Discover the history of the bra in this infographic
In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, The Huffington Post and Genius 3D Mammography have teamed up. Together they’ve created an infographic that traces the history of the bra.
For example, did you know the first-ever bra most likely dates back to ancient Greece? Women would wrap a band of wool or linen across their breasts, pinning or tying them in the back. Corsets didn’t show up until around 1500. But when they did, they quickly became mandatory for middle and upper class women in Western society. And just as quickly, physicians started blaming corsets for ailments ranging from fainting spells to muscle atrophy; while feminists attacked them for restricting women, both physically and symbolically.
So, from its aristocratic beginnings in the 16th century to modern-day pushup and sports bras, find out how this important intimate wear has evolved over the centuries.
The history of the bra
Women went bare-breast under long, flowing tunics.
Young girls wore “breast bands,” or fascia, to prevent their breasts from sagging as they got older.
The corset became the norm for women of aristocracy. For the next four centuries, women will be expected to bind their waists, pushing their breasts upwards and out.
The first bra appears in Great Britain, made of wire and silk.
In France, Herminie Cadolle cuts a corset into two separate undergarments. The top one, which supports the breast, known as the corselet gorge, would later become soutien-gorge (or bra in French).
Marie Tucek takes out the first US bra patent. Her product consists of one pocket for each breast mounted on a metal plate and supported by shoulder straps. Sound familiar? That’s because it basically an underwire bra. However, Tucek failed to market it successfully at the time.
Mary Phelps Jacobs invented the first modern brassiere. Legend has it that the 19-year-old New York socialite improvised the new kind of undergarment with a pair of silk handkerchiefs and pink silk ribbons after noticing that her whalebone corset looked chunky under her new sheer evening gown.
World War I
Shortages of metal and the growing presence of women in the workforce hastened the end of the corset. By the end of the war in 1918, fashion-forward women in Europe and North America have adopted the brassiere as their undergarment of choice.
Gin, Jazz and—no curves? The bandeau helps flatten women’s breasts to give them the boyish, almost androgynous shape favoured by flappers.
Seamstress Ida Rosenthal, her husband William and dressmaker Enid Bisset found Maidenform to counter the bandeau trend. The new bra focuses on fit and shape to accentuate the natural form and enhance—rather than flatten—women’s assets.
The brassiere commonly becomes known as the “bra.”
The S.H.Camp and Company assigns the size of women’s breasts to cup sizes, A through D.
World War II
Women at work in factories need protection and support. The answer? Bras. Military technology creeps into fashion and styles like the bullet, or torpedo bra, become popular.
A survey conducted by the British government finds that on average, women own 1.2 bras.
Bras are no exception to the boom in consumer goods. The rise of the “Sweater Girl” look, popularized by Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner, encourages women to adopt bullet bras that give off the appearance of a bigger cup size. The Baby Boom creates marketing opportunities for specialty maternity bras and starter bras for pre-teen and teenage girls.
Rudy Gernreich, an Austrian-born American fashion designer, releases the topless “monokini,” foreshadowing 1960s counterculture.
Louise Poirier creates the pushup Wonderbra for Canadelle, a Canadian lingerie company.
“Mrs.Robinson” blows minds with her black lace bra and come hither stare.
September 7, 1968
During the 1968 Miss America Competition, a group of 400 women protest societal pressure on the Atlantic City boardwalk by throwing their heels, makeup, hairspray and bras into a “Freedom Trashcan.”
Lisa Lindhal, Polly Smith and Hinda Mille invent the first sports bra, the “Jogbra,” while at the University of Vermont.
Princess Leia’s gold bikini bra (and matching loincloth) from “Return of the Jedi” captures the imagination of a generation (and future “Friends” fans).
Madonna shows off her now iconic Jean-Paul Gaultier cone bra during her Blonde Ambition tour.
“Seinfeld” invents “the Bro” (or the “Manssiere,” depending on whose side you’re on).
The Daily Mail finds that the average woman will spend $4,000 on bras in her lifetime and owns an average of 16 bras at any given time.
Victoria’s Secret launches a $10 million bra, encrusted with 4,200 precious gems (including diamonds, rubies and yellow sapphires) and set in 18-karat gold. The best part? A 52-karat pear-shaped ruby at the centre.