After being invented in 1914 by Mary Phelps Jacob to replace the uncomfortable corset, the bra started out as a piece of clothing exclusively for women. Girls who started to develop with puberty, but who didn’t have enough breasts to fill an “adult” bra, usually wore a slip or vest under their clothes.
A few years later, some models of bras for teenagers began to shyly develop. But this piece only became popular in the ’50s, when the media started to highlight women’s breasts – and this was reflected in society, including teenagers.
Doctors began to recommend that teenagers wear bras to avoid sagging and problems while breastfeeding, while teenagers themselves and even their mothers saw in the bra a way to improve posture and presentation. The companies also wanted to profit by selling bras for teenagers, with the of the media and even magazines for teenagers.
Once the breasts became symbols of femininity, the bra became a consumer dream for teenagers. Even girls who, at the beginning of puberty still did not have breasts wished to wear a bra just as they wished to wear high heels or lipstick.
For this audience, the “training bra” was created: a light, soft, wire-free bra without a bulge – sometimes with a light pad to protect and shape the breast bud (that lump that appears around the nipples at the beginning of the development of the breasts), preventing them from marking on clothing. In practice and contrary to the original idea of the bra, it offers little (perhaps none) support for breasts. It serves as a “transition” piece for the girl to get used to wearing a bra.
Even girls who had not yet developed a breast bud, but who were of pubertal age, wanted to have bras. The bra has become a symbol of a ritual of passage from childhood to adolescence. The “training bras” advertisements in magazine and catalog ads played on this.
In one of these ads, there is an image of a mother with her daughter wearing a branded bra and above a caption saying that “an understanding mother knows that her daughter’s desire for her first bra is more for emotional and psychological reasons than physical ”. The advertisement also highlights that its product is developed for girls from 9 to 16 years old, they have cups that expand as the breasts develop and that help to develop confidence not only in themselves but in their “understanding.”
Most “training bras” advertisements followed this script, mainly with images of mothers dressed in nightgowns hugging their daughters who wore bras. In fact, the target audience of the advertisement was not only the girls but also their mothers.
The message being propagated was that the “first bra” is a milestone in the girl’s life and a moment that unites mother and daughter.
Of course, not all girls started wearing bras. Some found them uncomfortable, others were embarrassed (being the first or the last of their circle of friends to start wearing one), and others started using it without having breasts because their friends were. So much as it happens yet today.
There were also people who were against training bras. The arguments were that the “training bras,” because they are not pieces designed for support promoted the sexualization of adolescents.
Today, the concept of “training bras” has started to reach adult audiences too! There are the famous “bralettes.” They are lightweight bras, usually wire-free, bulge, and in some cases come without hooks and have won over the adult audience for their style and comfort. With the pandemic, they gained more usage as women who stayed at home decided to adopt more comfortable models of bras, (such as bralettes.) Of course, the bralettes developed for the adult audience have more daring styles (lace, cleavage, colors, etc.) than the training bras of the teenagers …
– Would you wear a training bra as a teenager?
– Have you ever worn a training bra?
– Do you like bralettes?
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