A brassiere , commonly referred to as a bra, is an article of clothing that covers, supports, and elevates the breasts.
As well as an undergarment, the bra is considered a foundation garment because of its role in shaping the wearer's figure. It was originally developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to replace the corset, and has now become, in many parts of the world, the standard method for supporting a woman's breasts.
The bra can be worn to support and enhance breast shape during everyday activities. A specialized bra, the sports bra, can be worn to support and restrain breasts during exercise. The bra may also be worn to preserve modesty or to present a certain image of femininity. Bras are typically designed to lift the breasts into a particular position, for a more youthful look or for enhancing cleavage. These roles are sometimes conflicting. Some designers aim at producing a garment that fulfills a practical role as well as making it look attractive. Bras are also used during pregnancy (when breasts are enlarged and more sensitive), and for nursing to support and provide access for breast feeding.
Some have questioned the practical need for the bra given that some women prefer to go without a bra on a regular basis. The bra has become charged with political and cultural meanings that overlay its practical purpose. Traditionally it is viewed as symbolic of a young girl's coming of age. It can also be interpreted as a feminine icon. On the other hand, some feminists consider the brassiere a symbol of the repression of women's bodies.