Bra History Made by Females Seeking an Alternative

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bra history

Bra history was first made at the beginning of the 20th century when innovative women sought an alternative to being tied into a restrictive corset. Often debated as to what woman, and what country, created the first bra, the invention of the undergarment was a step into the future for women’s fashion.

From Early Brassiere to the First Bra

Accolades are given to a New York City socialite, Mary Phelps Jacobs, for inventing and patenting the first bra on Nov. 3, 1914. Yet, it was a Parisian woman who first made bra history revealing her own invention before the 20th century. Madame Herminie Cadolle showcased her innovative bra type in 1889, at the Exposition Universelle of Paris.

Cadolle’s idea for the bra-like fashion design was to split the traditional uncomfortable corset in two parts. The lower half still worked as a corset with the upper part improved to work on its own. By adding straps for the shoulders, it worked independently as a supportive garment for the breasts.

The designer called her invention a “soutien-gorge,” brassiere in French. Cadolle established a lingerie shop where she sold the item. By 1905, women took to the new garment, making bra history, seeking to purchase only the upper half.

During the same time period, Marie Tucek of New York, was granted a patent in 1893 for her own breast- support invention. Tucek’s creation offered women a durable and improved undergarment to replace the corset. Her device was designed to use sheet metal, or another hard material, fashioned to sit under the breasts for support, much like today’s underwire.

Modern Bra History Begins With a Party

Yet, it is Jacobs, who later changed her name to Caresse Crosby, who gets the kudos for genuinely making modern day bra history with her 1914 patent. The socialite was unhappy with the comfort and fit of the corset. When it came time to dress for a party, she felt the corset did not work well under her sheer gown featuring a plunging neckline. Jacobs enlisted the aid of her maid, Marie, to help her create a new undergarment out of two silk handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon.

The lightweight bra, tied around the neck in a halter style, was far less restrictive than the boned corset. Lynn Boorady, fashion and textile technology chair and associate professor at Buffalo State University, explains the first bra:

Basically just two handkerchiefs sewn together, and the bias of the fabric created sort of cups.

While Jacob’s invention was well-accepted within her circle, as a business idea, it did not make the income she desired. The inventor sold her backless brassiere patent to Warner Brothers Corset Company for $1500, who, in just a few years, began real bra history by making $15 million.

War Fast-Tracks Bra History Into the Future

Metal was in high demand for ship building during World War I, therefore, the War Industries Board put a ban on steel-dependent corsets. The 28,000 pounds of steel that would have gone toward making corsets was enough to manufacture two battleships.

As the men headed off to battle, the relief of not having to wear the restrictive corsets allowed for women to work the more physical jobs men traditionally held. By the end of the war in 1918, the corset was no longer the preferred female undergarment. World War II created another shortage in metal, which ended the corset for good.

Bra History Takes Shape With New Materials and Sizing

bra historyIn the 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood stars took notice of bra- enhancing curves and promoted the undergarment to fans. Companies were taking notice of the bra as well, working to make it better with fabric that stretched. The first bras were made one-size-fits-all. Ida Rosenthal and her husband William, established the still well-known lingerie company, Maidenform in 1922. They noticed different shaped women should have different sized bras for better comfort.

Rosenthal became another important figure in bra history. Around the late ’20s early ’30s, Rosenthal introduced different cup sizes so the bra would conform to the body and be a better fit.

This has been debated though. Some give credit for the invention of cup sizes, A, B, C, and D, to S H Camp & Company. They were the first to advertise the newly available sizing, in February 1933. The ads were seen in the Corset and Underwear Review publication.

Sexy and Changing Modern Bra History

After the 1930s, the bra business gained momentum. As popularity grew, so did the need for new bra history to be made as companies sought better support, as well as sexy undergarments. Adjustable elastic shoulder straps were added, along with padding and underwire.

In 1946, a man stepped into bra history by creating a bra that was seen as more racy than practical. Frederick Mellinger was serving during World War II when he came up with the idea for his sexy lingerie. After coming home, he began a mail-order company in New York City, called Frederick’s of Fifth Avenue.

Frederick’s first offered lacy black bras and matching panties. In 1947, Mellinger moved to the west coast where he renamed and established the business as the popularly known, Frederick’s of Hollywood. The business took off, and Mellinger made bra history again with the creation of the first push-up bra, in 1948. It was called “Rising Star.” He is also credited with inventing the front closure bra.

The 1970s brought another bra history innovation, the sports bra. Costume designer Polly Smith, along with Lisa Lindahl and Hinda Miller, saw a need for a protective bra for sports. The three created the Jogbra. Taking a cue from the guys, the women fashioned the first Jogbra from two jockstraps.

Over time women resisted the bra, but it always bounced back. Protests from the women’s movement, of the of the ’60s and ’70s, urged females to burn their bras. As decades passed, the undergarment has constantly evolved. Making new bra history in the 21st century are comfortable bras; seeming to come full circle,  reinventing the first bras with the simple, cup-free bralette.

By Carol Ruth Weber
Edited by Jeanette Smith


Vogue Italia encyclo: THE BRA
Google Patents: Marie tucek US 494397 A
Time: The 100-Year History of the Modern Bra Is Also the History of Taking Off Bras
NPR: Bra History: How A War Shortage Reshaped Modern Shapewear
Funding Universe: Frederick’s of Hollywood, Inc. History

Top and Featured Image by Oxfordian Kissuth Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Judley’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License