Happy Birthday, Bra!

In 1863, women said good-bye to tight corsets when the first American non-girdle-connected "breast supporter" was invented (by a man). In the 150 years since then, breasts have been shaped, sharpened, underwired, lifted and separated, all in the name of building a sexier, better-fitting, more comfortable bra

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1857: Tide Turns

In the 19th century, some experts begin to suspect that tightly laced corsets are deforming women's ribs and thereby creating serious health risks, such as tuberculosis. One published treatise is titled "An Examination of Five Plagues: Corsets, Tobacco, Gambling, Strong Drink and Illegal Speculation."


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1863: Freedom in a Cup

Luman Chapman of Camden, New Jersey, is awarded the first patent for a modern breast supporter, which he describes as a corset substitute with “breast puffs” and “elastic shoulder-brace straps.” This was revolutionary for women, who had worn tightly laced corsets for three centuries.

1901: Athletic Support

Ads promote the Grecian Bust Girdle, recommended for golfers, vocalists, lecturers and pregnant women.

1910: Truth or Dare

Socialite Mary Phelps Jacob claimsshemade the first modern bra (some sources say the year was 1913), using two handkerchiefs and a pink ribbon.

1911: Big Time

Macy's sells the "Marchioness" bra. 

Photo courtesy of hprints.com

1917: Corset Coup

The U.S. War Industries Board calls on women to stop buying corsets. The government estimates this saves enough steel to build two battleships. In France, Mata Hari, who allegedly wears her ornate bras even during sex, is executed as a spy.

Public Domain

1943: Hollywood or Bust

The legend is, Jane Russell needed a bra that wouldn’t show for her screen debut in The Outlaw, so director-producer Howard Hughes invented one. Russell later claimed his was “uncomfortable and ridiculous,” so she wore her own.

1951: Tricky Treats

A Connecticut company introduces an inflatable brassiere, the Très Secrète. Kabo promotes the Bou-K-Bra, which has a emovable “scent petal” pocket for perfume.

Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

1960: Good Girl Gone Bad

In Psycho, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) first appears in a white bra but later (after embezzling $40,000 from her boss to please her lover) wears a black-lace one. A critic interprets this switch as “a visual reminder of her deviance.

From left: Mondadori via Getty Images; © Bettmann/CORBIS

1977: Bras on the Run

The Jogbra prototype is created by two American women who cut jockstraps apart, then sew them together.

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource, New York

1990: Pointed Publicity

Madonna wears a cone-shaped number by Jean-Paul Gaultier, thus launching a trend of outerwear bras.

Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

1994: It's a Miracle

The Wonder Bra, then owned by Sara Lee Corp., becomes a huge seller. In response, Victoria’s Secret introduces the Miracle Bra in 1995.

1999: Uplifting!

U.S. soccer player Brandi Chastain strips to her sports bra after racking up the goal that won the Women’s World Cup.

AFP/Getty Images

2007: Bras Branch Out

Elaine Cato becomes a finalist on ABC’s American Inventorwith her backless version, while in 2008 a Japanese company introduces a bra for men, reminiscent of the manssiere (aka the bro) invented by Kramer in a memorable 1995 episode of Seinfeld.

© Rob Spicer

2009: Priceless

Lighting up the runway at the Victoria’s Secret show: a $3 million fantasy bra covered with 2,350 diamonds. Big names such as Gaultier design torpedo bras recalling those of the 1950s and 1990s. Some argue this is a sign the 2008 recession is ending.

© Bree Michael Warner/Retna Ltd./Corbis

2010: Barbarella, Move Over

Lady Gaga blasts her way to photo fame with spectacular bra craziness. Among her notables are one that shoots sparks and another that has fake guns attached (left, on the cover of Rolling Stone).

© Rolling Stone LLC

2013: Today

After scanning the breasts of 800 women, Jockey introduces a bra that is fitted by placing one of 10 plastic cups over the breasts. Meanwhile, a start-up at trueandco.com, cofounded by a former employee of Microsoft, promises a perfect computerized fit. In the first 36 hours, 20,000 women create accounts. 

Next: Sexy French-Inspired Lingerie

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Screenshot of Trueandco.com

First Published Thu, 2013-10-31 16:58

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