Bras and Girdles Fashion History
Bra fashion history began as far back as Cretan times, but 1907, was the year when the word brassiere was
first reported in an American copy of Vogue. The original
French meaning was support, but the word was out of use and the French chose to
call a bra soutien-gorge. Cretan women
wore bras thousands of years ago.
In England bust improvers were available in the Edwardian period. By 1905 BBs as they were known were usual wear.
Right - Reform Bodice Bra
This is the early supposedly healthier Reform Bodice
bra with mesh net cups that gave virtually no support.
Most of the major
designers of the era have tried to lay claim to designing the first bra. Poiret
probably had the strongest claim.
is certain, is that all the designers promoted a simple breast retaining garment as better for the
newer simple straight
In the costume history of bras these early bras were similar to camisoles tops of the 1980s and
1990s. Initially at the turn of the 20th century even the word camisole was used too, but replaced by 'Bust
Bodice' by 1905. Left - Wrap around camisole style bra.
In her bra history book 'Bras',
Rosemary Hawthorne tells of her collection of brassières and of one that is stamped '
Brassiere. Model 441, British Made ', then of another 2-3 years older
marked 'LA CYBELE' (No 18 British Made)'. By 1915 the magazine 'The Lady'
recorded pretty bust bodices or brassieres as essential wear. Rosemary Hawthorne's
bra history book is very informative and she often describes genuine examples of bras,
corsets and girdles she
has collected or has had donated to her.
Bra fashion history truly began with the first bra to be patented. The
first bra was
patented in 1914 by Mary Phelps-Jacobs an
It is not thought to be
the first bra ever, but it is the first patented record and that gives her the credit.
patented her bra design under the patent name of
Caresse Crosby. Some suggest it was her French maid who provided the idea
or the stitching help. Two silk handkerchiefs were tied together, baby ribbon
sewn on to make straps and a seam set in the centre front.
Right - The Phelps-Jacobs Bra Specification Patent
Phelps Jacobs couldn't
get much interest for her idea and sales were minimal, so for $1500 she sold the
rights to Warners...and a few years later just change that fifteen hundred
patent valuation for fifteen million dollars... Warners have been involved in bra production ever since.
Within a year, breasts were measured in inches rather than being categorized small, medium or
After 1918 fashion bras were
simply lace fabric bands with straps. The boyish figures needed for styles by
designers like Chanel didn't need upholstered corsets.
The best bra to get the
right effect was called the Symington Side
Lacer, a reinforced bust bodice. Side
lacing meant that it flattened the bust when laced tightly. Soon the word brassière was abandoned for bra
and ever since in fashion history we have referred to the bra.
Although rubber had
been around some time it needed to be transformed into a textile fabric for use
in clothing. By the thirties bra history was to change forever when Dunlop chemists were able to transform latex into reliable
elastic thread in all sorts of dimensions. The yarn was knitted or woven and
eventually made into washable Lastex fabric.
Early crossover front panel pull
Lastex was revolutionary.
Heavy boning and lacing were soon replaced in corsetry by Lastex. Figure control
was soon under elastic fabric panels. A longline girdle called the ' Gossard
Complete ' was a boneless firm foundation garment worn with backless evening
dresses of the 1930s. It was advertised as not requiring the help of maids as
it fastened with side hooks and bars.
One all rubber garment
that women over 50 can always recall is the rubber Playtex girdle of
the late 1950s early 1960s. It left an imprint of tiny spots all over the
buttocks. The spots were from the evaporation holes in the girdle rubber. Yes,
it was totally rubber. Cream rubber. Think of a very thick rubber glove or
windsurf suit with pinhead size holes. After wearing the girdle for an hour the buttocks appeared to
have developed a rash akin to German measles.
A neater everyday
girdle commonly called a roll-on was a directional stretch garment much the
shape and size of a pair of waist high panty briefs, but sometimes with legs
that covered the thighs. It was worn up until the 1960s in place of a suspender belt. It gave tummy control and held up
stockings. It's interesting to see that lots of ladies panties now have in built
Lycra that performs in a similar way when wearing slim skirts or trousers.
Perhaps if tights had not been invented the roll on would never have gone away.
But tights themselves have helped reintroduce a modern version of support with
control panels built into this disposal item. Silkies in UK sell pantyhose
which lifts and slims the thighs and rear and performs many of the functions
women expected from older style roll ons.
After 1930 all the
names we know well in lingerie and corsetry today began manufacturing bras with
quite separate cups. They used quality cotton lace and net.
One famous bra
designed in the 1930s was the Kestos bra and later the Kestos Utility Bra shown
simple seaming looks classy and could be effective today.
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Bra history took on a new dimension when in 1935, Warners
introduced four cup sizes called A, B, C and D, but it was well into the 1950s before
Britain followed this American standard. The British corset manufacturers were still using coy descriptions like junior and
medium to describe breast fullness.
Bosoms were dethroned
and separate breasts were really acknowledged.
Fashion history is always affected by material shortages
during and immediately after wars. In the war era after 1940,
bras were made from minimal fabric when they bore the Utility
mark. Utility bras
were serviceable bras using broche, a cotton backed satin or drill and often peach
pink in colour. Supplies were very limited and were best ordered. Twilfit
manufactured utility bras and Twilfit were a household name for roll-ons and bras
in the 1950s.
Women also made their
own bras from paper patterns or magazine guidelines for making bra and French
knicker sets. The fabric they
used was sometimes parachute silk, parachute nylon or old satin wedding dresses. Once the 1950s arrived changes in textile technology saw new developments in
all underwear items, but particularly in the costume history of bras.
Read about my downloadable Undergarments in Fashion History ebook below.
page 2 - Bras After 1950
Buy my latest ebook and learn how to recognise changes
between Paniers, crinolines, bustles, bras and corsets and the affect this
has on the outer silhouette of female costume
My How to Recognise Undergarments in Fashion History e-book has 12 chapters about the changes in under foundations in costume history found in
various articles on this website.
It also has a new chapter on the history of drawers and knickers and
one covering the chemise and petticoats. This
you to read, print and copy from various web pages of fashion-era.com all in one go.
The Undergarments ebook includes information from my
articles on early corsetry, C18th Paniers and the sack dress, stays to corsets,
crinoline styles from 1830s to 1860s, bustle styles of 1870s & 1883/5,
Edwardian corsetry, bras and girdles
before and after 1950, and a new chapter on drawers, pantaloons, knickers to
panties. A look at Rational Dress Reform, the contribution of Mrs. Bloomer and Dr. Jaeger
to the resultant
cycling and swimming dress.
more information on the contents of Undergarments click here.
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