Extra, Extra, Read All About It! A History of the Bra

The history of the bra doesn’t start and end with Victoria’s Secret, in fact, it’s been around since Roman times when women started wearing a bra-like contraption to entice members of the opposite sex. There are so many variations of what women wore throughout the years, whether they were going for a particular look or needed to support the girls. We wanted to highlight some of the more interesting aspects of the bra’s history, but if you want to learn more there is a lot of information out there for you to read about! So, without further adieu, let’s start with our olive-tanned Roman folk…

The Ancient Romans 2700 – 1450 B.C.

They used corsets that were fitted/laced or a smaller corslette that left the breast exposed and pushed-up to make them more visible. This ancient “corset” was worn as outerwear, not necessarily underwear.

Ancient Rome, women

Classical Greece 750 – 146 B.C.

A band of cloth was worn by Greek women to bind down the breasts for exercise in city-states that supported women’s sports, such as Sparta. When this style was worn under the breasts, it accentuated them.

The Chinese Ming Dynasty 1368 – 1644 A.D.

In China during the Ming dynasty, rich women wore a foundation garment comprised of cups and straps drawn over shoulders and tied at the lower back (called a dudou). Legend has it that one of the most famous Chinese Four Beauties, Yang Yuhuan, the concubine of the Emperor of Tang Dynasty, invented the Dudou.

Wealthy class China Ming Dynasty

The Renaissance 1501

During the 16th century, women wore corsets that emphasized the female form. Women compressed their breasts, which forced them upwards, almost to the point of spilling out. The ideal body type of the time was hourglass, but voluptuous.

Women's Fashion During the Renaissance

From Corsets to Bras 1850

The evolution of the bra from the corset was caused by two parallel movements: health professionals’ concerns about the 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.

The First Bra Patents 1859 – 1889

A bra-like device intended to give roundness to the breasts was patented by Henry S. Lesher of Brooklyn, New York. Even though the design is recognized as a bra, it looks uncomfortable by current standards.

The First Bra Patent

Inventor of the Bra 1889

According to Life magazine, in 1889 Herminie Cadolle of France invented the first modern bra.

The Bust-Reducing Bra 1910

Mary Phelps Jacob, a 19 year old New York socialite, needed something to go under a sheer evening gown she purchased for a social event. At that time, the only “acceptable” undergarment was a corset stiffened with whalebone, which did not fit the style of her dress. Unhappy, she worked with her maid to fashion two silk handkerchiefs together with some pink ribbon and cord. This was patented as the “Backless Brassiere” in November 3, 1914.

A Cup Shape to Fit All Bra Sizes 1922

Russian immigrant Ida Rosenthal, a seamstress at a small NYC dress shop, and her husband William Rosenthal changed the look of women’s fashion. They noticed that a bra that fit one woman did not fit the same on other women with “the same bra size”, so they were the first to develop the concept of cup size.

Public Outcry Over Hughes’ Bra 1941

In 1941, while filming The Outlaw, Director Howard Hughes felt that the camera did not do justice to Jane Russell’s large bust. He used his engineering skills to design an underwire-like bra to emphasize her “assets”. This was considered too shocking for the Hollywood Production Code Administration, who ordered scenes that included imagery of Russell’s breasts to be cut out of the film.

Jane Russell, Howard Hughes

The Push-up Bra 1961

The first push-up bra was developed by Wonderbra, a Canadian company (Wonderbra was actually previously patented in the U.S. in 1935), which eventually became an icon of the 1990’s.

The Sports Bra 1977

Hinda Miller and Lisa Landahl cut up a pair of jockstraps and sewed them together into a makeshift bra–it was marketed as the Jogbra.


Bras are a billion-dollar industry that continues to grow ($15 billion in the US in 2001, £1 billion in UK).

Maidenform Pure Genius Extra Coverage Underwire Bra with LacePure Genius Extra Coverage Bra by Maidenform


So, as you can see bra have been making the world go ’round for a very, very long time, which is why it’s such an important staple piece today! Want to continue your bra explorations into the 21st century? Make your start at brayola

We also want to know, what was your favorite period of women’s fashion? Join the discussion on our Facebook page!


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