Brassiere – a short history

With all the advancement in product development, construction and materials I thought it might be nice to reflect on the history of the Brassiere over the times.

We know that women have always worn undergarments, but pre the development of the Bra in the early 1900’s, undergarments generally either flattened the breasts or emphasised them by way of a padded corset. Both of these were common in the middle ages.

In the 1800’s the corset turned in to more of a fashion item than it has been, which the addition of both padding and support.

The 1900’s marked the turn of the century, and there was a transition from the corset to the ‘Bra’.

In 1907 VOGUE coined the term Brassiere, and in 1911 it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

It was in 1914 that Mary Phelps Jacob developed and patented the first bra in the USA, and named it the Backless Brassiere. She sold the rights to this patent in the 1920’s to the Warner Group.

In the 1930’s there were huge advancements in fabrics, and Dupont discovered Nylon. After the war Nylon was commonly found in Bra’s.

Also in the 1930’s Berlei started to develop their products for a range of different body shapes. ‘Step-In’s’ or Corsetry were popular at this time, so this was a big advancement for the brand and paved the way for department store Bra shopping.

At some stage in the 1930’s the word Brassiere was more commonly shortened to Bra.




In the 1940’s some companies introduced a policy that female staff must be wearing a Bra to work for anatomical support, good taste and morale.

The 1950’s saw huge product development as materials became more technical and abundant and women demanded fashion bras. The bullet bra was made famous in this century, gaining popularity from Hollywood stars and the fact that it added a cup size to the chest.

Advancement in the quality of Bras began in the 60’s when washing machines were introduced. The 60’s had it’s highs and lows on the lingerie market, with the feminist movement slightly decreasing the proportion of the female population actually wearing Bras.

In the 70’s, which was considered the decade of sexual revolution the Bra was considered to be a symbol of oppression.

In the last thirty years the advancement in product lines to include maternity, mastectomy, technical sports bras, fashion lingerie, as well as brand’s specialising in difficult to fit sizes really indicates the necessity of the Bra and how truly we depend on it for our modern lifestyles.

I wonder where the Brassiere will take us in the future…

Berlei advertising image in the 1960's
Berlei advertising image in the 1960’s