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Brassiere

A brassiere or bra is an item of women's underwear consisting of two cups covering the breasts for support and modesty. In addition to the connection of the cups it has usually four bands, two on the sides that are fastened to each other at the back and two over the shoulders[?], joining the other two at the back.

The upper part of a bikini is similar, but with the social difference that that is part of a swimsuit and not underwear, i.e. in western cultures it is considered suitable for exposure in a swimming pool, on the beach, and other recreational situations.

The size of breasts is often expressed in terms of the size of the bra. This is measured as follows: Two measurements are taken, the first is a circumference of the body with the tape being placed under the breasts. This provides the "wire size." The second measurement is similar, but includes the breasts. The first result is then subtracted from the second. A difference of 1 inch requires an A cup size; 2 inches, a B cup; 3 inches, a C cup; and 4 inches, a D cup. Therefore, a woman who has a wire measurement of 36 inches, and a measurement over her breasts of 39 inches, would be best served by a bra size of 36C.

Larger cup sizes can be confusing, but the following will outline these unusual sizes. A 5 inch difference is either a DD or an E cup. There is essentially no difference between them, but some manufacturers are hesitant to use the "E" size fearing that it sounds too large, and therefore use "DD" because it sounds less imposing.

A 6 inch difference is either a DDD, a EE or an F. While a 7 inch difference is a EEE, an FF or a G (again, depending on manufacturer's preference). An 8 inch difference is an H cup.

After that, the sizes proceed through the alphabet with a letter and a double letter for each inch difference. For example, a 9 inch difference is an HH, a 10 inch difference is an I, an 11 inch difference is an II, a 12 inch difference is a J, a 13 inch difference is a JJ, and so on.

The largest bra manufactured without a special order is a size 60N.

The largest bra worn by a woman, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is a size 56WW, worn by Norma Stitz of the United States.

History

The concept of covering or restraining the breasts dates back into antiquity; for example a binding known as an apodesmos or mastodeton was worn by Greek women for excercise.

The first bra-like device to support the breasts was patented (nr 24033) in 1859 by Henry S Lesher of Brooklyn, New York; although it is recognisably a bra, the design looks uncomfortable by current standards.

The american Mary Phelps-Jacobs[?] was granted the first patent for a modern bra in 1914, however Herminie Cadolle is generally regared as having invented the modern bra some years earlier.

In 1889 Cadolle invented a two-piece undergarment called le bien-être (the wellbeing). The lower part was a corset for the waist, the upper supporting the breasts by means of shoulder straps. By 1905 the upper half was being sold separately as a soutien-gorge (breast support), the name by which bras are still known in France.

In French, brassière refers to a baby's vest, although it is now sometimes used for the a 'bra-top' without formed cups. The word brassière derives from bracière, an Old French word meaning "arm protector" and referring to military uniform (bras in French means "arm"). This later became used for a military breast plate, and later for a type of woman's corset.



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