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A Brief History of the Bra

Updated on January 12, 2014
The very first one was invented by a woman. This is never really a surprise for anyone.
The very first one was invented by a woman. This is never really a surprise for anyone. | Source

This is an item which has continued to change and advance since it's inception.

Some women like the underwire type while others feel more comfortable with other types. Every one has a preference they like above all others that makes them feel comfortable.
Some women like the underwire type while others feel more comfortable with other types. Every one has a preference they like above all others that makes them feel comfortable. | Source

Cup sizes were developed in the 1920s by the Maidenform Company

There are racy varieties, crafty ones and even several that seem to creep. How about those that fall apart after one wear? Several never ever seem to feel comfortable no matter what while others lose their original shape after one wash. The wrong color, material or size is always lingering as an excuse for not wearing the one discovered in the back of the drawer. Ask any woman and find a story to tell about the perfect bra or the voyage to find one.

This has become an everyday sight or trend and for many individuals a time without one is not comprehensible. Ever consider where it came from and how it got so far?

This is a brief overview of the one piece of every woman’s wardrobe no woman seems to be able to do without. Most if not all admit they look their best with the correct one. This is a brief history of the bra. One of the best and most used item of clothing for the average woman.

The origin

The word brassiere was used for the very first time in publication in 1907. Although found in print in 1907 the English Dictionary failed to feature it with a definition until almost 4 years later in 1911.

The modern bra, a short adaptation for brassiere, was invented by Mary Phelps Jacob. She received a patent for the invention as early as 1914. The creation in its early stages amounted to a couple of handkerchiefs and a ribbon. She dubbed it a “backless brassiere”.

The backless form, around today, also came from Jacob. The brainchild evolved following more than a half dozen failures and variations.

The patent was acquired by The Warner Bros Corset Company. This business happened to be a producer of corsets at the time. They were making an enormous amount of profit by crafting these on a large scale. The corsets were advertised as the "must have item" for the modern woman.

early 1900s

Any woman calling herself a modern day female owned one and wore it diligently. Rich and poor alike filled their wardrobes with it. This was a significantly universal item with the western style dress code popular at the time.


It really took on substance when the corset was no longer a useful or trendy item by the modern-day woman's standards for this time period. The start of WWI was a significant factor in the decline of fabrication of the item.

As American women became an enormous part of the workforce during wartime, it was impractical to say the least. This cumbersome mechanism was suitable for this type of workplace. In addition, the 28,000 tons of metal used in the producing them was of great use to the war effort. This played an enormous role in ceasing the production.

The war ended and the discovery the item was no longer coming back was not a shocker. There were more than a few benefits to getting rid of them. The female population looked for a replacement.


As manufacturing continued, improvement was a necessary part of the progression. In the 1920s cup sizes were developed.One size did not fit all and the first one rushing to cash in on the discovery women wanted more than one size was the Maidenform Company.

The variation in cups was not what we see today. The Maidenform Company, established by William and Ida Rosenthal, fashioned a center piece of a bandeau style top sewn into the tops of dresses. Different size dresses received distinct sized cups.

Marketing efforts increased as companies realized the profitable margin and unending need for this single item of clothing. This was an article worn by the young, old, rich and even the poor.

Hundreds of businesses were not in the marketplace at this time. Though, ideas were coming into the mix on ways to make a difference in the market and draw customers to one specific brand or manufacturer.

Years passed and comfort along with styles continued to alter and change. Though, there choices in style were fairly limited. Nowhere near what is offered today. No colors other than black or white were there. The main function was still control and certainly not visual appeal.


During the late 1940s and through the 1950s Frederick Mellinger, creator of Fredericks of Hollywood, introduced the fairer sex to the new era of the business. Functionality was still in the mix, but moving to the foreground. The main stage was taken up with so much more.

Mellinger took the initiative to introduce an astounded world to the padded version. This was in 1947. By 1948 they met the push-up kind from the same engineer.

Mellinger did not stop when he introduced the padded and push up variety. He added to the repertoire with the front hook bra as well as trendy bustiers full of color.This continued for decades to come.

Mellinger worked for several decades to perfect his merchandise and did a heck of a job. Branching off from the bra, but staying in the same genre he crafted the thong in the 1980s.


The 1960s brought these rather personal pieces of female clothing to the front place of wardrobes. This is a decade treated to a six o’clock news with bra burners.After years of working to come to terms with wearing a comfortable one, certain aspects of the populace chose to disregard them. Not only removing them be using them as a symbol for feminism.

The Miss America Pageant was under protest in 1968 with bras as the point of argument. Entrants were asked to wear them regardless of personal choice. This created a hailstorm of activity on the feminist front.

Women became aware of a new voice in society and wanted to make certain the world heard it. Loud voices proclaimed these were instruments of torture and burned them as the world at large watched. They were captivated by the actions.

