A brassiere (pronounced UK: /ˈbræzɪər/, US: /brəˈzɪər/; commonly referred to as a bra /ˈbrɑː/) is a woman's undergarment that supports her breasts. Bras are typically form-fitting and perform a variety of functions and have also evolved into a fashion item. The primary purpose of a bra is to support the woman's breasts. Women commonly wear bras to conform to social norms such as a dress code, or because they believe bras prevent breasts from sagging.
In western cultures, about 10–25% of women do not wear a bra, either as a matter of preference or sometimes for health or comfort reasons. Some garments, such as camisoles, tank tops andbackless dresses, have built-in breast support, alleviating the need to wear a separate bra.
Changing social trends and novel materials have increased the variety of available designs, and allowed manufacturers to make bras that in some instances are more fashionable than functional. Bras are a complex garment made of many parts, and manufacturers' standards and sizes vary widely worldwide, making it difficult for women to find a bra that fits them correctly. Even methods of bra-measurement vary, such that even professional fitters can disagree on the correct size for the same woman. As a result, 75–85% of women wear a bra of an incorrect size.
The bra has become a feminine icon or symbol with cultural significance beyond its primary function of supporting breasts. Some feminists consider the brassiere a symbol of the repression of women's bodies. Culturally, when a young girl gets her first bra, it may be seen as a rite of passage and symbolic of her coming of age.
The functions of the bra include improving the comfort of the wearer by supporting her breasts, restricting their movement during certain physical activities, and distributing the breasts' weight evenly around her torso. Other functions include drawing attention to women's breasts by enhancing their perceived shape and size, supporting sagging breasts to give a more youthful appearance, supporting prosthetics after surgery, or to facilitate breastfeeding. Conversely, some women wear bras for modesty reasons to minimize the appearance of their breasts and nipples. Some specialized bras are designed for nursing or exercise.
In the French language, the term for brassière is soutien-gorge (literally "throat-support"). In French, gorge (throat) was a common euphemism for the breast. This dates back to the garment developed by Herminie Cadolle in 1905. The French word brassière refers to a child's undershirt, underbodice or harness. The word brassière derives from bracière, an Old French word meaning "arm protector" and referring to military uniforms (bras in French means "arm"). This later became used for a military breast plate, and later for a type of woman's corset.The term "brassiere" was first used in the English language in 1893. It gained wider acceptance when the DeBevoise Company invoked the cachet of the French word “brassiere” in 1904 in its advertising to describe their latest bust supporter.That product and other early versions of the brassiere resembled a camisole stiffened with boning. Vogue magazine first used the term in 1907, and by 1911 the word had made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary. On 13 November 1914, the newly formed U.S. patent category for "brassieres" was inaugurated with the first patent issued to Mary Phelps Jacob. In the 1930s, "brassiere" was gradually shortened to "bra."
In the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, both soutien-gorge and brassière are used interchangeably. The Portuguese word for bra is sutiã, while the Spanish use the word sujetador (from sujetar, to hold). The Germans, Swedes, Danes and Dutch all use the acronym "BH" which means, respectively, büstenhalter, bysthållare, brysteholdere and bustehouder (bust-holder). In Esperanto, the bra is called a mamzono (breast-belt). Despite the large number of nicknames for breasts themselves, there are only a couple of nicknames for bras, including "over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder" and "upper-decker flopper-stopper".