06 January, 2010

The Bra - A Historical Look at This Everyday Item of Women's Lingerie


Bra fashion history began as far back as Cretan times, but 1907, was the year when the word brassiere was first reported in an American copy of Vogue magazine. The original French meaning was support. In England bust improvers were available in the Edwardian period. By 1905 BBs as they were known were usual wear.

Bra fashion history truly began with the first bra to be patented. It was patented in 1914 by Mary Phelps-Jacobs an American woman. It is not thought to be the first bra ever, but it is the first patented record and that gives her the credit. Mary Phelps-Jacobs patented her bra design under the patent name of Caresse Crosby. Some say it was her French maid who provided the idea or the stitching help. Two silk handkerchiefs were tied together, ribbon sewn on to make straps and a seam set in the center at the front of the garment. Phelps-Jacobs couldn't get much interest for her idea and sales were low, so for $1500 she sold the rights to Warners. A few years later that fifteen hundred dollar patent valuation was thought to be worth fifteen million dollars. Warners have been involved in bra production along with other underwear items ever since. Within a year, breasts were measured in inches rather than being sized small, medium or large.

Bras became more common and more widely promoted over the 1910s, helped by the continuing trend towards lighter, shorter corsets that offered increasingly less bust support. In 1917 the U.S. War Industries Board asked women to stop buying corsets to free up metal for war production. This was said to have freed some 28,000 tons of metal, enough to build two battleships.

The bra took off the way it did because of World War I. The War changed gender roles, putting many women to work in factories and uniforms for the first time. The war also influenced social attitudes towards women and helped to liberate them from corsets. However women were already moving into the retail and clerical sectors. The bra 'came out', from something tucked into the back pages of women's magazines in the 1890s, to prominent display in department stores by 1918. Advertising was now promoting shaping the bust to contemporary fashion demands, and sales began to grow.

The word 'brassiere' was shortened to 'bra' in the 1930s, initially by young college women. The bra was becoming more sophisticated, and home-sewn versions vanished in the 30s. In 1935, Warners developed what they called the 'Alphabet Bra', a bra made in a series of sizes corresponding to the letters of the alphabet, A, B,C, D, etc and then women started taking an interest in the size of their breasts. In the UK, this standard was not adopted until the 1950s.

Appearing well-endowed remained popular over the next few years and bra sales reflected this trend. In 1959, Warner and Dupont introduced a stretchy fabric, called Lycra, which made bras more durable and comfortable. Women didn't take advantage of this wonderful new material for long because feminists in the 1960s tossed out and supposedly burned their bras to protest about being viewed as "sex objects."

In the late 1970s and early '80s, when gym classes and running became the rage, the bra became popular again. As women hit the streets and into the gym, they wanted and needed comfort and support for their bust. Bra sales increased again in the 1990s, when the Wonderbra gave average sized women cleavage which now was a necessary accessory to the plunging necklines that were now the fashion. Now, based on celebrity photos and fashion trends, it appears that cleavage is here for a while.

Today the different types, colors, shapes and material of bras is endless. Here are just some examples: soft cup bras, underwire bras, demi cup bras, push up bras, plus size bras, sheer bras, see through bras, lace bras, satin bras, sexy bras, fishnet bras, satin bras, cupless bras, peephole bras, as you can see the list can go on.

Original article by Lynn Winter

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