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A History of the Bra

A History of the Bra

portrait of Andrea Rose
Andrea Rose
Andrea R.

At ThirdLove, we’re usually asking you, “How old is your oldest bra.” But today, we’re asking, “How old is the oldest bra.”


Though the bras sitting in your top drawer might seem pretty modern, the first “bras” actually date back to 25000 BC. After all, women have been managing the physics of having breasts for basically forever.  

If you’ve ever been curious about when the bra was invented, bra trends throughout the ages, or who invented the bra (you have Mary Phelps Jacobs to thank!), read on to learn more about the evolution of bras:

2500 BC – Minoan female athletes wear what looks like a bandeau bikini while competing.

735 BC to 27 BC – “Mamillares” become all the rage in the Roman Empire. Essentially a cloth tightly wrapped around a woman’s torso and was used to compress the breasts.

1500s – Catherine de Medici popularizes the small waist and, for the next few centuries, the corset-shaped body. 

1800s – Victorian women wear severely laced corsets that keep them well contained. 

1910 – Socialite Mary Phelps Jacobs stitches together silk hankies and ribbon, leaving out the constricting whalebone construction of corsets. She receives the first U.S. patent for a modern-type bra. Thanks, Mary!

1911 – Activists advocate for women’s freedom from constricting, unhealthy corsets, and come up with the Reform Bodice. The Oxford English Dictionary then adds the word “brassiere.” 

1920s – The flapper silhouette is slim and boyish, speeding the demise of hourglass-inducing corsets. (Although, as we know, they never truly go away!) Instead, the women of the Roaring 20s wear flattening bandeau tops. 

1923 – Underwiring pops up, followed by adjustable straps. Now we’re talkin’.

1930s – Brassiere is abbreviated to “bra,” and S.H. Camp and Company assigns letters (A through D) to varying cup sizes.

1940s and 1950s – Pointy “torpedo” or “bullet” bras become all the rage, especially amongst pin-up Sweater Girls such as Jayne Mansfield and Lana Turner.

1959 – Spandex is invented, leading to a future of better-fitting bras.

1960s – Late in the decade, feminists burn bras as a symbolic protest of patriarchal oppression. Hippies and Flower Children go braless or wear the totally sheer and unsupportive No Bra. 

1977 – Roy Raymond opens a Victoria’s Secret lingerie boutique because he’s embarrassed to buy undergarments for his wife in a department store. Also this year, the early sports bra is famously made from a couple of jockstraps sewn together, just in time for the growing popularity of jogging.

1990 – Madonna brings torpedoes back for her Blonde Ambition tour after donning a cone-shaped bra by Jean Paul Gaultier. 

2013 – ThirdLove launches the 24/7™ Classic T-Shirt Bra, and with it, a bra revolution. Ill-fitting bras in limited size ranges had long been the industry norm, but ThirdLove set out to change that by introducing innovative half-cup sizes, memory foam cups, and the Fit Finder® quiz to help customers purchase perfectly fitting bras from home.

 

For a bra that has made history, shop our 24/7™ Classic T-Shirt Bra:

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