It’s Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day and the perfect time to ask: who invented bras?
Love them or hate them, most women (and even some men) won’t leave home without one. There’s no medical reason to wear them despite claims to the contrary. But bras do alleviate the aches and pains of carrying extra boob weight or boost self-esteem, along with breasts.
We strap them on for all sorts of reasons, be it fashion or convenience. You can buy styles for exercising, breastfeeding, or boudoir play. It’s a versatile piece that serves as the foundation for everything else I wear.
This undergarment has continued to change and evolve, like women’s place in society. They’re made of stretchy materials, plastics, and flexible wires and sizes have expanded. Moving from hand-sewn to factory-made also altered the look of the female form.
So who came up with this bright idea? It appears more than one creative woman was involved. Practical and stylish bust support isn’t as revolutionary as some think.
Many give all the credit to early 1900s socialite, Mary Phelps Jacob (aka Caresse Crosby). She filed the first U.S. Patent for a bra-like design, after asking her maid to sew two handkerchiefs together so she could wear something less constricting under her evening gown. But some bust restraint existed long before Jacob’s struggle to find the right lingerie to wear under a dress. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)
Ancient mosaics show female athletes wearing something that looks like a bikini to compete in sporting events. Who could blame them for wanting to banish the bounce?
More recently, archeologists unearthed a 600-year-old linen brassiere worn during the Middle Ages. This is one of four bra styles found in an Austrian castle:
More than a few breast supporting creations were patented during the late 1800s, long before Mary Phelps Jacob had her “ah-ha” bra moment. An entire corset wearing generation was looking for more than freedom of movement.
Women were and continued to be the architects of many breast lifting inventions. Today’s sports bra wouldn’t exist if women hadn’t come up with the first prototype by sewing together two jock straps. Over half of all the bra patents are held by women, according to the authors of Uplift: The Bra in America. Google the names of Marie Tucek, Herminie Cadolle, Ida Rosenthal, and Hinda Miller to learn how the bra has evolved over time. Women today work in all aspects of the industry; from designing to starting up new lingerie brands.French Linen Bust Supporter circa 1905via Museum of Fit Image via Museum of Fit First “Jogbra” circa 1977 Image via Sporting Chance Initiative
I’ll be putting on my bra with a little more pride today. It’s one way to thank the inspiring and tenacious women—from all over the world—who continue to make history through innovative and creative lingerie design and leadership.Berlei Electrify Underwire Mesh Bra Modelled by Serena Williams via Berlei Cadolle Flocked Velvet Balconnette Set via Jane’s Vanity Nubian Skin Push-Up Bra via Nordstrom Fortnight Longline Bralette & Panty via Bloomingdales Mint Lace Boudoir Bra & Brief via Fleur of England Curvy Couture Foxy Lace Bra & Brief via Bare Necessities Else Lingerie Cassis Longline Bra & Thong via Anthropologie Mimi Holliday Tease Me Plunge Bra via True&Co
Did you know who invented bras? What do you think of its history? If you could re-invent one thing about the bra, what would it be?
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