There are few relationships more complicated than that of a woman and her bra.
The dynamic is constantly in flux, often occupying several phases of a pendulum swing at once, which defies physics and like, the general concepts of all human sciences; simultaneously sacred and infuriating, empowering and disenfranchising, sexual yet so fucking uncomfortable, women and their bras have been frenemies since the dawn of time. Or at least since the invention of the modern bra in 1899.
So for almost 120 years, we’ve been tug-of-warring with our flighty mammary cupholders and just when it seems like we might reach an armistice, a new battle begins. They made our boobs look like torpedos; we burned them. They poked us with underwire, we invented sports bras. Yet despite this push and pull, we remain committed to one another, continually renegotiating the terms upon which our alliance is built. They support us, give us confidence, alleviate (some) back pain, and can even push us up to previously unknown heights. In the end, we’re all just doing our best.
I remember the first real bra I ever had. I was 21, and found this beautiful, lacy dove grey demi cup that I couldn’t stop imagining my boobies in. Up until this point, most of my bras were some incarnation of my first pubescent bra – cheap cotton with underwire so unstable it’s a constant threat to snapping in two and puncturing my skin, leading to a massive hemorrhaging of blood – and I didn’t really care enough about my undergarment steeze to make a change. Until I met Dove Grey. It was one of those bras that’s so beautiful that you don’t want to wear a shirt, because why would I wear something so transcendently gorgeous and not show it off to everyone I meet? What was the point in having it if no one could appreciate its beauty and be in awe of me forever and ever? Also, it turned out to be one of those pretty bras that kind of looks terrible under every shirt and dress. But I had to have it. I had to prove that I was a woman, that I could give my boobs nice things and treat them with the respect they deserved. And then it all fell apart.
Since I’d been wearing shitty bras made for the onslaught of female puberty my whole life, I had no idea how to take care of a serious bra. After wearing Dove Grey a few times, I threw it in the wash with the rest of my whites and off whites, and then into the dryer it went. And in one fell swoop, I ruined the most precious thing in my life. Dove Grey was dead. The delicate lace straps were eviscerated, the underwire was utterly warped, and all the intricate detailing that made me feel like a grown ass woman with a checking account and a pretty bra was destroyed. It was like a feral cat had played with it for a few hours and then went, “Damn, that’s a messed up bra,” and left it by the side of the road to be scavenged by vultures. It was then and there, at the funeral I held for my dead bra* that I realized I could never let this happen again; I had let my boobs down, but I could learn from my mistakes and avoid another tragedy. I’ve learned a lot about bra maintenance in the years since, and I’m here to share that knowledge with you and, hopefully, save at least one bra from meeting a sad and totally unnecessary end.
* I want to be clear that I did not, in fact, hold a funeral for my dead bra. It just feels like I did, even eight years later. RIP, Dove Grey.
So first I need to rectify a statement I made earlier. I mentioned that most of my early and late teens were spent wearing shitty bras made for girls just starting to hit puberty. The thing is, we should be kind to all our bras, no matter what price point or material. Most of the bras I owned when I was younger were shitty because I treated them that way. I put them in the dryer, I never washed them on a the correct cycle, and I definitely never washed them by hand.
You can’t treat your bras the same way you treat your sweatpants, and the best way to ensure your undergarment underwires stay glorious is to hand wash them.
Just take a little laundry detergent – or some specialty detergent made for delicates – and give your bra a mild scrubbing in the sink with some lukewarm water, making sure to rinse out all the detergent before drying. You don’t have to scrub hard, just enough to get a lather going. When you go to dry your bra, make sure you don’t hang it from a single strap, since the strap will slightly stretch out from the weight of the remaining water as it dries; try hanging it from the middle, or from both straps simultaneously. If your bra has some specialty straps (i.e. satin, lace, ribbons, etc.) you can lay it flat to dry.
Personally, I rarely take the time to hand wash my bras. It’s a habit my mom tried to instill in me, but I’m all about taking the easier route when it comes to… pretty much all things.
So, while it’s not as ideal as washing each bra individually, machine washing your bras is doable and bra-safe, as long as you’re working with the right equipment: a mesh laundry bag.
Made specifically for washing lingerie in a washing machine, mesh laundry bags are super cheap, easy to use, usually come in packs with varying bag sizes, and are available at so many places, including Target, Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, and more. All you have to do is put your bra(s) in the bag (remembering to attach the clasp, so the hooks don’t get stuck in the mesh), zip up the bag, and toss in the machine. I tend to wash my bras with my whites or delicates, since they should be washed on a gentle cycle with cold water. I also use regular detergent, but again, specialty detergent isn’t a bad idea if you feel like splurging a little.
It’s important to note, however, that these bags should only be used in the washing machine and NOT the dryer. Once the washing cycle is over, set your mesh bag aside before you transfer the rest of your load to the dryer, and air dry your bras as you would after hand washing them. The heat of a dryer can warp the underwire over time, and really destroy materials like lace, silk, satin, and even cotton. The exception to these rules is the sports bra. Sports bras are made to be washed industrially, and typically don’t need to be treated with the delicacy that push up bras, demi cups, and bralettes need.
Boobs are precious. And, as the guardians of boobs, bras are precious too.
Yes, we might sometimes huff with frustration over a twirled strap that won’t sit flat on our shoulder. We sigh with relief at the end of the work day when we can reach back and snap off those cups. We may even scream in blood-curdling agony as a rogue wire pops out from its cotton cage and stabs us in our aforementioned precious boob. But we are the masters of our own bras. We rejoice in the skill of being able to take of our bras underneath our shirts. We hang them from every hook, chair arm, showerhead, and door hinge of our homes. We MacGyver that underwire back into its cage with some deodorant and a piece of chewing gum. It may be a complicated relationship, but it’s also one of total honesty and mutual respect. Take care of your bras, and they’ll take care of you.