible or too technical, does it? Unless you really think about it, which I have, and my chat about it with Jon led us down some interesting routes where gender politics are concerned.

Putting on and taking off a bra requires the adoption of submissive postures. We lean over to put a bra on, and to fasten or unfasten a bra, we reach both hands behind our backs. It’s the latter that’s the really tough one.

Why do bras generally fasten halfway up our backs? Removing our bras puts us in a submissive, vulnerable posture. The action throws out our chests, exposing our breasts, and while we’re messing about with the hooks and eyes, we might just as well be in a full-Nelson.

I have never been terribly comfortable taking my bra off in front of anyone. It’s not because I’m a prude. Nudity doesn’t faze me, and I’m quite happy for others to unfasten my bra for me. 

It was only in discussion with Jon that I finally realised it’s because of the submissive, vulnerable position that removing my bra puts me in that I don’t like to do it in front of anyone. I'm happily compliant in all kinds of situations, but I don't think I could ever be accused of being submissive.

Perhaps the back fastening of the bra is one reason why some men like to watch women undressing. Taking a bra off disables women while putting them in an exposing, submissive pose, and who can take off their knickers without bending over?

The other problem with bras is one of engineering. Bras that fasten at the back tension outwards, towards the back when, actually, my preference would be for a bra that tensions towards the centre front.

Of course, there have been front fastening bras for a long time. I’ve worn them, and some of them haven’t been terrible.

Check out this ad for Playtex, Cross Your Heart
I believe there are better solutions, though, and I’m working on them. I’m not a bra designer, but I can sew a bit, and I know how to draft a pattern. I’m working on alternative positions for fastenings, and alternative strap configurations to avoid the inevitable slippage.

I also wear a size that isn’t common to all brands or styles. Not for nothing, there doesn’t seem to be standard sizing in underwear across the industry, so every single bra has to be tried on in-store ever to get anything that fits properly.

According to one article I read on the web, more than 80% of women are wearing the incorrect bra size, but what choice do we have when the range of standard bra sizes is as limited as it is? I’m a standard dress size. I can almost always fit comfortably into a size ten, but my bra strap size is a 30 or sometimes a 32. Sizing has become more extensive than it was when I began wearing a bra, but a 30 inch strap is still not included in all ranges.

Many women wearing a size ten dress are wearing a strap size 34 bra, because it’s a standard size, and because they don’t expect better. It’s easy to buy underwear without having a fitting… too easy; and it’s too easy to become used to wearing an ill-fitting garment.

Breasts are cool, and it’s a good idea to look after them. I’m working on finding a home-sewn way to do mine some justice.


  1. That was a very interesting read, on both fronts. If you'll pardon the expression.

    My partner is in cabaret so over the many years both these topics have come up when talking about the subject a little more in depth than usual. Of course, the feminist side is always a thing in cabaret and burlesque; the presentation, the tease, the pose. But not all of the 'personas', if you will, presented on stage want to bring themselves into that submissive position. And that's where I've seen some ingenious engineering feats. I've seen corsets and bras of all designs built by performers, and have often wondered why such clever builds aren't developed by companies.

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