History of brassieres

History of brassieres

The history of the bra is inextricably intertwined with the social history of the status of women, including the evolution of fashion and changing views of the body.

At various times since recorded history women have used a variety of garments and devices to cover, restrain or elevate their breasts. Brassiere-like or bikini-like garments are depicted on some women athletes in the seventh century BC in the Minoan era. Similar functionality could be achieved by both outerwear and underwear.

From the sixteenth century onwards the undergarments of wealthier women were dominated by the corset, which pushed the breasts upwards. In the latter part of the nineteenth century various alternatives were experimented with, splitting the corset into a girdle-like restraining device for the lower torso, and transferring the upper part to devices suspended from the shoulder.

By the early twentieth century garments more closely resembling contemporary bras had emerged, although large-scale commercial production did not occur till the 1930s. Since then bras have virtually replaced corsets, although some prefer camisoles, and become a multi-billion-dollar industry dominated by large multinational corporations. Over this time the emphasis has largely shifted from functionality to fashion.



In China during the Ming dynasty a form of foundation clothe complete with cups and straps drawn over shoulders and tied to the girth seam at the lower back called a dudou was in vogue among the rich women. [Partho Shanner ed. "Oriental Clothing and Modern Fetishism" HongKong: Yeti, 1996.] While they first arose in the Ming Dynasty, were also common in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). In English they are known as 'stomach protectors' or 'tummy covers'. [http://app1.chinadaily.com.cn/star/history/00-06-20/l06-dudou.htmlhttp://www.chinese-fashion.com/dudou.htmlhttp://app1.chinadaily.com.cn/star/2003/1030/cu18-1.html]


In ancient Egypt, women were generally bare breasted. The most common items of female attire were the skirt and the sheath dress, also described as a tunic or "kalasiris", a rectangular piece of cloth that was folded once and sewn down the edge to make a tube. The kalasiris might cover one or both shoulders or be worn with shoulder straps. While the top could reach anywhere from below the breast to the neck, the bottom hem generally touched the ankles. A variant was a single cross strap, partially over the left breast.


Covering or restraining the breasts may date back to ancient Greece. This belief is based on wall paintings in Crete, the centre of the Minoan civilisation, which show what has been described as a 'bikini'. These appear to be women performing in athletics. Similar depictions are seen in Sicily (Villa Romana del Casale, 4th Century). However Minoan women on the island of Crete 3,000 years ago wore garments that partially supported yet revealed their bare breasts, the best known example of this being the Snake Goddess. They used corsets that were fitted and laced or a smaller corselette that left the breasts exposed, or even forced them upwards to make them more visible. However this 'corset' was outerwear, not underwear. Covering the breasts, or even wearing a bra-like garment, was not a usual part of Minoan lifeFact|date=December 2007. The succeeding Mycenaean civilisation also emphasised the breast which had a special cultural and religious significance. Women in Classical Greece [ [http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grdr/hd_grdr.htm Metropolitan Museum: Ancient Greek Dress] ] are often depicted loosely draped in , or with one breast exposed. A band of cloth known as an "apodesmos", or "mastodeton" was worn by Greek women to bind down the breasts for exercise in those city-states that supported women's sports, such as Sparta. A belt could also be fastened over a simple tunic-like garment or undergarment, just below the breasts or over the breasts. When the apodesmos was worn under the breasts, it accentuated them. Another word for a breast-band or belt was "strophion". [ Elizabeth Ewing Underwear: A History. New York: Theatre Arts, 1972] [ [http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/classtud/cbaw/stafford.htm Emma Stafford, University of Leeds THE CLOTHED BODY IN THE ANCIENT WORLD 17-19 January 2002] ] However the most famous depiction of women exercising in Sparta, by Degas [ [http://cgd.best.vwh.net/home/naturism/nudity6.htm Edgar Degas: "Jeunes Filles Spartiates" (Spartan Girls Challenging Boys). c.1860-62. Oil on canvas. National Gallery, London, UK] ] shows the women wearing only a loincloth. The basic item of classical Greek costume was the "peplos", later the "chiton" (two rectangular pieces of cloth partially sewn together on both sides, with a 12" to 15" overfold or "apotygma"), which evolved into the chemise, the commonest item of under clothing worn by men and women for hundreds of years, also variously known as a smock or shift. In Sparta, women usually wore the chiton completely open on the left side.


