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Jane Farrell-Beck, Textiles and Clothing, (515) 294-4233
Kevin Brown, News Service, (515 294-8986


AMES, Iowa -- Behold the bra.

It's been used to make statements fashionable and political. Now, it's the subject of an uplifting new book titled "Uplift: The Bra in America" by Jane Farrell-Beck, Iowa State University professor of textiles and clothing, and Colleen Gau, who is president of a textiles conservation firm.

The bra has been an ample subject for Farrell-Beck.

"About 10 years ago, I began to study health aspects of American clothing during the 19th and early 20th centuries. While investigating the use of 'corsets' and braces for treating scoliosis, I began to wonder whether brassieres supplanted commercial back braces," said Farrell Beck. "I delved into breast supporter patents and found an 1884 proto-brassiere with straps much like a present-day sports bra -- a 'eureka moment' that launched seven years of research on bras."

Extensively researched and illustrated with ads and designs, "Uplift" traces the history of the bra through boom and bust, war and peace. The book details the intimate apparel's impact on women, society, economics and fashion.

In the book's preface, titled "Firming Up the Facts," the authors of "Uplift" state their hope that the book will "replace the tall tales and trivializations with an examination of the brassiere's role in the history of American women."

For example, the authors contend that the bra is not an imposition by men on women, but the foundation of a billion dollar industry developed by both sexes.

"Women entrepreneurs produced breast supporters, beginning with Olivia Flynt's custom-made supporters in the 1880s, and continuing through the decades. First in Chicago, then in New York and New Jersey, and finally in California and the South, brassiere companies headed by women -- or by men and women together -- prospered," said Farrell-Beck. "Such well-known brands as Olga, Bali, and Maidenform owed their success to women designers or marketers." The book covers the many people who have been their mark on bra lore, including Luman Chapman, who got the ball rolling in 1863 when he patented a breast supporter, and Laura B. Lyon, who patented the first sports bra in 1904. Madonna even warrants a mention in "Uplift."

"Uplift" looks at the evolution of cup size and the origins of the push-up, which has been around longer than most might think. The authors also have included an entertaining glossary of bra brands, which stretches from Accentuate to Youthline. "Uplift" even explores how bra technology was used to protect pigeons carried by paratroopers during World War I.

"Uplift" also examines the bra from the health angle, noting how maternity, prosthetic and athletic products have evolved in response to the needs of women. The bra, itself, developed out of a need to escape the corset.

"At their inception, breast supporters known as 'bust girdles' and "short stays" offered women a comfortable and healthful alternative to the odious corset, which constricted breathing, impeded digestion and weakened the torso muscles," said Farrell-Beck. "Although hygienic reasons accounted for early use of proto-brassieres, fashion encouraged many women to try these new undergarments. By the 1910s, many companies were turning out 'brassieres' and 'bandeaux' to help women achieve the desired svelte silhouette. Each time the dress style changed, brassieres changed, too. Myriad new fashions became feasible. Women could thus explore aesthetic effects not achievable with corsets."

Iowa State's Farrell-Beck has spent much of her career researching fashion products, and how health and societal trends have driven their form and function. Her research subjects include the hanger, health issues and clothing, the economic impact of teen women and the re-emergence of professional bra fitters.

The University of Pennsylvania Press published "Uplift".


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