The Story Of The Modern Bra

Jun 10, 2020

Whether for support, extra coverage, shape or style, there are so many reasons to wear a bra and so many options to choose from. However, it wasn’t always this way. The bras that we know and love today have only been around for the last hundred years. So, how did we get to the bra we use now? 

Here is a brief journey through time as we explore how the design of the bra has changed over the years. 

Roman Times

Our time travel begins in the 4th Century AD. From this time, historians have evidence that Roman women wore bandeau tops when they were playing sports. In Sicily, a mosaic has been found of women wearing these tops. It is thought they were used to offer support during exercise, rather than to protect their modesty! 

The Middle Ages

Still, the design of the bra hadn’t progressed by 1400. Up until now, most women just wore dresses without undergarments. It was only when playing sports that athletes wore bandeau tops. 

The 16th Century

In the early 1500s, women in France began to wear undergarments to help create what they thought was the perfect body shape. Using a tight corset with whalebones for support, the corset helps to cinch in the waist as tightly as possible, while pushing the breasts up. These corsets were so tight that breasts practically spilt out of the corset and their dresses! 

It wasn’t unheard of for women to faint due to the tightness of the corset. Women also needed a lot of help to get in and out of these contraptions too! 

The 19th Century

While the 16th century was all about the hourglass shape, the 19th century was all about the ‘S’-shape. This meant pushing the breasts forward and the bum backwards to give the illusion of a bigger bum and bigger boobs. 

To create this shape, underwear known as a girdle was used. 

1869 – The First Bra

It wasn’t long until the girdle transformed into the bra. This was because the girdle was cut in half, with the top half supporting the breasts and the bottom half holding in the waist. While they were two distinct items, they were always sold together. It wasn’t until 1905 that you could buy the top separately. 

1907 – Vogue Names The Bra

Now that the separate top for the breasts was becoming popular, Vogue names this garment a Brassiere. This is thought to be the first reference of the bra which we know today. Four years after Vogue uses the term, it is published in the Oxford English Dictionary.

1910 – Let’s Get Comfy

Up until 1910, the bra was very restrictive and uncomfortable to whalebones providing structure. So, in 1910, comfort was prioritised, and restrictive support was removed, and the bra was made entirely out of soft, comfy silk. 

1920 – Trends Change

 In the Roaring Twenties, styles were changing, and flapper girls were all the rage. This trend focused on flatter chests. This meant bandeau bras that help to flatten the chest were back in fashion. 

1932 – The New Form Of Sizing

When realising that every body shape is different, cup sizes were introduced and are still used to this day. As well as cup sizes, the 1930s introduced adjustable straps and eye hooks, so there was a bra that fits for everyone. By now, most people were shortening brassiere to bra. 

1964 – Push Up Trend

In 1964, Wonderbra released their push up bra. This was in response to changing fashions where women wanted to uplift and support their breasts. 

1977 – Getting Sporty

By 1977, sports bras were first formally introduced. However, they were initially known as the ‘jog bra’. This was a supportive crop-style. Also in 1977, lingerie company Victoria’s Secret began, this was the first shop exclusively selling women’s underwear. Before then, people bought their underwear from a department store. This shop was created for people who were too embarrassed or uncomfortable shopping for women’s underwear in a department store.

1990 – The Famous Bra!

In 1990, singer Madonna wore perhaps the most iconic bra of all time. This was the cone-shaped bra designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, a famous fashion designer. This bra was so famous it fetched over £40,000 at auction. However, this isn’t the most expensive bra in existence. That award belongs to a Victoria’s Secret diamond-encrusted bra worth around £12 million! 

Today – All The Choice

Now, there is a bra for every occasion, whether you want a supportive sports bra, a funky crop top, push-up, padded, strapless, colourful or neutral – there is an option for everyone

So, who can guess what the future of the bra will look like? Will bras be internet-enabled? 3D printed? Have GPS tracking? What do you think the bra of the future needs to include?

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