advertisement
Updated 25 February 2011

A brief history of the bra

Through the centuries, women’s breasts have been miminised, hidden from view or maximised. So where did the modern bra come from and who invented it?

0

 


An uplifting tale

 

Through the centuries, women's breasts have been miminised, hidden from view or maximised, according to the fashion of the time. So where did the modern bra come from and who invented it?

2500 BC

On the island of Crete, Minoan women wore bra-like garments that actually lifted their bare breasts out of their clothing. This was like a push-up bra that went a step further than the modern ones.

400 BC – 300 AD

Roman and Greek women were less ostentatious than the Minoans and strapped their busts down to reduce their breast size. This had more or less the same effect as the modern day sports bra.

1550

 

The wife of King Henry 11 of France, Catherine de Medici introduced the steel corset at court functions. This uncomfortable contraption, of which the main aim was to make waists appear smaller, was around for 350 years in various designs. It provided both support and restraint, depending on the design that was chosen.

1820s

 

More user-friendly materials were introduced such as whalebone and buckram – a substance usually used for binding books.

1850s

 

The first bra-like devices are patented in the US.

1860s

 

Girls were expected to work towards thirteen-inch waists from as early as the age of four. By the time they were teenagers, their ribs and internal organs were often deformed.
The corset as a garment became a controversial issue in health circles. Public opinion started turning against this unhealthy restrictive garment.

1875

 

Susan Taylor Converse creates a more comfortable acceptable bra called the Union Under-Flannel. It had no bones, no laces or pulleys and no eyelets. It was patented by Frost and Phelps. In Boston, the dress reform movement gets under way, campaigning for more comfortable undergarments.

1889

 

Herminie Cadolle invents a garment, which is the first to support the breasts from the shoulders rather than squeezed up from below.

1893

 

A garment closely resembling the modern bra is patented by Marie Tucek. This garment had shoulder straps, hook and eye fasteners and separate pockets for the two breasts.

1913

 

Marie Phelps Jacob designs a backless brassiere to wear underneath a low-backed sheer evening gown. It was made from two handkerchiefs, ribbon and cord and she patented the device. The lack of publicity scuttled her business, but the patent was bought for $1500 by Warner Brothers Corset Company. The term brassiere appears in the Oxford English Dictionary. It comes from the old French word for ‘upper arm’.

1914 - 1918

 

Women enter the workforce in their droves and the wearing of the corset becomes impractical. In 1917 the US War Industries encourages women not to buy metal corsets to reduce the metal consumption. This apparently saved 28 000 tons of metal.

1928

 

Ida Rosenthal and her husband William found Maidenform and are the first to create standard cup sizes from adolescence to maturity.

1930 - 1935

 

Warner produces an all-elastic bra which is aimed at showing off women's curves rather than hiding them. They also create the cup sizing system, which gets used by manufacturers across the world.

1940 - 1945

 

Natural fabrics were needed by the war effort, so manufacturers of bras start turning towards synthetic fabrics.

1946 - 1950

 

Men return to the workplace and again there is an emphasis on increased femininity. The hourglass figure returns and women start wearing foam falsies if they thought their breasts were too small.

1960s

 

The bra and the girdle are seen as symbols of the oppression of women and are thrown into rubbish bins during protests at the 1968 Miss America contest. Bras were never actually burnt, but the idea probably became fused with the public burning of draft cards.

1970s

 

Two female marathon runners, who were fed up with bouncing breasts, made the first sports bra by sewing two jock straps together. Champion patented their idea and the Jogbra was born.

The 21st century

 

Cleavage has become the trend and many women have breast enlargements done. The bra-manufacturing business is alive and kicking. Seen against the light of historical trends, chances are that flat chests will again become fashion, but fortunately the steel corset will remain something of the past.

 
NEXT ON HEALTH24X
advertisement

Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Watch out! »

Gross fungal infections you can pick up at the gym

You go to gym to exercise. But make sure the only thing you pick up is a dumbbell and not one of these gross fungal infections.

Holiday health »

Your 10-step asthma holiday checklist

Don’t let asthma ruin your summer holiday. Whether you are travelling or embracing the summer at home, make sure you plan ahead.