Roman culture emphasised breasts less than the Greeks. Roman men and women wore a loose flowing "tunica", sometimes with a girdle, and an outer cloak ("palla"). Women also adopted a form of the Greek apodesme, known as the strophium or "mamillare". Younger women wore a "fascia", a band of cloth, over the breast to restrict their growth, or a mamillare to conceal larger breasts. Roman dress was one step closer to the later Empire Gown, being gathered slightly under the bust, with no waist.


In the Middle Ages it was exceptional for women to restrict or support their breasts, and if they did, they used a cloth binder. A widely quoted statement is that an edict of Strasbourg in the Holy Roman Empire, dated 1370 states, "No woman will support the bust by the disposition of a blouse or by tightened dress." However an exact source has not been located. By the time of the Charles VII of France (1403–1461), a gauze drape was used over the bust.

Generally the Middle Ages minimized the breasts with straight bodices, full skirts and high collars, designed primarily for function rather than emphasis on form. The 15th Century ideal form was large breasted and full figured. By the time of the Renaissance décolletage became fashionable. There was some status to firm breasts in the upper classes, who did not breast feed. Infants were farmed out to wet nurses to feed, which was believed to be bad for maintaining an ideal form. Amongst the wealthier classes, the corset was beginning to appear. Catherine de' Medici (1519–1589, wife of King Henri II of France) was said to have prohibited wide waists at court in the 1550s.

Elaborate constraints placed on women's figures over the years were not universal. Corsetry made it virtually impossible to work, so simpler functional garments were worn by women who worked inside or outside the home. Support for the breasts was often provided by a simple tie under the breast line, in the bodice.

Early corsets of the 16th century, consisted of paste-stiffened linen, and a primitive busk at the front, but later included iron supports at the side and back. The emphasis now was on form, with compression of the breasts forcing them upwards to the point of almost spilling out, so a considerable part of the breast was exposed. The ideal form was narrow waisted (hourglass), but voluptuous. The labouring class by contrast wore a simple front-lacing cotte.

The only period in which women were 'liberated', was the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars during which any garment associated with the aristocracy was frowned on, including décolletage. The breasts were often supported by a tie below the bust. In 1814 the court and the corset returned.

The history of the bra overlaps considerably that of the corset, from which it was derived. Some degree of emphasis of form can also be traced back to Greece, where a leather band style "corset" could be worn to give definition to the hips and bust under the Chiton. Early stays, as used in the seventeenth century did not involve the bodice directly, but concentrated on constricting the waist, indirectly thrusting up the upper body parts. With time the stay came to involve support in the upper front part of the body as well. These supported and raised the breasts. The term corset gradually replaced the stay. The décolletage was always visible, but until the 1920s breasts were always treated en masse ("monobosom"). It is important to realiseweasel-inline that while the breasts were pushed out, they still essentially remained loose, or were flattened by overlying garments, unlike the modern encompassing constraints.

French Empire to 19th century

French Empire

The Empire fashion originated in the pregnancy of the Empress Josephine. She found it convenient to wear dresses with a high waistline, just below the breasts. This design made her pregnancy less obvious. Other women soon discovered that a woman didn't need to be pregnant to look good in this kind of dressFact|date=December 2007--which made the breasts more visible than the waist--and the "Empire" fashion was established. This period coincided with the British Regency. Regency fashions sometimes copied Empire fashions.

Victorian era

In the Victorian era, despite contemporary ideas about morality, women's clothing was paradoxically designed to emphasize both the breast and hips by tightlacing the waist. Victorian women were encumbered with many layers of clothing, including a chemise with a drawstring neckline, usually drawers, then the corset and corset cover, the under petticoat, the hoop skirt, the over petticoat, and finally the dress. According to the social expectations of the times, even the lowest-cut evening gown should dip no lower than three finger breadths below the clavicles.

Edwardian era

By the Edwardian era, with some increase in women's physical activities, the corset started to retreat eastwards again (see below), becoming more like a girdle, accompanied by the appearance of a separate upper garment, the "Bust Bodice", or BB. For those who instead wore a one piece undershift ("unionsuit"), this separated into the camisole and drawers. These were not designed for 'support' but merely coverage.

