Evolution of the Bra
When you get dressed each morning, you have a myriad of bra styles to choose from. Wearing a t-shirt? Grab a molded cup. A v-neck sweater? Pull out the plunge. There's a bra for every outfit and occasion, but that wasn't always the case. Let's look back at the history of bras.
Bandeau — Roman Empire
The Bikini Girls Mosaic From The Chamber Of The Ten Maidens
Some women of the Roman Empire bound their breasts with a mamillare. This was a simple strip of fabric wrapped around the breasts in a bandeau style. Meant to support and flatten the chest, women wore this to participate in sports reduce the appearance of their breasts.
Lengberg Bras — 1400s
A bra dating back to the middle ages discovered in Austria. Photograph: AP
Discovered in a 2008 excavation at Austria's Lengberg Castle, these linen bras were a revelation. Their style is remarkably modern, similar in shape to the longline bras of the 1950s. This was likely the first evidence of lingerie, which is French for "linen."
Corset — 1500s - 1880s
Corset, c. 1815. Photograph: MFIT
For hundreds of years, women shaped their bodies into the fashions of the day with corsets. The earliest corsets were made to accentuate breasts without cinching the waist. They used starch to keep their shape where later styles were created with whale bone.
Wedding Corset, c. 1874, Photograph: The Met
The hourglass silhouette returned to fashion in the 1800s. Corsets, or "busks" as they came to be called, remained curvy until the 1900s. In 1849, Joseph Cooper invented the front-fastening corset that enabled women to remove it without complete unlacing.
Split Corset — 1880s-90s
Reproduction of the "Corselet-Gorge"
In 1889, corsetiere Herminie Cadolle cut the traditional S-shaped corset in two. She called it the "corselet-gorge" and filed a patent for what would become the foundation of the modern bra. The lower part was a corset for the waist and the upper supported the breasts by means of shoulder straps. She revealed her creation during the 1889 World Fair. In 1907, Vogue called Cadolle’s bra design the “Brassiere,” giving this garment its modern name for the first time. This term was added to the Oxford Dictionary by 1911.
Flapper Bra — 1910s
Bra, silk and lace, circa 1923, USA.
New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacob, better known as Caresse Crosby, was dressing for a party when she realized her undergarment ruined the line of her dress. She fashioned a bra of two silk handkerchiefs and a pink ribbon, creating a comfortable backless design. She patented her handkerchief bra in 1914 as a comfortable alternative to the corset or bustier. These and other cupless, bandeau-style bras became popular throughout the 1910s and into the '20s.
Maidenform — 1920s & 30s
"The Maiden Form Mirror" trade magazine, Nov. 1940
The Maidenform bra company was founded in 1922 by seamstress Ida Rosenthal, her husband William, and shop owner Enid Bissett. They wanted a return to the natural shape of a woman's figure and produced bras that reflected that. This era introduced clasps, underwire, padded cups, and adjustable elastic straps, which were all used to create varying sizes instead of the one-size-fits-all of the flapper style.
There's debate whether the Rosenthals or S.H. Camp and Co. created cup sizes, but the lettered sizing system continues today.
Torpedo & Bullet— 1940s & 50s
Foundation-wear shopping at Bonwit Teller & Co. Department Store, 1938
During World War II, women were working in factories and on farms. This led to a need for more padding and protection. The torpedo bra provided thicker straps and more padding than previous bras.
Maidenform bra ad, 1954
Post-war, the bullet bra evolved unto a longer line and used spiral stitching to create an even more conical shape. Also known as sweater bras, they were popularized by bombshells like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.
Overwire — 1950s
Overwire "Bow" longline bra by Bali, c. 1950s
Although overwired bras were first seen in the 1930s, it was only by the 1950s with the lift of wartime material restrictions that these structured bra styles became popular. The shape made them perfect for plunging necklines while still offering support. The popularity didn't last as they weren't as comfortable as underwire bras.
No Bra - 1960s
Rudi Gernreich, c. 1957
The '60s began a more relaxed era in fashion and undergarments followed suit. Fashion designer Rudi Gernreich created his "no" collection to embrace this trend. The "no bra" was wireless and made from transparent net, allowing women to embrace the natural look while still having something between their skin and clothing.
Jogbra - 1970s
Jogbra with packaging, c. 1977-79
The first introduction to the sports bra we know today was invented by runner Lisa Lindahl in 1977. She and her sister were complaining about how uncomfortable it was to run in a regular bra and joked that they needed a jockstrap for women.
She worked with her friend, Polly Smith, to engineer a prototype that would be supportive, breathable, and modest, but nothing worked until they cut apart two jockstraps and stitched them back together. They used the cups as cups and leg straps were crossed over the back to become shoulder straps. The waistband became a rib band and the first modern sports bra was born.
"And when I went running in that it worked. So we deconstructed the jockstrap and recreated it as a jockbra," Lindahl says. She later renamed it as the Jogbra and the rest is history.
WonderBra - 1990s
U.S. ‘Hello Boys’ ad, featuring supermodel Eva Herzigova, c. 1994
Louise Poirier created the WonderBra in 1964, but the wasn't marketed for another 30 years. Created with 54 separate components, it was meant to shape and direct cleavage. It gained popularity in the '90s for its three levels or "degrees" of enhancement.
The first degree was lightly lined. The second degree was padded or added a cup size. The third degree were pushup bras with puffy pads known as "cookies." In 2001 they launched the "Air Wonder" that included a pump for the wearer to add air to the cups to her desired size.
Fantasy — 1990s - 2000s
EVAN AGOSTINI/IMAGEDIRECT/GETTY; KMAZUR/WIREIMAGE; WWD/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK
In 1996, Victoria's Secret promoted the "Million Dollar Miracle Bra" worn by Claudia Schiffer. Designed by four New York City jewelers, it was bedazzled with over 100 carats of diamonds.
Giselle Bundchen wore the Victoria's Secret's most expensive bra in the year 2000. Labeled the "Red Hot Fantasy Bra," it was valued at $15 million. Molly Sims is on record for wearing the most expensive bikini on the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2006 Swimsuit Edition. It was worth a whopping $30 million.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: PANACHE CARI, ANITA AIR CONTROL, PANACHE ENVY, GOSSARD SUPERBOOST
Thankfully, there isn't a fad style of bras today. Whatever fits your body and your lifestyle is the best bra for you!
Our bras may not be bedazzled, but we're sure to have a bra that's perfect for you! Book an in-person fitting by clicking the button below.