History of the Bra

Bras Throughout The Ages

The first, what we’d call modern-day bras, dates back to just over a century.
Let us take you through the complete history of the bra. Starting pre-watershed.

Ancient Bra Histories

2,500 – 3000 BC

The first initial bra sighting is a non-starter, this is because the first bra-wearing society identified lay the foundations for what would become the cupless bra.  Not so much a bra but full breast supportive clothing.

These garments were popular among the Minoan ladies of Crete, this is where many bra historians like to begin. This attire may have been reserved for a special occasion, historians are still debating.

For 2,500 year’s bras were just mostly non-existent. Robes, loose-fitting and free-flowing ‘togas’ were all the rage.

300 AD bra support

It wasn’t until about 300 AD when a discovery was made that gave solid evidence of the origin of the support bra.

These sporty types were running around the beaches of Southern Italy donned in what only can be described as a sports bra and matching brief too.

Named as the “Bikini Girls of Villa Romana”, this mosaic appeared in an ancient Roman Villa in Southern Italy.

Those sporty bras look as though they just may have kept their assets together. But, would they be as supportive as a modern-day sports bra? We kinda doubt it, especially when you consider the testing and technology that goes into researching today’s modern-day sports bra.

The Dark Ages of Bra History

Moving into the AD’s ladies would usually just be covered by a simple sheath dress, with no support of any type for the breasts.  This look went on for centuries, with no real trends or attempts at constructing anything resembling a bra.  The Dark Ages of Bra History, one could say.

1300’s bra sightings

Early images of women playing a beach ball type of game have been discovered that date back to the 1300s. What can only best be described as a bandeau type of bra is present and is helping to keep their assets in place.

In this same century, the Romans were banning bras and anything else that gave support to breasts. The decade that was 1370 saw the Holy Roman Empire decree “No woman will support the bust by the disposition or by tightened dress”.

So, bras weren’t so prevalent throughout the middle ages too. In order, to take control of their breasts during this period, the cloth would be bound around the breast area. Hardly an eye-catching accessory but this may have been the beginning of what was to become… The corset!

These aren’t exactly bras but are well wrapped within bra history.

Corsets of the 1500s

It was due to an Italian who was the Queen of France, Catherine De’Medici. She hated wide waists at court. So, the corset gained more support for the support that it gave.

The onset of the Corset

A corset was initially designed to cover the breast. This soon changed and corsets became the foundation of chin pillows or breasts that were fully pumped up and out. French ladies loved it, as it helped them achieve, what was then, the ultimate figure.

PrimaDonna Lingerie in 1900
PrimaDonna corsets in 1900 (Source: PrimaDonna)

They went on supporting breasts for at least another 300 years. This was until the French began to take exception to the aristocrats, who mostly wore them.

Modern Bras

This takes us up to the cusp of the “modern era”, in the bra universe. Due to health and the onset of the ladies becoming more active within society, the corset life began to take a tumble.

Girdle Beginnings

Toward the latter part of the 19th Century, the roots of what is now the girdle started to take shape. Once more lady’s shapes began to change, as the girdle pushed the torso forward whilst jutting out the hips. The “S” shape was beginning to make an appearance.

Corsets, girdles and bandeau type clothes from the ancients, but to get back to the original title of the piece, let’s get back to a bra history focus.

PrimaDonna Advertising Bras and Corsets in the 1900
Source: PrimaDonna

Who invented the modern bra?

There’s a debate, within the top echelons of bra historians, to who it was who did invent the bra. Patents were made and changed but one of the most noteworthy of initial bra concepts was created by Henry Lesher.

1850’s bra-like device

Henry Lesher patented what one could call a bra-like device, this was in 1859. We’re unsure whether this was to aid or torture the wearer. The crumpled bits at either side were described as “armpit shields”. Their words. It was still very early days in the development of what would become the modern-day bra, but there is a slight familiarity attributed its shape.

