Bras are arguably the most important part of a woman’s wardrobe. For us full figure women, a bra is just not something we can do without. So thank goodness bras were invented to support and protect our most sensitive and sensual lady parts.
Ever wonder how the wonderful invention of the bra came to be? Today we’re sharing some fascinating moments in the history of bras:
The Early Days
The first records of breast support came from the Roman Empire when women wore fascia to hold up their breasts and prevent future sagging. But the origin of the modern bra begins in the 1860s in Europe. Until this point, women had been wearing corsets since the 16th Century to support their breasts and slim their waists. In 1866 the first bra was designed in England and was made from silk and wire. Then in 1869 a corset was split to include separate pieces to support breast and narrow the waistline. The U.S. saw its first bra invention in 1893 when the first underwire bra was invented. But it never took off because it was not successfully marketed.
Mary Phelps Jacobs is considered the inventor of the modern bra. The 19-year-old socialite was displeased with how bulky her corset was beneath her gowns and how it peeked through at the neckline. She fastened two handkerchiefs with some ribbon to come up with a new undergarment design. She called it the backless brassiere. Within a few years she sold her patented design to a clothing manufacturer for $1,500. They went on to make $15 million from Mary Phelps Jacobs’ brassiere.
As men headed off to fight in World War I, women had to join the workforce. This required more mobility and comfort, two things the traditional corset could not offer. The brassiere was widely adopted as the undergarment of choice for modern women, working or not.
A dressmaker and his seamstress wife, William and Ida Rosenthal, should perhaps be credited with inventing the first full figure bra. The style at the time was to flatten the chest for a boyish look, but the Rosenthals wanted to embrace a woman’s natural curves. So, they invented a form-fitting bra with separate cups. They also thought to create various cup sizes to fit women of all shapes and sizes. The Rosenthals created several variations of their bras over the next 30 years including the training bra, a push-up bra and the popular 50’s style cone-shaped bra.
Again women returned to work to support their families as husbands fought in World War II. Women found their cone-shaped bras most productive in factories because they held breasts firmly in place. Military terms like “bullet bra” or “torpedo bra” were used to describe this fashion.
Howard Hughes himself invented an aerodynamic half-cup bra to support his budding “leading lady” Jane Russell in the movie The Outlaw. The bra supposedly allowed Jane to perform her action scenes without excessive bounce. With help from Hughes himself, there was much public outrage over the scandalous sexuality displayed in the movie, but it made Jane Russell a star.
The bullet bra became even more popular by Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner who wore them to make their breasts look larger.
Maternity Bras also became popular in the 50s as the baby boom generation began to form.
Returning to their roots, women adopting a free-style, hippie lifestyle go bra-less.
Feminist women protested the 1968 Miss America pageant by burning their bras as a symbol of things that constrict and minimize the value of women. In truth, they actually only threw away their bras but they were named bra burners nonetheless.
The first sports bra was created at the University of Vermont when several female students saw the need for some added support while they were out for a jog.
Madonna reinvents herself and the cone-bra during her Blond Ambition tour when she wore her iconic bra and corset lingerie on stage.
Since the 90s, there have been many innovative bra designs, including wrinkle-free smooth cup bras, memory foam bras and diamond-encrusted bras. Today bras come in many forms: from push-up bras that enhance cleavage, to minimizing bras that compact bras to reduce bounce; from backless and strapless, to racer-back and padded straps; from nursing bras, to sleep bras.
From its uncomfortable beginnings as a thick, tight corset, to modern designs that are all about fit, comfort and support, bras have come a long way. And we’re so glad they have because we just can’t live without ‘em.