The Absolutely Fascinating History Of Your Bra

From the humble training bra to the super sexy push-up, bras are a part of your life to some extent. Yes, even if you’re mostly free boobin’ it, you have at least one bra hanging around in your dresser drawers. But most of us wear one every day, and they’re either the bane of our existence or such a necessity that getting upset about them seems pointless. Still, whether you love bras, hate them with a passion, or just deal with ’em because you don’t want your boobs flopping all over the place, you know that bras have become such a natural, everyday garment. And yet, none of us really take the time to think about how the bra came to be.

From modest bandeaus of the ’20s to torpedo shaped protrusions of the ’50s to ’70s sports bras and beyond, you’re going to want to check out the history of bras.

The First Patented Brassiere In The U.S. And The Corset's Downfall

Bras closely resembling today's bras first started popping up in the late 1800s when the corset still reigned. But the first bra that really made waves in the is credited to Caresse Crosby (born Mary Phelps Jacobs) in 1910. At the time, the young socialite was getting ready for a debutante ball but hated the way her corset made her loo under her dress. She told her maid, "Bring me two of my pocket handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon… And bring the needle and thread and some pins." From that, she made what we now recognize as a simple bra. Soon, her friends begged her to make some for them, too. She patented the item and started a business. This was great timing, since American women were discouraged from buying corsets during WWI as to save metal for the war effort. Unfortunately, Crosby's bras didn't quite take off, so she sold her patent to a company by the name of Warner. They later earned over $15 million in the next 30 years from that patent alone.

The Bandeau Bras Of The '20s

As slim, boyish figures were became in vogue in the '20s, it was incredibly out of style for the younger, hipper set to rock curve enhancing corsets. Stylish girls and women at this time then opted for simple bandeau bras to cover and flatten their breasts.

The Creation Of Cup Sizes

By the time the '30s rolled around, a lot of exciting things were happening to the bra. Okay, maybe not exciting, but certainly interesting. The word "brassiere" was so old fashioned according to hipster chicks in 1934; at least, that's what they told Harper's Bazaar. Around the same time, bras were made with the varying cup sizes that we're accustomed to seeing today.

Bras Fit For A '40s Factory Girl

Once again, war had an impact on women's clothing in the '30s and '40s. During WWII, women were enlisted in military service and were given uniform underwear. Corsets? Yeah, not exactly practical for this job. Same could be said for the factory girl undergarments, except theirs got the plastic treatment. No, seriously, they wore bras with plastic cups that were supposed to protect them in the heavy duty, dangerous factory environment. Wearing practical underthings became a sign of patriotism, not just good sense.

The Maiden Form Lift And Separate

Maiden Form ruled bra ads in the '40s, '50s and '60s. The bras were designed by Ida Rosenthal in the '30s and were revolutionary at the time because they moved away from the flattened flapper look. Instead, Maiden Form bras lifted, separated and sculpted the breasts for a more "flattering" look. Also, Maiden Form bras had some of the most iconic ads of all time. The "I dreamed I my Maiden Form bra" concept went on strong for decades.

Sweater Girls And Bullet/Torpedo Bras Of The '40s And '50s

While factory girls were wearing plastic bras, everyone else was getting their own taste of military inspired underwear with the popularity of the bullet and torpedo style bra. Women shown wearing these bras on the silver screen or in pin up cartoons were known as "sweater girls" because their protruding bosoms were so visible underneath their wholesome cardigans. Jane Russel, Patti Page, Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe helped popularize this look.

Wow! Non-White Women Wear Bras, Too!

In the '40s and '50s, advertisers began to realize that, surprise surprise, women who aren't white wear bras, too. This was a big step because bras were finally being marketed towards diverse audiences, specifically black ones. These ads only appeared in black publications, however. God forbid such an ad appear in Vogue in the 40s, right?

The No-Bra Bra

Hey, remember the guy who made the monokini? Well, in the '60s he also designed a series of bras called the No-Bra. They were ultra soft cup, sheer bras that were a welcome step away from the tight, bullet pointed bras of the previous decade.

