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A Brief History of The Modern Day Bra

Every morning, many of us slip on some kind of bra while getting dressed. Strapping one of these bad girls on has become second nature for most. We're so accustomed to the ritual that we don't stop to think about the origin of the bra…

Do you know how the first bra came to be or what it was made with? Maybe you're curious about the look of that first bra. It's surprisingly not far from some styles that fill the stores today.

Let's take a look at the bra evolution over the past 100 years.

The 1910s:

Mary P Jacob was the heroine we all need to thank as we fasten our bras. Mary was a Manhattan socialite who was fed up with her bulky corset while getting ready for a party one evening. She and her housemaid dreamt up the brilliant idea to fashion a bra using two handkerchiefs and a long pink ribbon. And thus, the first-known modern bra was born. Jacob patented her creation but was unsuccessful at marketing it and later sold the rights to Warner's Corset Company.

The 1920s:

The roaring 20s brought on a time of jazz, prosperity, and carefree living. Women began participating in sports, dancing, and driving cars. This meant that a new style of less-structured bras was needed to allow women a full range of motion. The bandeau style bra was introduced to flatten you down and keep cleavage hidden away. The flat-chested flapper look became so popular that one bra company even named itself Boyishform to show how seriously it took the trend of the moment.

The 1930s:

Say bon voyage to the flattened flapper and hello curve city! The 1930s introduced padding, underwire, and alpha-numeric cup sizing. During this time, more than ever before, the bra industry became about form and fit. Still, many years from using the modern stretch fabrics and elastics we use now, this is where the 4" to 5" adding method for bra band sizing originated. Originally, bras were made out of woven fabrics, so adding to your underbust measurement was essential to get the right size. Movie starlets of the time like, Marlene Dietrich wanted their breasts to appear as perky as possible.

The 1940s:

Is that a weapon you're wearing? Bras in the 40s reflected the mood of the time, and the bullet bra was born! These trendy bras of the time were fashioned without underwires and with the ability to give you an extra cup size; these bras were all the rage at the time. WW2 changed everything for women. Women began working in the factories and needed SUPPORT more than ever before. This is also around when underwires started coming more into play--though they were more fully adopted later.

The 1950s:

The 50s were known as the sweater era. And thanks to those tight-fitting twinsets, breasts were getting more attention than ever. New materials were coming into play, allowing for more innovation and fun in the lingerie space. Women all over the country were influenced by Hollywood starlets like Jayne Mansfield and Sophia Loren. And there were more bra options than ever - push-up, strapless, padded, spiral stitched, front-closure, and falsies. Va-Va VOOM!

The 1960s:

The 60s felt a lot like the early 1900s all over again--but more extreme and with more rebel vibes. Instead of tossing their corsets, women everywhere ditched their bras as a sign of support for the women's movement. For those who still fancied their lingerie wardrobe, the introduction of nylon and synthetic materials got a little more interesting. Makers could now do more exciting things at more affordable prices. In addition, the innovation in elastics and fibers meant that bras and undies could fit better than ever. The WonderBra was invented in 1964 by Louise Poirier and had over 50 design elements.

The 1970s:

In the 70s, a wear-if-you-want, politics-is-more-important sentiment led to the 'au natural' look. The natural movement led to earth tones, soft jerseys, and the introduction of the barely-there bralettes that still exist today. This time was also when women participating in sports became more common-place. This meant we needed a new option for something to support us during all our activities. The 'jog bra' was invented in 1977 by Lisa Lindahl, leading the way for all our future sports bras.

The 1980s:

In the 80s, bras broke the glass ceiling. They became a fashion centerpiece, not just something to be worn underneath your clothes. With the help of Jean Paul Gaultier, Madonna shocked the public when she wore a missile bra as a top during her Blond Ambition Tour. After that, showing off your bra became a popular way to feature your assets--deep plunging necklines and styles designed to be seen started hitting the red carpets and runways everywhere.

The 1990s:

Hello, cleavage! The iconic WonderBra sold over 3,000 units in its first 10 days in store. The skyrocketing popularity helped the push-up bra become a staple in our underwear drawers. Victoria's Secret rose to fame during this period, especially picking up speed once they dropped the sophisticated English look for something more suggestive.

The 2000s:

When it comes to the 2000s and lingerie, it's hard not to think about Victoria's Secret and Pink. The brand and fashion shows reached their peak in the new millennium. A significant rise in interest in VS's televised shows came from unveiling the Fantasy Bra, which made its first debut in 1996. Victoria's Secret's Fantasy Bras were the height of glamour because they were adorned with diamonds and other precious stones. Cost for these coveted bras soared into the millions. Did they sell any of these to real people? I'm not so sure, but they sure looked pretty.

The 2010s:

Memory foam is no longer just for mattresses and pillows. In 2009, the first-ever memory foam bra was created. The cup was made to conform to the shape of your chest and react to body temperature. After that, the race to create the best t-shirt bra (and brand) was on, and many companies started bubbling up, trying to dethrone some angels. The rise of DTC apparel startups during this time gave way to companies like Adore Me, Savage x Fenty, ThirdLove, Skims, True & Co, and many others.

While there's been quite a lot of evolution in this space, more can be accomplished if we work together. Are you curious to help co-create a better bra? Our new brand iteration is hard at work creating the bra of your dreams. Go check out the page and learn about our community so you can have a say in the future of bras. We're excited to hear from you!


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