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From Brassiere to Backless & Strapless Bras - We've come a long way girls

Posted on June 12 2013

Women have used a variety of garments and devices to cover, restrain, or modify the appearance of breasts since the age of time, with Brassiere or bikini-like garments being depicted on female athletes in the 14th century BC during the Minoan civilization era.

But it was in 1859 that the first Bra prototype was patented by Henry Lesher. The garment had shields to absorb perspiration and inflatable pads! It had none of the looks or functions of the modern day bra, but was designed to contain the breasts and assist with comfort.

As a forerunner to modern lingerie, in 1863 Luman L Chapman patented a corset substitute with breast puffs and shoulder brace straps that tied at the back.

But it is said that in 1889 Herminie Cadolle of France invented the first modern bra. It appeared in a corset catalogue as a two-piece undergarment, which she originally called the corselet gorge, and later le bien-être (or “the well-being”). Her garment effectively cut the traditional corset in two. The lower part was a corset for the waist, the upper supporting the breasts by means of shoulder straps. Her description read; “designed to sustain the bosom and supported by the shoulders”. She patented her invention and showed it at the Great Exhibition of 1889. The company, still family-owned, claims today that Herminie “freed women by inventing the first Bra.”

It was in 1893 that Marie Tucek patented the “Breast Supporter” – the first garment similar to the modern day bra that used shoulder straps with a hook and eye closure to support the breasts in pockets of fabric. Her design would become a precursor to the underwire bra.

In 1904 the Charles R DeBovoise Company were the first to label a woman’s bra-like garment a “brasserie”, but it wasn’t until 1907 that the word Brassiere first appeared in US Vogue. By 1911 the term became official, by being entered into the Oxford Dictionary.

The very first backless bra was developed in 1910 by a then 19 year old New York Socialite, Mary Phelps Jacob, by fashioning together two silk handkerchiefs, pink ribbon and cord. It was a need born out of a desire to wear a very sheer evening gown to a debutant ball. Her innovation drew immediate attention on the first evening that she wore it and, at the request of family and friends, Mary made more of her new backless bra device. When she received a request for one from a stranger, who offered a dollar for her efforts, she realized that her backless bra could turn into a viable business. On 3 November 1914, the U.S. Patent Office issued the first U.S. patent for the “Backless Brassiere”. Her patent was for a device that was lightweight, soft, comfortable to wear, and naturally separated the breasts, unlike the corset, which was heavy, stiff, uncomfortable, and had the effect of creating a “monobosom”.

It was the first patent of the modern brasserie and resulted in the evolution from corset to the modern day bra. Sadly, despite managing to secure a few orders from department stores, Mary’s business never took off. Her husband Harry Crosby discouraged her from pursuing the business and persuaded her to close it. She would later sell the brassiere patent to the Warners Brothers Corset Company for US$1,500 (roughly equivalent to $20,574 in current dollars). Warner went on to earn more than $15 million from the bra patent over the next thirty years.

But the greatest shift in women’s lingerie buying behaviour came in 1917. To aid the war effort, the US War Industries Board asked women to stop buying corsets to reduce the consumption of metal. This act alone would save up to 28,000 tons of metal – enough to build two battleships, and forever sway women away from the highly boned corsets of the past.

By the 1920’s, Brassieres had became very bandeau in nature, holding the bust in and down, and creating the boyish silhouette of the flapper era with little bust definition.

But it was in 1928 that the current sizing for bras was invented by Ida and William Rosenthal. Their patent became the prototype of the modern support bra with the creation of the “cup size”. This system would become the standard by 1935 and by 1937, adjustable bands using multiple eye and hook positions were available.

In 1948 Federick Mellinger (of Fredericks of Hollywood) designed the first push-up bra and called it the ‘Rising Star’!

It was Maidenforn who introduced the pointy Chasonette bra, also known as the bullet bra, in 1949. It was to become the biggest seller of the 1950’s and gave rise to the very pointed look of that era.

One of the greatest evolutions came in 1959 when Warners and Dupont would produce lycra. The renowned stretchy fabric would see significant advances in bra technology and comfort, along with a decrease in breast “jiggle”!

In 1964, Louise Poirer invented the WonderBra Push-up Plunge Bra. This invention would spawn a number of breast enhancing solutions through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

The first sports bra was created in 1977 by Hinda Miller and Lisa Lindahl by sewing together two jockstraps and calling it the JogBra!

By the 1990’s, the bra industry leaped to a new level in the quest for cleavage by utilising air, water and silicone pads to lift, add volume and altogether augment the look of breasts!

By 2002, the adhesive backless and strapless bras of today were born, a gravity defying solution that could never have been conceived in 1859 when the history of the bra began!

Despite a prediction in 1969, by Danish Fashion historian Rudolf Kristian Albert Broby-Johansen of the imminent demise of bras, it is estimated that 75% to 95% of women in Western society wear a bra of some description every day – a figure unlike to decline as bras become lighter, more comfortable, more discreet and more fashionable.

So Girls…. Given the history, the pain and the gain… will you be ditching the bra?

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