The bra or a form of the bra has been around for hundreds of years helping to support women through many decades. In this article, we explore the evolution of the bra. For many of us, the thought of leaving the house without a bra feels wrong, but centuries ago, it was quite common.
14th century- Prior to the 14th century, women were typically bare under simple sheath dresses. However, in the early 1300, ancient wall paintings have been found that show women wearing bandeau style tops whilst playing sports.
16th century- By the 1500’s, fashions changed including womens undergarments and we saw the development of the corset. In France, the corset was used to achieve the perfect female figure, pulling in the waist and pushing the breasts upwards making them more exposed. It is believed that these corset shapes came from long pieces of wood or whalebone that were sewn into the casings and whilst it was probably as painful as it sounded, it was a popular fashion trend of centuries to come.
19th century- near the end of the 19th century, women shifted away from corsets and instead moved to what became known as the girdle. This undergarment was used to force the torso upwards and the hips outwards- another painful sounding contraption.
1869- The first modern bra dates back to 1869, created in France when Herminie Cadolle cut a corset into two separate undergarments. The top part of the corset supported the breasts with its addition of sewn on straps, whilst the lower part acted as a corset for the waist. By 1905, the top part of the corset started to be sold by itself.
1907- The term ‘brassiere’ was coined by Vogue in 1907 and added to the Oxford English Dictionary a few years later in 1911. Shortly after, Vanity Fair became one of the first intimate-apparel brands in the U.S. when John Barbey founded Schuylkill Silk Mills in 1913.
1910- Even after the corset was split in two and sold separately, this bra was still uncomfortable. So, in 1910, Mary Phelps Jacob invented the world’s first modern bra.
You’d think it would be the corset’s lack of comfort—and the health ailments it was known to cause—that led to its decline in America, but it was actually World War I. As women entered the workforce en masse for the first time, bras really took off because it wasn’t practical to wear corsets anymore.
1932- By the 1930’s, the term ‘brassiere’ was shortened to bra and mass production began. This was when cup sizes were born, where companies started correlating women’s breast sizes to letters of the alphabet and adjustable bands and eye hooks were introduced.
1940s- During the second world war, when more and more women began work in factories, the bullet bra gained popularity as it was believed to add protection to women who worked on the production lines.
1964- The wonderbra was invented- a push up bra created to simultaneously lift and push the bustline together.
1977- As exercising became more popular amongst women in the 70’s, we needed a bra that provided support during such activities. In this era, the first sports bra emerged called the ‘jogbra’.
Today- During the 2000’s, new bra designs hit the fashion industry such as strapless, one strap and even corset-type bras. Now, you can even purchase bras that have memory foam in the cups, which are designed to conform to the shape of your chest and provide comfort throughout the day. If you are looking for a specialist bra retailer who stocks every shape and size you can imagine, check out Bras and Honey who sell leading brands and designers that will help to enhance every silhouette.
So, research suggests that bras have not always been a thing, which begs the question of ‘are they even necessary?’ Unfortunately, little is known about the long term effects of wearing a bra on a daily basis and it’s fair to say many of us have a love/hate relationship with them. So, what are the pros and cons of wearing a bra?
- Reduced breast pain
- Will need replacing
- Can be expensive