Bra History

bra history

Women have had a long history with bras, along with a love-hate relationship. Many women struggle every day with their bras and cannot wait to take them off at the end of the day. 

Like it or not, bras have become a staple in many women’s wardrobes throughout the centuries.

What is the Purpose of a Bra?

This question has many different answers depending on your thoughts on the subject. Some people believe they hide and confine breasts. 

Some women see bras as a torture device created by men to keep their breasts from moving freely. Others believe they shape a women’s figure and bind them for the pleasure of others. 

Some bras expose breasts. Throughout the years, they have had practical uses such as supporting breasts and potentially hiding them. 

This support allows women to move freely and do the activities they want to without their breasts getting in the way.

Can I Go Braless?

You can go braless any time you want. It is a personal choice that you get to decide on your own. 

There is no law that you have to wear a bra. Some women love the idea and the freedom associated with going braless. 

However, some women do not like the feeling at all. There are no rules at all-around going braless. 

No matter what your breasts look like, even if they are large or saggy, you can still choose to go without a bra.

There is, of course, the stigma associated with nipples today. 

However, a movement has started to remove this stigma, so women can be free to go braless, if they want, without concern of what other people may say or think when we go braless.

Who Invented the Bra?

Women have been using some binding across their chests for many decades. 

The first bra was not officially invented until November 3, 1914, by Mary Phelps Jacobs. 

This is the date the U.S Patent and Trademark Office awarded her a patent. 

While the term brassiere had been in use for some time, she was the first to patent it and create a garment to go with the name. 

The invention of what grew into the bra many women wear today was born strictly out of necessity. 

Jacobs was dismayed at the corset she wore and how it interfered with her sheer gown. She made the most of the materials at her disposal and fashioned a brassiere out of handkerchiefs and ribbon. 

Her friends at the ball were interested in buying one for themselves.

history of the bra

A Quick Walk Through the History of Bras

The bra has had a controversial and painful history. Over the years, it has been a method to allow women to dress appropriately and according to the time. 

Despite this, some versions of it, such as the corset, were restrictive and often harmful.

Below is a quick timeline of the evolution of the bra:

  • Ancient Greeks
  • The 1500s – The French Corset
  • The late 1880s – The Split Corset
  • The early 1900s – The Brassiere
  • Around 1914 – The Modern Bra
  • Roaring 20s – The Bandeau Appears
  • The 1930s – Cups Are Formed
  • The late 1940s – Cleavage Takes Center Stage
  • The 1950s – The Bullet Bra
  • Early 1960s – The Wonderbra
  • The late 1970s – Sports Bra
  • Around 2009 – Memory Foam Bra

From the Ancient Greeks wrapped a band of linen to metal contraptions and then finally settling on a more comfortable model of the modern-day bra, women have used all manner of materials to shape and tie down their breasts.

Due to World War I, there was a shortage of metal due to the war. Before the war, women were modeling themselves after a Victorian idea of beauty: big, overflowing breasts and the most petite waist possible. 

Metal corsets were how they got that figure because more women did not naturally look that way. The war effort needed metal for supplies and ammunition, and there was a halt on using metal for anything but those necessary items. 

Women needed to find another way to contain their breasts that were not restraining or using much metal.

Out of necessity, Caresse Crosby (Mary Phelps Jacob was her birth name) patented a simple version of what would become the modern bra. 

She was wearing a stiff and tight corset beneath her debutante ball gown. 

It was restrictive and poking through her dress. Her maid helped her fashion a bra out of handkerchiefs and ribbon. 

She was able to dance freely and got the attention of her friends. They all wanted one. 

She patented a backless brassiere and sold a few before selling her patent to Warner Brothers Corset Co. 

That simple patent has blossomed into a billion-dollar industry. More than 90 percent of women in Western countries wear bras. 

Businesses like Hanes and Victoria’s Secret dominate the industry. Today, there is no shortage of options, from minimalist designs to overflowing cleavage and everything in between.

Different Types of Bras

Over the centuries, bras have morphed their shape, size, and material. Some of the longer-lasting and significant styles are detailed below.

Ancient Greece

Athletic women in Ancient Greece in the 1300s were known to wrap a band made of linen or wool across their breasts while they were engaging in sports. 

The women would tie or pin the material in the back. This material was called an apodesmos. 

Some wore them to provide support, while others wore them to cover up their breasts.

The Corset

Once the corset made its appearance in the early 1500s, it held its place as the undergarment for women for almost four centuries. 

The corset was in fashion from the Renaissance through the early 20th century. 

It started in France and made its way to the Western world, and quickly became mandatory for those in the middle and upper classes.

This piece of clothing helped women achieve what was considered the perfect shape for women at the time. 

This shape was similar to an inverted cone where breasts were flattened and pushed up where breasts always seemed to be falling out of their dresses. 

It was intended to lift the breasts and help a women’s torso look lean and long. 

They were cinched at the waist so that the shoulders and hips looked much wider than the waist. The back of a corset is laced up tightly.

Many corsets were made with wood or whalebone has sewn into a casing. 

They were body cinching and as painful as they sounded. 

It did not take long before doctors blamed corsets for a range of medical conditions. Women often fainted from being bound so tightly. 

They also had muscle atrophy. Many were opposed to the restriction that corsets caused.

Some interesting notes are that men also wore corsets throughout history to help hold in their stomachs. 

Also, women had to go through corset training. They could not put on a corset for the first time and tie it as tightly as possible. 

