Oh come on, you've seen it all before

They're uncomfortable, ugly and they've been around for years. So why is Britain so excited about the latest push-up bras?
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The Independent Culture
So what's the big deal? If you were on the Docklands Light Railway on Friday, was it really necessary to stare and point/take photos for the folks back home/giggle until your mummy pulled you away?

Perhaps our fellow passengers were astonished by the new range of bras that the four of us were modelling - the very latest in push-up technology. They have taken teams of "bra technicians" many years to develop and now rival manufacturers are going all out for your cleavage. Bra wars, the sequel, will shortly begin in the cinemas and over acres of billboards.

As far as the bra firms are concerned, there's gold in them thar hills. Market researchers Mintel estimate that the UK bra industry is worth pounds 500m a year - and the fastest growing market is for push-up bras.

Daisy, Helen, Nathalie and I weren't asking for much, just a little uplift, and the courage to say: "Hello boys!" So, when a mound of satin and polyester arrived at the office, we fought over a glittery Wonderbra, while others pursued stories of corruption and injustice.

Breasts, we agreed, are important. "They attract attention away from the bags under your eyes", argued Daisy, "and you can catch things in them, like food".

"If you've got a nice cleavage, it makes you feel good about yourself," said Nathalie. "Boobs are the first thing men look at, isn't that why women buy Wonderbras?" suggested Helen.

The shimmering black and silver Millennium bra is from a new range by Playtex, which will be promoted with a pounds 1m poster campaign in September. It is, apparently, "the only bra to party in". Nathalie tried it on first. "It's really comfortable and a fun design," she decided. "But I wouldn't wear it to a Millennium party if I was trying to impress the lads - I don't think it enhances much at all, it's too subtle." Helen was quite taken with it. "I liked it, apart from the naff silver buckles, but after five minutes it started feeling itchy."

However, it takes more than the Millennium to impress Daisy, who sniffed: "It doesn't give me enough cleavage." We awarded the Millennium bra eight out of 10.

Then we decided to go back to basics, and try the classic Playtex Wonderbra with black lacy cups. It's been pushing-up breasts for three decades, and sales soared by 66 per cent last year. Admirers claim it creates a "second bum" and Helen was impressed: "This one looked the best. It was quite comfy, the only one that felt like a normal bra, the others felt like I had eight layers on."

But she wouldn't actually go out in one. "It's so obvious you're wearing a Wonderbra and you're giving men a false illusion," she said. "They'll think you've got big boobs, and then remove the bra and they'll go: `where are they?'"

Nothing could tempt Nathalie into one: "I've got a Wonderbra at home that I've never worn. I can't stand it, it's so uncomfortable." After an itchy five minutes, I could see what she meant. Maybe this is why women burned their bras in the Sixties. Daisy decreed that hers was "nothing special, but if you took it camping, you could use it as a pillow." For that reason alone, she awarded it six out of 10.

Gossard is spending pounds 5m to promote its latest weapon, the Ultrabra Super Boost, launched this week, which promises "the biggest ever cleavage or your money back". It took two years to develop, boasts double-thickness padding, and transforms a 34B bust into a 34D. A steamy cinema campaign which begins in October, features a model slipping on a Super Boost as a man watches from his apartment opposite - so transfixed that he rips his face to shreds as he shaves.

"Fantastic!" enthused Daisy. "It gives you a massive cleavage, but it feels like my boobs are in prison." I felt like a serving wench in mine, and a few hours later, my back muscles started straining under the weight of the upholstery. Helen was quick to discard her "siren red" Super Boost. "This was the worst one, I felt like I had two objects sitting on my chest," she complained. But it takes all sorts, and Nathalie really liked it: "It looks nice and it's comfortable and it definitely makes a difference". Overall, we reckoned, the Ultrabras deserved seven out of 10.

The last bra we tried was the Ultimo with its "secret gel substance" sewn into the cups, for maximum uplift. It's designed by MJM International, newcomers to the bra wars, and took three years to perfect. According to the blurb it's "the most important product to hit the UK underwear department for over 30 years".

"Selfridges ordered in what they thought was enough for the month, and they sold out on the first day," gushes the PR. "There were queues down Oxford Street!"

But girls, don't believe the hype. I felt like I had a couple of buckets hanging from my chest, and I was worried that my breasts might start grazing my knees.

Nathalie reported: "It gives me a bit of a cleavage and it looks really natural - but after one tube stop, it felt like a corset!" Helen, putting aside her copy of The Female Eunuch for a moment, commented: "Imagine meeting a guy if you're wearing one of these - he'd whip it off and think he'd taken away half your skin". She staggered under the weight of the bra and decided that it was "lumpy and doesn't do anything for me". Daisy shook her head sadly and announced: "I feel like a fraud, a liar and a cheat". We gave the Ultimo six and a half out of ten.

These bras are definitely not comfortable enough for all-day wear. In fact, even two tube-stops is stretching it. But if you're planning to drop into a glamorous party for a swift martini, it might be worth investing in one. It's also a great way of avoiding paying your tube fare. As we discovered, the ticket inspectors are far too embarrassed to ask you where your pass is.

Gossard's Ultrabra Super Boost costs pounds 21. Tel: 01525 859 769 for stockists

Playtex's Millennium Bra will be available from October at pounds 24 and the Wonderbra costs pounds 18. For stockists, call: 01475 504100

The Ultimo costs pounds 35 is available from Selfridges, Oxford St, W1. Tel: 0171 629 1234