From Function to Fashion: The Rise of the Brassiere

Some consider brassieres a fashion accessory, while others consider them a burden. However, most women consider them a necessary part of their daily look.  The brassiere (or “bra” for short) is a staple of most women’s wardrobes. It has been in existence in some form since the 14th century BC.  The bra was a part of most women’s closets by the early 20th century. 

From Corset To Brassiere

While garments similar to bras have been found as ancient artifacts, the modern bra didn’t truly come into vogue until the late 19th century.  From the Renaissance era and onward, the corset played a critical role in women’s dress.  There were two driving forces that caused the transition from the corset to the bra:

  • Health Concerns: Though they received significant push back from proponents of corsets, many physicians warned about their use. They maintained that corsets could be the cause of skin issues, digestive ailments, and gynecological problems.
  • Clothing Reform Movement: Given the restrictive nature of corsets, many groups began advocating for their elimination as part of the drive to increase women’s participation in society.  These groups included the Rational Dress Society, the National Dress Reform Association, and the Reform Dress Association.

As concern about the corset increased, the brassiere was developed as a viable alternative.

Who Gets Credit for the Invention of the Bra

It’s unclear who gets to take credit for inventing the modern-day bra.  A number of inventions were created and patents were issued for similar garments in the 19th century:

  • Henry S. Lesher: Henry was granted a patent in 1863 for a “corset substitute.”
  • Olivia Flynt: Olivia received four patents in 1876 for a garment called the “Flynt Waist.”
  • Hermine Cadolle: This French woman is said to have invented the first modern bra in 1889.
  • Marie Tucek: In 1893, Marie was granted a patent for a piece of clothing that closely resembled the modern bra. Her invention was the precursor of the underwire bra.
  • Sigmund Lindauer: This German developed the first bra to go to mass production in 1912.
  • Mary Phelps Jacob: Later known as Caresse Crosby, this 19-year-old socialite and her maid created a unique bra by tying silk handkerchiefs together with some ribbon and a cord.  She was granted a patent but sold her rights to it. The purchaser of the patent would go on to make millions in revenue.

By the 1930s, the word “brassiere” was shortened to “bra” and standardized sizes were created.  This item of clothing was eventually adopted into mainstream use.

Modern Day Fashion

Today, the bra continues to serve an essential function, but it is also a focal point of fashion.  The Victoria Secret fashion show is held annually and features the most fashionable bras by the brand. Each show can cost the company as much as $26 million.  The bra certainly has come a long way from its predecessors!