 1860’s corset substitute

Luman L. Chapman patented a corset substitute in 1863. This number came with breast puffs and shoulder-brace straps with rear tie-ins.

It was not a bra but it was designed to alleviate friction that was caused by the then modern-day corset. It was a step toward the foundations of what would become a bra, as it used the shoulders to provide the root of support.

The invention was a great leap away from corsets that were altering ladies body shapes and resulting in worrying dispositions.

1870’s bra push

Here we see an even greater push away from the body-altering undergarments. Even doctors, at the time, were calling for more comfortable and hygienic forms of undergarments for ladies.

It was Olivia Flynt, in 1876, who patented, what she called a “bust supporter”, for “beauty of form to be preserved without lacing or otherwise injuriously pressing or binding the body.”

The main competition at the time wasn’t from other bra or “bust support” makers, but from society itself where going, corset-less was associated with women of low morals. This association was prolonged and carried through into the new century.

1880’s (Roots of the Modern Day Bra)

The first, what we could term a “modern-day” bra was invented in 1889 by Hermini Cadolle, a French corsetiere. She’s acclaimed to have invented the very foundations of what would become modern-day bras.

So, in essence, this is where it all began. For what are modern day bras, anyway?

Her invention appeared in a corset catalogue and featured the bra as a standalone product, even though Hermini had designed and created a two-part corset. She described it as being “designed to sustain the bosom and supported by the shoulders”, the first bra!

In the same year, 1889, the first modern bra was patented by German Christine Hardt. So, 1889 was a significant year in the development of the first modern-day bra.

1890’s breast support

In 1893 Marie Tucek patented this device for holding each breast in separate pockets, with shoulder straps fastened with a hook and eye. It was christened ‘The Breast Supporter’. Though again, not directly attributed to what we would term the modern-day bra there are obvious similarities.

1900’s: From Vogue to the Dictionary

Turning into the new century, nothing incredible was happening in the world of bras, that had been as revolutionary as a previous couple of decades. What did begin to happen within the first decade of the 20th century was that the top half of the garment began to be sold separately.

Herminie’s bra got a mention in the Vogue magazine of 1907 and the term ‘bra’ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1910. So, the bra was not going to be going away anytime soon.

1910’s – The Birth of the Modern Bra

Mary Phelps Jacob patented her bra invention in 1914. Many bra historians credit this to the making of the “modern-day” era of bras, and Hermini is from here on in, ignored.

If you can make any sense of it, it is, in fact, her bra invention (the image on the right).

The story goes that she set about creating this so to avoid wearing her corset to a debutante ball.  It’s said that is was basically two handkerchiefs sewn together.

She went on to sell her bra patent to the Warner Brothers (the bra not movie makers), who made a fortune out of it for some 30 years after.

When the war began in 1914, many women jumped on the same bandwagon and set to work adjusting and bespoke their own bras. Straps would be detached, extended or the bra itself would be sewn into the inside of standard-issue army uniform.

1920’s bandeau and bra sizing

Even during the “modern-day” era of bra development and into the 1920s, bras were still not resembling anything like they look today. They appeared to take on a similar look of lingerie sets and other nightwear garments.

Bandeau bras start to make an appearance, but the rest of the brassiere look resembles something you’d possibly be grabbing from out of a military kit bag.

The ’20s sawed the beginning of grouped bust size categories, thanks to Ida Rosenthal who had the foresight of creating a bra suitable for various stages of a girls’ development. Cup sizes were created that mirrored a girl from puberty into maturity.

Seamless 1930’s

The world’s first seamless bras arrived in 1931. Now we can say that the shape and form of the 1930s bras were beginning to take on a look of something that we may recognise today. Cup sizing became an established thing and more care was beginning to be taken in the design and aesthetic look of the bra.

The ’30s was a busy period for bra makers, quality and comfort were becoming a thing. The arrival of the seamless bra, measurement charts and cup sizing charts all began in this decade.

