Quasi-Anniversary Of The Bra

Fleshbot, perhaps just going off the word of the article they link to, calls 2007 the 100th anniversary of the bra.

This is partially correct — if one is going off the use of the term “brassiere” by Vogue magazine — for in 1907 the publication first uses the term, which comes from the old French word for ‘upper arm’. Before this, bra-like devices were known by another French term “soutien-gorge” which literally translates to “throat support” or “breast support”.

It’s interesting to note that there was a name change when little had changed that year…

But we need to back up a bit to get the whole picture.

In the 1800s women wore, in addition to their chemise and pantaloons etc, corsets — the history of which can be found here. In 1863 Luman Chapman invented the “Breast Supporter” which was like a corselette — sort of half corset which ended a few inches below the breastline. The selling point was that it would decrease friction from corsets. At this time the invention was not popular for Victorians who believed that the only ones who would go in public without a full corset were “loose” women & prostitutes.

Then, in 1889 corset-maker Herminie Cadolle invents a bra-like garment called “Bien-être” (‘Well-Being’), which resembled what you might call a Victorian bikini. The main thing that made this different from regular corsets was that the breasts were supported by the shoulders rather than squeezed up from below with traditional corset designs. It was marketed as a health aid in Paris department store ads, but does not gain widespread notice.

But by the 1890s, stores began to see strong mail-order sales of Luman Chapman’s “Breast Supporter,” and by the 1910s they sold well in stores.

During this time, 1893, Marie Tucek patented her “Breast Supporter” which is the most like our modern bras: separate pockets for each breast, straps that went over the shoulders, and fastened with hook and eye closures.

Perhaps with all this attention to and sales from securing breasts Vougue decides to pay attention to the lingerie, dubbing them “brassieres”.

Just a few years later Mary Phelps Jacobs, having bought a sheer evening gown which obviously didn’t work quite right with the whaleback bones and steel rods of corsets, took two silk handkerchiefs, some pink ribbon and fastened them together to make what we now call a bra. (With the help of her maid ‘Marie’, whose last name is lost in history as far as I can tell.)

Mary (under the name Caresse Crosby) got a patent in November of 1913 for her “Backless Brassiere” design, which was very lightweight, separated the breasts naturally, but also flattened them. They were wildly popular with her friends (likely in the budding flapper community), but Mary wasn’t able to create enough publicity for her invention. So in 1914 she sold the patent to Warners Brothers Corset Company, for $1500. Warners went on to make a $15 million profit within two years.

In 1917 the U.S. War Industries Board called on women to stop buying corsets. This freed up some 28,000 tons of metal for World War I — and cemented the death of the corset as a daily foundation garment, securing the bra neatly in its place.

Lingerie ad via AdClassix.com.

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