Women's dress emphasize an 'S' shape, indrawn stomach with emphasised posterior and bust. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the bosom could still be displayed. 'The high-water mark of modesty would ebb after sunset some six inches!' [Cunnington C.W. A Handbook of English Costume in the 19th Century] Corsets remained the main form of 'support', but war and its impact on lifestyle and materials meant that its future was uncertain.

The Clothing Reform Movement

The evolution of the bra from the corset was driven by two parallel movements: health professionals' concerns about the cruelly constraining effects of the corset, and the clothing-reform movement of feminists, who saw that greater participation of women in society would require emancipation from corsetry. Prominent amongst these were the Rational Dress Society [ [http://xroads.virginia.edu/~UG02/hendrick/women.html The Possibility of Mobility] ] , National Dress Reform Association [ [http://www.galenahistorymuseum.org/bloomergirls.htm Nancy Wolfe The Bloomer Girls: America’s Dress Reform Movement of the 1850s] ] and the Reform Dress Association [ [http://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?page=1800 Upstate New York and the Women's Rights Movement] ] .

Although there were a number of voices warning about the considerable health risks of corsets, the health professions were generally muted, and in any case women ignored 'unfashionable' advice. The health professions concentrated more on psychosomatic complaints, which were in fact probably related to corsetry. Ill health was considered synonymous with femininity, and a pale and sickly demeanour, normative. (Fictional heroines often died from tuberculosis, or "consumption." This made them pale and kept them immobile.) Corsets were supposed to provide both physical and moral support.

Some physicians ignored colleagues who felt corsets were a medical necessity because of women's biology and the needs of civilized order. The physicians who raised the alarm pointed to nausea, bowel disturbances, eating disorders, breathlessness, flushing, fainting, and gynecological problems. Bed rest was a common prescription for the 'weaker sex', which of course implied relief from corsetry. (This prescription was only practical for upper-class women, whose function was largely decorative: working-class women actually needed to work.)

Women's interest in sport, particularly bicycling, forced a rethinking, and women's groups called for 'emancipation garments'. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps urged women to 'burn the corsets!' in 1874, a foreshadowing of 1960s 'bra burning' (see below). Indirectly and directly, sports empowered women in other social climates.

Not surprisingly, corsetieres fought back, embellishing their products to be frilly and feminine in the 1870s. Advertising took on overtones of erotic imagery, even if in practice they acted as a deterrent to sexuality, especially when they started appearing in men's magazines, stressing cleavage and bare arms (then taboo). It is not clear whether parents actively corseted their children to prevent them exploring their own sexuality. Dolls assumed the corseted image, implanting an image of the 'ideal' female form. Corsets certainly reinforced the image of a weaker sex, unable to defend themselves, and a challenge to disrobe.

In practice, early brassieres made little market penetration. They were expensive, and only educated wealthy reformers wore them to any extent.

American women who made important contributions included Amelia Bloomer (1818–1894) ("When you find a burden in belief or apparel, cast it off.”) [ [http://www.fashion-era.com/rational_dress.htm#Amelia%20Bloomer%201818-1894 Pauline Thomas. Fashion Era: Rational dress reform] ] and Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832–1919).

The emergence of the bra in the 19th century

The history of the bra is obscured by many urban myths, which though humorous, add little to our understanding of the topic. Even the terminology is confusing. (see Etymology).

There are considerable differences of opinion as to who 'invented' the brassière or bra. Patents only illustrate some of the landmark developments of the period, while the bra gradually evolved. A number of patents for bra-like devices were granted in the nineteenth century, but were not necessarily actually marketed.

early-19th-century garment

A bra-like device to give a "symmetrical rotundity" to the breasts was Cite patent|US|24033 in 1859 by Henry S. Lesher of Brooklyn, New York; although it is recognisably a bra, the design looks uncomfortable by current standards. In 1863, a breast supporter "corset substitute" was patented by Luman L. Chapman of Camden, NJ, although it is unclear as to whether he actually manufactured it. Historians have referred to it as a "proto-brassiere". This supports the thesis that escape from the tortures of corsetry fueled the search for alternative undergarments and breast "supporters".

In the 1870s, dressmaker Olyvia Flynt patented and produced the first 'bust supporter' to actually be sold in America. It was aimed at the larger-breasted woman. Reformers stimulated demand for and probably purchased these early garments on 'hygienic' grounds because of their concerns about the corset. Initially Flynt's garments were only available by mail order, but they eventually appeared in departmental and clothing stores and catalogues.

