ADDRESSES: Home—Unadilla, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, University of Pennsylvania Press, 4200 Pine St., Philadelphia, PA 19104-4011.
CAREER: CPRTex, Inc., Unadilla, NY, president; writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Costume Society of America, Stella Blum research grant, 1997; Adele Filene Travel Award, 1999.
(With Jane Farrell-Beck) Uplift: The Bra in America, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2001.
Contributor of articles about clothing and health to periodicals.
SIDELIGHTS: Colleen Gau, an independent scholar and president of the home-based textile-conservation business CPRTex, Inc., joined with Jane Farrell-Beck, a professor of clothing and textiles, to produce Uplift: The Bra in America. The book provides a history of the widely used but sometimes maligned undergarment. The authors explain that the brassiere originated in the late nineteenth century as a healthier alternative to the corset, which exerted such pressure on the lungs and the digestive and reproductive organs that it caused serious health problems for many women. Brassieres were seen as an improvement, especially for physically active women, as well as for pregnant women and nursing mothers. Gau and Farrell-Beck say they wrote Uplift because it was "time to shelve the stereotype of the brassiere as oppressive and to take a more balanced view of its development."
The authors chronicle the bra's development through research that incorporates advertising, trade publications, and other sources. They also show how the brassiere industry responded to—and sometimes created—fashions and fads throughout the twentieth century. Flat chests were in favor in the roaring 1920s, but succeeding decades brought an emphasis on curves. Some feminists discarded their bras in the 1960s and 1970s, and modern women generally came to demand bras that would allow for maximum physical activity and comfort.
A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that Uplift is "less a history of the bra than a study of its relationship to history," and called that it a "fun, punchy book" and "good-humored yet careful." New York Observer critic Robert Gottlieb thought it "hard to imagine [the garment's story] being told better" than it is by Gau and Farrell-Beck. "If there's a certain amount of excess, it's the excess of a true and judicious enthusiasm," he remarked. "Their tone is restrained yet light, informed yet unacademic. And besides, you learn so much." He concluded, "Ms. Farrell-Beck and Ms. Gau have thoroughly mastered the history of the bra until now." Kirsten E. Gardner, writing in Business History, noted that the authors "offer an insightful look at the history of brassieres, demonstrating how this history both reflects and influences more familiar themes in U.S. history such as business, fashion, and health." A Libido Online reviewer commented, "Rich in examples from advertising, movies, and other areas of popular culture, Uplift moves beyond featherbones and fiberfill to provide a sense of the dynamic relationship of the bra to wider issues in society."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Farrell-Beck, Jane, and Colleen Gau, Uplift: The Bra in America, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2001.
Business History, July, 2003, Kirsten E. Gardner, review of Uplift, p. 138.
Feminist Collections, summer, 2002, Andrea M. Kolasinski, "History of Women's Clothing and Accessories," p. 11.
Journal of American History, March, 2003, Gayle V. Fischer, review of Uplift, p. 1539.
New York Observer, December 17, 2001, Robert Gottlieb, "Nubbins to Super-Droopers: The Quest for the Ideal Bra," p. 43.
Publishers Weekly, November 5, 2001, review of Uplift, p. 55.
Wilson Quarterly, spring, 2002, Eve Auchincloss, "Bound and Determined," p. 109.
Winterthur Portfolio, summer-autumn, 2003, Michael J. Murphy, review of Uplift, p. 151.
American Enterprise Online, http://www.theamericanenterprise.org/ (February 14, 2002), Erin Sharp, review of Uplift.
Chicago Tribune Online, http://www.chicagotribune.com/ (July 17, 2002), Barbara Brotman, "Book Studies the History, Underlying Facts of Bras."