Bra Basics: The History, Care and Feeding (Part 1 of 2)

A Blast into the Past

Bra History
No woman likes wearing a bra. It’s usually the first thing we take off when arriving home after a day away. Its straps can dig. Its band can squeeze. It’s wires can bind.


A bra is confining. Uncomfortable. But the bras today are not as uncomfortable as they once were. Let’s take a look.


After four centuries of women being imprisoned and constricted by corsets, France’s Herminie Cadolle revolutionized the garment by dividing it into two parts: the top half, which boasted straps, was dubbed the corset gorge, or corset bra; the bottom half became a precursor of the girdle. By 1905, Cadolle was selling the corset bra separately.



A full century later, American socialite Caresse Crosby debuted what many call the first modern bra in 1910. Patented in 1914, it consisted of two handkerchiefs sewn together with several ribbon straps.

The allegedly scandalous Ms. Crosby not only launched the first patented modern bra, she and one of her many husbands was considered the “literary godmother to the Lost Generation of expatriate writers in Paris,” to include Ernest Hemingway, Archibald MacLeish, Henry Miller and Anais Nin.



During the Roaring Twenties, the curve-alicious corseted look of the previous four decades gave way to a boyish, non-curvilinear look that was all the rage. The ‘20s flapper fashion required flimsy, bust-flattening bandeaux.

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Backlash against the less feminine figure of the Prohibition Era brought about a more voluptuous fashion figure in the ‘30s that lasted through the ‘50s. To ensure better fitting, more curve-alicious lingerie, bra cup sizes were introduced in 1932.


Add to that the “bullet bra,” a conical pointed Chansonette bra that took Hollywood by storm in 1949, and you’ll know why American women jumped on the bullet-bra bandwagon.


Singer Patti Page wearing the “bullet bra,” circa 1955.



Women opt for more comfortable unstructured bra designs, to include the first sports version. Named the “jog bra,” it was made from two sewn-together jockstraps. (Testosterone Alert: Now men can understand why women dislike bras as much as they dislike jockstraps.)



Although patented in 1893, the push-up bra, marketed as the WonderBra, wasn’t introduced until an entire century later.



Madonna literally staged a fashion furor wearing a retro bullet bra undergarment designed by Jean Paul Gaultier as outerwear. It fetched $52,000 at a 2012 auction.



Molded cup T-shirt bras and self-adhesive silicon-cup bras are all the rage. And bra sizes above a D cup are introduced to the masses, thanks to Oprah.



Pared-down “bralettes” worn by models du jour Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner hit the red carpet and retail stores alike.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of 2 in the next few weeks. We’ll talk about how to choose the correct size bra as well as its “care and feeding.”

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