According to Life magazine, in 1889 Herminie Cadolle of France invented the first modern bra.Fact|2009-09-23|date=September 2008 It appeared in a corset catalogue as a two-piece undergarment, which she originally called the "corselet gorge", and later "le bien-être" (or 'the well-being'). Her garment effectively cut the traditional corset in two. The lower part was a corset for the waist, the upper supporting the breasts by means of shoulder straps. Her description reads "designed to sustain the bosom and supported by the shoulders". She patented her invention and showed it at the Great Exhibition of 1889. The company, still family-owned, claims today that Herminie 'freed women by inventing the first Bra.' [ [http://www.cadolle.com/GB/histoire.shtml House of Cadolle, Paris (company history) cadolle.com The Cadolle Touch] ] Her garment was probably more comfortable than the original corsets. By 1905 the upper half was being sold separately as a "soutien-gorge", the name by which bras are still known in France. She also introduced the use of "rubberthread."

In 1893, Marie Tucek patented a device that consisted of separate pockets for each breast and shoulder straps fastened by hook-and-eye. This invention more closely resembled the modern bra known today. Apparently she failed to successfully market it.

Since women's magazines printed patterns, home-sewn garments competed with factory-made ready-to-wear garments. The brassiere was at first an alternative to the corset, for negligée or at-home wear, or was worn by those women who had medical issues with corsets. After the straight-fronted corset became fashionable in the early 1900s, a brassiere or "bust supporter" became a necessity for full-busted women, as the straight-fronted corset did not offer as much support and containment as the Victorian styles. Early brassieres were either wrap-around bodices or boned, close-fitting camisoles (both worn over the corset).They were designed to hold the bust in and down against the corset, which provided upwards support.

Advertising of the times, typically in periodicals, stressed the advantages of bras in health and comfort over corsets, and portrayed garments with shoulder supports, in a mono-bosom style and with limited adaptability. Their major appeal was to those for whom lung function and mobility were priorities, rather than outer appearance.

The 20th century and the modern era bra

In 1910, Mary Phelps Jacob, a 19-year-old New York socialite, purchased a sheer evening gown for a social event. At that time, the only acceptable undergarment was a corset stiffened with whalebone. Polly found that the whalebone visibly poked out around her plunging neckline and from under the sheer fabric. Dissatisfied with this arrangement, she worked with her maid to fashion two silk handkerchiefs together with some pink ribbon and cord.

At the request of family and friends, she made more of her new device. When she received a request for one from a stranger, who offered a dollar for her efforts, she realized that her device could turn into a viable business.

On November 3, 1914, the U.S. Patent Office issued a patent [ [http://patimg2.uspto.gov/.piw?Docid=01115674&homeurl=http%3A%2F%2Fpatft.uspto.gov%2Fnetacgi%2Fnph-Parser%3FSect1%3DPTO1%2526Sect2%3DHITOFF%2526d%3DPALL%2526p%3D1%2526u%3D%25252Fnetahtml%25252FPTO%25252Fsrchnum.htm%2526r%3D1%2526f%3DG%2526l%3D50%2526s1%3D1,115,674.PN.%2526OS%3DPN%2F1,115,674%2526RS%3DPN%2F1,115,674&PageNum=&Rtype=&SectionNum=&idkey=NONE&Input=View+first+page nr. 1,115,674] ] for the 'Backless Brassiere'. Her patent was for a device that was lightweight, soft and separated the breasts naturally. Jacobs' brassiere was an improvement, but did not in fact supply much support, and is recognized today as a breast flattener, a style that later became the rage during the Flapper era of the 1920s.

Although it was not the first bra to be commercially produced in the U.S., Crosby's patent was the first to be registered in the newly created patent category for "brassieres", which has led Jacob's invention to generally receive credit as the first U.S. bra patent. (U.S. bra patents appear as far back as the 1860s, but were generally filed in the "corsets" category)Fact|2009-08-23|date=September 2008.

Polly's business did not prosper, and she sold the patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for $1,500. Warner manufactured the "Crosby" bra for a while, but it does not seem to have been a popular style and was eventually discontinued"Uplift: The Bra in America." Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002 xvi, 243 pp. $35.00, ISBN 0-8122-3643-2.] (it was later claimed that the patent earned millions for Warner, but this appears to be untrue).

