A relatively new invention, the bra has actually only been around since the 1800s. From home made hanky bustiers, to bra burning feminists, to today’s wide array of colors, sizes, brands and styles, the history of the bra has largely been the result of the needs and desires of women. Fortunately for us ladies, since its inception, bra designers continue to enhance and improve bra comfort and other features.
Bra history dates back to about 1914 with the first patented bra design attributed to a New York trendsetter named Mary Phelps Jacob. Frustrated with the customary uncomfortable and restrictive corsets, Ms. Jacob created what we now consider to be the first brassiere. A simple design, but it did the trick. Later dubbed the “backless brassiere,” this bra consisted of two handkerchiefs sewn together with a pink ribbon that tied behind one’s neck. The style took off amongst Jacob’s social circle of other upper class women; unlike the corset, these swanky new backless brassieres were better suited to be worn with more revealing evening wear.
After this hanky style brassiere was conceived, the history of the bra moved away from constricting corsets to our more comfortable and practical modern style bra. It wasn’t until the 1920s that a bra with two distinctly separate cups was manufactured. These first cup style supports were called “Kestos.” The Kestos consisted of two pieces of fabric fastened together with buttons in the front, elastic shoulder straps, and a band that was attached around the bottom. Although these bras offered little support in comparison to today’s bust bolsters, they look similar in appearance to our modern style bra.
Later in the 1920s, the Maidenform brand was developed. Still a popular brand today, Maidenform also developed the first pre-teen training style and maternity bra. It wasn’t until the mid 1930s that varying cup sizes for bras were first introduced. Apparently, until then, breasts were thought of as a “one size fits all.” Eventually created by the Warner Bra brand, women could now choose between A, B, C, and D sized cups.
It was during this same period of intense transition and transformation for breast support, that the term “brassiere” was more or less abandoned in favor of the now common abbreviation, bra. In a relatively short time span, the bra has come a long way. So next time you’re cursing your bra in the fitting room, step back, take a momeant, and just be glad you are not trying to tie your breasts up with a handkerchief!