Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Briefly about bras

I talked about bras in the corset and girdles posts, but it’s a garment that deserves a post on its own. Breast supports of some kind have probably been around since people started to wear clothes. There is a Roman mosaic that depicts exercising girls clad in something that looks quite a lot like a modern bikini.

As it is quite easy to support breasts with a piece of fabric that you tie around them, no sewing necessary, I think it’s quite safe to assume that some kind of breast support has been in continuous use in Europe, but there is very little hard evidence. However, there were some findings in 2008 that seems to show that bra-lime garments were in use. The stays in use from the 16th century to the end of the 18th worked as breast support, but in the Regency period garments that were just meant to support the chest came into use, presumably if you were slim enough to be able to forego a corset.

During the 19th century there were other attempts to something bra like, like Mortimer Clarke’s protobra from 1884. Meant more to hold up the skirt than to support the breast, I think. It seems like a vastly uncomfortable contraption, nevertheless.

The start of the modern bra came in the beginning of the 20th century and in 1911 it was established enough to earn the word brassiere a place in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Mary Phelps Jacob bra patent from 1914.

The bra in the 1920’s wasn’t meant to draw attention to the breasts but rather to flatten them and make them inconspicuous. A bra was little more than a bandeau with shoulder straps. Nevertheless they were dainty pieces in sheer silk or cotton.

In the 1930’s the bra started to look more like a modern bra. Though they didn’t flaunt the breast they were supporting, they did support them a whole lot more than in the twenties. The patterns got more complicated with seams that helped to give the bra a certain form.

And this bra from Ferraro Paris looks very modern to me, though the hair and make-up dates it.

In the forties the breast came more into focus and the cut of the bra more complicated. I love this advert series for Adola from 1942 that show different seam placements.

The rather low bust line that had been in fashion from the early 20th century and onwards now rose and the shape got distinctly pointier toward the end of the decade.

The sweater girl is, after all, an invention of the 40’s, even if she spilled over into the fifties.

The bullet bra is, I think, forever linked to the 1950's.

And some bra didn’t stop at just making the breast shape pointy; they did them extremely perky too…

However, this bra has a more natural shape and lift.

Quite common in the 50's was to provide the underwear models with glasses. I guess the idea was to de-sexualize them, but I suspect it led to men finding glasses much sexier instead...

A more comprehensive History of the bra.

(Picture sources: http://www.firstpr.com.au/show-and-tell/corsetry-1/permae.jpg


Anonymous said...

What an entertaining & educating post...!
Isn't it called edutainment these days...?

Miss Rosie Beau said...

Wow that was really interesting. I never knew the bra evolved so quickly into what we know today.

Kristina said...

Hi Isis!Thank You for a interesting post. I am curios about theories about the fashionable size and shape of brests. The more liberated/revolutioneray the times the more childish the silhuette i guess...

Sari said...

Great post, I'm fascinated by the history of underpinnings! It's always been fascinating to me to see how drastically fashionable bust silhouettes change throughout different historical eras.

Isis said...

Jannie: LOL. I have never heard that expression before. :)

Miss Rosie Beau: Glad you enjoyed it!

Kristina: Well, I don't think that's completely true. Small breasts were fashionable in the Middle Ages for example, and that period wasn't very liberated. :) There's an insteresting book about the history of the female breast, "Bröstens historia" by Marilyn Yalom.

Sari: Me too! And tehre are so much more to say about it than I have. :)

APenNameAndThatA said...

The glasses reciprocated/rhymed-with the shape of the bra.

Mary Finley said...

Thanks for sharing, this was interesting! It's crazy to think about how much fashion bras have evolved over the years.

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