Instead, they had to work on getting it tightly fitting. It took several months of fittings before the small corset would fit. 

In most cases, the corset was several inches smaller than the body.

Split Corset

This was the real beginning of the modern bra. Towards the end of the 1800s, a French designer named Herminie Cadolle split a corset into two pieces. 

The top portion supported the breasts with straps, while the bottom was a corset just for the waist. 

The bottom portion was still shaped and cinched the waist. In the early 1900s, the top part was sold as a separate piece.

Girdles

In the late 19th century, there was a shifti+ng away from the corset and a movement to what would become a girdle. 

The thought is that girdles started from the hip confiners that women wore over corsets. They were short and focused mainly on the hips. 

Girdles have seen a lot of changes and morphed to stay with the times. The first girdle took the weaving from a corset and moved it from the back to the front. 

This pushed the torso forward and the hips out. This gave women more of the figure of an S.

Girdles were slightly more flexible and lightweight. The exciting thing about girdles is that they were continually changing to align with the times and how women were dressing. 

This article of clothing used the new materials and fibers as they became available. They were marketed to younger women and those that wanted to look thinner than they were.

Brassiere

While the concept had been around for a little bit of time by this point, the term brassiere was not used until 1907. 

Then, Vogue used the word to describe the top portion of the split corset that focused only on supporting breasts. 

By 1911, the word brassiere was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, solidifying the term and new freedom for women. 

Yet, times were changing for women. It would not be long before World War I would force women to stop wearing corsets due to the metal shortage. 

It also opened up opportunities to work while men were off fighting in the war.

Modern Bra

Even though the corset was split, women were moving away from them, and the term brassiere was coined, they still were not comfortable. 

They contained whalebone and were incredibly stiff. Caresse Crosby (Mary Phelps Jacob) did something about that when she created and patented the modern bra. 

She used silk handkerchiefs and ribbon. She made a backless bra that was soft, comfortable, and lightweight. 

What was even more remarkable about her creation was that it naturally separated the breasts, which had not happened with any other undergarments.

Bandeau

The Roaring 20s brought with it significant changes, including a completely different look for women. 

Women had the right to vote, were working outside of the house, and playing sports. 

With education and opportunity increasing, women wanted to change their clothes to match their new lifestyles. 

Corsets were basically completely moved to the side. Slender flappers with small chests were in fashion. 

Women wanted to have a more boy-like shape, so they gravitated towards bandeau tops that were tight and flattened their breasts.

Bra Cups

In the early 30s, one size fits all style brassiere was no longer desired. 

Brassiere was shortened to bra, and they were produced on a large scale. There was also the creation of bra cup sizes. 

There is debate over who actually introduced cup sizes, but they changed the way women shop for bras. 

In addition to cup sizes, the bras had adjustable bands, padding, and eye hooks in the back to keep them secure.

The cup sizes are still used today. The cup corresponded to the letters of the alphabet:

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D

Later on, more cup sizes and even half sizes were added. So today, you can find AAA (smallest) to EEE (largest) and everything in between. This move to cup sizes changed the way that bras felt and fit.

Torpedo Bra

World War II saw women working in factories to take the place of the men off fighting the war. 

The 40s also saw the invention of the torpedo-style bra. This was also called a bullet bra. Some claimed it offered women protection for their breasts while they worked on the production lines. 

After the war ended, bra manufacturers began making bras with various colors, patterns, fabrics, and shapes. 

In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe, a hot actress at the time, popularized the sweater girl look. 

This included the bullet or torpedo-style bra under a sweater. This caused a boom in this sweater look craze.

Front Hook and Pushup Bra

Through the 40s to the 60s, bras were changing from something that would help support breasts to something that made them sexy. 

Frederick Mellinger, the founder of Frederick’s of Hollywood, helped create the first front hook bra, the first padded bra, and the first push-up bra. 

This led the way for the Wonderbra, which pushed breasts closer to each other. 

The Wonderbra was created in the 60s but would not become popular until the 90s.

Sheer Bra

While many women were interested in push up and padded bras, another group of women emerging in the 1960s was not excited by them. 

Many women were choosing to go braless. For others, there was the creation of sheer bras that were softer and gave the feeling of not wearing a bra at all. 

They did not have much structure and were made of thin material. They did not provide much support or lift.

Sports Bra

In the mid-70s, more women were becoming involved in sports, and they needed more support than a regular bra could provide. 

This spurred the invention that was called the jog bra, which eventually became a sports bra. 

Initially, this bra was intended to help women while they were running. 

The first jog bra was created from jockstraps and intended to be a type of jockstrap for breasts.

Bejeweled Bra

There was a trend in the early 2000s to add jewels to bras and underwear. 

Unfortunately, it did not take off as everyday wear, but you can still find some bras with bling on them.

Strapless and One Strap Bra

Variations of the original modern bra are still being created. 

There is a strapless bra that does not have straps that go over the shoulders. 

The strapless bra is intended to be worn with a top that does not have straps or sleeves. 

A strapless bra has a lot of tight elastic around the band. 

There have been bras with one strap and convertible bras with straps that can be removed or put into any configuration that will work with whatever top you are wearing.

Memory Foam Bra

2009 saw the construction of the smart memory bra, which is the first bra that has memory foam. 

This memory foam is high-tech and conforms to the shape of your breasts. 

It also reacts to your body temperature and moves with you.

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