The history of the bra is closely linked to the changes that have occurred throughout time in women’s social status, body image, and fashion trends. Overtime, women have used various items to either cover, shape, support, or reveal their breasts.
Bras aren’t considered simply underwear in today’s day and age, instead they are seen as an accessory with playful details which are boldly exhibited by the wearer. In this blog, we will examine the bra’s evolution from its birth to today’s modern bras that take into account the most unique taste preferences and expectations in addition to bust differences.
Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages: From Complete Nudity to Corsets
In Ancient Egypt, women generally did not cover their breasts. Even though, most Indian sculptures of the gentler sex have their upper body exposed, there are some where women’s breasts are covered by primitive bras. The well-known Ancient Greek figure depicting the Snake Goddess demonstrates the earliest version of a corset-like piece of lingerie. Later, women started wearing a piece of fabric over either one or both breasts that visually resembled a wide belt.
During the 2008 renovation of the Lengberg castle in Austria, they discovered four pieces of lace undergarments from the 15th century that resembled a bra. It becomes evident from German historical writings that a bra’s role started to change at the end of the 15th century: in addition to support, it was also expected to give the bust a more round and fuller shape.
Corsets as the predecessors of bras started obtaining an important part in the lingerie collection of wealthier women from the 16th century onwards. This was partly due to the US military council urging women to stop buying corsets in 1917 to free up to 28 000 tons of metal, which would be enough to build two warships. Feminists also supported the need for finding an alternative for corsets as they found that it would be about time to bring an end to women’s suffering.
First ‘Official’ Bra
Even though it is debatable who created the first modern bra, there are two names that tend to pop up most from history.
In 1889, French corset maker Herminie Cadolle presented a product resembling a bra at a Paris fashion show, which was actually a corset divided into two parts. The lower part worked as a waist corset and the upper part supported the bust, directing the weight onto shoulders with the aid of shoulder straps. The patented invention was sold as a separately standing product as early as 1905.
In 1914, American patron of the arts Mary Phelps Jacob patented a bra designed by her under the name ‘brassiere’. This was the birth of what we consider nowadays as a modern bra. She had sewn a prototype of a bra 4 years earlier out of two handkerchiefs that were connected by a pink ribbon. The bra created by Jacobs was soft and light, supporting the bust in a natural way.
Boyish Bandage Bra vs Feminine Underwired Bra
In the early 1920s, bras were bandage-styled as the boyish silhouette with a flat bust was in fashion. In 1927, William Rosenthal patented a nursing bra and the first ever push up bra with seams. During this period, healthcare professionals started to notice that bust care and comfort was also related to motherhood and nursing.
The name ‘brassiere’ started transforming into a shorter word ‘bra’ in the 1930s. Cup sizes were marked with the letters A to D. Band size was made adjustable through a hook closure at the back as underwired and push up bras made their way onto the market. The marketing was highly directed at younger women.
The Madonna ‘Torpedo Bra’
A large number of women worked in production in the 1940s as men were sent off to war. To protect women, they invented cone-shaped plastic ‘torpedo bras’ that were also meant to keep out immoral thoughts. Nowadays, the design is mostly associated with Madonna, who wore the ‘torpedo bra’ designed by Jean Paul Gaultier on her concert tour in 1990.
Research led by the British government in 1941 showed that the British woman owned 1,2 bras on average (housewives 0,8 and agriculture workers 1,9).
The torpedo shaped bras continued their popularity streak in the 1950s, highlighting the feminine silhouette more than before. Thanks to Hollywood celebrities like Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, bras became a glamorous fashion item.
The Sexy WonderBra
Designer Louise Poirier invented the romantic and sensual WonderBra in 1964 with 54 design elements that lifted the bust, creating a visually more fuller bust through lush pushed-up breasts. However, feminists found that bras were women’s torture instruments that forced femininity. This misinterpretation gave rise to the news that a large number of bras were burned during a protest, but this was not true.
Sports Bras and Soft Bras
With the rising popularity of fitness in the 1970s as a great way to improve one’s health, the demand for a product that would support a woman’s bust during exercising also became more of a reality. Through Lisa Lindahl, Polly Smith and Hinda Mille’s collaboration in 1977, the world’s first sports bra was made.
