Bra Story: Bra Centennial

History Of The Bra

It is 100 years of exact copy of patent number 1,115,674, granted to the brassière, or bra, of the American Mary Phelps Jacob,” one of the first entrepreneurs of the twentieth century”, in the words of Francesc Puertas, author of the book ” The Bra, myths and legends. Manual of use “(Arcopress Ediciones, 2012). Although the bra already existed as such, but not patented. 

Today we want to review the history and evolution of this feminine garment that we are so passionate about. 

From Metal Artifacts To Silk

Women have always protected their breasts. From the engravings discovered in Crete (1700 BC), to the “strophium” of the Romans, until the beginning of the 20th century, women wore long strips of cloth, to cover themselves and hold the chest.

Cotilla (1750-1760). Museum of the Costume, CIPE the snitch is an adjuster used by women in the eighteenth century, formed of linen or silk and whales. (Lucía Ybarra Zubiaga)

Corset (1910-1918). Museum of the Costume, CIPE (Lucía Ybarra Zubiaga)

The first bra is dated 1866, a version made of cable and silk. In 1869, Herminie Cadollecreated a corset divided into two parts: one to hold the chest and the other to mark the waist.The top would be known as the corselet gorge, the last step before the soutien-gorge, the French word for bra. A few years later, in 1893, Marie Tucek launched the first hooped bras in the United States, but almost none were sold. 

In 1907, thanks to Paul Poiret, women were able to say goodbye to the corsets that for decades had marked the waist and made breathing difficult. The French designer imposed a straight and certainly androgynous silhouette in the twenties, which prompted the creation of girdles that flattened the curves and disguised the feminine forms.The Symington Side Lacer had side straps that were tightened to flatten the chest.Combined with a girdle, the effect of a rectangular silhouette suitable for low-waist flapper dresses was achieved.

Not everyone found this trend favorable. Ida and William Rosenthal, in collaboration with Enid Bisset, launched Maiden Form Brassiere, a system of cups that emphasized feminine forms. The idea consisted of two glasses separated by an elastic tape, something simple but until then unknown.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Mary Phelps Jacob had a brilliant and innovative idea when she had bought an evening dress to attend a party.

The underwear worn by women at that time were rigid corsets made of whale bones and steel wires. When the dress was tested with one of these corsets, one of those bones showed through her cleavage and was visible under the fabric of her dress, disfiguring her figure.Jacob tried to solve it by joining two silk handkerchiefs, a little pink ribbon and a lot of ingenuity, and with the help of his maid made what would be the first modern bra.

The Patent That Changed The Lives Of Women

Bra (1920). Museum of the Costume, CIPE The bra, as we know it today, is recent; Was born in 1914 but its use was generalized in the fifties. (Lucía Ybarra Zubiaga)

Seeing that this could be a good business, Mary came in February 1914 to apply for a patent, which was finally granted on November 3, 1914, with number 1,115,674. After a few years of commercializing this garment in his business “Caresse Crosby”, the firm “Warner Corset Company” (today Warnaco, owner of Calvin Klein, Speedo and other brands) bought his patent for $ 1,500. From then on, this brand marketed the product, with which it reached a turnover of 15 million dollars in the year 1930. 

Mary was a very active and enterprising woman. He founded the organization “Women Against War” and after three unfortunate marriages, he ended up living in Italy, where he died in 1970 in absolute solitude.

Bra (1925). Museum of the Costume, CIPE The American Mary Phelps Jacob patents the invention in 1914 with the name of “backless brassiere” (corset without back). The reception of this new corset constructed with 2 handkerchiefs a ribbon and a cord and that made their suits look much more low cut and attractive was spectacular. (Lucía Ybarra Zubiaga)

Bra (1950-1960). Museum of the Costume, CIPE Its use was generalized in the fifties. Later, with the influence of the beatnik movement and the fashion of the natural, it had a certain setback and was even used as a symbol by feminist groups, who publicly burned their bras. (Lucía Ybarra Zubiaga)

Bra (1950-1960). Museo del Traje, CIPE Already in the late seventies the bra resurfaced to become the star of women’s lingerie. (Lucía Ybarra Zubiaga)


The Hollywood Bra

The lack of raw materials and labor in the aftermath of World War II caused many women to start making their own bras from the patterns provided by the magazines. They wore the satin of their wedding dresses, or the silk and nylon of the parachutes left over. 

Photo: Jane Russell and Jeanne Crain, 1955, in the film The gentlemen prefer blondes

Once the war ended, society wanted to dream again with the glamor of Hollywood.In Los Angeles Frederick Mellinger triumphed with his design The Rising Star, considered the first push up bra. Airman Howard Hughes wanted his favorite actress, and lover, Jane Russell to appear in the movie The Outlaw of 1943 sporting an emerging breast, and for that he commissioned his aeronautical engineer to design a bra that made the bust sharp.Rusell would say that he did not use Howard’s design, but merely filled in his own tissue. Other stars like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Rita Hayworth contributed to the phenomenon, which extended to the fifties. 

The nylon began to be used in a generalized way, lightening the garments and making them easier to wash. 

The Liberation

The protests of the sixties erected the bra as the symbol of woman’s oppression. The movement was triggered by the 1968 Miss America pageant, which angered nearly 400 feminists and other civil rights advocates. Objects such as false eyelashes, make-up and bras were thrown to the bins in protest. ” I was the first woman to burn my bra. It took firefighters four days to put out the fire, “said Dolly Parton.

Feminist author Germain Greer said in her book The Female Eunuch: ” Bras are a ridiculous invention, but if you make it go without them it is a rule, you are under another repression .” If earlier the desire had been to mark the breast through sophisticated gadgets, the sixties brought a totally opposite reaction. Yves Saint Laurent proposed a lucid transparent blouse with nothing underneath, and in 1964 Rudi Gernreich designs the “no bra”, a version of the garment in a very light and transparent elastic fabric. From this moment the use of transparencies in the underwear is popularized and the use of the lycra is generalized. 

The habits begin to change: the women who were still wearing the bra to sleep stopped.

…To be continued

9 Out Of 10 Women Do Not Know 7 Out Of 10 Women Do Not Wear Appropriate Size And Cup

According to a study by senology doctors, 9 out of 10 women are unaware of their size and bra cup and 7 out of 10 do not wear the appropriate size and cup. On the other hand 5 out of 10 who consult the doctor’s life about discomfort in the chest, headaches, back pain and postural malformations would solve their illness choosing the right bra in their size and cup.

At Bestitude we are concerned about providing each woman with the type of brassiere she needs depending on her activity and especially her size and cup.

Soon we will continue with more history of the bra. See you soon! 

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