Archive for : October, 2013

The Humble Bra – Part Two

In 1889, Herminie Cadolle, a French corsetiere, invented what we think of as the first modern bra. Called the “corset-gorge”, it was a two piece garment which consisted of a corset for the bust, and a lower corset for the waist. She described it as “designed to sustain the bosom and supported by the shoulders”. Cadolle patented her invention and showed it at the Great Exhibition of 1889.

In 1893 Marie Tucek patented a breast supporter which was very similar to what we today recognise as a bra: shoulder straps, separate “cups” to support the breasts, and hook and eye closures. Initially, the design was not particularly comfortable to wear.

1907 saw Vogue magazine use the word “brassiere” for the first time. In 1915, a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob patented the “backless brassiere”, made of two handkerchiefs and a pink ribbon. It was sold under the name “Caresse”. By the end of World War I, bra sales had taken off.

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 During the 1920s, the fashion was to flatten the bust as much as possible, effecting an androgynous look.

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But things were soon to change after Russian immigrant Ida Rosenthal formed a company in 1922 with her husband: Maidenform. Bras had bust cups, which were attached to elastic, uplifting the breasts rather than flattening them. Thus by the 1930s, a curvier silhouette was more fashionable, and A B C D sizing charts came to be early in that decade.

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World War II saw the necessity for bras to be more durable for women working in factories and on farms. In 1941, inventor and billionaire Howard Hughes used his vast engineering skills to design a bra for Hollywood actress Jane Russell: it was underwired and cantilevered, with the intention of emphasising her considerable assets. Curved steel rods under each cup were connected to the shoulder straps; it pulled the breasts upwards and allowed the straps to sit away from the neck, resulting in any amount of breast to be exposed as desired.

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For the rest of this decade and into the 1950s, the busty sweater girl look was the height of style. Bras were inspired by the military, with conical and torpedo shapes very common. “Lift and separate” was the catchcry of breast fashions.

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In the 1950s, bras and girdles were designed to be as glamorous as possible…

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 Stay tuned next time for Part 3 and the conclusion of the story of the humble bra.

 

The Humble Bra – Part One

The bra, like other garments, has a long, long history, dating back as far as at least 2700BC when the Greeks had the concept to restrain a woman’s breasts. Wall art from the time depicts women wearing outer garments which laced and seemed to partially restrain, and partially push up and expose the breasts. In Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom, around 1570BC, women’s fashion was that they were generally bare breasted.

In Classical Greece, about 750BC, women wore a belt-like garment under the bust,  loosely draped and often with one breast exposed. A band of cloth known as an apodesmos, or mastodeton was also worn to bind down the breasts for exercise in places like Sparta, where women were allowed to participate in sports.  When the apodesmos was worn under the breasts, it highlighted them. Another word for a breast-band or belt was strophion.

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Mosaics from Rome circa 300BC depict women wearing bikini-style tops while undertaking exercise.

In China during the Ming dynasty, about 1368,  a form of primitive “bra” was worn,  complete with cups and straps drawn over shoulders and tied to the seam at the lower back. Popular amongst the rich, this was called a Dudou. According to Chinese legend,  the beautiful concubine of the Emperor of Tang Dynasty (AD 618 – 907), Yang Yuhuan,  invented Dudou. Art from the time is the first depiction we have of sexy lingerie.

 

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In the Middle Ages women did not generally restrict or support their breasts in any way; if they did, a cloth binder was used. An edict of Strasbourg in the Holy Roman Empire, dated 1370 states, “No woman will support the bust by the disposition of a blouse or by tightened dress.” In the France of Charles VII (1403-1461), a gauze drape was used over the bust. Breasts were minimised with straight bodices and full skirts; corsetry was designed for function rather than aesthetics. Contrary to this, the ideal female form of this time was large breasted and full figured.

By the mid 1500s, corsetry was used for fashion and the hourglass shape was desired. Breasts were compressed by corsets so they overflowed from the top of dresses, giving a voluptuous (and one must suspect, uncomfortable) result.

The bra’s history runs in tandem with that of the corset: the Regency fashion for empire-waisted dresses liberated women, for a time, from corsets as well as any restraint of the breasts. This was in part thanks to French Empress Josephine, who during pregnancy dressed for comfort and the trend took hold.

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The Victorian era of the 1800s saw women’s clothing designed to emphasize both the breast and hips by severely tight-lacing the waist. Victorian women wore many layers of clothing: a chemise with a drawstring neckline, drawers, corset and corset cover, the under petticoat, the hoop skirt, the over petticoat, and finally the dress. They must have felt warm!

By 1889, the bra made its first tentative appearance…

Stay Tuned!

The Starring Role of Underwear in the Cinema

There are almost countless cinematic scenes in which underwear takes a starring role – and not just recent films, either. In the very early days of Hollywood, before the censors went berserk, things were surprisingly risqué … but even after the conservative viewpoint won out, lingerie and underwear has made regular appearances on the big screen – some very memorable for all the right reasons, some memorable as the image we wish we could un-see, and some not memorable at all.

So let’s take a look at just a snippet of those classic movie scenes we won’t be forgetting anytime soon – the good, that is.

Janet Leigh in Psycho.

This Hitchcock thriller from 1960 brought an unprecedented level of violence and open sexuality to the big screen – Leigh’s character is even seen in bed with a man she’s not married to! Her lacy bras, high waisted panties and half slips are ever so sexy…

 

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Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8

Playing a prostitute, Taylor wears what is possibly cinema’s most famous full-slip in a “morning after” scene. She later leaves the apartment with nothing over it but a fur coat…

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Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch

Filming for this scene in 1954 created a furore on the streets of Manhattan – and spelled the end of Monroe’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio – who thought a “lady” would never allow herself to be seen thus! She wore two pairs of knickers for this scene, to protect her modesty from the gust of wind from the subway below … fans were delighted, filmmakers were delighted, and manufacturers of white briefs with lace trim were delighted as well. And all it took was a glimpse.

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Anne Bancroft in The Graduate

A variety of lingerie scenes were part of this film, but by far the most famous image is that of “Mrs Robinson” peeling off her black silk stockings for Hoffman’s character as he nervously looked on. Hosiery was used as a sexy plot device to illustrate the nature of Mrs Robinson’s predatory urges…

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Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies

The film may not be considered a classic, but the striptease scene of Jamie Lee Curtis certainly is. The high cut black lace g-string and balconette bra the actress wore for this scene were actually her own. Lucky husband!

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Sigourney Weaver in Alien

Never has a pair of bikini briefs and a mannish singlet been so appealing to the eye. Weaver’s character spent much of the movie scantily clad as she worked on the ship and  battled slimy extra-terrestrials.

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Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones

Shapewear came into its own and was no longer something we were embarrassed about when Bridget Jones pulled out her “enormous mummy panties”. We could all laugh along as she struggled into them, expending as much energy to do so as a good gym session would take. And the lecherous cad, Daniel Cleaver, wasn’t even turned off by them. Collective sigh of relief from women the world over.

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