A bras purpose is many and varied; a bra can lift, enlarge, support, separate, confine, flatten, reveal or provide modesty by covering the breast before it is considered a decorative item. A bra today is a complex piece of lingerie with up to 43 components towards its construction. As the bra became more complex and varied in design, the name underwent the reverse process.
The term Bra which is the shorter version of brassiere came about during the 1920’s, when the emphasis on the bust rather than the bottom shape created a market for the Bra. Often referred to as brassiere, bandeaur, bust extender, bust shaper, bust bodice, bust improvers. In France bras were referred to as soutien-gorge a harness and ancient Greeks and Romans called bras: mastaledon, mamillare and strophium. Today, everywhere the term bra is much accepted and understood unlike the history of the brassiere itself.
The bra has a very long history dating back to 1910 when Mary Phelps Jacob is noted in history as having fashioned the modern bra. Needing more support in a particular dress, she had 2 handkerchiefs, ribbon and cord sewn together to fashion the brassiere which was patented in 1914.
As women’s fashions and roles changed so too did the bra. In the 1920s Berlei, an Australian company surveyed 6000 women in the Sydney area, concluding five Australian figure types. Debunking the myth of one bra design was enough for all. The strapless bra, also known as the bandeau bra was introduced in 1934 when halter neck and bareback styles gained popularity for summer and evening wear. Then in 1935 lingerie designers/manufacturers came to the realization that the breast and the bust needed two different scales of measurement in insure a better fitting, supporting brassiere.
The late 1940’s produced the padded bra which was intended to protect the breast unlike today where it is designed to enhance breasts. Which is what Howard Hughes was trying to achieve during the 1950’s, where he created a wired brassiere based on cantilever engineering with exaggerated uplift especially for Jane Russell. Also during the 50’s training bras were introduced. Affluent teenage girls created a market for the training brassiere; a soft, cupless and wireless design specifically for developing breasts. Again influenced by fashion 1957 saw the era of the sweater girl, creating a bra designed to separate the breasts producing a smooth line and rounded contours.
During the 1960’s fashion became unisex and androgynous promoting sleek, savvy tall slim boyish shapes encouraged braless ness, the bra became a symbol of oppression of feminity. 1970s saw the introduction of different fabrics being used for bra manufacturing; moulded jersey, satin, crepe de chine, mousseline and georgette. When exercise such as roller skating and aerobics gained popularity it created a necessity for more flexible bras with better support. Technological advancements created a process that curved parts could be moulded seamlessly from one piece of elastane, leading to introduction of the T-shirt bra for streamlined clothes, by the 1980’s.
The today’s bra comes in many styles, forms, fabrics, sizes and functions to include: sports Bra, strapless/convertible, demi, padded, push-up, the balconette bra which lifts the bosom forwards; the classic sheer bra to provide a smooth outline; t-shirt bra with woven cups; seamless bras and many more.