Tag : brassiere

The Humble Bra – Part 3

In the 1950s, in a post-war society, women wanted glamour – and lots of it. After years of deprivation due to World War II, fashionable women emulated Hollywood stars who wore uplifting bras that seemed to achieve the impossible. Berlei, Triumph and Maidenform were big players in the manufacture and sale of quality bras that were not only functional but beautiful as well. The style of the time was for a pointed, circular, conical shape.  “Sweater Girls” like Lana Turner and Jayne Mansfield, and clever advertising, inspired everyday women to pay close attention to the appearance of their breasts under clothing.

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In the 1960s, bras were well designed to look good under knitted dresses. Rubber parts were eliminated and Lycra fittings became the norm.  Then when Yves Saint Laurent showcased a sheer blouse worn with no bra, feminists responded with ire and demanded women burn their bras. In reality, bras were not actually burned (except as publicity stunts) and most women did not abandon their bras, though attitudes to their wear did relax somewhat. Bras became less structured and from 1965, transparent sheer fabrics were sometimes used for their construction. Women who had worn bras to bed now slept braless for the first time in many years.

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The pointed shape of the 1950s made way for a more natural look. Then in 1968 the first Wonderbra was produced by Gossard, to lift and enhance cleavage like never before.

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Bra slips were also popular in the 1960s: an all-in-one underwired cleavage bra and short mini slip, worn with panties and tights under a mini dress. This was the least women had ever worn!

The 1970s saw bras made seamlessly and in fabrics with colour, prints, and nude tones. The braless, natural look was in vogue. The eighth season of TV show Bewitched, for example, saw Elizabeth Montgomery create a stir as Samantha when she was obviously braless in certain scenes and outfits.

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Women in the 1980s became very body conscious and erotic lingerie a la Dynasty and Dallas inspired camisoles, bodysuits and teddies.

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Cleavage and shape were again popular in the 1990s and the Wonderbra made a comeback. Bras were at times worn as outerwear by celebrities such as Madonna and Sarah Jessica Parker.

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Today there are bras for every circumstance, look, and occasion: sports, maternity, training, strapless, T-shirt, sexy, convertible, plunge, push-up, everyday, novelty, bridal… who knows what the future will bring in bra styling?

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.


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


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.


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.


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…



 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.


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.



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!