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The History and Invention of The Bra a fascinating look at the origins of lingerie.

Updated on February 16, 2018
Nell Rose profile image

Nell is a trained Psychologist and lives in London England. She has been writing since she was a child.

bra lingerie
bra lingerie
An apodesme bra used in ancient Greece
An apodesme bra used in ancient Greece
Victorian ladies in lacy undies
Victorian ladies in lacy undies

Two nice little Bra books. Have a giggle at the way women suffered for fashion.

Bra's Have Come A Long Way!

No more flopping and dropping.

Evidently the first bra or corset was around in 2000 BC, it was open at the front of the waist, leaving the bosom uncovered. Not particularly successful then! But as the years progressed in different parts of the world, we started to come up with ingenious ideas on how to stop flopping and dropping.

In 2500 BC warrior Minoan women on the Greek island of Crete, began wearing something that resembled a bra, this succeeded in shoving their bare bosoms up in the air, exposing them to the elements. Brrr, chilly. Still hadn't quite got the point, had they.

450BC, The Greeks tied a bodice above their breast, as well leaving it all exposed as usual. Dear God when will they learn? The funny thing is that it was against the law to wear corsets, yeah, I would like to be in parliament when they passed that law, anyway, so they used something called the Apodesme, which was a small band of material wrapped around the breast, largely for functional reasons, so they didn't flop about. Hurrah, they are starting to get it.

The roman women adopted the same attire, but changed the name to mamillare, ah, I can see where we are going! And young women wore the fascia to prevent the growth of their breast. Ouch! Also the mamillare was only used by big wobbly women, to keep their bits intact.

Anyway, on we go to the 4th century AD, where the Chemise first made itself known. It was made of linen and looked like a tunic. The chemise was gathered into a round or square neckline. it was embroidered and sometimes finished with a frill. Some also had long sleeves that ended with a ruff around the wrists.

France saw the arrival of the Bandeau, After Caesars conquest of Gaul. And in the 12th century, they started to wear the Basquine which was a sort of corset in rigid fabric surrounding the waist. About a century later, a gourgandinne ( Hus-sy) or bodice is worn on top of a corset. A Hus-sy, I hear you say, now you know where that came from. Good eh?

In the 13th century, they started to get the point, by making short bodices that flattened the boobs, er bosoms, sorry! and in the 14th century, they got even worse by making the whole thing tight and flat, but only longer this time. Ye Gods.

In the 15th century women subjected themselves to the torture of the whalebone corset, and also the steel rod corsets. These were made to be as tight as possible. This went on for the next three hundred and fifty years. No wonder women always had a touch of the vapours and passed out.

But then, hallelujah, along came the right idea, in the shape of the bodice changing from flat to perky! Oh hold on, not that perky. the bottom of the corset was flat against the breast, and the top peaked over the material. Seems like most celebs these days have the same idea.

I'll just have to mention the 16th century, it was hilarious, the women decided that they wanted to start the stuff the hankie down the cleavage trend, and they used anything including silk pouches, the trouble was, there was nothing to hold it up, and it ended up in the most bizarre places on their body! This led to much amusement and they soon gave it up as a bad idea!

All these bizarre and strange ideas carried on well into the 18th century, and the corsets made from bone became the favourite item. In 1820 . a Corset mecanique was invented to help women into their corsets. This consisted of a contraption made up of pulley's, so that they didn't need any help from the servants. The mind boggles.

Eventually after all this palaver in 1850 the first patent was registered for the first known bra like devices. Probably because all the husbands were getting fed up of falling over the pulley's in the bedroom.

After all of the years when women were nearly killing themselves pulling on the corsets and not being able to breath, In 1867 the Thompson patent glove fitting corset was invented. this consisted of hooks and a spring latch, supposedly to stop it falling off accidentally. If the spring broke for some reason I would imagine it would end up like Barbara Windsor in the carry on film, Carry on Camping. (if anybody hasn't seen it, she is doing her exercises and the bra snaps and springs off, shooting through the air, and hitting the Coach in the eye!)After that they came thick and fast. The Union Under flannel was made from wool, making it quite soft, then came the bra like garment called the Bien etre, that resembled a Victorian bikini.

The first proper bra as we know it today, became fashionable in 1907. People suddenly got the right idea and started to put hankies and pieces of cloth together, first with pockets on the front, and then tied up at the back.The term brassiere came from the french for upper arm. The word brasserie was first written up in the dictionary in 1912.

Funnily enough, it was the first world war that stopped the idea for the corset and made bra's as we know them more popular. Evidently they needed the metal for the war effort. By stopping it being used, they saved up to 28,000 tons of metal!

And since then, bra's have come in all shapes and sizes, bra's to flatten your breast, bra's to accentuate, even conical bra's like the singer Madonna!

From handkerchiefs, to metal pulley's. We women have gone through hell, just to get ourselves comfortable, and even more importantly, fashionable.

So the next time you pull on your bra, snap it shut or just use the hooks and eyes, be grateful you don't have to swing yourself from the ceiling like Superman, holding onto a giant pulley.

Why Not Try The All In One Set?

