A History of Bras

By Tim Lambert

Ancient Greek women wore a form of bra called an apodesme. Roman women also wore a band of cloth or leather around their chest called a strophium or mamilare.

However for hundreds of years after the fall of Rome, women usually did not wear anything for support. From the 16th century to the 19th century women wore corsets but they were designed to shape the woman’s torso rather than to provide support.

Modern Bras

However, Mary Phelps Jacob invented the modern bra in 1913. She used two handkerchiefs joined by ribbons. She patented her invention in 1914. Her garment was called a brassiere but in the late 1920s, the word was shortened to bra. Cup sizes were invented in 1932.

The strapless bra was introduced in the late 1930s but they did not become common until the 1950s. Meanwhile, in 1942 Ida Rosenthal invented a bra strap that allowed the straps to be adjusted. A man named Frederick Mellinger invented the padded bra in 1947. He introduced the push-up bra in 1948. The Wonderbra was invented in Canada by Louise Poirier in 1963. The first sports bra was introduced in 1977.

Bralettes, (garments made without wires) first became popular in the 1970s.

The word bra comes from the old French word braciere, which meant a piece of armour to protect a man’s hand. Later it meant a breastplate. Eventually, the word became brassiere and was used to mean a kind of woman’s corset. When Mary Phelps Jacob invented her garment it was also called a brassiere but the word was soon shortened to bra.