Politics of the Bra: Between Baleen Whales, Battleships, Exploited Labor and Normative Nude Color



Inextricably associated with the evolution of fashion and the changing views of female bodies, the bra has augmented, diminished, pulled, and pushed the shape of women’s bodies, but it has also served as an erotic stimulus, symbolized class distinctions and fulfilled other social, sanitary and economical functions. The history of this garment has generally belonged to the private and bodily related sphere; it is therefore undoubtedly linked to body politics and feminism and has been understood by these movements as a revolutionary tool in their protests.

However, the evolution that the bra has endured is a much more complex subject. This underwear apparel has also taken place at the center of a broader history that links it with the history of natural resources, manufacture products and mechanization. The structural function that the bra provides relates it to other technologies fundamental in the construction of the female body. This makes possible to conceive its history on a more relationally complex mode of production.

In our contribution to this issue about Clothing Politics, we want to recontextualize the bra. Having studied the context of this undergarment in its most widely accepted meaning, we think that it might be helpful to highlight other historical moments. These may activate connections between the bra and its collateral roles in the politics of diverse arenas, such as animal exploitation or the politics of war, among others.