Bras became more common and more widely promoted over the course of the 1910s, aided by the continuing trend towards lighter, shorter corsets that offered increasingly less bust support and containment. In 1917 the U.S. War Industries Board asked women to stop buying corsets to free up metal for war production. This was said to have saved some 28,000 tons of metal, enough to build two battleships.

It has been said that the bra took off the way it did in large part because of the first World War, which shook up gender roles, putting many women to work in factories and uniforms for the first time. The war also influenced social attitudes towards women and helped to liberate them from corsets. But women were already moving into the retail and clerical sectors. Thus the bra 'came out', from something ('bust girdle') discretely tucked into the back pages of women's magazines in the 1890s, to prominent display in department stores such as Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward by 1918. Advertising was now promoting the shaping of the bust to contemporary fashion demands, and sales pushed upwards.

The 1920s

As the corset became shorter during the later 1910s, it provided less support to the bust. By 1920 the corset started at the waist, and bust containment yielded entirely to the bra. A low, sloping bustline become more fashionable. Brassieres from the late 1910s and early 1920s were merely slightly shaped bandeaus (bandeaux), holding the bust in and down by means of a clip attached to the corset.

This culminated in the "boyish" silhouette of the Flapper era of the 1920s, with little bust definition. The term (which in the mid-1910s referred to preteen and early-teenage girls) was adopted by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in the 1920s for their younger adult customers. The androgynous ("boyish") or prepubescent figure then in style downplayed women's natural curves through the use of a bandeau brassiere. It was relatively easy for small-busted women to conform to the flat-chested look of the Flapper era. Women with larger breasts tried products like the popular Symington Side Lacer, which when laced at both sides pulled and helped to flatten women's chests. Yet some 'bras' of the early 1920s were little more than camisoles.

In 1922, Russian immigrant Ida Rosenthal was a seamstress at the small New York City dress shop Enid Frocks. She and her husband William Rosenthal, along with shop owner Enid Bissett, changed the look of women's fashion. They noticed that a bra that fit one woman did not fit another woman with the same bra size, and they thus developed the concept of cup size. With $4500 invested in their new business, they also developed bras for all ages. Their innovation was designed to make their dresses look better on the wearer. It increased the shaping of the bandeaux bra to enhance and support women's breasts: hence the name "Maidenform", [Maidenform Inc., company website, company history section. Retrieved June 2004 from http://www.maidenform.com/custserv/custserv.jsp?sectionId=33] [Smithsonian Institute, Museum of American History Archives MAIDENFORM COLLECTION, 1922–1997 #585. (35 CUBIC FEET: 54 DB; 10 [.5] DB; 19 F/O; 4 card-file boxes; 1 O/S Fldr.) by: Jennifer Snyder and Mimi Minnick, August 1997-July 1999. (Revised: February 3, 2004). Retrieved June 2004 from http://americanhistory.si.edu/archives/d7585.htm#top. E-mail: archivescenter@si.edu. ] a play on the name of an earlier company, "Boyishform"."Uplift: The Bra in America." Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002)] The company they founded became the Maidenform manufacturing company. [ [http://www.maidenform.com/ Maidenform] ] Maidenform routed Boyishform by 1924, accenting and uplifting rather than flattening the bust. Thus the modern 'supportive' uplifting bra was born. The major changes in design were the appearance of distinct cups, backless bras, and underwiring, and newer fabrics such as rayon, tricot, or milanese.

These fashion changes coincided with health professionals beginning to link breast care and comfort to motherhood and lactation, and campaigned against breast flattening ("race-suicide"), and the emphasis shifted from minimizing the breasts to uplifting and accenting them. Women, especially the younger set, welcomed the bra as a modern garment.

While manufacturing was beginning to become more organised, homemade bras and bandeaux were still quite popular, usually made of white cotton, but they were little more than bust bodices with some separation.

The 1930s

The word 'brassiere' became shortened to 'bra' in the 1930s, initially by young college women. The bra was becoming more sophisticated, and home-sewn versions vanished in the 30s. In 1935, Warners developed what they called the 'Alphabet Bra', a bra made in a series of sizes corresponding to the letters of the alphabet (A, B,C, D...) and so women started taking an interest in the size of their and other women's breasts. In the UK, this standard was not adopted until the 1950s.

