Bra history – What does the Eiffel Tower and your bra have in common? What really happened in Paris 1889? To find an answer we need to travel back in time, 127 years to be exact…
It was the same year as the Eiffel Tower was built. The high tower made of steel was designed to function as a temporary entrance to the World Exhibition held in Paris the same year. It was exactly one decade ago since the French Revolution had taken place. Therefore they wanted to build the installations for the exhibition extra lavish and grand. The French woman Herminie Cadolle was on the other hand constructing something much smaller… A creation of wired steel which she carefully wound silk ribbons around.
At that time, it would have been impossible to imagine how these two things, still 100 years later, would define the city of Paris and everyday life for women all over the world. The hand-crafted bra Herminie made is called the first bra in the world. Before that point in time, the bust was supported and harshly pressed against the body by a corset.
But already before Herminie Cadolle created her bra, there were precursors as far back in time as to the ancient Greek society. There you could find portraits of women (amongst others the snake goddess Minoan) with a corset. This corset supports the bust from underneath, but leaves the breasts themselves fully exposed. (No one can accuse the ancient Greeks for being prude).
The modern bra
The modern backless bra, as we know it today, saw the day of light in 1914. American Mary Phelps Jacobs wanted to wear a dress with a waist of lace to a dinner. The feathers and wires of her corset would then extend and show underneath her dress when she tried it on. She solved the problem by creating a bra of two napkins which she tied together and fastened with a rope and a band. After some time creating several bras for her friends and relatives, she patented her creation and sold the rights to Warner Corset Company for $1500.
Some year later, during the First World War, women were encouraged to stop using their corset since the metal used while making them were better needed for the war. They saved enough metal to be able to build two aero planes. It was during this period the bra became popular and was soon worn by everyone, or rather – every woman.
The bra get its cup size
It was during the 1930s when letters were first used to describe the cups. The letters were introduced by the company S.H. Camp & Company. At first they were not intended to describe the cup size, but rather how firm (?) your bust was. During the 50s when the majority of the companies and media started to use todays letter system for sizing the cup. Before then the bras were called Small, Medium and Large. Long before cup sizes were introduced, sizing problems were solved by making the cups in a flexible material that would adjust after different sizes of the bust.
5 quick facts about bras
- Underwire bras were first used in the 1930s
- Push-up bras became more popular during the 1990s, but is considered to have been created by Fredericks of Hollywood in 1947. It was also Frederick of Hollywood who introduced the padded cup.
- The first sports bra was made in the 70s by two jocks that were sewn together.
- The most popular colour for a bra is, and has always been, white.
- The most common bra size we sell at Trofé is 85C.
From steel construction to modern days underwire bras and wireless bras
Apart from being laced up, to give the impression of a waist as thin as a thread, the corsets role was also to give the bust minimum attention as well as volume. Today we experience quite the opposite while padded cups and push-up bra models become increasingly popular. While it was first developed as a separate piece of garment, the bra has with time become smaller and smaller.
At the end of the 60s it became popular for the very first time to toss the bra. To burn bras at the stake were even organized events to demonstrate that women no longer wanted to be oppressed by uncomfortable bras. The bras of today are fortunately much more comfortable than yesterday’s constructions. Pleasant and comfortable materials that will shape around your body, adjustable shoulder straps, and softer underwires have worked wonders. We should all be grateful for not having to lace our corsets every day, and that the shape wear of today are not built around an uncomfortable steel construction with sharp bones from wales. Thanks to the wide and extensive offers of bras we have today, the need for making own inventions to feel comfortable in a bra, has luckily disappeared.
However, today we may have too many offers. With an immense variety of bra models and sizes, as many as 80% of women wear the wrong bra size. Especially women with a larger bust seem to have difficulties to find the right size in this jungle of bras. Anyhow, it does not have to be complicated or difficult. In the following articles here on the blog we will give you simple tips on how to find a bra with ease, so please come back and visit our blog soon.
Photo from Metropolitan Museum of Art (corset 1885), Boston Museum of History (Bra 1915), Heraklion Archaeological Museum (Minoan).