For some women they pinch, they dig in, and they restrict. For others, they cover pathetically without supporting or enhancing at all. The mainstream media may rail against the idea of corsetry, but bras are at least as maddening as corsets ever were.
What's the real problem with bras, and what can you can do about it?
I believe that the ultimate problem with bras originates with the limitations of mass production.
Mass manufacturing meets many of our 21st century, First World needs reasonably well. From plates, lawnmowers and deodorant to the little bobble head thingie that sits on your desk at work, most of what we want and need today can be produced in bulk at an affordable price (providing you leave aside the issues of Third World exploitation, of course.)
The problem with mass produced clothing
But when it comes to clothing, mass manufacture struggles to provide what we need. Walk into any high street clothing store today and look - really look - at what's on offer, and you'll notice how we are all dressed in what is beginning to amount to little more than potato sacks.
As manufacturers struggle with sizing, the clothes that they offer are looking more and more like, well, mumus and ponchos and kaftans. We are buying expanses of fabric that loosely, shapelessly provide adequate concealment for the maximum range of bodies. Throw in a drawstring, or a little elastic or lycra, and everyone's (theoretically) happy.
Am I overstating it? Compare our clothes to what we were wearing a hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, and you can see the vast effect that mass production has had on fashion: there's a reason why t-shirts are so universal.
Most of us embrace it, however, because the unintended side effect of shapelessness..... is comfort. (I'm wearing a t-shirt right now.)
But then there are bras.
Bras can't get away with loose, adequate concealment. Bras have to FIT. Individually. Perfectly. Comfortably. Whether you need to uplift and enhance the girls, or control and minimise them, you need something that works just for you.
Somehow, mass production has to provide solutions for an infinite range of shapes and sizes and needs.
We complain that it can't keep up - why won't they make something that fits ME? - but OF COURSE mass production can't keep up with individualised demand. Mass production was not designed for a garment that's so individual.
Mass production depends on the ease and low cost of producing a large quantity of one identical thing for a large group of people. If a crowd of people require an object that's slightly different for each of them, the system falls down. If it's a big enough manufacturer and the crowd of buyers is vast enough, it can make a range of varieties and please some of the women, some of the time, but others are inevitably left completely out in the cold.
But ALL women still need bras, and ironically, those who need them the most are the hardest to cater for, and therefore, those are the women who are left without adequate solutions.
So what to do?
You already know where I'm going with this. Most of you reading this are sewists. But bras are a little different from what you usually make. Patterning is a potential nightmare, and then you have to figure out stretch fabrics and findings and fit.
It's a new skill to get used to, but once you *do* tackle bra making, with the right instructions you might be surprised at the results. Because if you want something done properly, you might as well have a go at doing it yourself...
Make your first bra with Foundations Revealed
Check out our Bra Making section for more.
How To Make A Bra (Part 1 and Part 2 are free)
After a look at sizing, you will draft (draw) the blocks (patterns) for the cups, cradle and wings of a simple underwired style, before our bra guru Mark walks you through the construction step by step.
Then you will use this as a starting point to draft and make a range of styles, including strapless designs.
"A wonderful read that is easy to follow and results are just delightful." - Katarina, Croatia
Soft (Non-Underwired) Bras (Part 1 is free)
Many women hate underwires with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, and have had no end of trouble with those bits of bent metal.
So by popular demand, in this four part series Mark steps away from the metalwork and shows how to draft and make bras without any wiring.
"I came to this site for the corsets but this series have quickly become my favorite articles here." - Indy, USA
Many women are looking for something that can make the most of a less generous bust. In this article on bra design Mark looks at more cup shaping options, push up bras, and sling bras, and try to solve the problem of "east westing" (that’s the technical term, we kid you not!) or how to make a "cowboy" bra that rounds them up and gets them pointing in the right direction.
"These articles are my absolute favorites; thank you so very much for demystifying bra-making & especially patterning!" - Elizabeth, USA
Many women of larger sizes struggle to find a good bra that gives adequate support and shape. In this article Mark discusses what is wrong with shop bought plus size bras, and why you should have a go at making your own.
"Mark, you are AMAZING. I am always impressed not only by your depth of knowledge, but also by your ability to instruct. Thank you so very much for all you do." - Sara
"Mark, you have a wonderful way of explaining things. Long may you reign as king of cups!" - Jane
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Cathy Hay is the creator and publisher of award-winning online costuming and corsetry magazines Foundations Revealed and Your Wardrobe Unlock'd. She is a member of both the Costume Society in the UK and the Costumer's Guild West in the USA, and teaches at Costume College. Her own sewing projects can be found at The Peacock Dress and Other Stories.
Cathy is an uncomfortable 34C, and has had her shoulder cried on in the bra fitting room of many major department stores by plus sized friends.