As with other women's products, market uptake was largely the result of successful advertising and marketing. Saleswomen who assisted clients in finding the right garment played an important part in this, as did the changing role of women in society. Much of this marketing was aimed at the young.

Bras rapidly became a major industry over the 1930s, with improvements in fiber technology, fabrics, colours, patterns, and options, and did much better than the retail industry in general. Innovations included Warners' use of elastic, the adjustable strap, the sized cup, and padded bras for smaller-breasted women. In the US production moved outside of New York and Chicago, and advertising started to exploit Hollywood glamour and become more specialised. Department stores developed fitting areas, and customers, stores and manufacturers all benefited. Manufacturers even arranged fitting training courses for saleswomen. International sales started to form an increasing part of the U.S. bra manufacturer's market. Prices started to make bras available to a wider market, and home-made competition dwindled. Other major manufacturers of the 30s included Triumph, Maidenform, Gossard, (Courtaulds), Spirella, (Spencer), Twilfit, and Symington.

The desired silhouette of the 1930s was a pointy bust, which further increased demand for a forming garment.

The 1940s

The Second World War had a major impact on clothing. Military women of lower rank were fitted with uniform underwear. Advertising appealed to both patriotism and the concept that bras and girdles were somehow 'protection'. Dress codes appeared - for example, Lockheed informed their workers that bras must be worn because of 'good taste, anatomical support, and morale'!. Military terminology, such as the highly structured conically pointed Torpedo or Bullet (or even Cone) bra started to appear in the 1940-50s, designed for 'maximum projection'. A new image was the Sweater Girl, a busty and wholesome 'girl next door' whose tight fitting outergarments accentuated her artificially enhanced curves, while under and outer wires appeared. Sweater Girls often wore bullet bras. The image portrayed by actresses like Jane Russell (see Trivia) of the "lift and separate" design went on to influence the development of later brassieres.

The war presented unique challenges for the industry, women's occupations shifted dramatically, with far more employed outside the home and in industry, while limitations on material availability had a large impact on design. Advertising, promotion, and consumerism were limited but started to appear directed at minorities (e.g., Ebony in 1945) and teens. Many manufacturers only survived by making tents and parachutes in addition to bras. American industry was now freed from European influences, particularly French, and it became more distinctive.

Following the Second World War, material availability, production and marketing, and demand slowly recovered. A postwar baby boom created a demand for maternity and nursing bras, and television provided new promotional opportunities.

The 1950s

A reviving postwar economy fueled demands for consumer goods with greater variety. Manufacturers met this with new fabrics, colours, patterns, and styles. Padding and stretchability were among other innovations. Hollywood glamour became an increasingly powerful influence in fashion. Changes in retailing also saw a reduction in custom fitting by professionals.

The 1960s

The 60s and 70s reflected increasing interest in quality and fashion. Maternity and mastectomy bras began to find a new respectability, and the increasing use of washing machines created a need for products that were more durable. While girdles gave way to panty-hose, the bra continued to evolve. Marketing campaigns like those for the "Snoozable" and "Sweet dreams" (Maidenform, 1962) promoted wearing a bra 24 hours a day.

Cultural changes in the 1960s represented potential threats to the market. These included the emergence of counterculture, the Civil Rights Movement and a resurgence of feminism with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Also the "monokini" appeared in Europe and free love in the United States. In Canada, Canadian Lady adapted by focusing their advertising exclusively on brassieres and repositioned Wonderbra as a romantic, fashionable and sexy brand. [cite book | last= Mintzberg | first = Henry | authorlink = Henry Mintzberg | coauthors = James Waters | title = Researching the Formation of Strategies: The History of Canadian Lady, 1939–1976 "in R.B. Lamb (ed.)" "Competitive Strategic Management" | publisher = Prentice Hall | date = 1984 | location = New York | pages = 70 | isbn = 0131549723]

Feminist protests, Miss America, and "bra burning"

In the late 1960s, some of the emblems of femininity became targets of feminist activism. Feminists charged that these objects, typified as patriarchal, reduced women to the status of sex objects. Some women publicly disavowed bras in an anti-sexist act of female liberation.