1940’s bra shapes

Due to the way society rapidly changed throughout this decade, women’s bras had to be durable and comfortable. More and more women were working the land or in factories, some loose and flimsy would just not do.

The war had an indirect effect on the style and design of some bras, with the torpedo and conical shape of bras proving popular in lingerie shops.

Felina bras 1950s
This is how Felina bras were advertised in the 1950s (Source: Felina)

1950’s bra glamour

Starved of glamour throughout the 40’s, the 1950s was all about making up for all the lost time. This thirst was not lost within the realms of lingerie fashion. Glamour was what women of the ’50s wanted and with new and established bra brands, all jockeying for position, their hunger was not to last.

New bra brands looked to take advantage of this new and wanting marketplace. Adverts appeared in glossy magazines of the time, some more garish than others.

The rise of Hollywood stars also had a stylish impact on the look, feel and design of bras throughout this decade. Acquiring a bigger cup size was encouraged, almost, by the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.

The wonder of the 1960s

A revolutionary decade on many fronts and the bra was also touched by this serene time as the Wonderbra appeared on the scene. It was a Canadian lingerie company who originally designed it. The Wonderbra was the first of its kind to push and lift-up the bust line, at the same time.

The Hollywood influence was still strong going into the ’60s with several blockbusters featuring ladies looking fantastic in various bras.

1970’s bra years

It was full steam ahead for the world of bras, in the ’70s. Lingerie brands popped up and the first sports bra made an appearance.

Exercise and fitness were becoming a popular hobby, not just for professionally trained athletes. These brands soon saw the opportunity and it was “Jogbra” who first put out the sports bra, they were embraced and warmly welcomed.

Lingerie shopping was no longer just confound to the big department stores, it was Victoria’s Secret that first hit the high street as a unique lingerie retailer. Inspired by a husband who felt uncomfortable shopping for lingerie in a department store with his wife.

1980’s celeb and lingerie

The 80’s bra was an essential lingerie piece and ladies purchasing the most exotic were often the most body-conscious, so only the best would do.

Satin teddies, in lace and finely designed, were available without a bra. These intricate lingerie pieces would often come with an underwired cup formation, making for great bodysuits. It was no coincidence when you consider the high number of ladies opting for breast enhancing procedures. Sales of silicone throughout the 1980s hit a high.

Modelling extravagant and expensive bras had become the norm for many celebrity types throughout the ’80s. These once functional pieces of underwear now became a staple in the bright lights of the fashion industry.

1990’s bra fashion

The decade started with Madonna, or more an ice cream coned circular cupped bra on a corset. She was an icon of the time and shops brimmed with sexy lace bras of all types.

Bra sales flourished throughout the decade, adverts and the marketing of bras hit record highs. Fashion houses marketed bras as sexy lingerie pieces and the audience was hooked. Sport and health were still popular and growth opportunities were prevalent in the sports bra arena, as many high street brands pushed into the marketplace.

Bra competition was healthy and extremely lucrative as more and more women invested in various bra fits and styles.  The following fashion didn’t stop at just outerwear anymore.

2000 to date

Nothing of note yet, since the turn of the century, though a natural increase in bust size has been occurring.

Demand for bras is still huge, with the market demanding a minimalist feel without interference. The most popular bra is the moulded one-piece, seamless bra. Their pieces are extremely efficient in answering, the majority, of demands for a bra wearer, they are also a perfect palette for the bra designer.

Bras are now an everyday and prevalent factor in a woman’s life. But, the bra hasn’t gone without critics. It’s not uncommon to see fashion leaders exploring a bra-less look. Whether this leads to bras one day becoming extinct if a question for another time. For the moment, bras aid in several ways, and for women the attraction and desire for owning a well fitted and stylish bra will probably never go away.

Do you now know your bra history? Or have you spotted something that doesn’t quite add up or feel to missed something out? If so, drop us a comment, we’d love to hear your views of bra histories.

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