The history of the bra is delicately woven with social history, woman’s status in society and the evolution of fashion and cultural perception of the female body.
Throughout the ages women have taken to use a variety of devices, fabrics and garments to modify, support cover, uphold or restrain their breasts.
Over one-hundred years ago, Mary Phelps Jacobs was issued a patent for a garment she had invented in the course of preparing for a dance. This garment was the first “official” bra as we know it today.
But alas, the bra was not actually “invented” in the 1900’s. Bras have been supporting, shaping an upholding breasts for ages…literally.
In fact, the first bras date all the way back to ancient Greece. Back then they didn’t have fancy straps, clasps and padding. These bras were a much simpler version of what women use today. Back then bras consisted mainly of woven or carefully wrapped fabric affixed across the breasts and pinned or tied in the back to hold them in place.
Sports bras or bikinis (though these words did not yet exist) have been depicted as far back as the 14th century BC on female athletes.
In the late 19th century, bras replaced the corset as the most widely used means of breast support. As for the “brassiere”, this concept (a derivative of the words “upper arm” in French) originated around 1907 with the first designs coming from the DeBevoise Company. After gaining widespread adoption, the word “brassiere” was officially granted access as an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.
By the early 20th century items resembling what we would consider a contemporary modern bra had emerged, though mass production and adoption did not take place until around the 1930’s.
By the time World War II had ended, most fashion forward women of N. America and Western Europe were wearing bras regularly. From there, this fashion “trend” spread to most of Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Throughout the later 20th century a greater emphasis was placed on the fashion of the bra itself, with designs evolving over time into a wide range of styles and fittings.
Today, woman have many more choices than in the past, with fashion, comfort and utility taking a front seat.