When Germaine Greer stated that "Bras are a ludicrous invention," her statement resonated with many women who had been questioning the role of the bra. Pivotal in popular bra culture is a now-notorious protest against the 1968 Miss America beauty pageant [Dow, Bonnie J. Feminism, Miss America, and Media Mythology. Rhetoric & Public Affairs Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 2003, pp. 127–149] , seen as an oppression of women. About 400 women from the "New York Radical Women" were involved in a demonstration at the Atlantic City Convention Hall shortly after the Democratic National Convention [Brownmiller, Susan. In our time: Memoir of a revolution Dial N.Y. 1999] . Protesters saw the pageant and its symbols as an oppression of women (because of its emphasis on an arbitrary standard of beauty, and its elevation of its choice of the "most beautiful girl in America" to a pedestal for public worship and commercial exploitation). A "Freedom Trash Can" was placed on the ground, and filled with bras, high-heeled shoes, false eyelashes, girdles, curlers, hairspray, makeup, corsets, magazines, and other items thought to be "instruments of torture" [Duffett, Judith. WLM vs. Miss America. Voice of the Women's Liberation Movement. October 1968 p4] , accoutrements of enforced femininity. Someone suggested lighting a fire, but a permit could not be obtained, and so (contrary to the subsequent urban legend) there was no burning, nor did anyone take off her bra.

The event received quite a bit of media coverage at the time [http://www.snopes.com/history/american/burnbra.htm Red Hot Mamas (bra-burning) Snopes.com Urban Legends] ] but the notion of women burning their bras was merely a concatenation of several movements, including sexual liberation, in the media imagery [Rosen, Ruth. The world split open: how the modern women's movement changed America. Viking N.Y. 2000] . A number of journalists [Curtis, Charlotte. along with Miss America, there's now Miss Black America. New York Times September 8 1968 p54] who wrote descriptions of the incident drew parallels with the young men who had burned their draft cards in opposition to the Vietnam War with the women's action and used the term "bra-burning." These parallels were encouraged by organisers such as Robin Morgan. Lindsay van Gelder's account in the New York Post carried a headline "Bra Burners and Miss America". [Van Gelder, Lindsay. The truth about bra-burners. Ms. September/October 1992 80-81.] The phrase became headline material and was quickly associated with women who chose to go braless, following Germaine Greer's comments. [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20050604/ai_n14653969 Hiley, Victoria. Bra-burning a myth, The Independent June 4, 2005. Commentary on Stephanie King A short history of lingerie June 2] ] Feminism and "bra-burning" then became linked in popular culture [ [http://radioequalizer.blogspot.com/2006/09/rush-limbaugh-gloria-steinem-jane.html Radio Equalizer 14 September 2006 RUSH BLASTS GREENSTONE] ] [ [http://heuriskein.blogspot.com/2006/01/so-called-ginsburg-standard.html heuriskein Monday, January 09, 2006 The so-called "Ginsburg standard"] ] and Greer became a metaphor for bra burning. [ [http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/unknown/viewarticle.aspx?id=299050 Loughran, Jane. You don’t have to be a bra-burning feminist to want to keep your name. News & Star 01/11/2005] ] [ [http://menz.org.nz/menz-issues/october-1996/ Williams, Ginny. Women of Goodwill. MENZ Issues. October 1996 Volume 1 Issue 4] ] [Spongberg, Mary. If she's so great, how come so many pigs dig her? Germaine Greer and the malestream press. Women's History Review Volume 2, Number 3 September 1993] [Campo, Natasha. ‘Having it all’ or ‘had enough’? Blaming Feminism in the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, 1980–2004. J Australian Studies Issue 84 2005.]

Since then anti-feminists have used "bra burning" and "braless" [Dow Bonnie J. Spectacle, spectatorship, and gender anxiety in television news coverage of the 1970 women's strike for equality. Communication Studies 50: 143-57, 1999] as derogatory and trivializing terms for the feminist movement.http://www.snopes.com/history/american/burnbra.htm] What got lost in the rhetoric, and is probably more important, is that it became quite acceptable in the 1960s and 1970s to "not" wear a bra. Thus echoes of the 'liberated 60s' or 'bra-burning 60s' have continued to reverberate in women's fashion history.

Many women stopped wearing bras, but few did so with a public ceremony: they simply left their existing bras in a dresser drawer and stopped buying more. In 1971, Herb Caen, a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, reported that the Berkeley Roos-Atkins store had closed its bra department because of poor sales.

