site logo: Breast Form FAQ
Revised: Mar. 31, 2003
site logo: Breast Form FAQ
 History of the bra
 2500 BC
Minoan women on the island of Crete wear bra-like garments that lift the bare breast out of their clothing.

Roman and Greek women choose restraint instead for their fashions - using a band strapped around their breasts to reduce their bust size.

 1550s AD
Catherine de Médicis, wife of King Henri II of France enforces ban on "thick waists" at court functions through the introduction of the steel corset. The corset becomes the dominant undergarment (in various designs) of support and restraint for the next 350 years.

US patents registered for first known bra-like devices.

Corsets fall out of style for about 10 years.

Corsets come back in fashion with a vengeance. Severe corset "training" is common which reduces waists to such unhealthy levels that ribs and internal organs become deformed. Controversy over corseting health risks ensues.

Designer Susan Taylor Converse creates a no-bones/eyelets/laces/pulleys garment called the "Union Under-Flannel", made from wool fabrics. Manufacturers George Frost and George Phelps patent it. [1]

Corset-maker Herminie Cadolle invents a bra-like garment called "Bien-être" ('Well-Being'.) Resembling a "Victorian bikini", its main differentiating feature from regular corsets is that the breasts are supported by the shoulders rather than squeezed up from below with traditional corset designs. Although marketed as a health aid beginning in 1889 in a Paris department store ad, the item does not gain widespread notice.

Marie Tucek patents the "Breast Supporter". The garment includes separate pockets for each breast, shoulder straps, and hook-and-eye closures, making it the earliest known design to be similar to modern-day bras.

Vogue magazine first uses the term "brassiere", which comes from the old French word for 'upper arm'. Before this, bra-like devices were known by another French term "soutien-gorge" (literally, "throat support" or "breast support".)

The term "brassiere" first appears in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Dissatisfied with the idea of having to wear a heavy corset underneath a new sheer evening gown she just bought for a social event, socialite Mary Phelps Jacob improvises a garment from two silk handkerchiefs and some ribbon.

After considerable interest from friends, Mary Phelps Jacob applies for a patent (under the business name "Caresse Crosby") on November 3 for her "Backless Brassiere" design, which is basically the same garment that she previously improvised. This "brassiere" was very lightweight, soft, and separated the breasts naturally. Unlike Marie Tucek's 1893 design, Jacob's garment did not have cups to support the breasts, but flattened them instead. Jacob markets the "Backless Brassiere" garment until she tires of the business and sells the patent to Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for $1,500. Warner's reportedly made over 15 million dollars over the next 30 years from the patent.

World War I forces women into the work-force. Many women begin working in factories and wearing uniforms, making the use of daily corset wear a problem.

The U.S. War Industries Board requests women to stop buying corsets to reduce the consumption of metal. Sources say up to 28,000 tons of metal was conserved through this effort - "enough to build two battleships."

Warner introduces a tight, chest-flattening bra, in keeping with the Flapper styles of the day.

Ida Rosenthal, a Russian immigrant, and her husband William found Maidenform. Ida is responsible for the creation of bust size categories (cup sizes) and developed bras for every stage of life - puberty to maturity.

The shortened form of the word "brassiere" - the "bra" becomes popular.

Warner produces the first popular all-elastic bra, which shows off a woman's curves.

Warner's creates the cup sizing system (A to D), which becomes the system commonly used by all manufacturers throughout the world.

Common fabric materials (cotton, rubber, silk and steel) are in short supply, so manufacturers turn to synthetic fabrics.

The first bikini swimwear is introduced in Paris.

Sources: [1 - Discrepancy about 1875 events/names]

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