2000 BC The Corset can be traced back to about 2000 BC. It was open at the front to the waist, leaving the breasts uncovered. Small strips of leather round the waist were used to curve round the outline of the breasts.
450BC-285AD The Greeks wore a bodice tied above the breasts, leaving the breasts naked. The wearing of corsets was prohibited so they used “the Apodesme” which was a small band of material wrapped round the breast, largely for functional reasons – to prevent the breasts moving when walking. The Roman women adopted the apodesme as worn by the Greeks, but the name was changed to “mamillare”, “fascia” etc. Young women wore the fascia to prevent the growth of their breasts whilst the mamillare was used to conceal a very large breast.
4th Century AD The Chemise first appeared in the 4th century, was made of linen and looked like a tunic. The Chemise was gathered into a round or square neckline. It was frequently embroidered and finished with a frill. At that time they usually had long sleeves and were finished with wrist ruffles.
In France women wore the “Bandeau” after Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. In the 12th century women wore the “basquine” which was a sort of corset in rigid fabric surrounding the waist. About a century later the gourgandine (hussy) or bodice is worn on top of a corset.
13th Century AD In the 13th century, women were wearing short bodices that flattened the breasts. Full skirts were attached to raised waistlines to emphasize the stomach. To further emphasize a slender torso, garments had long full sleeves. The purpose was to draw the eye down and away from the breasts. In the 13th century one can read for the first time, in a corsetry shop window, reference to products that – “contain the larger one, supports the weak, gathers the floppy”.
14th Century AD Breasts were de-emphasized even further in the 14th century by straight tubular bodices that completely flattened the breasts. Wide full skirts and high ruffled collars drew attention away from the breasts. In the 14th century the belt was worn to support the bust but was not widely worn as it was outlawed in certain parts of France. An edict of Strasbourg dated 1370 states – “no woman will support the bust by the disposition of a blouse or by tightened dress”. Under Charles VII the bust is dressed in a triangular drape and by a tight gauze. The corset was worn very tightly and damage was caused to the wearer.
1550s AD In the 1550′s women subjected themselves to the torture of whalebone and steel rod corsets. The steel corset is attributed to the wife of King Henri II of France, Catherine de Médicis, who banned “thick waists” at court attendances. The corset was designed to be worn tightly, requiring a lot of effort to fasten. It could reduce the waist to less than ten inches, permanently altering the waist size. The corset then became dominant undergarment (in various designs) of support and restraint for the next 350 years.
15th Century AD The 15th century saw breasts becoming a focal point. Bodices and stiffened stays covered and flattened the lower part of the breasts and nipples, whilst pushing up the upper breast. This created cleavage and gave the appearance of high and rounded breasts.
16th Century AD During the Renaissance Period, women stuffed the chest portions of their undergarments with silk pouches and hankies, binding them in place as well as could be expected to create an alluring bustline. Since there was nothing much to hold the pouches exactly where they should have been, there was a tendency for them to shift into laughable positions.
17th Century AD Whilst men had worn washable underwear since ancient times, it was not until the 17th century that drawers were worn by women in France and Italy but it was the early 1800′s before they arrived in England “drawers” comes from a lower body undergarment that could be “drawn on”. Drawers were often made up as two separate legs only attached at the waist. Crotch-less drawers were a practicality since they were worn under the corset and chemise. The legs finished just below the knee or at mid-calf and were finished either plain or fancy.
1820s A “corset mecanique” was actually invented in the 1820s which allowed women to squeeze into their corsets with the help of pulleys, without having to use the servants. Corsets at the time were made of whalebone, steel or buckram.
1850s US patents registered for first known bra-like devices.
Corsets fall out of style for about 10 years.
1860s Corsets come back in fashion with a vengeance. Severe corset “training” is common which reduces waists to such unhealthy levels that ribs and internal organs become deformed. Controversy over corseting health risks ensues.
1867 The “Thompson Patent Glove-Fitting Corset” of 1867 had a spring latch and snaps at the front, as well as the traditional hooks. The corset was designed to prevent it opening accidentally! The latter years of the 19th Century began to see challenges to the traditional views of the ideal woman, and the painful and unhealthy undergarments that they were expected to wear
1875 In 1875, manufacturers George Frost and George Phelps patented an undergarment called the “Union Under-Flannel”. Unlike a corset, it had no bones, eyelets or laces and required no pulleys and was made from wool fabrics. Susan Taylor Convese made improvements to this design.
