History of the Bra
When discussing fashion women often talk about the amazing dress they picked up or the sexy peep toe heels that they just couldn’t bare to pass by, however, very often does one think of the bra and its impact on fashion history. A necessary evil in most women’s lives the “over the shoulder boulder holder” has been around since ancient times in some form or another. Before the invention of the brassiere women were suffocating in corsets that resulted in crushed rib cages and damaged reproductive organs. But in 1914, Mary Phelps Jacob changed all that by stitching together the very first bra. The ...view middle of the document...
Greek women are often depicted draped in a garment that exposes one breast, however, in states such as Sparta where women often participated in sports a band of cloth called an apodesmos or mastodeton was worn to bind down the breasts (Wikipedia- History, 2010). The Romans tended to de-emphasize the breasts more so than the Greek, often wearing loose tunics in which the women would also wear an adopted version of the Greek apodesme called a mamillare (Wikipedia – History, 2010). In the Middle Ages, the Holy Empire banned any form of breast binding instead tight laced bodices were worn. Moving into the Renaissance Era emphasis was now on form with décolletage becoming fashionable. Women achieved this with garments consisting of paste-stiffened linen and eventually included iron supports at the side and back. Upper class women favored firm breasts and wet nurses were often used to keep the breasts from changing form. It wasn’t until 1789 that the first corset appeared, contraptions made from whalebone to make women’s waists appear smaller and to confine their breasts. Corsets caused many health problems, ranging from deformed rib cages to damaged reproductive organs (Berry, 2006). Although women understood the dangers of wearing corsets, proper ladies had little choice but to wear one otherwise be labeled as scandalous! Think Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind as she clings to a bedpost while her maid tightens her up or the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean where Elizabeth Swann falls off the castle wall into the ocean because she faints from the tightness of her corset – this all in the name of fashion! However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, more choices were available for women as the bra was invented.
Although there are many myths as to who invented the bra, it was Mary Phelps Jacobs, a New York Socialite, who after becoming frustrated with her corset had her housemaid help her create the first know brassiere made from two handkerchiefs and a long pink ribbon (Berry, 2006). Women could finally breathe! After many requests poured in from family, friends and strangers, Jacobs realized the potential for her new creation and quickly patented it in 1914. It wasn’t until World War I when the U.S. Government requested women to quit buying corsets in order to conserve metal that Jacob’s brassiere became popular, however, by this time Jacobs had sold the rights to the Warner Brother’s Corset Company for $1500. Warner would dump corsets and go on to market the popular brassiere for the next 30 years (Famous, 2008).
The 1920’s, also known as the Roaring Twenties, was revolutionary for women. Women gained the right to vote and were ready to continue proving their independence. First thing to do was to throw out those rigid corsets and embrace the brassiere! With the flapper look being the latest rage, bras were made specifically to flatten out the chest like women wanted. The bras were more constricting than the bras...