Items of clothing that resemble bras have existed for the last 3,000 years. However it’s unclear who you invented the contemporary bra because bras started popping-up in several countries around the same time without being influenced by each other. Credit is generally given to May Phelps Jacob. Just in the last 100 years the bra has gone through numerous changes.
In the 1920’s with flapper fashion in full swing larger and women tried to downplay their breast size, often using a Symington Side Lacer. Yet by the end of the 20’s this changed. A Russian immigrant couple, Ida and William Posenthal and their colleague, Enid Bessitte, designed a bra to make women’s dresses look better and give support to the breasts. This was done by creating bras that catered to different sized breasts.
The Posenthal’s may have developed the idea of grouping women into different bust size categories but it was Warner’s that officially introduced ABC sizing system in the 1930’s. Bras being made with separate cups and adjustable straps were other innovations that came with the 30’s.
With WWII in full force many women had to replace men in the factories. To prevent industrial accidents the plastic SAF-T-BRA was designed. The second half of the 40’s saw the introduction of the bullet bra, under-wire strapless bra and the use of pattern fabric.
In the 1950’s the variety of materials available incrased and thus the types of bras that could be produced grow dramatically. This included everything from inflatable, novelty bras to maternity bras. Also, for the first time, bras for pre-teenagers and trainer bras were available.
The evolution of the bra continued into the 1960’s. The increased use of washing machines created a need for bras to be made from more durable materials. At this time bras were developed to help women who needed a bit more support. Both the Wonderbra and the mastectomy bra came onto the market.
The late ‘60’s saw a move toward a softer shaped cup. This desire for a more sculpted look continued throughout the 70’s and 80’s but also with an emphasis on comfort. This was period of the t-shirt bar’s infancy.
In the mid-90’s designs swung toward bras being made as fashion piece, forfeiting practicality for visual appeal. They also entered the arena of luxury items with the creation of the precious-stone encrusted fantasy bras by Victoria’s Secret.
The last 10 years has seen the development of the Bioform bra, an alternative to the underwire bra. Designed to conform to the shape of the breast they give support even to bigger breasted women. Many of these are made using a special sewing machine.
Now all they need to do is create a bra with non-symmetrical cups because most women don’t have symmetrical breasts.