Victorian Corset

 Victorian hour glass figure corset so tight that it would crush the ladies internal organs and make them smaller!
Victorian hour glass figure corset so tight that it would crush the ladies internal organs and make them smaller!


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    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      2 years ago from England

      Hiya Zulma, yes me too! lol! thanks as always.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      2 years ago from United Kingdom

      The things we go through for the sake of fashion. I'm glad that's all behind me now. I'll take comfort over fashion any day.

      Good hub.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi Janine, thanks I know what you mean! lol! they just didn't get it did they? thanks as always, nell

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      8 years ago from New York, New York

      Wow, is all I can say. Seriously even when my bra can be a bit uncomfortable, after reading your article I am thankful that I live now and not sometime in the past. Thanks for this very detailed and interesting hub about the history of the bra. Voted up and shared too.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Hi, Coolmon, thanks for reading it, I am glad you liked it. cheers nell

    • Coolmon2009 profile image


      10 years ago from Texas, USA

      Hummm... now I know the history of the bra. Good article, you make it interesting and enjoyable :)

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Hi, Freya, thanks for reading it. Yes it was the war that did it! ha ha and thank goodness for that! thank you again nell

    • Freya Cesare profile image

      Freya Cesare 

      10 years ago from Borneo Island, Indonesia

      You are so funny person! This Hub really entertaining and fun to read. ^_^ So, we are save by world war? Hehehe... Thank you, Nell.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Hi Kenny, Yes I understand what you mean. You would think that it would be such a simple thing to invent, but the trouble we ladies have had over the centuries to try and find something that just fits. maybe we don't even need it as you say, but I don't think I will try the magic bra!! thanks again. Nell

    • Kenny K profile image

      Kenny K 

      10 years ago from Canada

      Neil, this's very informative. I always wonder where the idea of bra came from? Do women really need the bra? I can understand men and women need the underwear (may be not in some cultures). The other day I passed by a shop who sells all kinds of unique products. One item they sell is called the Magic Bra! It's helps to enhance the contour of women breasts sometime like that. What a fancy piece of wear!!!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Hiya Mickey, I know what you mean. I can't imagine using that pulley system to put on a Corset! urghhh! Thanks again. Nell

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      10 years ago

      Very nice. I avoided this one for a while. Thought it might give me nightmares. It was nice. Thanks

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      I am sure there were conical bra's, and I know what you mean, whenever I watch an old film, they always looked so fake! thanks for reading. Nell

    • Pollyannalana profile image


      10 years ago from US

      Great info hub. Are you sure there was no conical bras in the sixties? There were a few girls that looked dangerous to stand too near.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Hi, Cleanclover thanks for writing, yes they certainly did do some strange things in the past. And as you say, it is confidence whether you look good or not, not what you wear. Thanks again. Nell

    • Cleanclover profile image


      10 years ago from Piece of land!

      That's good information. Thanx Nell. Some of the past women were really funny. lol. I prefer a woman not to wear a bra unless she is really busty. The more open and natural the better. I also am not too fond of girls stuffing handkerchiefs under them to make them look big. A woman who loves her body and carries herself with confidence excites me ;-)

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Hi, Green Lotus, yes I must admit I did have a laugh, it was funny looking at the old pictures, and the pulley, ye Gods!! can you imagine? I can't even work a coffee machine!! glad you enjoyed it. Cheers Nell

    • Green Lotus profile image


      10 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I really laughed at this one Nell. It must have been fun to research! I burned my bra back in the 70's after watching "Carry On Camping". (have to admit I saw them all)

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Thank you so much ahern, I try to find the, not many people know that, type of things, keeps it interesting! and thanks Carol, oh yes I forgot about the shift, I'll have to do knickers next, that will be interesting! Hi, Hello Hello glad you liked it, thanks again, And fishtiger, wish I could go without a bra, but I am afraid gravity would descend very quickly... thanks all. Nell

    • fishtiger58 profile image


      10 years ago from Momence, Illinois

      Hi Nell great hub. I however don't wear a bra and you can read why on my hub. Lol funny story nonetheless.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      A real eye-opener about the long history. Thank you so much and I enjoyed a bit of it.

    • Carol the Writer profile image

      Carolyn Blacknall 

      10 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Very funny. Who knew the bra had such a history? I know the chemise thing they wore under their clothes was called a "shift" and if you couldn't afford that you were "shiftless". Thanks again for writing this! - Carol

    • ehern33 profile image


      10 years ago

      Next time I see a bra, I will be thinking of this hub.. Way to go Nell, warp my brain with tidbits of information so that I can discuss the bras history with some men. They are sure going to look funny at me.. LOL You always come up with something new. Great job!!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Hi, stagnetto, thanks for reading it. Yes I quite agree, and I am so grateful that we no longer have to use that pulley! It is funny how the war changed everything, even things like what you wear. I remember reading that it was because of the second world war that women began to wear trousers because of the work they did. Thanks again Nell

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      What a fantastic hub and so well explained while being quite funny at the same time!!! It is actually so important to have a bra because while I lived in Africa the poor women that couldn't have access to a bra had breasts drooping down to their waistline before they even reached the age of 40 so it's obvious that it's quite important if women want to keep some sort of a figure for as long as they can.


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