1877 Combinations, consisting of a chemise and pantaloons were invented about 1877. These were often made in red flannels and were crotch-less for convenience.
1889 Corset-maker Herminie Cadolle invents a bra-like garment called “Bien-être” (‘Well-Being’.) Resembling a “Victorian bikini”, its main differentiating feature from regular corsets is that the breasts are supported by the shoulders rather than squeezed up from below with traditional corset designs. Although marketed as a health aid beginning in 1889 in a Paris department store ad, the item does not gain widespread notice.
1893 Marie Tucek patents the “Breast Supporter”. The garment includes separate pockets for each breast, shoulder straps that passed over the shoulders and fastened with hook and eye closures, making it the earliest known design to be similar to modern-day bras.
1907 Vogue magazine first uses the term “brassiere”, which comes from the old French word for ‘upper arm’. Before this, bra-like devices were known by another French term “soutien-gorge” (literally, “throat support” or “breast support”.)
1912 The term “brassiere” first appears in the Oxford English Dictionary.
1913 Dissatisfied with the idea of having to wear a heavy corset underneath a new sheer evening gown she just bought for a social event, socialite Mary Phelps Jacob of New York and her maid, Marie, devised a backless bra made from two handkerchiefs, some ribbon and cord. Amazingly she started getting orders for it that very night.
1914 After considerable interest from friends, Mary Phelps Jacob applies for a patent (under the business name “Caresse Crosby”) on November 3 for her “Backless Brassiere” design, which is basically the same garment that she previously improvised. This “brassiere” was very lightweight, soft, and separated the breasts naturally. Unlike Marie Tucek’s 1893 design, Jacob’s garment did not have cups to support the breasts, but flattened them instead. Jacob markets the “Backless Brassiere” garment until she tires of the business and sells the patent to Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for $1,500. Warner’s reportedly made over 15 million dollars over the next 30 years from the patent.
1914-1918 World War I forces women into the work-force. Many women begin working in factories and wearing uniforms, making the use of daily corset wear a problem.
1917 The U.S. War Industries Board requests women to stop buying corsets to reduce the consumption of metal. Sources say up to 28,000 tons of metal was conserved through this effort – “enough to build two battleships.”
1920s The bra gained popularity and began to be used more commonly during the 1920s. This was the era of the “flappers”, and the flat-chested boyish look was all the rage. Warner introduces a tight, chest-flattening bra, that was designed to flatten the breasts, rather than support them.
1928 Ida Rosenthal, a Russian immigrant, and her husband William went into business as the Maidenform Company in the 1920′s as a protest against the notorious flat-chested flapper girls of the Roaring 20′s. Ida is responsible for the creation of bust size categories (cup sizes) and developed bras for every stage of life – puberty to maturity.
Late 1920s By the end of the 1920s corsetry companies began to manufacture brassieres that were boned and stitched into different cup sizes.
1930s It wasn’t until the 1930s that shape started to become acceptable again, and the “bra” (a shortened form of the word “brassiere”) changed from flattening the breasts, to holding them.
1930s Warner produces the first popular all-elastic bra, which shows off a woman’s curves.
1930s It was 1932 before its shape was modified to accentuate the depth of cup. It was greatly improved by the fashion designer, Paul Poiret who even suggested that it be worn next to the skin.
1930s The “sweater-girl” look, portrayed by actress Lana Turner during the 1930s, was the next fashion development, pointed rigid bras that maintained their shape. This was followed by “falsies”. These were pads worn inside the bra that were designed to enhance the fullness of the bust. These evolved into the push-up bra, stiffened cups supported by under-wiring.
1935 Warner’s creates the cup sizing system (A to D), which becomes the system commonly used by all manufacturers throughout the world.
1941-1945 Common fabric materials (cotton, rubber, silk and steel) are in short supply, so manufacturers turn to synthetic fabrics.
1946 The first bikini swimwear is introduced in Paris.
1950′s It was thus that during the 1950s the shape had become most exaggerated. Strapless bras also became popular at this time because of the fashion for off-the-shoulder outfits.
1960′s The 1960s saw the women’s liberation movement denouncing bras as a symbol of conformity and servitude and encouraging bra burning rallies. The Hippie and free-love movement would see the bra abandoned altogether, resulting in the braless look.
1960′s A return to the need for support saw the bra re-emerge after this era. Developments in manufacturing and technology since the 1960s, such as lycra, have seen the materials for bras become increasingly lightweight, durable and elasti