Bra sales were not noticeably affected by the protest, and manufacturers capitalised on the attitudes of sexual liberation by emphasising allure. They also promoted "no-bra" alternatives like the "no-bra bra" and adhesive pads that supported the breasts and covered the nipples. These stratagems were clearly attempts to recover braless women as customers, by offering them something that they could spend money on. Nevertheless this era was perceived by the industry as a crisis, and a preoccupation, which led indirectly to multiple mergers and acquisitions and the development of large corporations.

The 1970s onwards

In the 70s, like other garment makers, bra manufacturers moved production offshore. The evolution of the bra reflects the constantly changing idea of what an 'ideal' woman should look like - flat, round, pointy, conical, or even 'natural'. The contemporary bra also reflects advances in manufacturing and availability of fabric types and colours, enabling it to be transformed from a utilitarian item to a fashion statement, countering the negative attitudes some women had about bras. Designers have also incorporated numerous devices to produce varying shapes, cleavage, and to give women bras they could wear with open-back dresses, off-the-shoulder dresses, plunging necklines, and the like.

Two design challenges that bra manufacturers face at present seem paradoxical. On the one hand, there is a demand for minimal bras that allow plunging necklines and reduce interference with the lines of outergarments, such as the shelf bra. On the other hand, body mass and bust size is increasing [http://www.jessicaseigel.com/articles/bra.shtml Jessica Seigel. Bent out of shape: Why is it so hard to find the perfect bra? Lifetime Magazine May/June 2003] ] , leading to a higher demand for larger sizes. [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20050602/ai_n14651255 King, Stephanie A short history of lingerie: Doreen the bra that conquered the world The Independent June 2 2005. For comment, see Victoria Hiley Bra-burning a myth June 4. Commentary on Stephanie King A short history of lingerie June 2] ] Over a 10 year period, the most common size purchased in the UK went from 34B to 36C. In 2001, 27% of UK sales were D or larger. [http://reports.mintel.com/sinatra/reports/display/id=125741 Bras and Pants. Mintel International Group Ltd., 2001, 2005] ] [http://www.discover.com/issues/nov-05/departments/physics-of-bras/ Anne Casselman. The Physics of Bras DISCOVER Vol. 26 No. 11 November 2005] ]

Bras are a billion-dollar industry that continues to grow ($15 billion in the US in 2001, £1 billion in UKBras and Pants. Mintel International Group Ltd., 2001] ). Large corporations control most bra manufacture, such as HanesBrands Inc. [ [http://www.hanesbrands.com/hbi/en-us/ Hanesbrands] ] , Gossard, Berlei and Courtaulds with 34% of the UK market. Victoria's Secret is an exception.

ee also

*Victorian dress reform
*Brassiere designs


Other Sources


*Summers, Leigh. Bound to Please: A history of the Victorian corset. Berg Publishers (October 1, 2003) ISBN 1-85973-510-X
*Steele, Valerie. The Corset: A Cultural History Paperback: 208 pages Yale University Press (February 8, 2003) ISBN 0-300-09953-3
*Warner LC. Always starting things. Warner Brothers, Bridgeport, Connecticut 1948
*Pedersen, Stephanie. Bra: A Thousand Years Of Style, Support & Seduction. Hardcover: 127 pages. David & Charles Publishers (November 30, 2004). ISBN 0-7153-2067-X
*Ewing, Elizabeth and Webber, Jean. Fashion in Underwear (Paperback) Batsford 1971 ISBN 0-7134-0857-X
*Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch (1970). 2002 edition Farrar Straus Giroux ISBN 0-374-52762-8
*Farrell-Beck, Jane and Gau, Colleen. Uplift: The Bra in America. . Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002 xvi, 243 pp. $35.00, ISBN 0-8122-3643-2. (for reviews, see next section)

Book reviews

Farrell-Beck and Gau. Uplift
* Fischer, Gayle V. "Journal of American History"; 2003; Mar 89(4): 1539-40
* Murphy, Michael. "Winterthur Portfolio"; 2003 38(2/3): 151-9

Journal articles

*Freeman SK. In Style: Femininity and Fashion since the Victorian Era. "Journal of Women's History"; 2004; 16(4): 191-206

Other articles

* [http://www.slate.com/id/3094/ Hollander, Anne. Bra Story: A tale of uplift. Slate March 20, 1997]
* [http://www.mrbra.com/historyofbras.ivnu Origin of Bras]
* [http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/ancient/wonderbra.htm Ancient Indian Bras]

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