Wednesday, February 18, 2009


When I was a pre-teen, I yearned to wear a bra, but my genes had decided that I would be one of the late bloomers. By 9th grade, I was in a bra but it was totally superfluous: it was a junior size AA and what filled it was mostly imagination. My mother, giving in to my pleas, bought me one lone bra, and on washday I went without it and no one could tell the difference. Finally I managed to grow a fair-to middlin' bustline, but I suspect all my worries about getting to that point is what has always made me very interested in bras - and their development.

Here's the scoop:

In 1875, manufacturers George Frost and George Phelps patented the 'Union Under-Flannel', a no bones, no eyelets, and no laces or pulleys under-outfit.

In 1889, corset-maker Herminie Cadolle invented the 'Well-Being' or 'Bien-ĂȘtre', a bra-like device sold as a health aid. The corset's support for the breasts squeezed up from below. Cadolle changed breast support to the shoulders down.

In 1893, a woman named Marie Tucek patented the 'breast supporter’; the device included separate pockets for the breasts and straps that went over the shoulder, fastened by hook-and-eye closures.

In 1913 Mary Phelps Jacob, a New York socialite was the first to patent an undergarment named 'Brassiere' derived from the old French word for 'upper arm'. Mary had just purchased a sheer evening gown for one of her social events. At that time, the only acceptable undergarment was a corset stiffened with whaleback bones. Mary found that the whalebones poked out visible around the plunging neckline and under the sheer fabric. Two silk handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon later, Mary had designed an alternative to the corset. The corset's reign was starting to topple.

In 1914 a patent for the 'Backless Brassiere' was issued. “Caresse Crosby” was the business name Jacob used for her brassiere production. Running a business was not enjoyable to Jacob and she soon sold the brassiere patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for $1,500. Warner (the bra-makers, not the movie-makers) made over fifteen million dollars from the bra patent over the next thirty years.

World War I dealt the corset a fatal blow when the U.S. War Industries Board called on women to stop buying corsets in 1917. It freed up some 28,000 tons of metal.

In 1928, a Russian immigrant named Ida Rosenthal founded Maidenform. Ida was responsible for grouping women into bust-size categories (cup sizes). And so we've not had too much of a change since then except for underwires and push-ups and wonderbras and burning bras.

I do find bras interesting.

The demise of the corset is also a nice study, but as a corset was not a part of my growing up (except for a thing called the "Merry Widow" that was like body armor, with long stays and a plethora of hooks and eyes, that guaranteed one a 19" waist AND big boobs to boot), it will not be dealt with here. The above is probably more than you wanted to know about brassieres, but you have to admit it's quite eye-opening!

1 comment:

Erin said...

Mother Dear,

Your blog entries really make me laugh sometimes. One never knows what you will write next. Some of the things you pull out of your "bag of tricks" are absolutely hilarious. I sure love you alot.