The history of the bra is inextricably linked with the social status of women, the changes in fashion, and the evolving attitudes toward the female body. This is a short visual history of the modern bra from 1910 to the 1990’s.
A Brief History of the Bra Video
Watch the full Brief History of the Brassiere Video.
Herminie Cadolle, a corsetiere in 1889 made history at the Paris Exposition Universelle when she revealed her corset-gorge – a corset for the bust. It was the forerunner of the bustier or long-line bra. That being said – it was still a corset – not a brassiere.
The first notable name in brassiere design is Marie Tucek who patented the breast supporter in 1893 – a garment very similar to what we now recognize as the bra. It used shoulder straps and a hook-and-eye closures to support a woman’s breasts in separates fabric pockets. It was by all accounts not overly comfortable to wear, but some daring women chose it in place of the conventional corset.
Gallery of Early Brassieres
The Inventor of the Modern Bra
The New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacob better known as Careese Crosby, patented her handkerchief bra in 1914 as a comfortable alternative to the corset or bustier.
It had no cups, but was popular enough and created a trend in the 1910’s. She sold her new bra under the name Caresse – though she later sold her patent to the Warner corset company, for a reputed $1000.
By the end of the First World War, sales of bras by well known brands such as DeBevoise took off in strides.
Timeline of Brassieres from 1910 to 1950’s
The 1920’s Bra
The bust flattening fad continued well in to the 1920s helping to popularize the new ‘gamine look’. One woman changed everything , a Russian immigrant named Ida Rosenthal along with her husband William, formed a company called Maidenform in 1922.
Producing bras with ‘bust cups’ attached with elastic, breasts were uplifted rather than flattened and the bra – as we now know it took off.
The gamine look of the bust flattening Symington-side-lacer was a preferred option to the corset for 1920’s women.
The 1930’s Bra
But by 1930, the silhouette was returning to a curvier more natural shape for young women. This year also saw the arrival of the seamless bra.
The 1940’s Bra
By the 1940s, bras had to be durable for women working long shifts in factories and on the farm [ Land Girls ] and the busty sweater girl look came along via Hollywood starlets like Lauren Bacall and Jane Russell. Military inspired bras were fashionable with torpedo and conical shapes abounding.
The 1950’s Bullet Bra
As the 1950’s arrived, brassiere designers concentrated on making bras, girdles and all other female undergarments as glamorous as possible.
Though the bullet bra had been around in various novelty forms during the 1940’s, it was Maidenform who made it comfortable. It became the defining shape for brassieres for the late 1940s and early 1950’s.
The Bullet brassiere today is a favorite pin up look for all fans of late 1940’s and early 1950’s Hollywood inspired fashions. Our favorite brand for vintage inspired bullet brassieres and open bottom girdles is What Katie Did.
The 1960’s Bra
In the 1960’s, the Maternity and mastectomy bra began to find a new respectability. Feminism and “bra-burning”, also became linked in popular culture.
The 1990’s Bra and beyond
In 1994, Eva Herzigova‘s traffic-stopping billboard for the Playtex Wonderbra is considered the most iconic and to some extent controversial advertising campaign ever. It certainly helped take the bra out from hiding as an undergarment.
Famous Brassiere Brands Timeline
- 1901 – Gossard
- 1911 – Vanity fair
- 1917 – Berlei
- 1920 – Lily of France
- 1922 – Maidenform
- 1927 – Bali
- 1932 – Playtex
- 1942 – Olga
- 1946 – Frederick’s of Hollywood
That’s all !
Further Reading and Viewing: