Canadian Forces Ponder
Development Of Combat Bra
By Dennis Bueckert
Canadian Press
OTTAWA - The Canadian Forces are contemplating an undercover project so complex no other army has even attempted it; so sensitive that, even if successful, it is almost sure to remain under wraps.
An elite unit at National Defence headquarters is actively studying whether to proceed with development of the world's first combat bra.
Skeptics may chuckle but it's no joke for Capt. Frank Delanghe of the Clothe the Soldier Program, a $184-million effort to update clothing and gear used by Canada's 42,000 troops.
"It's never been looked at before," Delanghe said in an interview. "No army that I know of has ever touched or even approached this issue. I think we're kind of treading on new ground here."
Delanghe notes that for females in combat or rigorous training, brassiere design can be a significant issue.
"It has to be comfortable enough to wear, potentially, on a 24 (hour) seven (day) basis, and yet it has to be able to provide sufficient support to allow you to do "violent, physical activity."
He says there are "dozens and dozens" of bra models on the market, yet none seem satisfactory for the demands of military work. Take sports bras, for example.
"What they do is they push the breasts together at the front. Because the breasts aren't being supported independently and kept apart, they're rubbing together so you're going to get chafing.
"On top of that you're doing a lot of physical activity so you're sweating. What will happen is you'll start to build up skin irritation and it can develop into some type of infection that would be extremely uncomfortable."
Athletic-support bras are durable but tend to be uncomfortable: "They're really heavy-duty and you can't wear them more than a couple of hours at a stretch because the straps really dig in."
Some military women are skeptical about the notion of a combat bra, mainly because they fear it would not take account of individual preferences.
"I think most women would look at it as not a high priority," says Maj. Joan Prior. "It's much more important to have a backpack that fits and boots that fit.
"Personally, I think a bra is such an individual piece of apparel -- most women are pretty particular about what they wear. It's pretty hard to do one product that fits all."
But she's keeping an open mind. "I think it's a good effort to give each gender the right attention. The guys get shorts so we may as well get a bra."
The decision on whether to proceed will not be left to gut instinct. The Human Factors Group at the Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in Toronto has been asked to prepare a scientific survey of combat women.
"I realize this is something we can't crack really simply," says Delanghe.
"We're going to have to take a scientific, proper methodical approach if we want to solve it. And that's what we're hoping to accomplish."
Delanghe admits he gets some ribbing about his work.
"They don't call me Delangherie for nothing."