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Friday 23 March 2018

A Brief History of the Brassiere

Image showing a young woman wearing lace underwear on a sumptuous bed.
Our relationship with the brassiere is one of love / hate. Many women say it's the first thing they take off when they get home.

But like them or loathe them, our figures would be considerably worse without the support, particularly as we get older.

Most women fondly remember their first bra. I was 12 when I got mine, and it was well overdue. At the time floral bras were all the rage and I bought a blue one in BHS, without being measured.  I randomly chose the size 32 AAA  (yes, three As) and it was far too small, but I carried on wearing it until my mum finally caved in and bought me a pair of pink and mauve floral bras from Marks and Spencer.

Who invented the Bra?

The question of "who invented the brassiere?" turns out to be quite complex.

There are claims made for several inventors, among them the aptly-named Otto Titzling. It was claimed that in 1912 he invented a contraption for the large bosom of an opera singer in his boarding house. But it turns out to be untrue.

Clara P. Clark invented the “improved corset” in 1874, and Olivia P. Flynt’s 1876 “bust supporter” could possibly be pointed to as the original brassiere.

Mary Phelps Jacob received a patent in 1914 for the first brassiere design that is recognized as the basis for modern bras Mass production in the early-20th century made the garment widely available to women in the United States, England, Western Europe, and other countries influenced by western fashion. This is her design, using a pair of silk hankies:
Image showing the patent design by Mary Phelps Jacob for a bra-like invention in 1914.
It wasn't until the early 1930s that brassieres became commonplace. It was shortened to the common "bra" and large-scale production began. But more importantly, cup sizes become a thing. S.H. Camp and Company correlated sizes of a woman's breasts to letters of the alphabet (A through D)

Bra Fashions

The "Torpedo shape" was popular in the 1940s and briefly came back in fashion when Jean-Paul Gaultier designed one for Madonna in 1990. It briefly spawned a trend of wearing a bras as outerwear.
Images showing Madonna in the iconic cone shaped bra designed for her by Jean-Paul Gaultier in 1990.
The Wonderbra, the first "push up" bra, has been around since 1964 and was invented by a Canadian company. One of the company's billboards famously featured Eva Herzigová's cleavage with the slogan "Hello boys" in 1994, and was said to have caused car accidents.

In 1977 the first sports bra came along, and also in that year the retailer Victoria's Secret came into being. The Victoria's Secret annual fashion show is famous for its jewel encrusted bras, as seen here on Gisele Bundchen, in a set valued at $15m.
Image showing Gisele Bundchen in a jewel encrusted bra valued at more than $15m
Today it's possible to get bras in every conceivable shape and material. Long line bras and softer styles such as "bralettes" have returned to fashion. Here's a non-padded bralette from Marks and Spencer. M&S still dominates the lingerie sector in the UK which is worth UK underwear market is worth £1.5bn. Soozie Jenkinson from M&S told Draper's Record: "This is very dynamic market, where there’s a lot going on. We have a 35% market share in bras, and we sell more than 21 million bras every year. Success is about anticipating trends and looking forward, to fashion trends, lifestyle trends, textile trends – it all goes in the creative pot."

We're bigger boobed nowadays

The bras we're wearing have got bigger. The average bra size in the UK is now 36DD. In the 70s, it was 34B. This is mainly due to the fact that the average woman in the UK is becoming increasingly heavier.

Getting measured

One of the messages from bra retailers is the need for women to get measured, and fairly frequently, as sizes can fluctuate as we age or lose/gain weight. Most women don't, it's fair to say, and some are wearing bras that are far too small for them. I've never been measured professionally, and the main reason is I feel sure they will put me in a bra with a smaller back size, and I hate that "tight" feeling plus the risk of back fat overhang.

Ladies - what's your experience on bra fitting?  Good, bad? 

And what do you remember of your first bra?  Do tell in the comments below.

For further reading

Shopping for the large bust


Shopping for the smaller bust


Mastectomy specialists


Sharing this post with Weekend Link Up at Claire Justine,  Fake It Until You Make It at Fake Fabulous, Saturday Share at Not Dressed as Lamb and #BloggerClubUK at My Random Musings

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  1. We have a fantastic lingerie shop in the town where I live. I had put off going in to be measured but once I had and been given a variety of shapes and sizes to try on I realised just how uncomfortable I had been when left to my own devices! I now know what styles suit me and always go back to be remeasured whenever I need some new undies. It

  2. Good to hear, Debs! I'm sure it's the reason most of us find bras so uncomfortable - the underwires are in the wrong place and so on.

  3. Always enjoy your well-researched posts. Oh, how I need to lose some weight from my "girls" and everywhere else, but the girls have grown so heavy and my bras so uncomfortable. I really, really don't want to buy new ones but maybe it is time. So expensive! Yet I wear one everyday.

    Interesting how the size of the average woman's breasts in the UK has increased. I am sure it has increased even more in the U.S. Sadly, I don't think I was ever a B!

  4. Ha, I remember Madonna wearing all these bra's. I really could do with being measured. Something I have never had done. Thanks for sharing at Welcome To The Weekend Blog Hop have a lovely weekend.


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