An investigation of breast support for older women

  • Debbie Judith Risius

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Profound changes occur within the female breast with increasing age; glandular atrophy, increased skin laxity and stretched Cooper‟s ligaments cause an inferior lateral migration of the breast tissue. However, the current lingerie market predominantly revolves around bras designed for younger women that older women may feel are inappropriate for their physique. Literature regarding age-appropriate clothing has postulated that bras should be designed based on specific shapes, populations and usages. Yet the bra preferences of older women have been neglected in the literature. By determining women's requirements, the performance of current bras may be ascertained, and subsequent alterations may be recommended for bra design in order to optimise bras for older women if required.

The aims of the current thesis were to: provide a wider understanding of the bra requirements of women aged 45 to 65 years, determine the key bra performance variables for this population, develop procedures to assess these variables and to determine the current appropriateness of a small sample of bras for this population.

To achieve the research aims the thesis contained five studies. The first study was exploratory in nature, using focus groups and interviews to develop a knowledge base on the bra preferences of women aged 45 to 65 years. A survey was subsequently designed and implemented to determine the key bra performance variables among a wider sample of the population. The results of these studies identify the general dimensions that women consider when purchasing a bra (comfort, support, aesthetics, practicalities, and psychological aspects). From these dimensions, 11 key bra performance variables that are of importance to older women were derived (comfort, support, bra's ability to stay in place, appearance under clothes, silhouette, breast shape, breast lift, shoulder straps, discreetness, fabric and fit). Methods to quantify the key bra performance variables were required to assess the performance of current bras for older women. The third experimental study developed methods which minimised the limitations of existing procedures, and determined the validity and reliability of these methods. As a result of this study, methods to assess the 11 key bra performance variables were deemed acceptable for both objective and subjective measures.

In the fourth study, two bras were selected from a popular and unpopular brand; the performance of these bras was assessed with regard to the 11 key bra performance variables. The results indicate that women aged 45 to 65 years preferred a bra that minimises breast kinematics, provides greater breast projection and lifts the breast sufficiently. Although differences lay between the bare breasted and bra conditions, the two bras performed similarly despite the difference in popularity. The final study incorporated a four week wearer trial to elucidate any changes in performance that may appear with increased usage. Subjective ratings of breast support and the bras' ability to stay in place were lower following the wearer trial. The bras tested performed well for the bra variables; comfort, fit, support and shoulder strap position. However, the remaining key bra performance variables may require alteration to ensure their appropriateness for women aged 45 to 65 years. It is concluded that women aged 45 to 65 years are generally cognisant of changes to their breasts as they age, subsequently seeking bras that are different from those they previously would have worn. The findings of this thesis suggest that alterations in bra design are required to optimise bras for older women.
Date of AwardDec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorJoanna Wakefield-Scurr (Supervisor), Richard Thelwell (Supervisor) & Chris Wagstaff (Supervisor)

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