Bra Burnings In The 60s?

Contrary to popular belief bras didn't die in the '60s, nor were they burned. Here's what did happen: In 1968, there was a massive protest against the Miss America pageant. Women's rights activists declared that the show perpetuated oppressive beauty standards and reduced women to mere objects to be judged. These protests included throwing items in garbage cans that some women believed perpetuated patriarchal BS. Included in these garbage cans were makeup and, you guessed it, bras. The burning of the bra was a symbolic cry for women to have freedom over their bodies, not an actual burning of bras. The only recorded incident of a bra burning at that time didn't happen until two years later at an unrelated feminist protest. So there you have it, there wasn't a mass bra burning in the '60s.

The Birth Of The Sports Bra

Sports bras were introduced in 1975 by the name of the "Free Swing Tennis Bra." In 1977, another version of the sports bra we all know and love (or hate) today was invented by Lisa Lindahl, Polly Smith and Hinda Schreiber. It was originally nicknamed the jockbra--like a woman's jockstrap--until it was renamed to the jogbra. The original jogbras are on display in the Smithsonian and the New York Metropolitan Museum Of Modern Art. Cool, huh?

Popularity Of The Training Bra In The '60s And '70s

Before the popularity of the training bra, pre-pubescent and small busted girls merely wore camisoles underneath their clothing. But as the 20th century progressed and as the bra became more popular, companies began to market bras towards younger audiences as preparation for their "big girl" bras.

Disco Bras Or Disco Tops?

By the '70s, the bullet bra was totally old school. It's like the equivalent of unironically wearing a fanny pack in 2014. Bras that made the breasts look ultra natural were preferred, but so were bras that could practically double as tops. This was definitely the case among disco dance floor divas.

Bras As A Statement Piece In The '80s

Big was big in the '80s. The hair was big, the outerwear was big and the shoulder pads were even bigger. It became popular to mix the ultra masculine look of a massive blazer with the ultra feminine lace of an alluring bra. Yes, that alone was an outfit. This was when bras and bralettes really became as much of a part of one's outfit as a skirt or a pair of pants.

Hello, '90s, Meet Boobs.

Almost everyone knows about Wonderbras, and we all have a popular ad campaign in the '90s to than for that. yes, this "Hello, boys" ad became absolutely iconic and ushered in a whole new approach to bra advertising as the 20th century ended and a new one began. You can definitely see how this was a precursor to all those Victoria Secret ads you see today, right?

Today's Bra Burdens

Currenty, we spend about $16 billion on bras a year worldwide. But as popular as they obviously are, we're starting to get a little more frustrated--and a little more savvy--about sizing. As women's busts are growing larger on average, there is a growing struggle to find easily accessible bras that accommodate them. Also, we're becoming aware of the fact that most of us are wearing the wrong bra size. Several lingerie sites have bra calculators and other tests that help customers find the right bra size without dealing with pinching underwire or slipping straps.

Which era’s bras are you most interested in? What surprised you? Do you hate bras or love ’em? Tell us in the comments!

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram.

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  • Martina

    Loved the history lesson. Also, I couldn’t believe it…the second of the two circa “1960’s & 70’s training bra” pics shown in the article
    s the exact same style as the one I started with! Back then though, circa 1971 at age 11 and “needing” – and already being – according to the department store saleslady who measured me for it – a – quote – “size 34” and “an almost, but not quite yet, a
    double-A cup” – I didn’t think of it as preparation for my later getting a “big girl bra”. but rather that it was a “big girl
    bra” and proof positive that I already, really was a “big girl” now! Thanks for bringing back that memory!

  • NicksGurl

    Awww, I liked the bra burning myth. I have quite the pair myself, so on a long day I used to wish I could go back to the ’60’s to burn my bra, lol.

  • Ashy

    Loved this article!! Its really cool to see how it all started and progressed. 🙂