Uplift-The Bra in America
By Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau
ISBN: 0-8122-3643-2
243 pages, B&W Illustrations published 2002.

Book Review by Lanajean Vecchione

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     The big picture of bras includes more than the proverbial burning.

    According to this book, bra history begins at the turn of the century as the corset heaved its last gasp in women's wear. At first bra production was sparse with distribution consisting mostly of mail and catalog orders in the larger category of "figure supports."

     Uplift traces how bras grew as a product and an industry, leading to a growing variety of bra features and brands. A rush of bra patent applications by women entrepreneurs is well illustrated, and research leans heavily towards government and trade industry journals, especially Corset and Underwear Review.

     The trend of women business owners seeking patents to build a better bra is just one historic fact revealed. Confronting the rumors surrounding bra history, Uplift authors Colleen Gau and Jane Farrell-Beck address each one with precise research and a touch of humor. For example, the authors explain on page 103 that, "Despite present day complaints of under wires, they were not an inconsiderate feat of engineering foisted upon women by a male designer. Cup wires were patented by Madeline Gabeau in 1911, and the first commercially produced style was devised by Helene Pons in 1931."

     During the 1950s a number of bra "innovations" were also introduced. The authors mention a few on page 121, including "The Tres' Secre'te, an inflatable brassiere with a little plastic straw for blowing it to the desired size and Gem-Dandy Mon-e-Bra with a zippered front section between the cups.

     Ironically, when attention turned from breasts to legs, the centennial anniversary of the bra was ignored entirely in 1963. Not a peep was heard neither in the media, nor from the bra industry itself.

     Along with a demure amount of cleavage, every aspect of bra development, distribution, sales and design is discussed in Uplift. The social and political conditions that influenced the acceptance of bras are discussed as well. Not forgotten, fashions that parallel historic bra developments are also given ink From the early origins of manufacture when most bras were hand-sewn to the development of computer-aided design, you'll find an ample amount of information.

     Uplift also has novel back matter, including a chronological directory of bra brands and trademarks. In addition, annotated chapter footnotes, a glossary of terms and an index will appeal to scholars and librarians. This is an extremely well researched book that also adds facts from popular culture to place bra history into a larger social context.

     Slanted towards academics and fashion historians, pop culture fanatics may be disappointed with Uplift. Although the black and white illustrations are pertinent to the text, the book falls flat when it comes to providing ample pictures of bra wearing bosoms. True, a pop-culture bra book especially for pin-up and fetish fans has yet to be written. Despite this disclaimer, this feminist friendly tale of the bra is pure fashion history. It will titillate with facts without distracting with images.

     From the roaring 20s when breasts were flattened to the 1950s, when the cups were sewn in concentric circles for maximum output, this book secures the argument that bras as much a social force as they are an accessory.