We pay tribute to the bra, a device that has provided enduring support to women across cultures, careers, and cup sizes for generations. Appreciation for the brassiere begins with an understanding of the societal and scientific progression throughout the decades. As with any social and technological movement, it’s important to review major advancements throughout history to fully appreciate the present and look forward to future developments. The development of the brassiere has been dependent on three major ideals including social status, emerging fashion trends, and evolving views of the body.
The 16th Century to the 20th Century – Beginning around the 16th century and continuing into the late 19th/early 20th century, corsets were the most common undergarment support. The purpose of the corset is to push breasts upwards and shape the rest of the torso. In the Western world it was used by the wealthier class of women due to fashions, expense and assistance needed to get into the apparatus. Toward the late 19th century, an invention more closely resembling the modern-day bra began replacing the commonly used corset. Archeologists recently discovered what looks to be an original prototype of a bra or ‘breastbag’ in Lengberg Castle, Austria dating back to around the 15th century. In the mid to late 19th century many designers were granted patents for their advanced, undergarment inventions that introduced characteristics that more similarly represented the modern look of the bra. The bra-like apparatuses made definite strides away from the thick, restricting corset and toward a more lightweight, comfortable option for breast support. In the early 20th century as fashions continued to modernize, contemporary undergarments that provided support and flattered the new styles of dress became more and more of a necessity for women.
As corsets became shorter, and consequently less supportive, the U.S. began discussing whether their participation in the first world war was still avoidable. In 1917, Wilson saw no other alternative but to join the Allies in World War I. The U.S. War Industries Board requested that women stop buying corsets to save the metal for war production, an initiative that saved about 28,000 tons of metal.– “Inventor of the Week Archive”. November 2001. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
The war not only affected corset production, but gender roles all together. When men joined the army and went off to war, women replaced their positions in the factory and started working in previously male-dominated job sectors. As women’s careers became less domesticated and more liberated, so did their roles in society. The strict control of the corset was deserted, replaced by the “bust bodice” or early brassiere which was openly advertised and displayed prominently in department stores such as Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward around 1918. Correlating positively to women’s physical liberation, legislation was passed putting an end to female oppression and by 1919 women earned the right to vote.