There were a number of the fairer sex discovered in public going without one. The majority of females were still clad in one and companies in the bra production industry understood the concept of visual appeal was taking on more significance for the contraption. This meant a change in how ideas transferred to the design.


During the 70s advancements continued in the visual attraction of the apparatus while combining with functionality. The appeal to the eye was first and foremost. This caught the consumer or customer before function.

One inventor took the time to make a serious innovation on the function side. The sports bra came to light during this time. The first one designed specifically for sports was introduced.

The appeal of the visual was explored and banked on as a money maker for the gadget. Victoria’s Secret first store was presented to society in 1977. Victoria’s Secret stores were established by an MBA from Stanford named Roy Raymond.

The story was Raymond felt so uncomfortable shopping for his wife’s undergarment clothing articles in a department store he created a women’s undergarment only store for personal shopping. The innovation was a success and stuck around to this day.

The Limited store bought out Victoria’s Secret in 1982, but did nothing to change the main theme of the retail franchise. It continues to do well in the industry with not much change since inception.


Functionality and then appeal for the brainchild contraption worn by billions of women today. Where does it go from here? Something different is always churning for every retail item as time goes on.


The bra comes to multimedia, television in particular. Although seen in Victoria’s Secret catalog, magazine the television extravaganza is a worldwide favorite of men and ladies alike. It is a time event and features a promotion of undergarments as the theme instead of bras. Though, all are bras and panties. The comfort felt by participants is questionable with the costumes wore for entertainment purposes surrounding the show.


Underwear, bras, became outer wear. Instead of seeing them as under a shirt or dress they are coming away on top.

The multi-Grammy winning singer Madonna started appearing on stage in a variety of conventional corsets and unique cone shaped fashioned apparel by designer Jean Paul Gaultier in 1990. Madonna was significant in the trend of wearing underwear as outerwear. Since Madonna brought the underwear to outerwear it hasn't been the same since.

Wearing these as outer garments for fashion designers continued to become more prevalent throughout the 1990s. Victoria’s Secret was ahead of the pack when it came to pretty and attractive forms of the gadget.

Suddenly it was the place to be as part of the advertising or promotional set for any successful model of the decade. Having a picture in the catalog or more important a magazine cover from the store on a resume meant success in the field was finally was achieved.

2000 to current

The new millennium exposed the fantasy era with this particular implement. The fantasy line was initially seen in the Victoria’s Secret 1996 catalog. It didn't catch on as intended during this era.

Heidi Klum as well as Tyra Banks played a major roll in getting the word out. They both rocked this line of apparel during the famous catalog and store’s fashion shows. Heidi is still greatly involved and seen as a host for lots of the shows done in the new twenty first century.

The first expensive version was worn by Gisele Bundchen in 2000. This was originally dubbed the most costly gadget of its type ever worn. With a value of $15 million, it is formed from hand cut diamonds and rubies. It still holds the Guinness Book of Records as the most expensive undergarment ever produced.

In 2009 the Smart Memory Bra was structured from memory foam. The high-tech invention was created by the Lisca Company. What makes it so unique is it is connected to body temperature and will react as you move to increase your body temp. Similar to the mechanism of a Tempur-Pedic mattress the Smart Memory will change or alter itself when you change position and stay still when you do which makes for a great form for any clothing. There is comfort as well as unparelleled support.

The Dutch invested in the business in 2009 to a new degree with an innovative idea added to the business deemed the Le Décolleté. The Le Décolleté was devised to smooth any existing wrinkles and stop new ones from forming. The apparatus is crafted to make anything worn look better and more kept.

After research scientist determined these particular types of wrinkles are not found in an individual's clothing items, but in cleavage. In particular the bra and surrounding area. This shifted the focus from the item of clothing under a person's clothes to an individual body itself.

Designed to work specifically while sleeping, it happens to be fabricated without cups and contains a middle piece of fabric which keeps breasts separated. The crease which forms while sleeping is where wrinkles supposedly form. Keeping sleepers without a crease or a chance to form them will inevitably keep a person wrinkle free. This works in one very important area according to the engineers of Le Décolleté.

Bravissmo is a London-based company on the retail forum formed a new cup size, the L. The L cup size is larger than the current day KK sizes. Goddess is another company stretching for a larger cup size and will accommodate up to an N cup size.

In conclusion

The average cup size has continued to increase over the years. In 1996 that size in America was 34B and now it is 36DD. What have these special engineers done to keep up with increasing cup sizes? One of the most obvious is to keep this unique item of clothing growing as well.

This item has certainly changed over the years, but maintained true to form with its purpose. Giving support and comfort to the wearer with the materials available in the industry has certainly devised a number of various and interesting ones over the years.

© 2012 smcopywrite


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