Why Were Bras Invented (When, Where & How)?

Woman wearing a bra

The bra is such an essential piece of women’s fashion, such an integral part of the wardrobe, it feels like something that has been around for ever. Women remember the first time they started wearing one. They can tell you about their favorite one. And they probably have a few special ones tucked away in a drawer. So you may be shocked to know the truth about why were bras invented, and how and when it all happened.

The History of the Bra

Though it feels like it should be an ancient wardrobe stable, the bra is a relatively new addition to the world of fashion. Bra history begins on November 3, 1914. This was the first supportive female undergarment that was designed to lift and separate the woman’s breasts. The nifty new invention received a patent filed by Mary Phelps Jacob. She officially named her undergarment a “brassiere.”

Ancient Support

However, the history of women using clothing to support their breasts does go back much, much further in history than 1914. The first bra-type garment may have originated in ancient Minoan society in the 1400s B.C.E., today Greece. Here, women used a strip of fabric across their chests while engaging in sports and athletics. These breast bands were found in other ancient cultures later in history.

The Age of the Corset

Corset designs became popular centuries later, in the 1500s, and the word brassiere was used as early as 1907. The word was used by the DeBevoisee Company in France, which used “brassiere” in its marketing for their whalebone-infused camisoles, which were very corset-like.

Herminie Cadolle isn’t credited for inventing the bra but her corset design was certainly a precursor to the modern breast support undergarment. She created a corset that was split into two separate undergarments in 1869. By 1905, she was selling the top part (the bra part) of the corset as a single garment.

Though Jacob is credited with filing the first bra patent, there was a precursor. Marie Tucek created a bra design and received a patent in 1893. It used straps, cardboard and metal to lift the breasts, much like a corset but with much less fabric and less coverage around the trunk of the body.

The Modern Bra

Jacob, however, changed the fashion game with her invention and put an end to wide corset wearing. She created the first bra out of necessity. She was a curvy girl at the age of 19 in 1913 and the plunging neckline of her gowns didn’t work well with the thick corsets that were the fashion norm of the day.

Various bra designs

Frustrated, Jacob, who was also known as Caresse Crosby, got two handkerchiefs and a pink ribbon and used them to fashion a device that would support her breasts without all the bulk of a corset. The bra was born just like that. She had created a sleek, elegant undergarment that didn’t compromise the lines of her clothing.

She showed other women and word started to get around. Pretty soon, she went to a patent attorney and became the official inventor of the bra. Other women loved the idea and she began selling her creation for one dollar each. She even talked to department stores about carrying the item but they weren’t interested. Finally, she sold the patent for $1,500 to Warner Brothers Corset Co.

Bra Pioneer

The design existed…but it wasn’t really out there widely. Women just didn’t know about the bra. They were still wearing corset styles. Ida Rosenthal, together with her partner Enid Bisset, took matters into her own hands. Using her Singer sewing machine, she created brassieres in 1921 in her Manhattan dress shop. In 1922, they registered the name Maidenform.

In 1928, they sold 500,000 bras. It was safe to say that the word was out. American women loved the new undergarment. By the 1930s, Maidenform had found its way into shops around the world.

Bra Innovations

In 1932, the bra got much more refined with the cup sizing system. S.H. Camp and Company developed the lettering system that is still used to this day to represent different breast sizes to help women get a better bra fit. Camp also added adjustable bands and the eyehooks that are now most commonly used as bra clasps.

Bra stored on hooks in a store

The “bullet bra” became a thing in the 1940s. This bra was stiff and pointed. And though it looks a bit strange now, it was actually a practical invention. The bullet bra, also known as the torpedo bra, was stiff in order to protect female breasts. Many women went to work in factories during the decade because of WWII, so they needed some extra chest protection.

Frederick Mellinger established Frederick’s of Hollywood in Hollywood, California in 1946. Here, he sold bikinis, bras, girdles and other women’s lingerie and swimwear items. His name became famous in retail fashion. Mellinger ran his company himself until he died in 1990.

The “sweater girl” look caught on in the 1950s and remains iconic in pop culture thanks to glamor girls like Marilyn Monroe, who helped popularize the look. In the right sweater, breasts looked a full cup size larger. No one knew the look better than Monroe.

The Wonderbra was born in 1964, becoming the world’s first pushup bra.

The first sports bra came along in 1977 with the Jogbra, inspired by an interest in fitness that was popular all over the world. The bra and Jogbra Inc. was created by three childhood friends: Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller and Polly Smith.

The same year, the first Victoria’s Secret opened in California. The lingerie-only shop would end up becoming a retail juggernaut and a national chain.

FAQs

Bras are anything but simple. In the modern era, there are tons of different styles of bras with all sorts of different names. There are different strap styles, different cup styles, various embellishments and materials used to create the designs. So it’s perfectly understandable if you have a lot of questions about bras. Get the answers to the most commonly asked bra questions and start to get to know a whole lot more about bras.

What is the most comfortable bra on the market?

Women are always on a quest for a comfortable bra. It can be difficult to get the right fit, the right bra, the right feeling. However, when it comes to the question of the most comfortable bra, all women have different opinions about the brands and designs they like. There are certain features women can look for that can make a bra more comfortable.

Wireless bras tend to be more comfortable than those that do have underwire. Look for bras that are designed to contour to the breast, because these are intended to fit close to the skin and follow the curves of the body. Unlined bras also tend to be more comfortable designs because they are lightweight and not heavy. Padded bras should also be avoided, as these can be somewhat stiff and less comfortable to wear. [Source: Today]

Look for comfortable materials at well. Cotton, for example, is breathable and non-irritating by nature because it’s a natural fabric. Spandex is stretchy and moves with the body, which can create a more comfortable, flexible fit.

