The bra has enjoyed a colourful history. They were allegedly invented by an American named Otto Titzling (wrong!) and burned by feminists in the 1960’s.
The “over-shoulder-boulder-holder” is a necessary evil in many women’s lives…but who do we have to blame for this often uncomfortable, but ever-so-sexy piece of clothing?
2500 BC: Women on the island of Crete begin using bra-like garments to lift their bare breasts out of their clothing.
450BC – 285AD: Roman and Greek women preferred to play down their chests, using a band strapped around their breasts to reduce their bust size.
1550’s AD: Catherine de Médicis, wife of King Henri II of France enforces a ban on “thick waists” at court functions through the introduction of the steel corset. The corset becomes the main undergarment of support and restraint for women.
1850’s: US patents are registered for the first known bra-like garments.
1850’s: Corsets fall out of style for about 10 years.
1860’s: Corsets return to fashion. Corset “training” becomes the norm – reducing waists to such unhealthy levels that ribs and internal organs become deformed. This sparks controversy over the health risk of corseting.
1875: Designer Susan Taylor Converse creates a garment called the “Union Under-Flannel” from woollen fabric. The garment is different to previous items as it has no-bones, eyelets, laces or pulleys. The garment is patented by manufacturers George Frost and George Phelps.
1889: Corset-maker Herminie Cadolle invents a bra-like garment called “Bien-être” (‘Well-Being’.) The garment supports the breasts by the shoulders rather than squeezing them up from below like a traditional corset.
1893: Marie Tucek patents the “Breast Supporter”. This garment is similar to modern-day bras in that it features a separate pocket for each breast, shoulder straps, and hook-and-eye closures.
1907: The ever-hip Vogue magazine first uses the term “brassiere” in its haloed pages. The term comes from the old French word for ‘upper arm’. Prior to this, bra-like devices were known by the French term “soutien-gorge”, which means “throat support” or “breast support”.
1912: The term “brassiere” first appears in the Oxford English Dictionary.
1912: Garment maker Otto Titzling is said to have develop a bra for buxom singer Swanhilda Olafsen. Swanhilda lived in the same New York boarding house as Otto, and needed a supporting garment. She was the inspiration for Otto’s breakthrough design, but Otto neglected to patent his creation, and therefore lost his chance to be the inventor of the bra.
1913: The first modern bra to be patented was a silk hanky and pink ribbon affair created by New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacob. Mary had bought a sheer evening dress to wear to an event, and at the time, the only undergarment available to her was a corset made with whaleback bones. Mary found that the bones showed through the sheer fabric and created her DIY alternative.
1914: After a year of sharing her creation with friends, Mary Phelps Jacob applies for a patent (under the business name “Caresse Crosby”) on November 3 for her “Backless Brassiere” design. Mary’s “brassiere” was very lightweight, soft, and separated the breasts naturally. Unlike Marie Tucek’s 1893 design, Jacob’s garment did not have cups to support the breasts, but flattened them instead. Jacob markets the “Backless Brassiere” garment until she tires of the business and sells the patent to Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for $1,500. Warner’s reportedly made over $15 million over the next 30 years from the patent.
1914-1918: The outbreak of World War I forces women into the work-force. Many women begin working in factories and wearing uniforms, making the use of daily corset wear a problem.
1917: The U.S. War Industries Board requests women to stop buying corsets to reduce the consumption of metal. Sources say up to 28,000 tons of metal was conserved through this effort – “enough to build two battleships.”
1918 : Corset-makers began making bras designed to flatten rather than enhance the breasts.
1920’s: Warner introduces a tight, chest-flattening bra, in keeping with the Flapper styles of the day.
1928: Ida Rosenthal, a Russian immigrant, and her husband William found Maidenform. Ida is responsible for the creation of bust size categories (cup sizes) and developed bras for every stage of life – puberty to maturity.
1930’s: The shortened form of the word “brassiere” – the “bra” becomes popular.
1930’s: Warner produces the first popular all-elastic bra, which shows off a woman’s curves.
1935: Warner’s creates the modern cup sizing system (A to D), which is soon adopted by all bra manufacturers.
1940: Padding was added to bra cups.
1941-1945: Common fabric materials (cotton, rubber, silk and steel) are in short supply, so manufacturers turn to synthetic fabrics.
1946: The first bikini hits the catwalk introduced in Paris.
1950s: Strapless bras were introduced allowing women to wear off-the-shoulder dresses and still use a bra.
1959 : Warners and Du Pont produced Lycra which is now used in most bras.
1968: The infamous “bra-burning” occurred, but it didn’t quite involve busty feminists stripping off their bras to “free” themselves in a male dominated society. A group of women were protesting the 1968 Miss America pageant and threw bras, girdles, high heels, make up and hairspray into a rubbish bin as a symbol of their anger. They were protesting for the liberation of women in a male dominated society, and saw these objects as restrictive to their cause. The rubbish bin was set alight – hence the “bra-burning” reference.
1973: The first no-bounce sports bra was introduced.