The 1980s was a period of experimenting in the fashion industry. Sports bras maintained their spot in the limelight while bras with soft cups started to gain popularity as well. With the emergence of silicone breast enhancements, a bra offering more support became a bigger demand among women.
Push-Up Bras and the Sensational Memory Foam
Even though WonderBra had maintained a level of popularity ever since its emergence, their true success came in the 1990s, leading to the triumph of push-up bras.
The 2000s brought with them two extreme demands. Some women wanted a seamless bra that remained as invisible as possible but the increasing proportions of women’s busts demanded for models that offered a lot of support. This led to the appearance of a new product: a one-piece seamless bra cup that was created with the aid of heat. This technology allowed for a lot of different models to emerge, for example the padded bra and T-shirt bra.
The first extremely expensive bras were also made in the same decade. Gisele Bündchen had the honour of demonstrating a 15 million dollar bra, which was the most expensive existing piece of lingerie for a while. This was until 2006, when Susan Rosen designed a bra worth 20 million dollars.
Memory foam became an essential part of a bra’s padding in the 2010s, which helped to better match the unique bust shape of each woman. Thanks to its shape retaining properties, the bra became a more personal and comfortable everyday piece of clothing for its wearer.
In comparison to the bras from a 100 years ago, today’s bras have made the necessary connection between sensuality and comfort. When wearing a more open-designed dress, women prefer to wear stick-on bras. However, at the same time, a lot of clothing nowadays presents no need for a bra at all.
BonBon Lingerie’s Bras - Handmade Beauties
If the first BonBon Lingerie products were made between the comforting walls of a home, today the company has grown into a big production with fifty sewing machines, wherefrom handmade feminine collections start their journey to the lingerie collections of women in Estonia as well as abroad.
The lingerie fairies overlooking BonBon’s daily process of creating sexy lingerie mention that women’s taste preferences in terms of models depend highly on what fashion trends are relevant at the time. When comparing lingerie trends today with the ones 15 years ago, the softer models are slowly knocking push-up bras off of their high pedestal. Additionally, influencers today are proudly promoting both sporty as well as otherwise comfortable lingerie.
Modern day bras are characterised by body-friendliness and stretchiness. The wide variety of materials used are lace, tricot, mesh, ring ribbons, plastic/metal bones (corset boning), hoops, cups, shoulder straps, elastics, decorative details, hooks, rings, and extenders. A bra has about 12 detailed steps and it takes around 25 minutes to create one by hand. According to our talented seamstresses, the easiest models to make are triangle bras, and the most difficult are push-up and underwired bras. Luxurious silk and non-stretchy lace materials shine at the forefront of uncooperative materials.
In comparison to the past, BonBon has adjusted the selection of materials and models to ensure a familiar characteristic for our clients that runs through all of our collections - a strong sense of comfort and an overall perfect fit. This way, women don’t have to give up their favourite models and can indulge in new seductions without taking any unnecessary risks. Anyone can find their favourite bra from BonBon Lingerie’s wide product range. We have both classic bras as well as our sensual boudoir collections, women with smaller bust sizes can find their perfect match as well as beauties with lusciously fuller busts.
Our Client Favourite BonBon Bras Throughout the Years
Especially fitting for women whose body type is a pear or who want to highlight their natural characteristics. Style examples can be found in the Infinity collection.
Especially fitting for women whose body type is a rectangle or who love to visually make their bust area temptingly fuller. Style examples can be found in the CeCe, Angelina, Ayame and Burgundy Blush collections.
Especially fitting for women whose body type is an apple. Style examples can be found in the Lilian collection.
Even though the basic design of the bra has not changed significantly, the additions made over the last 100 years offer a good overview of how the ideal woman has been portrayed through the ages: boyish, curvy, with sharply pointed breasts, natural.
We in BonBon Lingerie deeply believe that a perfect woman is a woman who loves and values her unique beauty.
Read our blog to find out your specific body type and what to look for when buying lingerie.