Can bras cause breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a prevailing problem around the world and it’s scary. There are a lot of common fears and a lot of misinformation about breast cancer that can make women even more frightened. According to Breastcancer.org, it’s a common fear that bra underwire can cause breast cancer. This is not true. There is no documented scientific proof of a link between bra underwire and breast cancer.

Should you sleep in a bra? Which bra is best to sleep in?

Are women supposed to sleep in bras? Is it bad for you if you do? It’s common to ask these questions. According to health experts, women can choose whether or not to sleep in a bra. It doesn’t do the breasts any harm and in fact, can help reduce breast swelling caused by hormonal changes in the body, according to Byrdie.

There is no strong scientific evidence that wearing a bra to bed has any significant effect on breast tissue. There are no proven major side effects to wearing one, inasmuch as it does not seem to impair blood flow, stunt breast growth or cause breast cancer.

In other words, wearing a bra to bed is strictly up to the woman and what she likes best for her own comfort.

Which bras will hide back fat?

Some bras can cause bunching in the skin that creates bulges, rather than offering a smooth, streamlined fit. Women who want to find a bra that will eliminate back fat should search for specific features. Bras that have extra support are designed to have a streamlined fit. Look for bras that have wider straps, as these tend to help prevent the appearance of back fat. Softer fabrics that aren’t stiff will also help women avoid this issue. Smaller bras, like bralettes, can also be effective at banishing back fat. [Source: Woman & Home]

How should bras fit?

Finding the perfect fit for a bra is essential for every woman. If your bra size is even a little bit off, you can have all sorts of problems like pinching and pain. You can also have gapping, bulging and fit problems that create unattractive lines.

Warner's Women's Easy Does It No Bulge Wire-free Bra, Toasted Almond, M

First, find out if you’re wearing the wrong size bra. Wear one of your usual bras all day for one standard day. When you take the bra off at the end of the day, look at yourself in the mirror and consider how you feel. Is any part of your body sore where you were wearing the bra? Is there redness on your body? Are there visible marks where the bra has been digging into your skin? All of this is an indication that you’re wearing the wrong size bra.

You can also put on one of your regular bras and then a tight T-shirt. Examine yourself. Can you see the bra? If you see the cups or the straps or any bulging that is created by the bra, you have on the wrong size. [Source: Cosmopolitan]

Measure your chest to get an idea of your band size and use a bra size chart to find the perfect fit for your breast size. You may need to try a few different bra sizes before you find the right combination of band size and cup size.

How should bras be stored?

How should you actually be storing your bras? If you hang them up, this will put a strain on the straps and cause the elastic to wear out. Some bras can lose shape and become misshapen if you fold them. And if you try to stack them, you’ll never find the bra you want to wear. So what can you do?

There are some simple ways to store bras that allow them to retain their shape and won’t cause undue damage. Molded bras should be placed in a drawer upright, with the straps facing up toward the ceiling. These bras should be sort of tucked into each other, which will help them stay upright. This method doesn’t take up a ton of room so several bras can be stored in the same drawer easily. This also makes it easy to pick out a specific bra to wear for the day, because all the bras are visible and accessible. Don’t fold the bras and allow them to sit in their natural shape. The straps can be folded or tucked in.

Non-molded bras are flat and soft. They have no padding or underwire, so they can be folded and stacked. First, close the strap in the back, then fold in half. Tuck the straps in so they don’t get tangled up. Folded bras can be stored in a drawer or stacked on a shelf. [Source: WikiHow]

Why did women burn their bras?

It’s a pretty well-known part of pop culture history that during the height of the women’s movement in the 1960s, women burned their bras as a symbol that they weren’t going to be constrained by society’s ideas of womanhood and they were going to demand more rights. There’s just one problem: it isn’t exactly true.

The story originates from a protest that was held in New Jersey. The women present were opposing the Miss America beauty pageant and the entire idea of beauty pageants in general, largely because they were so lacking in diversity and women of color. To show how they were rejecting society’s beauty standards for women, they chucked typically “female” items into a “freedom trash can” meant to represent the throwing away of the restrictive standards of beauty for women.

Those at the protest threw cosmetics, underwear and other items into the trash can. One woman reached under her own shirt, unhooked her bra, and proudly threw it away in the trash can. The gesture received national headlines thanks to the reports who were there covering the event. This simple act, and its legend, began to spread. Within a few years, it became widely known that women removed their bras and set them on fire at pro-female protests. The trouble is, that never actually happened, according to the BBC.

What are the types of bra styles?

There are many different types of bras, way more than just strapless and sports bras. There are demi-bras, invisible bras, bralettes and many, many more. Our list of bras has more than 20 on the list, though that number can change any time as designers come up with new ideas and design new undergarments.

Can you wear a sports bra for everyday use?

Sports bras are comfortable, supportive and simple. So why can’t you wear one every day? According to health experts, there’s no reason why you can’t. As long as your sports bra fits, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t wear it daily if you like how it feels. [Source: Well + Good]

Sources:

  • The Atlantic – The First Bra Was Made of Handkerchiefs
  • BBC – The bra: An uplifting tale
  • Bustle – 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bras
  • Find a Grave – Frederick Mellinger
  • Good Housekeeping – The Evolution of the Bra
  • NPR – Bra History: How A War Shortage Reshaped Modern Shapewear
  • PBS – Ida Rosenthal

 

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