Brassiere Evolution: from handkerchiefs to padded bras
By Sewe Ishola
Wanting a better lift and less constriction than the corsets of the past gave her, American socialite, Mary Phelps Jacob, constructed the first ever brassiere in 1914, from two silk handkerchiefs and, with help from her maid, sewed them together using some pink ribbon for straps. Seeing that it was a hit, she registered the patent and brassiere was born!
We might call it bra nowadays but, it used to go by the name brassieres. Bras also come in fancy and sophisticated cuts nowadays, in an amazing array of fabrics, and a long way from the ingenuity of Jacob.
Recently, Mark and Spencer, who has been producing bras for over 90 years, opened his doors and shared some sizzling photos from all the way back.
This simple white cotton bra sold by M&S in 1926 had not moved on much from the original model 12 years earlier.
M&S made bras in feminine satin shades of white, peach and baby pink in the 1930s. The eyehook was introduced and the abbreviation ‘bra’ was used for the first time. The eyehook was also introduced for easier fastening and the abbreviation ‘bra’ was used for the first time.
The Second World War, brought about some rationing even in clothing but this bra, made in stiff peach satin, provided a little more support than earlier models. The 40s bra had adjustable straps and a hook fastening.
Bras were conical in shape in the 1950s with generous cup sizes, big enough to be filled with ‘falsies’ – padding inserted into the bra to give the impression of a larger bosom – for ladies dissatisfied with their natural curves.
In the 60s, falsies were out and Playtex introduced the ‘cross your heart’ bra that promised to ‘lift and separate’.
In the 70s, the feminist movement was in full stride and those who hadn’t burned their bras were demanding them in more vibrant and psychedelic shades. Bras were closely tailored for control with thick panelling down the sides and gently scalloped, lace edging.
The 1980s saw women’s fashion was somewhat masculine with the arrival of the ‘power suit’. Women wanted to look and feel tough in the board room, but demanded something, soft, feminine and floaty to be worn beneath those tailored shirts and jackets.
It was a war of cleavage bearing bras in the 1990s.
By the 2000s, breasts were getting bigger. Women had gained weight and the increasing popularity of breast implants meant that the average bust measurement was now bigger.
The designs in 2010s were heavily influenced by vintage fashions of the Fifties, with the use of silk florals and French lace.
What an interesting history of one of the most widely used female undergarment.
Photo credits: Daily Mail.