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The Inventors and History of the Brassiere

Updated on October 30, 2015

The brassiere is quite essential to women’s wardrobes the world over. After all, it doesn’t just help lift the bosom so that clothes fit better but it also helps prevent back problems especially in women who have larger breasts. Some brassieres are plain for everyday use while some are fancier and used in special occasions. There are some brassieres made of cotton that cost as little as $5 while some are encrusted with gold and diamonds. Indeed, the brassiere is one type of garment that has gone a long way since women started using garments to cover or restrain their breasts way back in the 14th century. The bra has made a place for itself in history in several occasions.

Early Versions of the Brassiere

It is easy to think that the brassiere just popped out of nowhere since it has been around for so long. However, what most people do not know is that brassieres are not just garments. In fact, they have a history that is very closely linked to the social status of women throughout the ages. It is also inextricably tied to the evolution of fashion and the ever-changing views on the ideal female shape.

Paving the Way for the Modern Brassiere

However, it wasn’t until the early part of the 20th century that garments closely resembling the modern bra started to show up. That time, the brassieres weren’t really available to everyone since it wasn’t until the 1930’s that large-scale mass production of brassieres was achieved. Once mass production went into play though, bras easily replaced corsets as the go-to breast-support undergarment. As the 20th century rolled on, brassieres weren’t just everyday garments to restrain and hold the breasts; they turned into fashion statements and greater emphasis was given to the designing of fashionable looks for the brassiere.

Inventors of the Brassiere

There are many stories going around as to who invented the bra and how it was invented. Some urban legends state that men were responsible for inventing the bra. One man in particular, Otto Titzling, was responsible for inventing the brassiere but lost the lawsuit to Phillip de Brassiere. However, the real inventor of the brassiere is a bit unclear since many patents for brassiere-like products were handed out in the 19th century.

  • In the year 1859, Henry S. Lesher from Brooklyn, NY was given a patent for a bra-like device that was said to give the wearer’s breasts a “symmetrical rotundity”.

  • Luman L. Chapman of Camden, NJ was given a patent in 1863 for a “corset substitute”. It is the same garment that historians dub the “photo-brassiere”.

  • In 1876, a dressmaker named Olivia Flynt was given 4 patents for the Flynt Waist. It was a brassiere-like garment that aimed to help restrain and reshape the breast of more endowed women. It has been said that the Reformers of the time had a lot of demand for the Flynt Waist because they believed that corsets were unhygienic. In the beginning, the only way women could get their hands on the Flynt Waist was to order it by mail but like any popular garment, they eventually made their way to catalogues, clothing stores, and department stores. The Flynt Waist design won Olivia Flynt several awards including the bronze medal in 1878 at the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association.

  • In the year 1889, Life magazine ran an article about a French woman named Herminie Cadole and how she was the first inventor of the modern bra. Her invention appeared in a catalogue and was in the form of a 2-piece undergarment that was originally called corselet gorge then later referred to as the le bein-etre. She described her invention as something that would sustain the bosom and also provide support for the shoulders. Her company is alive until today and they like to claim that it was Herminie who freed women by inventing the first bra. By the time the year 1905 came about, the upper half of the 2-piece undergarment was being sold separately and was called soutien-gorge (the same word they used for “bra” in France up until today). It was also Herminie that introduced the use of elastic in brassieres.

  • Another woman that had a hand in developing the modern brassiere is an American socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob. Her brassiere was made out of two handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon and the rest, they say, is history. She had an undergarment that was lightweight and separated the breasts naturally. Not only did her creation fit her needs but she also made a type of undergarment that was perfectly suitable for the fashion at that time. At first, it was just her family and friends that demanded for the brassiere but with the granting of a US patent for the “backless brassiere,” she went into business. She founded a company named Caresse Crosby but later found out that she did not like running a business. She sold the brassiere patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Connecticut for $1,500 (it was a big amount back then). In the next 30 years after the sale, Warner made an excess of $15,000,000.

  • 1964 was a year to remember. By this time, there were already many bra makers and bra designs but what made 1964 special is because it was the year the Wonderbra was created by a Canadian lingerie company called Canadelle. The bra had 54 elements that helped to lift the breasts and create a deeper cleavage. It became an instant hit the minute it hit the shelves all over the world. The Wonderbra netted $120 million in sales on its first year alone.

Brassieres and Feminism

In the 60s, during the height of the feminist movement, some popular emblems of femininity became the target of feminist activists. In her book, The Female Eunuch, author Germaine Greer stated that bras were the most ridiculous invention and that it is just another way that women subjected themselves to further repression. Needless to say, the author was in favor of going braless, as a symbol of freedom from oppression from a mainly patriarchal society.

It wasn’t just the brassiere that they targeted because even false lashes and hair curlers were considered patriarchal and oppressive. Feminist activists stated that these items reduced women to mere sex objects. In fact, it was during this time that the infamous burning of the bras took place and it was interpreted as a symbol of the unbinding of women and a way for women to free themselves from patriarchal oppression.

Most Iconic Brassieres

Indeed, brassieres have become more than just way for women to restrain and support breasts. They have become symbols of oppression and they have also become pop icons. Below is a short list of the most iconic bras in the history of entertainment.

  • The pink satin conical bra worn by Madonna for her Blond Ambition tour in the 1990s. The bra was designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.

  • For the movie Erin Brokovich, there was a scene where Julia Roberts fixes her bra to show off her ample cleavage before meeting a big boss. She wore a Miracle Solutions Bra that went flying off the shelves soon after.

  • Famous 1950’s pin-up girl Betty Page wore lots of bras.

  • Not all iconic bras are of the sexy and lacy kind. In 1999, Brandi Chastain of the US Women’s Soccer team showed off her ripped abs and a black sports bra after winning the Women’s World Cup.

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